One of the projects I am on right now is to help Mann Deshi make a film about the new business school it has started for rural women here. Part of my assignment has been to interview some of the women that will be in the film. One of these women is named Lakshmi Shellar. At 13, her father pulled her out of 7th grade and married her off to a 65 year old man as his second wife. She gave birth to her first child at 14, and her second child at 16. During her pregnancy, her husband suffered a paralysis attack and died. She was pregnant and widowed at 17, when most girls are only beginning to think about marriage here.
I met her at the bank and she told me to come to her house this evening. Some dude named Ganesh picked me up on his motorcyle and drove me to Lakshmi’s house at around dusk. I thought it would be in Mhaswad, but it was on the outskirts of the village in an even more rural area than I already live in (I find it ironic that I look to Mhaswad as “the city” now).
Lakshmi lived in a very small, markedly poor community amidst lots of potato fields. When I arrived Ganesh, my driver/translator tells me he doesn’t speak English and will translate Marathi to Hindi…great. Even better, I walk inside and realize that I left my notepad at the office and thus had to take notes on my laptop. I embarrassingly take out my bright white apple notebook in the middle of this woman’s little house (of course everyone in the village in standing in the house staring at me at this point).
After some awkward/botched translations and a good 15 minutes of incomprehension on both sides—in true Indian fashion, she offers me chai. She goes into the kitchen to prepare it and the other boys and girls in the village start a conversation with me. At this point I put my laptop away, convinced that this interview isn’t going anywhere. My guard drops a bit and I start a small talk conversation with the random people in the living room (it seems like every house you enter into here there are always random relatives, friends, people off the street just hanging around). Ironically, through this conversation I end up getting the answers I need for the interview—whereas before I felt like no one knew the answers to what I was asking. This is where my dad’s advice came in handy (“In India, you have to ask people the same questions 3-5 times before you get an answer”).
I found out that Lakshmi is currently a farmer by day and walks 2-3 hours everyday to get to Mann Deshi to participate in financial literacy courses at the bank’s business school. While she attends the business school, she returns to her village to teach the women there what she is learning. She has been running a literacy school for the women in her village for quite some time now. Currently, she is implementing financial literacy into the curriculum. She is basically going through a sort of “train the trainer” program where she is a student at the business school and dispersing her knowledge to the adult women farmers in her village.
I found her back story quite depressing when I read it, but she quite a woman in person. She is very authoritative and all of the young men who were hanging about seemed to have a great deal of respect for her. They were commenting on how intelligent she is despite her life hurdles and lack of education. After the interview and the best cup of chai I have had in India thus far, we went out into their yard and they showed me their cows and buffalo. On the way back, Ganesha showed me some of the farms and talked a little about life in that area.