A lesson in Rural Livelihoods, Womxn in Informal Economy and Urban Demands
Parvathamma would come daily to the bank, in Tumakuru, Karnataka. Everyone called her “Flower lady”. Her job was to go around and provide fresh Jasmine strings to women in the office, and to adorn the photo of Goddess Lakshmi.
I was an exotic piece for her since despite being a Hindu, I neither used a bindi nor put flowers in hair. She was flabbergasted and perplexed on my audacity. She tried her best to get me to wear some Jasmine, however, I told her that the sharp fragrance gave me a headache, and that my hair was too thin to hold them. With a heavy heart she surrendered, and started bringing me other loose flowers, instead. I went on with my snobbery. I repeatedly told her how I loved flowers, but instead of plucking them daily for me, she could just get me a flower pot and be done with it. She would laugh and dismiss me, and if I wasn’t on my seat I would return to find a bunch of them waiting for me.
My teasing and her insistence went on for about three months until one day, a customer was extremely happy with me, and was inviting me over to lunch at her place. I declined her offer, so she wanted to thank me in some other way she deemed fit. Parvathamma happened to be present. The customer insisted to buy flowers for me from the "Flower Lady". I told her that I didn’t wear any, because I hate flowers being plucked for one’s vanity or joy.
She got up, removed her hair pins, took a big Jasmine string from Parvathamma and both of them somehow fit them painfully on my scalp ensuring that not a single one would fall till evening. An arrogant, exotic North Indian was reined in by them. Entire branch was delighted on my conformity. That day, however, Parvathamma walked with her head high. She wasn’t carrying away my charity. She had sold something that was in demand. She had earned money not by pity, but because someone had manufactured a genuine need for what she could sell.
I didn’t continue wearing flowers in hair. I did stop lecturing her. I had realized that our wants prey on needs of others. It had dawned on me, that my “ideals” and “principles” stem from my privilege. They are a luxury. I had no right to be ethical on something which was sustenance for someone else. If our demands were in sync with what our informal economy supplies, perhaps we would be closer to humanity.
Eating millets, wearing locally woven “ethnic”, foregoing expensive restaurants, understanding our traditional practices, aligning our consumption with supplies from the informal economy - are not personal choices. They are strong, very strong political choices.
Rural India: Where Time Stops and Hearts Melt
Life in the hinterlands is slow-paced. It is beautiful and wise. Nobody seems to mind whatever may happen. Like a babbling brook, everyone flows effortlessly – meandering, dripping, crashing and sometimes just being still. All the while producing a music that reverberates through one’s being. Their grief is short-lived, their gratitude profound. Their love is magnetic and contagious, rippling out in geometric progression. Their harmony with nature assumes a flawless rhythm. It’s impossible to extract the sine and cosine of the sacred and the profane out of this symphony.
Just when one surrenders to scorching heat, hunger pangs, dust, infrastructural constraints, linguistic handicaps and a maddening mundane office, one discovers just how deep empathy goes. Financial inclusion is a much-needed ambrosia. As for ‘changing the world’, streams of tears, grateful sighs of relief and folded hands tell me that all each of us has to do is to be diligent, sincere, and compassionate in whatever we do.
The numbers may tell an official story, some true and others mere utilitarian; it is, however, a privilege to play a part in real life stories that can only be narrated through happy wrinkles, new bangles, a healthy crop, abundant dairy, fresh coconuts, skilled feminine hands finding empowerment, dignity and respect, and withered palms raised in blessing.
(This story was edited and first published here)