Snakes and ladders

Snakes and ladders

Imagine the plight of a poor woman who has neither a marriage nor education to protect her in society! Yet, there are millions of women all over the world who manage to survive by sheer hard work, determination and courage. All my admiration for such souls who ask for no pity from others for they do not pity themselves.
 
I met such a woman recently in my locality. Let me call her Lakshmi (irony unintended), a very common name for a very common woman. Sans education and sans marriage, she had managed to earn her living by working in a matha for no regular salary. People who visited the matha for various ceremonies, to whom she lent a helping hand, rewarded her in cash and kind, according to their means and status. Besides, she got free food as a helper at the matha.

Charity, you may call it, but Lakshmi earned her charity by running errands for the devotees, minding their babies, cleaning up the puja place for them, giving service in the dining hall etc. All this had made her quite a favourite with the regulars at the matha. As for her looks, she was quite plain, of a short stature and unruly hair.

I got to know Lakshmi as she used to pass by my house every morning on her way to the matha. After the first few occasions of cordial greetings, she started dropping in at my place. In no time, she had narrated her life story.

In short, she gave me a vivid picture of her brother and her sister-in-law who had turned her into a dogsbody, devising new tortures every day, just because they gave her a tiny sleeping space under the staircase for which they were determined to confiscate all her savings mercilessly.

Shrewd as she was, she took to hiding her earnings from her brother, for which she had to face abuse and even beatings at times. It was inevitable that I should become her banker. At the end of every week, she would tot up the rupees and gloat over the amount she had saved. Her most cherished dream was to rent a room of her own and live an independent life. “But that will cost you a hell of a lot of money,” I pointed out. She thought the Rs 1 lakh she had so painstakingly put together would buy her independence from her brother and his wife.

One morning, she burst into my house and asked for Rs 20,000 out of her savings. “What for?” I queried. She said her brother had demanded the money and there was no way she could say no. “Your account will slither down from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 80,000, you know that?” I said. He has promised to return it within a month was her reply.
 
And so it went on. Every time she touched her target of whatever she had in mind, in other words the top of the ladder, there would be another demand from her brother and lo! she would come slithering down again. Yes, life became a game of snakes and ladders for Lakshmi. Yet, she hoped that one day she would have enough to rent a room of her own, of course, with the blessings of her ‘banker.’
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