Some weeks ago, a quiet email dropped into my inbox. An email from the Vodafone Foundation with a large Pdf attachment which took a few quiet seconds to download into my inbox and open for my eyes only… the Foundation was preparing a coffee-table book titled “Women of Pure Strength”, and I was being requested to be one of the favored fifty.
To ensure that I wouldn’t question the authenticity of the invitation, their earlier book had been attached as a pdf..and that did the trick.I was more intrigued than impressed. How did they hear about me in this tiny town? What made them decide to feature me? How would they portray this simple life in a slick coffee table book?
I decided to go with the flow and take the experience as it came along. Along came a set of head-scratching, pen-chewing questions which took a day and more to answer. The answers had to be honest, clear and precise. Grandiose Delusions and Vague Perceptions had to be squashed completely and only a final few sentences were emailed back to the Foundation.
A few quiet weeks flowed past, and then, after two days of rapid emails, arrived the photographer. She was fair and frail, soft-spoken and graceful and carried her camera and lens with easy charm. We spent a busy day together—walking around the forests and the golf course, talking with the knitters, playing with the dogs and taking in a few sights of our little town. Ruhani Kaur shot me with her lens and left me with memories of fun, squinting into the sunshine, posing at the right angles and being grateful for not being a target of the paparazzi and news cameras. Its not easy, being clicked and shot and followed 24/7, all the time, all round. My heartfelt sympathies to all stars and newsworthy people of the world!!
The invitation for the event, the evening plans and the schedule dovetailed into my plans for visiting Delhi and the rest of India…and the matter was settled. My sister would accompany me to the glittering function and provide some much needed glamour and glitz around me. An informal high tea had been arranged prior to the main event. The Vodafone CEO and others wanted to meet the strong women and listen to their stories.
I wanted to listen to the stories too—and what inspiring and amazing stories! From the founder of Dastakar, the brain and soul behind Kolkata’s lit fest and Byloom, to a passionate youngsterworking with children of sex workers, and a smart business woman with a heart for the handicapped …the stories kept pouring out and the appreciation and applause kept rising. There were strong sarpanch women from tiny villages who had worked to get roads, old-age pensions and schools in their community. Engineers who had taken on the task of providing low cost houses, activists and so many more. I kept listening to these strong, motivated women working hard to support and assist hundreds and millions of people, and reaping gratitude and appreciation at this stage in their journeys.
My turn was approaching and I was wondering what would I talk about. The two score women who knit fine and fantastic shawls for me? The decision to move from city to hamlet? Where was the strength which had got me here?! And what was my claim to fame?!
And then, it was time for me to talk.
“ I am completely different from all these wonderful women here. They have worked hard to uplift and support countless women. I have worked hard on only one woman—Me. Since the only person I can actually change or transform is me, I have focused on becoming a strong diamond..a gem I can be proud of. I have handled a wedding for which my parents disowned me, a divorce after that dramatic marriage, a strong and happy single parent, a loss of memory and medical skills, a change of professions, a decision to move out of the city, a plan to declutter and simplify my life. As part of this process I have stopped all lies (since I cannot recall them after two minutes), I teach women quality knitting and I am glad to be me. When women see me being upfront about being me, it gives them the courage and guts to be themselves. But that remains a happy side-effect. I continue to focus on strengthening myself.”
Yes, there was applause. Yes, there were some of these amazing women who came up , hugged me and whispered that they wished for a little bit of my courage and pride. Yes, there was standing ovation at the stage, a beautifully choreographed dance recital, a heartwarming simple speech by the charming Mary Kom. Yes, people came up to appreciate my knitted lace shawl and my decision to live in the hills.
Yes, it was an evening of appreciation and pride and gratitude. I came home with a copy of the book in this smart bag, many memories of memorable meetings and this good feeling of accomplishment.
I must be doing something right with this life. And that, for now, is enough.