Posted by Amrit Raj Sastry, Bhuvaneshwar, Odisha
Ms. Kunimun Mallick, nicknamed Barsha often shares her countryside experience of life, where she never had face to face conversations with anyone but family and was always engaged in household chores. Her usual attire was “skd” – salwar, kameez, dupatta and variety of sarees. She adds that all the village activities would end by evening. Barsha hardly stepped out of her house after 6 pm and if she did, she would be accompanied by her father.
In the village, Barsha says there are taboos and restrictions and women are dominated by men. She shares even though women have wonderful ideas of community development, they keep the ideas to themselves out of fear. There is no one to hear them out and no scope for growth. One fine day, while preparing food for the family, Barsha got an idea. She decided to move out of her village to explore opportunities and create her own identity.
Barsha hails from a remote village near Sakhigopal town, Puri District. She shifted to Bhubaneswar thereafter. She tried in several places before taking up a career in retail in December 2018. Barsha enjoyed her one year learning in visual merchandising, cashiering, customer support, warehouse management, promotion and the knack of achieving day to day business target. In a year’s span, Barsha had picked up the requisite skills and done her duties. She was excited and eager for her appraisal. She looked forward to March 2020 for her review.
On 15th March 2020, at about 7 pm, Barsha went to the common room for a break. She looked at the messages on her mobile. Her attention went to a news item – malls, entertainment complexes, theatres, schools, colleges, social gatherings would be under lockdown until the month end. In a confused state of mind, Barsha went to the floor but kept thinking of the news. At around 8:30 pm when she was about to go back to her hostel she was communicated about the complete lockdown for the next few weeks.
Next morning, she started for her village. Barsha is yet to come out of the struggle which she faced at the ticket counter. She stood in the queue for 2 hours and finally managed to get a bus ticket to Puri. Barsha had luggage with her. She entered the bus to find all seats full. Barsha had no option but to stand and hold her luggage. The bus took 2 hours to reach her destination. Her house was another half a kilometre from the main road, hence she had to walk down home tugging her luggage.
News of lockdown was in the air. She heard village households talking about Coronavirus, social distancing, wearing masks, use of sanitisers and gadgets to prevent contamination. The matter became very serious when reports were telecast in the local news channels with China the main centre of the pandemic. It was on the fourth day that the central government declared a complete shutdown. Little did Barsha realise of the struggles that lay ahead.
Barsha’s family is into farming. Their only means of livelihood is their land. In the last two years, Barsha, a simple village girl had transformed into a self-sufficient, independent person. She was ready to take up the responsibility of her parents. One morning, Barsha accompanied her father to their fields. They made their way through muddy, uneven roads, a narrow bridge over the banks of a big pond and finally reached the fields. Together, they started to work. While working Barsha almost stepped on a snake. The father and daughter returned at noon. Barsha compared her outfit and the air conditioned store where she worked to her current work situation. But she took it in her stride.
Afternoon turned into evening and then night. One evening, the small gas cylinder for cooking food ran out of fuel. Barsha called the gas agency and she was asked to wait for the next 15 days for the lockdown to get over. The next morning Barsha accompanied her father again to the fields with an additional responsibility of collecting dry wood for the kitchen. Barsha thought of the hotels, delivery and fast food joints of the city and kept mum.
Soon, it was harvest time. The family gathered the farm grown vegetables to be delivered at the local mandi. Loading on the cycle, it was quite an effort. To their surprise they could not find a single shop open to sell the produce. Then, Barsha and her father had little choice but move door to door and sell vegetables. It was nothing but toil in the scorching sun and rising mercury that drained energy out of them. Barsha is self-motivated and believes that “difficult times produce strong men and women”. She worked hard and kept her parents motivated.
A day, Barsha will never forget is when one morning her father could not get up from the bed. He was ill. There was no doctor on call neither medicines available in the market. She had to knock 15 households to get countable pills of mox 500. Gradually, the lockdown situation became acceptable to the villagers including Barsha and her family. Everyone in the village thought this would be the new way of life hence forth.
The biggest problem Barsha experienced during lockdown was when the company shared a notice of salary cut. She went into a state of absolute silence and shock. She was speechless and dumb for half a day as to how she would buy her father’s medicines. Barsha was in despair. She even thought of encashing her small investment. This was the saga of many working class people. But when in despair we cry out to the Divine, He always answers our call. By end of July the permission to open malls came in. Barsha heard the news over a television channel. Her eyes lit up with a smile as she announced to her family that the malls were opening.
In the first week of August, with limited luggage she managed to move back to Bhubaneswar again but in uncertainty. The struggle taught Barsha a lesson, to be prepared for the worse and to expect the best. When Barsha talks, nothing but tears came out and some words expressing the dark phase, struggle, pain and suffering which she had experienced. Last, but not the least she said what cannot be cured has to be endured. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
Days of struggle, despair are gone and everything will be normal, normal , normal!
Cover Image: Gyana111
Story Images: Author
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