“Why do you want to join our organization, Nita?”
“To help people. The same reason this organization was setup.”
“You have to be more specific than that Nita. The job demands the deepest compassion, sensitivity, discretion and above all an unbiased outlook. This job is not just about helping people. And this is not for just about anybody with a helping heart.”
Chastised, Nita knew she had to tell the truth – no matter how painful it might be. She closed her eyes and sighed. After a few moments of silence, she provided a considered and controlled response.
“I lost my father couple of years back. He left me an orphan, a lost child in an unaccustomed world bereft of his kindness. I felt utterly helpless, drifted into depression, performed poorly at my job; lost my will to live. A few of my friends helped me out… They suggested I take up MSW. I don’t know how they could think of this option. But it was the best thing that anybody could have done for me. I finally found some semblance of meaning, some hope for peace…. That is why I want to join your organization madam. To help find me through unbiased service.”
Nita was assigned to a team that would help impart education to prostitutes of Kamathipura in Mumbai. On reaching, Nita was completely overwhelmed despite the meticulous training she had undergone. The narrow lanes, the filth, the stack of barely standing rooms. The sheer variety of men, the heavily made up women behind barred windows. The sudden reality of a life so unjust, so stifling, so normal despite it being so extraordinary… At once, her own problems diminished in comparison and she realized how grateful she was for her life. However, she was also overcome with nagging doubts about her ability to be of any service at all. She entered the small room, tense and unsure of herself.
Soon after, Rupa entered, book in hand. Nita observed her face – calm, fierce, ageless. Devoid of makeup, she looked like any other lady who had suffered the severe adversities of life with a mature indifference rooted in acceptance. Nita recalled her training. She was not trained enough for psychological rehabilitation. She would teach – teach as if Rupa was any other adult.
“Hi. Welcome to the class. My name is Nita. What is your name?” she asked gently.
“I am Rupa.”
“Hi, Rupa. Before we begin, tell me, have you had any education before?”
“Yes. I studied till the eighth standard.”
“Ok, that’s great! We can proceed fairly fast initially then. Can I ask you one more thing? How much do you want to study? I mean do you want to pass the 12th or something more advanced?”
“I want to graduate madam. I am not sure in what though. Perhaps, once you see me studying you can suggest which course I should take?”
“Surely. I am so glad to hear you say this! But, let us take this one step at a time, shall we? We need to plan to study for multiple hours every day. Depending on how we progress, it could take some time. It is very important that you continue to stay dedicated and focused throughout.”
“Yes madam I know. I will not drop out later if that’s what you fear”. Rupa smiled; a strange smile – knowing, dry and devoid of cheer. “A degree could help me get out of here. Perhaps. I don’t know. But I am not completely helpless you know, yet. I have lived like this for so long that a different life seems too distant, too unreal anyway. I am not sure if I may even like it…. The thing is madam, I want to study because I like to study. I want a degree against my name. I may not flaunt it, I may not use it. It may not even help me. But I want it – if only to fulfill a dream I once had.”
Nita looked into Rupa’s serene face wondering how many more dreams and who knew what horrors were compressed under that facade
“Rupa, please don’t get me wrong. I don’t doubt you. My intent was just to let both of us know what we are getting into. That’s all….Come, let’s work together, Rupa. For however long it may take till we get you that degree.”
Neither of them ever missed a class right from that first day.
Word count: 744
MSW: Master of Social Work
Kamathipura is Mumbai’s oldest red light district. An article about Kamathipura.