The Safe Havens They Created

by | Mar 7, 2021

Living In The Moment

The winters of Kutch are transient. The sun seeks to dig deeper than your skin can tan. On one such late winter day, along with my team of women investing in cooperatives and female sex workers, we were on a bus-trip to Nakhatrana and Vithon to learn from Sayere Ja Sangathan – how their Self-Help-Group is seeing financial stability and making profits after profits. During the bus ride, I was making a conversation with this girl about my age who is the leader of her SHG mandal. It was all small talk at first. We were talking about work and padhai-likhai, the usual. The conversation would have continued on that track but I was hammered with an out of syllabus question –

“Aapke hisaab se life ka matlab kya hai?”

(What, according to you, is the meaning of life?)

It was a busy day. Fun, but busy. My neural circuits were pre-occupied with plans for the next exposure trip, if the female sex workers are feeling comfortable or not, my mentor’s idea of me, what’s…
My brain hadn’t had a breathing moment for a while. Such a question required for me to pause, go back, jog through my life. I gave her some convoluted answer in a quintessential fashion but that is irrelevant. She made me pause.

As an India Fellow, one of the first lessons we learn is to pause and reflect. So invested in my work, I had stopped being a fellow and had become just an employee of KMVS. I hadn’t had a moment to reflect until now.

I asked her about the meaning of life for her. She had the quickest response and what a lovely one! Living in the moment, she said. On asking about her dreams, she told me about the many countries she wants to visit, have a bizarre wedding mid-air or underwater, to be there for her parents in times of need.

I had forgotten what dreaming was like, but it was as if her answers poured back the sanity I had unknowingly forsaken. In her dreams, she had created her safe haven.


You can spend a lifetime in Kutch and still find colours that you would have never seen before. The social context weighs heavy. Of course, I am a part of KMVS’s Legal cell that offers pro-bono socio-legal counselling but I am nowhere near that territory. However, to understand that context better, I often attend counselling sessions that reach to us via the ‘Hello Sakhi’ Helpline.

This Rajasthani woman married into a Gujarati household was being ill-treated by her husband. For this counselling session, the husband, the wife and the husband’s mother had come. Now, Mr. Husband had been accused of not taking care of his wife’s भरण पोषण or ‘maintenance’. He was defending himself that this was actually untrue and had it been the case, their child wouldn’t be studying in an English-medium school. The wife burst into a fury. She said that when she was in the hospital, this man didn’t come to pay any charges whatsoever and that her own family had to pay it.

Her tone was ravaging and merciless. She first clenched her fist but then raised it to the man’s eye level only to unfurl her index finger and dart it at her husband. However, there was something odd. Her ghunghat (veil) was upto her neck. Isn’t the ghunghat, often an oppressive symbol that is meant to reduce the woman’s social mobility? Every time it would go even slightly up, her stance would fidget across the edges of the drape to drag it back as further down as possible. Her mother-in-law would give her dusty stares for her ‘inappropriate behaviour’.

And yet, while one hand would seek to veil her under the society’s standards of a ‘good’ woman, the other would raise focusing the index, posing out to the world as the ‘bad’ woman who screams and accuses her husband.

I do not know who was right or wrong but with the pointing finger from under her veil hiding a mouth full of loudness, I would like to believe she *made* her safe haven somewhere in between.

Swaad hai!

I was giddy-eyed and new in Bhuj. My passion for just walking to places I had no idea about, is off the charts. On one such passion-trail, I found myself standing opposite the Hamirsar lake. As a boy from Delhi, I was still searching for whatever little of Delhi I could find in this new place. Ah! Behold! What is that? A thela-waali selling masala corn?! I rushed to the thela!

Kaaki, ek plate aapo!“, I excitedly speak in broken Gujarati.

Simultaneously, I realise that maybe, just maybe, I have forgotten my wallet and Kaaki isn’t going to accept PayTM. I panic and suddenly undo my entire bag to see where my wallet could be. How else will I pay her? I ask Kaaki to stop!

 “Let it be. Please cancel the plate if possible. I don’t think I’m carrying my wallet”

“Oh? Is that so? It’s alright! Take this plate for free. You’re new in the town, right? Take it. Enjoy.”

I was stumped. Had this been Delhi, the first words from a shopkeeper would have been, “Bhen-“. Okay, maybe I’m stereotyping too much but it was so amazing how without any question this lady just agreed. What a god-sent angel! Fortunately, I also found my wallet and did, in fact, pay the angel.

Touched by her kindness, every time I now pass by Hamirsar, I buy a plate from her. This one time, I decided to thank her properly for her kindness. I went up to her and reminded her of that panicky boy who was foraging for his wallet, to whom she had kindly offered the plate for free.

“You are that boy? See, I made you a regular customer just by that one act of kindness.”

I was stumped again! What is this woman? Is she an excellent marketing strategist?! Was it her kindness, or was it marketing? The boy…I mean, I will never know. Her safe haven? She has created one in both her kindness and marketing.

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