They are wandering like ghosts in the very world where we live vibrantly.
Meera is desperate, on the road, going from pillar to post. Who is she? Just one of the hundreds, thousands (?) around here. The specifics may vary but the story is the same.
There was a vacancy for domestic help. Someone, who knew someone, who knew someone, recommended her name. Mistake one. Neither the someones nor the potential employer put proper thought to fulfilment of the particular requirement. Whether she fitted the bill at all.
A day was fixed. Frantic calls between the various someones and the employer. She will come tomorrow. She is coming today. She has left. She should be there any minute now. She arrives. She has come from a location about 30 kilometres away via local transport and a long walk.
Meera’s appearance does not in any way reflect her dire economic status, running true to form when out for a visit. A flashy outfit, perfectly combed hair, jewellery in all the right places—fingers, ears, neck, forearms. She is accompanied by two smart children carrying rucksacks. That they go to a good school is very clear at first glance.
The employer requests them to first check out the living quarter. Though with an attached bath, the size of the room could be the first question mark. They all go. They come out to return, without bothering to close and lock the door again. Reminder. Done.
Meera and her kids are back on the balcony. The “interview” begins. The long and short of it comes out rapidly. “This is the only room that is possible?” asks Meera. As the employer nods in affirmative, she glances at her children and keeps quiet. The employer says, “It may not be suitable, your children are grown up, they may not be happy…you should think about it…” “No, no,” says Meera. “They are ok…” “Are you sure?” “Yes, yes, they will do what I tell them.”
Meera’s work experience is vague. “I was in cosmetics”, says Meera. “In a factory?” “No, a shop.” “So, you were selling cosmetics?” “Yes, everything…” The remaining feedback were half stories, with no clarity. Like a house where she would be called once a week to do “some work”. Locations, owners, telephone numbers—no verifiable answers.
Stage three. The employer mentions that it would take a long time for her to pick up the required work rhythm. Immediately, the litany begins. The husband is mentally unstable and unable to earn. He has been sent off to his sister’s home, while Meera finds a way to cope.
Meera continues. “I need the work…the children have to be brought up, educated well… My daughter is getting free education till class VIII… I will send her to the same school from here… My son, I will get him admitted here… Naturally, you will help me with that… Please help me… I really need the work…”
The employer clearly states an inability to handle a school admission in the midst of other troubles. Further expresses concern on how such a young female child will be sent 30 km away every day, alone. That too in some public transport. The risk factors of an inadvertent incident were too high.
Meera is not ready to listen to reason but the conversation is brought to an end. She is on her way back. Calls follow. From her, her brother-in-law, her brother. The conversation is invariably centred around how she is in dire need and requires help. Another fact comes to light. Her husband had been a very heavy drinker. He ended up with high blood pressure that caused a stroke and affected his nerves.
Where is Meera now? What does the future hold for her? What of her smart children?
Meera’s story is reminiscent of the one about Divya. Fed up with a drunkard wife-beating husband, she bundled her two small children, ran away and landed up at her mother’s home. The old woman lived alone in her little hut. Her two sons and their wives had their own huts near around. None bothered to make food for the old mother.
Divya was happy to have a place to stay and serve hot food to her mother. She took up odd jobs to get by. There were murmurs and rumours about her disappearing at night and coming the next morning.
One fine day, she announces she is getting married again. She goes off with the two little ones to the nearby town in the plains. Her statement then was, “Obviously he is a good man, if he is ready to have me with my kids from a previous marriage.”
A year or so later, Divya is seen back in the hills. “It is too hot in the plains… I can’t live there… It is hard for the children too…” She is again in the hut with her mother.
Again the odd job here and there. Then Divya disappears again. There is no immediate news about her. So, the same question as in the case of Meera. What of her future and that of her children?
These are beleaguered, lost women groping in the dark…wandering like ghosts in the very world where we live vibrantly. They survive. How, is the loaded question.
Neelima Mathur is an India-based Executive Producer, Researcher, Writer, Mentor and Trainer for documentary and NGO films. She is also Festival Director of the Lakeside Doc Festival.