Sadie Sadie Married Lady
is the song from Funny Girl that for some God forsaken reason always comes to my mind when a girl gets wedded. The last girl I married was my first born and tomorrow someone I also consider as my child ties the proverbial knot. She is also is part and parcel of my fifteen year journey as Project Why's Anou Ma'am! This picture was taken years ago and God we have come a long way. Rani has blossomed into an incredible woman of substance and the Ma'am has acquired many more wrinkles and grey hair. But c'est la vie as they say! As Rani gets ready for her big day, I find myself wandering down memory lane and remembering the past 15 years.
I fist met Rani on a sizzling summer afternoon way back in 2000. It must have been the Fates who guided me to the quaint street in a part of the city I never knew existed. It was an odd place where slum dwellings were strewn along the wall of a University college, a true example of the two Indias that quietly live side by side divided by invisible and impregnable walls. I was about to cross the line and change my life forever.
There was indeed a reason for my expedition though: I was to meet a healer who had been hailed as having the cure to all panaceas, mine being a depression that refused to blow away no matter what I had tried. The healer in question lived in a temple lodged in one of the slum dwellings. I was anxious and excited at the same time. I knew something incredible was in store for me.
I entered the small door and stepped into the only room that to my surprise was both a temple and a home, something baffling at first but somewhat comforting. A lady of a certain age clad in bright red sat on the floor amidst deities, incense and lamps. I looked into her face and felt good after a very long time.
The lady known as Mataji lorded on her temple ably assisted by two younger women. One was a young married woman, her daughter in law; the other was her young daughter Rani. Both seemed very much under the thumb of the tad autocratic Mataji. Over the following days I would learn that young Rani, about 16 then had dropped out of school because she had been beaten for not paying her fees on time and was now completing a nursing aid course and probably like all girls of her background waiting to be married.
Over the next few weeks or so many new ideas were born and seeded and soon project why assumed its embryonic form: spoken English classes for children and women. Needless to say Rani was one of the first to register for the later.
I spend a lot of time in Mataji’s home, as this was our first office! I got to know the little family but more than that I was made aware of an entire new world, one that I would soon embrace. Rani was my first and best guide.
We decided to start a nutrition programme for the children and pregnant and lactating moms. I was a little hesitant but young Rani came to my immediate rescue and lo and behold within a day or so I had a list of potential beneficiaries. Rani offered to take charge of the programme dismissing my inability to offer her any remuneration with a big smile. Yes Rani has a smile to die for! In hindsight I realise she was actually taking charge of things to come.
We also decided to run small first aid centre twice a day and who else but Rani to head of it. Rani had come to stay though at that time I did not know how a big a role she would play in the success of project why.
As things grew better for us and funds started trickling in, Rani became my executive assistant. Her never say die attitude ensured that within a short year we were running a crèche, a centre for special children, and even began our now famed after school support programme. Wise beyond her years she helped me select a team and get going. But more important she ensured we did not make any errors on the very unknown turf we were treading. She taught us the intricacies of the social fabric and the need to maintain a fine balance if we were to succeed.
As I watched the feisty girl, I realised that she was extremely intelligent and a born manager. What impressed me most was the fire in her belly and her desire to not only succeed but excel. Imaginative and industrious she never took no for an answer and always found alternatives. Every challenge had to be met head on.
When our coordinator left us there was no question looking elsewhere: Rani was the obvious choice. Even the fact that she was younger than many of her colleagues and that some of them had seen her grow out of her pigtails was no deterrent. I knew she was the one to run the project. That she was barely out of her teens and had not finished school was never an issue.
As the project grew so did Rani, gaining confidence with every step she took. Her burning desire to fulfil herself was breathtaking. She intuitively knew that she had been given a unique chance: that of breaking the cycle in which she was born and she was determined to do so.
When Shamika my daughter and a special educator joined project why, Rani found a friend that would enable her to cross the line and discover another world. Theirs was a meeting of souls and the validation of a long cherished dream. I have always held that India would be transformed if we could bring about a common school where children from all sections of society could learn and grow together. Rani and Shamika are a perfect example of this reality. If Rani shed her traditional wear and donned jeans, Shamika gained confidence and discovered the true meaning of social responsibility.
Rani’s is a story of true empowerment. Over the years this school drop out managed to pass her X and XII from the open school and her graduation from the Open University. What is remarkable is that she never took a day off. I only came to know about her achievements when she walked in with a box of sweets and a beaming smile. I wonder when she found the time to study. But then that is Rani.
And slowly I became blissfully redundant. Rani was truly in charge.
Tomorrow Rani will be taking a huge step in her life and I must admit I feel a little fearful as any mother does I guess. Though she looks strong and confident, I know how fragile and sensitive she really is. I can only stand in the wings and pray that her new life will be filled with joy and happiness and that the family she is about to make heirs will have the ability to see with their heart and give her what she truly deserves.
May God always walk by her side.