Appearances are often deceptive. Hemashri tells us the story of Gitali, a cleaner in a government office. At a young age, life taught her much more than the books of the educated and well-placed women. Read this real-life story, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
I first saw this pretty girl, Gitali, among the group of cleaning women in my office. She was slim, tall and was the kind that gets noticed in the crowd. Possibly she was in her late twenties. I called her to my chamber, curious to know more about her. The girl with a million dollar smile told me she has recently joined as a casual cleaner and her monthly remuneration was Rs. 6500/-. Every working day she reported at 6.30 am and left at 4.30pm. A tight schedule of 10 hours a day for a meager salary – roughly 60 hours per week for Rs. 1,375/-. She had passed her intermediate examination. I asked her, “How do you manage everything within this salary?” She said there was no other option.
Gitali was from a neighbouring district Barpeta, a widow with a six-year-old daughter. She lived with her elderly in-laws. Her husband had died three years back after six month’s illness. He worked in the private sector. She did not receive any compensation from her husband’s office. I enquired about her family members. She told me she had a brother, who died a year back due to dengue.
I was sad that she had to face such enormous misfortune at a young age. I asked her if she would remarry.
In a polite yet firm voice, she said, “Madam, I have to look after my aged parents-in-law. My husband was their only child. Who will look after them?” She did all the household chores as her mother-in-law was unwell. Her daily routine included cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and helping her daughter with her studies.
Gitali agonised that the death of her brother was like losing a limb. Her brother was the one who took care of her husband in the hospital until the very end. She narrated all these calmly. She remained composed. Over a cup of tea, we exchanged our contact numbers.
I asked, “How did you cope with life’s tragedies? Don’t you feel sad or angry?” She confessed, “I feel sad. Sometimes I feel helpless. I cry my heart out. Then I become normal and get back to work. Life moves on…”
Many educated so-called empowered women have many complaints and grievances about life. They crib most of the time. Possibly, I too am a cribber. We are the kind who curse the cold in the winter and the sweltering heat during summer. We are often unhappy for no rhyme or reason.
In contrast, there are women like Gitali, whose pleasant countenance hide life’s endless tragedies. There are privileged women whose glamorous lives and jobs fail to make them happy and contented. When this frail yet brave girl left my chamber, I felt as if a renowned professor delivered an invaluable lecture on Life Management.
Was it sheer positive vibration that mere sight of Gitali drew me to talk to her? There are some people who stand out in a crowd. They have something unique about them.
Perhaps it was a strange coincidence that as I wrote this story, I received a call from Gitali. She told me her contract as a cleaner will be over by the end of this month. She asked me whether I would be able to help her to continue her work. Here is a fit case to be considered on the humanitarian ground even for a permanent job as a Grade IV employee. Will my concern for this helpless young girl end with this story about her? Do I possess the life skill to present her case or empower her to fight for her case at the right forum to pave the way for a decent livelihood?
Perhaps time holds the answer to such questions.
Photos from the Internet
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Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.