Selfless devotion

The flight had already landed and the nonagenarian was patiently waiting for me. I was looking flustered due to the delay on my part, but there was no sign of anxiety on her face and her khadi sari was uncrumpled. All that she said was, “There must’ve been a traffic jam, but I knew you’d come.”

After lunch I suggested that she rest for a while before proceeding on the next leg of the journey by car. She said that she’d prefer to read the newspaper and then leave for Arsikere – one of the centres of the Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Trust. Although I’ve known Shobhana Tai since childhood and knew that she’s involved in social work, I didn’t comprehend the depth and breadth of her work till she was awarded the Padma Bhushan for empowerment of women and child welfare. The amount of work she’s done in this sector is worth recounting and emulating.

In her personal life she has faced tragedies and losses – still nothing deterred her. When she was 18 she met Mahatma Gandhi at the Aga Khan Palace in Pune and he blessed her by saying “live fearlessly.”

She began assisting destitute women and orphaned children to make them self-reliant. After marriage she moved to Digboi, Assam and began working at the Maitreyee Ashram in North Lakhimpur and started Shishu Niketan - the first child welfare centre in a village in Assam. Through her Adim Jaati Seva Sangh, Naga tribal woman were given training in weaving and spinning the charkha. In 1979 Shobhana Tai helped in starting the Gandhi National Memorial Society and a national training institute for women at the Aga Khan Palace. The society launched the Kasturba Mahila Khadi Gramodyog Vidyalaya in 1998, a training centre where women are taught spinning and weaving. Shobhana Tai was also instrumental in starting SOS children's village across Maharashtra.

She has won many awards and accolades, but this only fuels her to contribute more and work harder. Professionally and personally there is no discord – what she preaches she actually does.

Even at Arsikere this time, when Shobhana Tai saw a woman making chapatis she asked why no one was helping her. The woman replied that the others don’t know how to make chapatis. “I’ll teach them,” Shobhana Tai said, and soon the others learnt. She sheltered an abandoned child in her home and today he owns an auto and has a family of his own. Every day he ferries her to and fro her places of work. When she went back from Bangalore he took a simple meal of roti-subzi for her as she went directly to the institute.
She’s a true celebrity as she brings purpose to so many lives and gives reason for celebration. She doesn’t speak from a pedestal, but works from the grassroots level. Bending down to touch her feet all that I ask for are -- your indefatigable energy, enthusiasm, and the willingness to work for a better India.

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