The Extraordinary Strength of Ordinary Women

Daksha boarded the train sharp at 11 am. The journey from Valsad to Mumbai may have been only five hours. But for Daksha it was not merely a journey. It was years of rebellion finally paying off.

Since Daksha had turned 16, people had urged her to join her father’s tailoring shop. Something she detested!  Her dream was to write stories. And share them with the world. After completing a post graduate degree in mass communication, she had started applying for jobs in Mumbai. She attended a workshop organized by a start-up publication called ‘Athena – The Inspirational Women’ the last time she had visited Mumbai. They had told her that they needed passionate people like her. But her English was not up to mark. However, she managed to secure a onetime paid assignment to pitch a story about an inspiring woman.

People had said all sort of things:

You have never left Valsad! How will you manage to live in such a big city?

The city always floods!

How can you become a content writer when your English is not that great!

Who gets paid to write stories anyway!

But Daksha was not afraid. She had the hunger to prove herself. If only she could find a famous woman to interview…

“Myself – Daksha Shah.” She said to a middle-aged lady, the only other woman in the compartment after adjusting her luggage under the berth. “Last time I went to Mumbai, all gents only! This time good company!”

The lady shook her hand, and smiled politely.  Daksha had read enough books on how to become a strong, successful woman. All the books talked about networking. Daksha took networking very seriously. Even if she was in a train with strangers.

 “Aunty, I am going for job! If I get, my office would be at Nariman Point. I have found a PG in Dadar. Dadar to Churchgate I can take local train!”

Aunty nodded.

“I am first girl in my family to go to Mumbai! All girls, either get married or join parents’ business. But I wanted to be independent!”

Aunty smiled as Daksha continued.

Daksha was trying to put a brave face.  But deep down she was scared and unsure of herself. She had borrowed money from her parents to sustain herself without a job.  She had fought with everyone. What if people made fun of her accent like those mean girls from the workshop?  The ones who had no idea in which century Rani Lakshmibai lived, yet they thought it was their birth right to ridicule her English? She had nobody to share her doubts with. How could she when they all believed she was making the biggest mistake of her life? She wanted someone to tell her she would be okay. She did not want to hear that she would fail.

Daksha switched on her laptop. She typed the title of her story.

‘Top 10 Sucessful Women of 2016’, she entered the title in a new Microsoft word document. The auto check corrected the spelling to successful.

Aunty was now sleeping, leaning on the window. She momentarily opened her eyes. Daksha could not resist.

“Aunty, I am feeling little bit scared. First time leaving home.  My English also not that good because I studied in Gujarati medium. But Aunty I am hard working. I know if I get good opportunity, I can do anything in life! But if I fail, people here will laugh at me. I want to be a successful, famous woman like Kiran Bedi!”

“Kiran Bedi did not dream of being famous dear! She worked hard and earned a name for herself.    Don’t dream of being famous. Figure out what makes you happy. Then just do it. If you are interested in your work, you will do well. You already have a goal. Go for it! Success will come over time! There is no such thing as failure. It is sad to see young people give up. Life is so big!”

“Yes, Aunty! But I always have this craze to meet some great lady like Neerja Bhanot or Kalpana Chawla. She was greatest woman of India!  Why she died so young!”

Yes Beta, if only someone could answer that question. Why do people die before their time? People say everything happens for good. But what good justifies death of children before the eyes of their parents? Good, kind children. Who just wanted to do well in life. And they would have. Had they been…”

Aunty paused. This was the longest that she had spoken. Daksha did not know what to say next. She looked back at her article.  She already had a list of women she wanted to interview – successful women from the field of finance, journalism, fashion technology etc.

“Aunty you know any strong, famous women? I want to interview!”

“I know a lot of strong women. But they may not be famous!”

“Oh like who? I mean if not CFO of company, even VP will do.”

“I am afraid I don’t know any such women! But I do know a lot of strong women!”

“But what they have done! Good enough to write story on them?”

“Maybe not an interesting story you are looking for. But everybody has a story to tell. People become strong when they face some circumstances in life they were not prepared for. Everybody has struggles. The way we deal with it matters.”

 “Aunty you have met any movie star? In Mumbai, it must be common!”

“No!” Aunty replied with a laugh.  Daksha was disappointed.

The rest of the journey Daksha continued to write.  Mumbai station was about to reach.

People were removing their luggage and crowding around the exits. Daksha also pulled out her suit case.

“It was nice meeting you Beta.  Wish you the very best in life! Thank you for your company!”  

“Mention not Aunty! Daksha beamed, holding her luggage ready to move out.

“This is my card. Let me know if you ever need anything.”

Daksha did not have time to see the card now. She tucked it in her purse as she made her way out of the rush.

Few days later, Daksha got settled in her PG. She went to office of Athena to pitch a story line for a female Air Marshal she had met through her roommate who agreed to be interviewed.

Daksha was narrating the story line to the editor, when she opened her purse to remove a pen.  A visiting card dropped out. It read, ‘Mothers against suicide’.

Below was the contact number of Arundhati Biswas along with a helpline number.

“Are you interviewing her too?” The editor asked with excitement.

“Who!”

“Arundhati Biswas!”

It took Daksha some time to correlate that this card belonged to the Aunty she had met in the train.

“Is she famous? I have met her!” Daksha asked, the excitement now reflecting in her voice too.

“Well, not famous enough that everyone would know her.  But famous enough to be known in circles like ours.  She started a suicide helpline number after her 15-year-old committed suicide due to failing an exam. Initially, it was low key. Spread through word of mouth. But now she has a website that has grown. Lots of other bereaved mothers have joined. In extreme cases, she refers people to professional counsellors, therapists and psychiatrists. She conducts sessions for free in schools and colleges on bullying, dealing with heartbreak, grief counselling etc.  Pretty inspiring lady!”

Daksha was dumbfounded. She wished she had known this while she was travelling with Aunty. She got in touch with Arundhati for an interview without wasting any further time.

Arundhati told her about her ordeal.  How she lost her child because of a moment of weakness. How every day in the past ten years has been a struggle.  How she wishes she could go back in time. The first thought she has every morning is to go join her daughter, wherever she is. Yet, she manages to live every day, somehow in the hope that she could help someone else not go through the same pain.

Daksha ended the story with a quote referred to by Arundhati:

“Whatever you are physically…male or female, strong or weak, ill or healthy–all those things matter less than what your heart contains. If you have the soul of a warrior, you are a warrior. All those other things, they are the glass that contains the lamp, but you are the light inside.” – Cassandra ClareClockwork Angel

The editor had a hard time with Daksha’s mediocre writing. But she could not help being impressed with the content. The story was published. It became viral. Daksha attended an English course, as well as spoken English classes recommended by her editor over the next eight months following which she applied for a written exam with Athena. Within a year, she was hired as a full-time content writer.

Daksha now writes her own column in which she curates stories of women who have made a difference to somebody else’s life. She does not look for famous people anymore. Ordinary women may have extraordinary strength.  Her muses are now women she meets in the local train, who may be cutting vegetables oblivious to the fact that they may be heroes in their own way.

One of the stories she published was about herself. Her journey from a small town, to her struggle with the English language, and finally living the dream of being a columnist.

Arundhati was right. Every woman is strong. She has a story to tell.

She just needs the right person to listen.

Author’s Note:

This story has been written for the Warrior Women Blogathon. Women’s Web & Juggernaut Books invite you to join us on an exciting blogathon, inspired by the warrior women of history.

When a Greek pirate ship sails in to loot the wealth of the Cholas, it is brutally defeated by the navy and forced to pay a compensation. A payment that includes a twelve-year-old girl, Aremis. Check out this new historical novel Empire (http://bit.ly/DeviEmpire) with a warrior woman, Aremis at the heart of the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2017, Tanvi Sinha. All rights reserved.

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