Mugdha was working on her project, “Empowerment of the rural women” for many hours at a stretch now. She had to finish the preparations in the next twelve hours or so for the project was to go live from the next day. She and her team were to leave for the village early morning. Mugdha had been doing such projects in different villages for the past one year. She felt very strongly about the exploitation of women and her work was already yielding results.

The key of the main door turned and Sulekha, Mugdha’s help, walked in.

“What timing Sulekha!I am dying with a head ache. Can you please make us some coffee?” chuckled Mugdha.

“Sure Didi,”came Sulekha’a soothing reply.

Sulekha had been with Mugdha for the last three years now. She had become sort of indispensable. Mugdha sort of flopped on the arm chair, waiting for her coffee, while she kept looking at Sulekha making it in the kitchen. Over these years she had grown quite fond of Sulekha. She had had quite a peek into her personal life too. Sulekha had studied till class 5 and her younger sister, Suman, till class 12. Both of them were married to two brothers so they lived in the same house. Sulekha was very protective about her sister so she chose to work out and make some money, leaving her sister at home to do the work. Both of them had children and almost all the children were brought up by her sister and Sulekha would work out the whole day, in different houses as house help and reach home late evening. Mugdha had asked her several times if she was missing out on bringing up her own three children, who effectively were being raised by her sister. Sulekha had softly explained,

“Didi, I could not complete my studies because my parents got me married.The courage to refuse then, was just not there in me. I had a very strong desire to complete my studies but that could not happen. When I had our children , the first thing that I wanted for them was, education. I want all the children to study but both the men in the house have declared that they would be responsible only for food and clothing; funding for education will not be possible. Then I decided that I will do it all by myself.. So I have taken up extra work and my sister Suman, takes care of all the children. In fact, many days by the time I reach home, the children are in bed and mornings see them rushing to school. I hardly get time with them. My daughters are so much closer to Suman than they are with me,”she smiled.

“ But don’t you feel bad about it? Don’t you feel that your daughters should be close to you and share their thoughts with you, Being a mother, rather than with their aunt?” prodded Mugdha.

“No Didi, I don’t feel bad. In fact I feel happy that Suman is giving my children so much love and I know that she does not discriminate between her and my children. I trust her with them and only because of her I can leave my children safe and secure and work. Otherwise how would I have been able to work?” Sulekha would question.

Mugdha would be left wondering at the simple arrangement of division of labour, to better the lives of the children, based on complete trust!

One day Sulekha a bit hesitantly had asked Mugdha for a help. She wanted Mugdha to help her open an account in the bank where she would deposit money every month from her salary, without telling anybody at home. She had heard from someone that college admission required a lump sum of money so she wanted to be prepared for that eventuality. Mugdha was touched by her innocence of will and determination. She helped Sulekha open her account and every month, without Sulekha’s knowledge, she would top it by depositing the same amount as Sulekha’s.

“Didi, your coffee,” Mugdha looked up at Sulekha.

“Where is your coffee,”enquired Mugdha. Was there a shadow of worry on her face, Mugdha thought.

“Don’t feel like having, Didi,” came a quite reply.

“Sulekha, what is wrong?You must tell me,” insisted Mugdha.

“Nothing Didi, I’ll just finish my work,” muttered Sulekha.

After Mugdha’s strong insistence, Sulekha told her that her eldest daughter, was admitted in the I.C.U. in the village hospital. Mugdha knew that Suman had gone to the village with all the children to spend the summer vacations there at her parent’s place. It seems there, the eldest child had fallen ill and the doctors had put her into the I.C.U.. It was the second day and the fever was unrelenting.

Mugdha was shocked. With her daughter in the I.C.U., Sulekha was moving around normally in life, carrying on with her work? Mugdha felt like shaking her up, She screamed,

“ Sulekha, what kind of a mother are you? Why are you not in the village hospital, near your daughter? How can you carry on with your work like this?”

Sulekha sighed and muttered, “Didi, only one person is allowed in the I.C.U. My husband, who left the same day with some money, told me that Suman is sitting at her bed side, day and night and both my parents and my husband are there outside the room. My rushing there may seem that I do not trust them to do the best for my daughter. Won’t that hurt them? For my satisfaction, how can I hurt Suman claiming to care for my daughter more than she does, just because I am her mother? I could not bring myself up to do this Didi. I know my child will be fine soon. She is in the best of hands.”

Sulekha sat there wiping her tears. Mugdha sat there dumbstruck. A hoard of visuals of mothers reacting to this situation, kept playing on her mind but none could match this calm, simple, trusting mother. To Mugdha she just seemed to belong to a different world altogether and she suddenly remembered that she was working on Empowering Women? Who could empower this woman? Mugdha could find no answers. This thin and small structured woman had rendered her speechless.