When my eyes fell on her for the first time, I saw a shy, somewhat scared, girl sitting silently next to her grandma. With slightly joint eyebrows and hair cropped until her shoulders, she wore a cream kurta and brown dupatta. Her round pretty face perfectly complimented her name — Purnima. She had come to the hospital for an assessment of mental retardation. However, from on the first look, she appeared quite normal to me.

When we started asking questions about her problem, her grandma(maternal) did all the talking narrating her history of seizures and episodes of mental retardation while staying at an orphanage. She was an old lady somewhere in 60s but looked a lot older than her actual age. She had draped her bulky body carelessly in a tattered saree, and the pallu doubled as her face mask. Her strong persona was glaringly obvious, as was her stark poverty. She had been singlehandedly tending for Purnima since she was 13 days old. Now she is almost 18.

When Purnima was conceived, her parents lived in Surat along with her paternal grandmother. After a few months, they had done a gender determination test and on finding out that it’s a girl, the father and grandmother pressured her mom to abort the child, but she refused and didn’t budge despite all the crushing blows, literally. The physical and verbal abuse from both of them continued all through her state of pregnancy.

After a full gestation period, Purnima was born a tiny, frail child who started getting seizures within the first few days itself. The fury of the father and grandma raged on seeing the baby girl and their beatings increased, this time extending to the child as well. Helpless, the mother picked up her baby and battled her way home travelling in the general compartment of train from Surat to Cuttack to reach her mother (hereafter referred to as Chandana Maa).  

Chandana Maa did her best to tend for her daughter and the baby. The condition of the child started showing rapid improvements and soon she was laughing, crawling, walking and talking like any other normal child. But Alas! a normal life was perhaps not in her destiny. At a tender age of a year and 3 months, she lost her mother who succumbed to recurrent bouts of cough and fever for lack of treatment. Now Chandana Maa was left all by herself to look after Purnima in this cruel world where even her son had ousted them from her own house and abandoned them completely . 

With the meagre funds at hand, Chandana Maa strived to provide for herself and her granddaughter, including her education at a government school. However, when her capabilities started failing her due to old age, she sent off Purnima to a rehabilitation centre for children. Within a year, they sent her back citing her feats as the reason for dismissal. After a few months, Purnima was sent off to another orphanage where she stayed a little over a year before returning again to Chandana Maa. This time the reason was some mentally retarded behaviours developed of late like muttering to herself and hurling abuses at fellow residents. On being inquired whether those claims were true, Purnima admitted doing so and also said that she won’t repeat such activities that make her look abnormal.

In the present day, Chandana Maa and Purnima live in a single room adjoining communal toilets in a farmer’s market. Their daily meals are dependent upon the mercy of the local shopkeepers to whom the old lady goes seeking money and eatables. As per Chandana Maa, Purnima is incapable of taking care of herself or doing any domestic chores. So the poor old lady has to do everything including washing Purnima’s clothes during her periods.

While her grandma was speaking about her inadequacies, I observed a certain disagreement in the facial expressions and body language of Purnima. On being asked directly, she told that she can do these chores like washing utensils, clothes, cleaning the house, etc. Well-aware that her skills are not upto the mark, she believes she can improve at those tasks with practice. However her grandma, who is never satisfied with the quality of her work, does not let her do anything and takes the entire burden upon her own shoulders. Through some basic arithmetic questions, we assessed that Purnima is capable enough to handle money and buy things on her own if given the chance, though Chandana Maa never entrusts her with money thinking that she isn’t mature enough.

On getting a chance to talk to her alone, I asked her a few questions about how she wants to lead her life. In response, she said she wants to function independently, because afterall her grandma is not going to be there forever to take care of her. She wants to get married and lead a normal life a few years from now, but before that she wants to be an adept at managing all household chores. Despite all the adversities she has been grappling with since birth, the strength of her spirit twinkling through her eyes and the confidence in her voice was strikingly evident. Finally getting a full view of her from head to toe, I realised that she was dressed in a shabby kurti over a set of knee length trousers and a top and a dupatta to cover up the best she could. Perhaps, that was the only decent attire she owned…

Overcome by emotions, I became numb and couldn’t carry on the conversation anymore.

Who is to be blamed for her unending miseries ? Her father who disowned her and caused the death of her mother? Who is still alive but doesn’t care whether his daughter lives or dies? Or the society that has created this obsession with male child? Or is it her previous karma and destiny? Blaming it on her fate, can we just turn a blind eye and walk away?

Why then, is poor Chandana Maa struggling to make her ends meet and keep Purnima alive? At this age, when managing one’s own health seems difficult, from where does she gather the courage and determination to keep her granddaughter safe and healthy, to provide her with medication for her seizures and mental illnesses?

I walked straight to Chandana Maa who was standing a few metres away. Took out my purse and handed her the meagre amount lying inside (really wish I had more that day). She thanked me profusely, and had an expression of great contentment and gratitude written all over. Her next words left me speechless and empty. “There are many people in this world whose suffering is much greater than ours. Whatever is in our fate, we are dealing with it by God’s Grace. Please don’t feel sad for us. May God bless you always! Just note down my phone number and call me at times.” Deep respect rose from the corners of my heart for Chandana Maa – a lady immensely rich in gratitude, faith and dignity. If not for the hospital settings and the Covid situation, I would have touched her feet!

As I started walking away from her, my mind started making plans about what I can do, in my limited means, to be of help to them. My primary focus is to make Purnima self-sufficient and to reduce the burden on Chandana Maa. Although I had thought of visiting them in a few days, haven’t been able to do so yet because of the lockdown in Odisha. Tried calling a couple of times, but her phone is switched off (perhaps no balance). I hope to meet them soon when the lockdown ends. 

My purpose of writing this post is to seek your kind suggestions as to what can be done for Purnima to make her financially independent. Any ideas that can make a difference to her life are most welcome! 

If you know of any organisations or institutes that provide quality vocational training to young women at affordable costs (in Cuttack or Bhubaneswar) please drop me a comment below. The little things that I could think of doing for them are:

  • Provide sanitary pads on a regular basis, so that she can discontinue the unhygienic use of clothes and the hassle of washing them.
  • Provide them with a few pair of sarees and clothes.
  • Some financial support to help meet their daily needs.
  • Purnima has studied upto Class 9th. So, get her enrolled in school again so that she can appear for 10th exams. If she has the interests and merit, to support her for higher education .
  • Arrange for some vocational training for Purnima at the end of which she can be employed and start earning.

I offer my obeisance and gratitude at the Lotus Feet of my beloved Guru, Swamiji for making me feel loved, belonged and working through me in ways beyond the known!

My gratitude to the universe for giving me a comfortable life!

My gratitude to all you Divine beings, my dear os.me family for always showering me with love and inspiration! 

Words can never be enough… 

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