Disgrace to Dignity

Vinay Thakur, journalist with Hindustan Times group

We met Guddi when she along with others like her had come to a Sulabh function. Dark complexioned Guddi had herself made up like any average Indian married woman and had a courteous smile. There was nothing to even hint that her earlier life had been miserable. The more difficult life grew, the stronger became Guddi’s determination to give her daughters better days. She felt an inner urge: ‘Guddi, take your daughters out of this hell.’ The same determination gave her the drive every morning when she used to rush to clean human excreta with her hands. It proved to be no less than traversing an inferno.

With the change of fortune, the same Guddi would traverse the Atlantic and would sashay down the ramp along with gorgeous models at a fashion show in the United Nations headquarters. For the first time even her own children couldn’t remain unfazed at this news. They asked: ‘would you fly to America with models …. walk the ramp with them? You must show us the photos.’ Any way, before reaching this height she had accomplished a task that by any yardstick was a Herculean one. She had her two daughters Anju and Meena educated. They were married, that too, in a family where they could have a decent living.

But it was not a cakewalk. At school her children were taunted. Back at home her son’s tears moved her like anything. ‘All of them say that you carry nightsoil on your head. Must be cooking with the same dirty hands. So no one shares tiffin with me.’ Guddi had to listen to this complaint, she had no plausible solution in sight. All her son Vinod could see was tears trickling down her mother’s cheeks. Yet he used to ask why she didn’t take up some other job. Every time Guddi felt clean-bowled. The million dollar question was: who would give her a job? So she used to curse herself why she didn’t get herself educated despite her father’s insistence.

Now ruing her fate was all she could do at the end of the day as yet another ‘morning’ was not far off. She remembers how women weren’t required to carry nightsoil at her parental home. Her mother at times of anger used to say: “Here you don’t clean even droppings of chicken but what would happen once you land at your in-laws’ house?” As a matter of fact her mother had made it clear that Guddi won’t do the abominable job. To this people at her in-laws’ had assented. But after her mother-in-law fell ill and her husband’s income waned, Guddi found it tough to run the show. So out of compulsion she took the plunge. Initially her health couldn’t permit. She fell ill time and again. But gradually she got habituated.

“While removing others’ nightsoil my hands used to get soiled”, says Guddi, further recounting her pathetic tale. “The sight itself had me nauseating. If ever I skipped my duty for a day or two the next day I had the whole parat (filth container) full of nightsoil. My conscience stood in my way every day I started for this disgusting job. On the other hand life was such that there was no leeway. Hard reality stared into my face. There was only one way out. “Stay the course in stupor. Have some intoxicating thing. This makes the senses numb,’ suggested others. I got hooked as I was helpless,” told Guddi with a sense of resignation. Gul, a tobacco product, came handy. But amidst all this her son Rohit went stray. “Now he doesn’t pay any heed to her words and to his studies” she says. Guddi coaxes him for the same. How dearly she wants that he must land a small job after his education so that he has a decent life. But Rohit seems to be a square peg to fit in a round bottle. En route to school he strays to play cancha (petty gambling with glass balls). ‘Now I remember how even I used to play day in and day out while my brothers studied,’ rues Guddi.

Not even in her dream Guddi could have thought of a red letter day in her life. Her cup of joy is overflowing: particularly to see her sons looking at her with admiration. Yes, she is one of the batch of 56 women whose life has taken a turn that is set to  turn several heads for sure. So where does Guddi stand today? The same Guddi who carried others’ faeces on her head and wanted to pass unnoticed, today she is in the limelight. All set to leave a trail of blaze on the ramp before the who’s who of the world! She had already done it once in the august presence of HRH Willem-Alexander, the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands and ace fashion designer Abdul Haldar. When asked whether she doesn’t get scared of the ramp, Guddi said how the models told her to be sure-footed.

Guddi’s life is not likely to be a flash in the pan as some of us would think. There’s ‘no looking back’ to hell. She is constantly under training to master various skills. She is the chairperson of Nai Kiran, a self-help group of Nai Disha. This organization has a bank account from which flows micro-credit to enterprising women. This fan of Rajiv Gandhi and Vaijayanthi Mala has her clear cut definition of a good person and a heroine: ‘a good person serves the nation without any vested interest while a good heroine doesn’t shed her clothes.’ Guddi loves the song ‘Baharon phool barsao’ from the film Suraj. Hope the same bahar and a pleasant sun shine on the rest of her life.