Thursday, May 16, 2013

Motherly love

Two weeks ago, when I interviewed some of my friends who live in the Lakhtokia slum, I interviewed two mothers. Parvati is a tiny young woman who is always the first person I see upon walking into the slum and has a long history with Pratyasha. Puja is a mother who I am curious about because she looks so worn out and exhausted.

Puja came to Lakhtokia two years ago from Nalbari, a small town in the Nalbari district. She and her husband picked up their three kids and came to Guwahati for work. Ever since coming here, they have lived in the Lakhtokia slum. Soon after moving, her husband discovered alcohol and since then he has had a hard time getting a job. He collects bottles everyday, and makes approximately 100-150 rupees (2-3 dollars) per day. Sometimes they have food and sometimes they must skip a meal: “It depends on how many bottles my husband collects,” Puja said. She likes Nalbari and her old life much more because the living conditions were better. “In Nalbari," she said, "I had dreams for my kids, but now it is not possible.”

Puja told me that she is very scared of her house getting knocked down. The police always come on national holidays (like Independence Day or Republic Day). When these holidays are coming, she and her family move from the slum intto the street and lay low for a little while. She explained that the police come and harass most everyone as they knock down all of the houses. She chooses to avoid these scary times and protect her family at all costs.


Parvati has lived in the Lakhtokia slum her entire life. She lives immediately next to the blue temple where we feed the kids on Sundays, with her daughter, a younger brother, and her mother. Parvati is one of the poorest in Lakhtokia. She lives amongst the trash that she and her family collect, sleeps under one ripped tarp, and smells the sewage flowing right next to her home. Ever since she was diagnosed with Tuberculosis, she has become quite close with the Pratyasha crew. Thanks to Kristin and the volunteer doctor, she was cured within six months of her diagnosis (for more information on this adventure visit Kristin's blog- here and here

Parvati is always smiling and waving when I see her. However, we have all seen Parvati get extremely angry. She can bark at people like I have never seen before. I sense that she is a powerful woman in Lakhtokia. Whenever Parvati knows that I am in the slum picking up the kids for school, I am completely safe. The thought that literally goes through my mind when Parvati waves at me is, “Parvati knows I am here, I am completely protected.”

Parvati guesses her age is 26 but she looks about 19. She has three brothers and two sisters, all of whom live on the railroad tracks. Parvati's tarp houses four people: Abita (her 6-year-old daughter), Zehrul (her 14-year-old brother) and her mother (name unknown). Parvati’s husband died of unknown causes when Abita was seven days old. The whole family collects plastic and makes around 50-60 rupees per day (one dollar). If Parvati is lucky, she is hired to sweep and/or mop for the day at a nearby business for around 10 rupees. She confided in me that she often does not eat because there is not enough food for the whole family. That explains why she is so small and skinny. 

Parvati wants Abita to get educated. Abita began going to the Don Boscoe afternoon program for several weeks but then stopped going. Parvati said that Abita gets too distracted and finds it boring. So, we have to do something about that. (I think it’s time to start our own school for these kids and make it extremely active and fun).

Parvati does not like living in Lakhtokia because of what happens once the sun sets. She said when that happens, “There are lots of drunk people who do bad things.” When asked what the “bad things” were, she did not comment. Like everyone else, she is scared of the police. She said they are always beating up her brother for no reason. She explained that someone in the nearby Lakhtokia market will complain to the police that someone has stolen a shoe, a shirt, an onion, etc., and the police immediately will blame the people living on the railroad tracks. Then, houses get knocked down, and people get hurt.

What I noticed about Parvati is that she is tough because she has to be. But inside that tiny body is a big heart.

Sending smiles from India,
Hannah Dobie

Photos of Avita and Parvati:

Hello Avita! 

Parvati doing Avita's hair.
Avita taking a bath. 

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