It had been a long and tiring day for Jija, but she was content today. Finally things were falling in place and the clouds of uncertainty were clearing off. She cleaned the kitchen and saw her daughters huddled in a corner of their barely 300 sq.ft room.
Jija’s husband Shahaji had just come back and they were drinking some hot tea with chapati while being lost in their thoughts. This wasn’t their usual dinner, but the times were unusual as well.
Jija’s heart went back to her village. She pondered on how far she and her family had come..
Jija, a mother of two daughters hailed from an arid village of Parbhani. She had been married at 18 or was it 17? She couldn’t remember. Just like many from her village, they had been married off when their families thought fit. Nobody asked questions, there were no ambitions.
Her remote village was a small hamlet of around 50 families, just like her mother’s village. They all knew each other and they were all farmers. As a family with nearly 16 acres of farmland and a cowshed, her family was a respected one in the village. She lived an idyllic life till the volatility of life hit her family hard.
Drought and unseasonal rains continued to batter and destroy their crops. After the third consecutive crop failure there was nothing left for them to do but leave. Leaving the old in-laws behind, she and her husband had moved to Pune with their small daughters. Most of the youth from the village had made this move owing to the volatile life circumstances. The older generation stayed back to tend to the farmland.
It was a herculean task to rebuild a life in Pune – a city completely unknown to her and her husband. Together, they worked hard for 3 years to make a small world for themselves. She worked as a househelp and her husband worked at a construction site. They put their daughters in school as the builder had schooling for children under his CSR initiative.
She gazed up to look at her husband. He seemed to be lost in thought as well. She continued drink and eat in silence.
Shahaji looked up at his daughters and his wife. There was a look of content on her face. It had been a long time since he had seen her so pleased and content. He knew they were on the right track.
Things had finally seemed to settle down and both of them had been able to make some money when the pandemic hit. Shahaji remembered the day when the contractor told them that the work on the project had been stopped indefinitely. After nearly a month of strict lockdown and restrictions, he had hoped to get back to work. Lockdown had meant both of them being out of work. While Jija’s memsaab had paid her, he knew it was tough to run the house on single income.
Also, who knew when the charity might stop?
Everything had been so bleak with no house work for Jija and Shahaji too being out of work. Most of their friends from the village had returned back. He had decided to do the same, but Jija had been adamant. He smiled as he remembered the fight that they had. He had never seen her do determined and sure of her decision.
He looked up and saw Jija looking at him quizzically. He just nodded his head and continued to eat the Chapati while dipping it into hot sugary tea.
Jija was done with her tea and was picking up the dish and cup when she had seen Shahaji smile. When he didn’t answer, she went back to her thoughts.
She blushed remembering the fight that she had with Shahaji. They hardly fought and she had never been against anything much. But this time she had surprised herself.
Jija had been resolute. She was not going back whatever happens. Her village had a school only till 5th Std and there was poor internet connectivity. Going back would have meant no education for her daughters. Her daughters were studying in 6th and 8th Std. They would have had to travel nearly 20 kms for a school. With the village being remote and poor transportation, there was no way her daughters would have continued schooling.
She came back, when Shahaji came to her and said “You know Shivaji became Shivaji Maharaj because Jijabai stood behind him. I am sure our girls will achieve something amazing in life and it will be because of you Jija.”
There were tears in Jija’s eyes. She had been worried; her husband might go against her and be pushed by the community to get the girls married off instead of letting them study.
After the fight, Jija had asked her memsahib to suggest something and she had asked Jija to provide tiffins to her hospital. Jija had been a good cook and had even been cooking in a couple of homes before the lockdown. Both Jija and her husband had been thrilled and created a basic meal plan. She and her husband had started with providing just roti and sabji and slowly moving to full-fledged tiffin. It had been six months since they had started this and things were finally looking up. Today they had finalized a place and rented it to set up a kitchen for their business.