For the last few months, we’ve been giving our clothes for ironing to a woman (I must confess I don’t know her name) who has a makeshift stall down our road. She always greets us with a smile, does a good job of the ironing and charges less than others. Now you know how heavy the old fashioned iron with coal is…well, this woman is ironing until almost past ten at night with the light from the streetlamp and in a place buzzing with mosquitoes.
Soon after Christmas she was not to be seen. The paan-wala (betel leaf seller) who sits close to her stall told me that she was sick and quite weak. We didn’t see her for nearly three weeks. We realised that she was losing out on business and wished to help her. I had every intention of finding out where she lived, but didn’t get down to it. Another good intention that came to nought.
A couple of days ago I was happy to see her back and though looking weak, she was cheerfully carrying on with her work. She told me that she had been in hospital, but couldn’t quite explain what happened. Perhaps, since she’s uneducated, the doctors thought she didn’t need to know. What she did know was that she was given four bottles of blood and a bill of Rs.25,000/-. However, rather than dwell on her illness, she told me how the paan-wala, responding to her little daughter’s call, had taken her to hospital and how he raised loans to pay her bill! He, according to her, saved her life.
I go to get our clothes ironed and I come back absolutely amazed. Here’s a woman who has been very ill, who now has to continue working very hard not just to feed herself and her daughter, but also to repay huge loans, and yet she can smile and be grateful.
The dhoban (washerwoman) and the paan-wala – simple people but they’ve taught me a lot about courage, dignity, and how to reach out to your neighbour. Isn’t it always the ‘simple’ people who teach us the most profound lessons?
May you be inspired – every day!