Notes on Culture & Antique Art, Ethnic Decor & Vintage Fashion | Wovensouls Art Gallery

Lives of Others – The story of Kashi Neembu

Sept 2009

in my city – mumbai – there is a home for the dying destitute run by the nuns of ‘missionaries of charity’ – mother theresa’s organisation. these are people that have been found in miserable conditions as dying beggars on the roadside and dropped off at the home run by the nuns, just so that they may have a peaceful place to die in.

i went there today with a view to holding the hands of those in their last days, give them a feeling of being cared for, and mainly, if they have any messages for the loved ones they have lost, they could pass them on through me. i went there because i wanted to build positive karma to balance out some bad karma.

the men and the women lie in different halls. some in beds, others on the floor. in various states of misery.

i had gone in with a nun. and so  woman who could walk came up to us, and touched the nun’s feet in gratitude and mine as well. this was totally ironic and totally undeserved and made me cry. for they were the victims. and i was here not because i was a saint – but because i wanted to be a good person – to atone for mistakes made, and compnesate life in some way. they were the sufferers and i had caused suffering. and yet they thought i was better than them ?? how could i ever explain?

getting over my shyness i asked one of the helpers which of them is in a really bad shape and beyond hope and i was shown kashi neembu.

kashi neembu –  a frail dark woman about 70-80 years old lay on her bed in a size S dress that was way too big for her shrunken body. had shaven her head awhile ago – to avoid lice – and is now growing grey hair again.  she was half asleep when i went and stood at the head of her bed and was mumbling something. her mumbling started the conversation – i asked her what she wanted. thats when she woke up and noticed my presence. and began talking to me. she said in a garbled language that seemed familiar and in a few sentences i knew that it was my mother tongue that had been corrupted by her effort to get understood in this alien city. so i began speaking in gujarati – and she lit up.

this is her story:

kashi neembu grew up and lived a full life in a small town in the state of gujarat.  she grew up in a time when the day was meant for work, and schooling was done in the evenings – which her father did not allow for the girls. And so – she is to be counted among the illiterate. she had a husband and 6 grown up children, 3 daughters and 3 sons. she told me that her family was so well of financially, that they could switch on the lights day and night. and they even had a doorbell. her husband worked in a factory and her sons in offices. when i told her my ancestors were from a larger nearby town, she told me very proudly that even she was associated with that town as her son’s and daughter’s in-laws were from those cities. she joked with me on something, laughing and showing me her remaining crooked teeth. they lived this happy life, i’m guessing at least until she saw her grandchildren.

after which there was the big fight. some others were jealous of some success and there was a huge community war. she watched the father of her children get killed. her big strong sturdy sons get killed – whom she described as sturdier than me. and she watched some of her daughters die and get taken away. and she had been blinded in one eye completely and partially in the other.

and then she was taken away by the police in the van.

last night she dreamt of her daughter. calling out to her. she is proud that every few days she gets dreams like these. she is proud of these possessions. her only ones. ‘thats all i’ve got’ she said.

when the police threw her out she lived on the roads. and eventually was brought in by some good samaritans to the home for the dying destitute. she is full of gratitude to the people who brought her here. she is full of gratitude to the nuns who keep her so well here. who make her eat, even when she has no desire left. she is very grateful for the goodness of all these people.

we held hands while she talked. and i sat on the floor and she propped herself up on her bed. she used terms of endearment with me that a mother uses for her child. she had lived with her story for years. and so had made space for other emotions like gratitude and laughter. i was the only one that was on the verge of tears constantly. but even with so many years of getting used to this, she still had tears once.

now she along with the others in that hall, are all waiting. waiting with nothing else to do. just waiting. for the next time she gets a dream. for someone to take them away. dead or alive.

p.s. i spoke with some other women briefly, and as would happen in any community,  another woman told me more about kashi neembu’s story. kashi neembu had been gangraped by a mob, and raped and blinded by the police during the riots in gujarat. subsequently i went and saw her once more. but have not had the courage to go again for fear that i might not find her there again.

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