HER STORY. HER VALOR.

Dr. Geeta Sundar

I’ve seen her around. Lurking, pulling that disabled leg. Leaning on the uninjured foot, supporting her tiny, willowy body. I’ve glanced at her, smiled my way of normal greeting and zoomed past her.

I’m really not the kind for chit-chat, or the one who stops to take a deep breath and wallow in a greeting, so introverted, I usually skip the niceties. And so, I had never gone the extent of finding out her story…until one day she caught me by surprise and had me rooted onto my soles, curious about her and her tale.

“I’d write a book about you!” I deemed, enchanted and at the same time so encased in her words.

She smiled a full blown one. “Everyone who meets me, states that.”

Of course, they would! She was a story to unfurl, unravel and show the world how much grit, determination could matter in life. To show famous children of famous daddies, that money is not everything. That success comes to everyone who attempts.

“Polio.” A sad look overcomes her thin, long face as she remembers the days, I reckon, perhaps of long lost maladies with futile care, maybe of bullying she faced in her growing years, I know not of her sorrow fully, but I do understand how much health matters.

She points to her bad leg and nods. As if nothing could be done now, but it’s something of a repercussion she needs to deal with. An acceptance coats her features, like she has made her peace with what is and learnt to live with it.

I don’t know how, but every tiny micro-expression on her face, I can recall. And with each sentence that leaves her lips, there is a lesson to be learnt.

“I’m not married.” She shrugs. Another acquiescence. One more aspect she tolerates, that she knows is wayward from the way of thinking of societal norms. “I live all alone.” Each statement she makes, she opens another layer of the maze, drawing me into this vortex of secrets she is hiding. Just another simple woman, common woman, ‘aam janta’ but what opens up is completely another identity.

“So what?” I whisper indignantly. The feminist in me rises to the snarl. “I’m single too. I live all alone too.”

She smiles tenderly. “But your life is different than mine.”

I nod against my wish at the truth in her words. I know, she knows what I want. I’m lapping up every word she utters, waiting for the real deal. And my patience is rewarded.

She talks of her childhood days, fondly of her older brother, not so fondly of her drunken abandoning father, sweetly about her loving mother and how despite big dreams in her heart and mind, her body physically could never escalate to those levels. She was deemed disabled, mocked at, made fun of, and how she could never be ‘normal’ otherwise as society would label her.

“Hmmph.” I snort. “Normal is overrated. Haven’t you heard?”

No anger to my words or snort, she calmly replies, yet another smile on her face. “Normal people say that a lot, don’t they?”

‘Course they do! Idiot, I chid myself. What was I thinking?

But she continues, thankfully, still unperturbed by my insult. She describes in few sentences how she got into this job – she acts as the caretaker of the patients who don’t have enough family, or otherwise any other member to reside in the hospital and care for them – she becomes the point of contact with the family and patient.

And not once or twice, it’s her job now. She likes it, she says. Pays well. Good hospital food. “I keep most of the day earnings for bad days – health, emergency situations, home repairs, the like…you know?” She goes on to describe so much more of the job – how there is an agent she reaches out to, or who reaches out to her, and gets her these patients she needs to babysit; how she rarely makes it home more than once or twice a year, in fear of burdening her brother’s family with her illness and disability; how she has been to all the five hospitals on this side of town, and about how she knows the hospital corridors in and out, and despite being alone, she makes friends with security guards, cafeteria workers, nurses, doctors; how she reads a lot of books she can buy off the stalls, flicks old newspapers from the out-patient blocks; how she spends her time trying to learn new things like crochet, stitching, new recipes.

But something isn’t sitting well with me. She described all the good. Where is the bad? Coz, of course there is the bad. I inch closer to her. My voice a whisper now, barely, as I am about to spawn out the ugly, I reckon she isn’t asked about this a lot. “What about the harassment?” I edge my words slowly, fearing I’d scare her off, slightly tensed that she might scuttle from this wonderful story I’m hearing and stop speaking. “The abuse? The issues that single working women have to deal with?” I am hoping my expressions aren’t too severe and she can get the subject I’m trying to broach. I mean, come on, let’s all be serious for a moment, shall we? Her story has got great potential, but surely, when she is sole woman caretaker to a male patient and sleeping alone of the hospital floors at night or roaming alone across hallways, there might be situations that can’t be controlled? Or where she is afraid of the consequences?

“Oh. I make friends with all the nurses and the security personnel. I have all their numbers on my phone. Nobody attempts to try anything with me; and now after having worked this circuit for so many years, I’m a very well-known person. The patients’ I’m standing as caretaker to also know that the moment they try any little nonsense, I’m gone. I don’t even care about the money then. I just pack up and leave. They understand that health is more important. They understand that when they are so lonely, and have no family to take care of them, it’s better to at least have someone who can help them, than have no one at all.”

She takes a deep breath. Closes her eyes and releases the breath.

“I’ve been more than a thousand times fortunate that I’ve never had to deal with these things. God has given me hardships, but He has always come through when I needed it the most. I have faith. I trust. I believe in the good. I see the positive. That is how I live my life.”

And therein, I realised, we were not the same. Starkly different. Opposites. Poles apart. Despite all her misgivings and misfits, this wonderful lady had the guts to face each day with optimism and graciously look for the silver lining. And have umpteen faith and honor in believing in the good.

And here I was…entitled, lucky to have this life, cribbing about the smaller things in life, under-appreciating the good stuff, not grateful for the good when it came along, slamming my free choices, making mistakes, undermining happiness, overthinking my own negative thoughts.

Her strength laid in her ability to be alone and independent.

Her valor was in her approach to her job and family.

Her courage shone in her selfless service.

Her grit paved her liberty, her success and her achievement.

She is an example to find by, live by, influence and impress. She is a woman of today’s world. A woman who is not scared of the consequences, and who stands tall, chin up, striving for her right to equal survival.

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