Kaveri39 mins 18.9K 39 mins 18.9K
The Origin of Kaveri
Kaveri lived with her family in a hut, in a remote village a few kilometers beside the river she had been named after. Being eighteen, she was protected by her mother from any sort of external exposure, never would her mother allow her to even play, with the boys, in the street.
“I want to go out there and play,” Kaveri would plead.
“Listen to me Ponni …” Karuli, her mother, would say. “It’s not safe. I want you to stay in the house.” And the reason her mother would not allow her to explore—Padmaja, the manipulative woman who lived next to their hut. By disapproving Kaveri’s freedom, she would manipulate Karuli’s love for her daughter. Padmaja’s sadist attitude really got on Kaveri’s nerves.
“Protect her from those lust minded demons,” she would hiss at Karuli. “Protect your Ponni from them.” Padmaja was being the uninvited politician between Kaveri and her mother. Karuli’s naive mind would fall for Padmaja’s wicked talk and hence her intention to keep Kaveri home.
As Kaveri was restricted and confined to their hut, her only exposure to the world had been reading books, which were given by Sahasra, the only teacher in the village, who had been home-schooling Kaveri and had been teaching her theology, social science, and culture.
The Seed of Charity
Sahasra would bring her books from the thrift shop just outside the school she worked for. One such book was Mother Teresa’s biography. Kaveri couldn’t even pronounce the book’s name. But the seed of charity was sown deep into her mind by the book Sahasra had given her. So deeply that she decided to serve people. Having born in one such family, she naturally understood the situation of people affected by poverty.
Her mother’s restrictions made her feel desperate to go out, explore her passion to help people. The want to reach her destiny made her dream. She would dream about places which she would go once her time comes. A place where she could be free. A place where she can reach her full potential. A place where she always felt her destiny lied. A place where she can work for the people, quench their thirst and her own.
Unfortunately, she knew she can’t help anyone right now. For she had her own family to take care of. She had to quench their thirst first.
“Would you send me to college?” Kaveri asked her mother one night.
Karuli chose not to answer.
Let me ask Father … maybe he’ll answer, Kaveri thought.
She took the last piece of dosa and stuffed it in her mouth. Just then, her father entered their hut.
“Serve me too,” he said to his wife and sat down beside his daughter. Having noticed Karuli’s silence, he asked, “What’s the matter?”
“I … I asked her about … college,” Kaveri said slowly.
“Why would you ask her about that?” he said. “I am the one working for you.”
A smile bloomed on her face.
“I promise, you’ll be out of this place soon, going to college in the city, learning what you always wanted to.”
Kaveri was about to hug her father, but held back her happiness and hid her smile as her mother came to serve her father food.
Aadeshwar, Kaveri’s father, believed in his daughter’s passion. He had seen her curiosity during Sahasra’s sessions with her. He had also heard Sahasra’s opinion about his daughter.
“She believes in herself. We should definitely send her to college,” Sahasra had said when Aadeshwar had asked her. “She wants to work for the people. We shouldn’t hinder her flow, we need to let her go places where she can fulfill her dreams.”
A Faint Path
Aadeshwar was a painter. Even after a whole day of work, his wages were too low to have a decent living. His work included painting political leaders, their slogans and cinema stars on the walls of the city. He worked for churches, painting the quotes from the Bible on the walls. For temples, painting the gods all over the walls. Rarely would he get extra money for his work, which would go to his savings. As he had saved for more than thirty-seven years, he had been able to save half of what was needed to send his daughter to college. He would have to ask the other half from Sahasra, to pay for Kaveri’s college.
Aadeshwar decided to meet Sahasra before he would talk about this to his wife. She agreed to meet him at her school. When Aadeshwar reached the school, he noticed the school was just a pink standalone building with poor maintenance. Its paint peeled off the walls, the roof was rusted, looking as if it was about to collapse.
He was removing his paint-stained slippers before stepping inside.
“It’s fine, you can wear them,” said a voice. It was Sahasra, coming out of a room, the word PRINCIPAL written on its almost broken door.
“No, I prefer to leave them outside.”
Sahasra led him into one of the three classrooms.
This was the first time Aadeshwar had entered a school. He had never had the chance to enter a school. His family had been so poor that the only thing they had been able to give him was their poverty.
The benches inside the classroom had layers of stagnant dust on it, which he dusted off with bare hands and took a seat.
“They are shutting down the school,” Sahasra sighed.
Aadeshwar didn’t know what to say. He understood Sahasra’s sorrow from her voice. She had been working there for almost twenty years and now it was going to be shut down.
“I’m moving away with my husband …” she said, the gloom in her voice intensifying.
Aadeshwar was much more concerned now. This meant he would have to find another tutor for Kaveri. And the worst part—Sahasra had been teaching Kaveri for a very low fee, it would be impossible to find a replacement for her.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, the Principal just told me. They are shutting down the funding, we have no choice.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“And this concerns the life of Kaveri,” she said.
“Yes, she needs you.”
“And that is why I spoke to my friend from Tamilnadu. A friend I’ve had since my childhood,” she gestured to a man, who was standing just outside the classroom, to enter.
“This is Dilip,” she said. “He’s from an NGO in Tamilnadu, an NGO working to educate the poor. He’s here to help our Kaveri.”
The man shook Aadeshwar’s hand. “Sahasra told me about Kaveri. The truth is that we need Kaveri more than she needs us. We are in need of people who can work for us.”
Aadeshwar immediately realized. He turned to Sahasra and asked, “You mean? She will have to go to Tamilnadu?”
“Yes, but not alone. Dilip’s NGO has offered me a job as a lecturer. I shall accompany Kaveri there and be her guardian.”
Aadeshwar was shocked. He couldn’t imagine a day without Kaveri. Every evening they would spend time with each other. He would listen to the things his daughter would tell him, things she had learned that day and the new books Sahasra had got her.
“I know this is a big decision for you to make, but I promise … you’ll never regret saying yes to this,” Dilip promised Aadeshwar.
“Sahasra … do you trust this man?” Kaveri’s father asked, abruptly.
Dilip was taken aback.
Sahasra looked at Dilip and then into Aadeshwar’s wet eyes.
“Yes, I do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have made him meet you.”
“Your daughter’s board results are coming out next week, sir. She needs to send admissions to colleges as soon as they come out. But you don’t have to worry about it. We will accommodate Kaveri with Sahasra’s family. She can stay with them,” Dilip assured.
Hindered by Love
Aadeshwar couldn’t reject the man’s request. After he had come home, he told this to Kaveri first, who was on cloud nine when she had come to know she would be going to college. She did feel bad when she realized that she would have to let go of her family. But then, she felt it in her heart that Tamilnadu was her destiny.
Now they only had to persuade Karuli. When Aadeshwar reluctantly told his wife about Kaveri’s college, she immediately erupted as expected.
“You want to send her away?” Karuli screamed.
“I’ve spoken to Sahasra … she will accompany our daughter.”
“If you talk about college to me again, Aadesh, that will be the last day I live in this house.”
Aadeshwar’s concerns were different from his wife’s. Aadeshwar’s were about Kaveri’s future while Karuli’s were about her safety. Karuli had been brought up in a family which hadn’t given importance to her freedom and education. They had imparted the way of thinking based on sentiments and emotions, and not on reason. Her thinking was obviously biased and dominated by emotions.
“Don’t you dare take her away from me,” she cried and left the hut to stay at Padmaja’s until night. Having seized this chance, Padmaja spat back at Karuli with all the negativity she could muster.
“I’ve been warning you since your daughter was fifteen. She’ll eventually want to go, she doesn’t know about this cruel world, does she? You must not let her go.”
Karuli sobbed as Padmaja’s voice resonated in her mind.
Aadeshwar now had an important decision to make. He should either let his daughter go with her flow or else surrender to his wife’s stubbornness.
Hindering a girl with such talent is a sin, he thought. But taking Kaveri away from Karuli will devastate her. Then, he understood that he must not let his wife’s love hinder Kaveri’s dreams.
“She will go,” said Aadeshwar.
He was now at Sahasra’s house.
“Karuli agreed?” she asked, surprised.
“No, she didn’t, she doesn’t understand. We’ll have to go ahead with Kaveri’s life.”
“You can’t do that … she’s her mother … she must agree to this,” Sahasra seemed shocked.
“She won’t!” Aadeshwar said loudly. “She just doesn’t understand. We have to go ahead.”
“We are leaving four days after the results come out. I would tell her if I were you.”
Aadeshwar reached home by sunset to find Kaveri sitting outside the hut, under the clouded orange sky, with a book in her hand. She smiled at him weakly as he passed her and entered the hut.
He kept his tool bag in a corner and went to his wife, who was washing utensils and didn’t realize he was behind her.
“She’s leaving four days after her results come out.”
She stopped stroking the vessel and looked back at his stiff face. “Don’t you dare—”
“She must go, else—”
“Don’t you dare take her away from me Aadeshwar! She’s my daughter! She needs to stay with me,” screamed a furious Karuli.
“She will stay with Sahasra’s family,” he said.
Kaveri, who had been devoted to her book outside the hut, heard a shrill sound from inside their hut. Her heart jumped. She slammed the book close and raced in to find an aluminum vessel lying toppled on the ground. Kaveri saw her mother’s aggravated face and her father standing stunned.
“Don’t you understand? She doesn’t have any future here … she must go!” her father yelled.
“No! No! She belongs here … with me … you are sending her against her will,” her mother started breathing heavily, tears flowing down from her weak eyes.
They both looked at Kaveri, who had been standing by the door.
“Tell her,” Aadeshwar said turning to Kaveri.
Kaveri fell silent, having no idea how to convince her mother. But then, she realized her time had come. Now was when she could break free from the chains of her mother’s love, which had been keeping her from flowing towards her destiny.
“I wish to go,” she said in a low voice and ran off outside.
Karuli was broken. She never spoke to anyone since then. She would work in the kitchen, wash vessels, quietly throughout the day as if she was silently protesting against her daughter leaving. Kaveri would often peek into the kitchen to check on her mother. She noticed her mother visiting Padmaja’s hut every day and returning with teary bloodshot eyes.
A week passed, Karuli didn’t change even after Kaveri had told her she had passed in her boards. Kaveri felt guilty and approached her father that night.
“I don’t think I should leave when Mother is behaving like this,” she said, looking sad.
Her father, who was lying down, asked her to sit down near him. She sat down to listen to what her father had to say.
“Imagine if you don’t choose to go … what would happen?” her father asked.
“It’s not that I don’t want to go, I do feel like that place is calling to me …” Kaveri replied.
“You feel that is where your life leads you, what if you don’t choose to go?”
“I don’t know, I’ll just stay here with Mother and help her,” she said, confused.
“Frankly, do you think helping her would justify the potential you have?”
“I don’t want her to feel bad, Father.”
“She should, Kaveri. She’s living in her own comfort zone of emotions. Eventually, she’ll have to come out of it. And you … you need someone to make decisions for you. You need someone to have authority in your life. Someone who will take charge of you. You can’t just flow out of control. And that authority isn’t Mother,” he paused. “That’s me and Sahasra.”
Kaveri realized what her father had said. She was passive. A person who believed in destiny but needed someone to have authority over her, someone who would guide her, lead her to her destiny, and that is where Aadeshwar and Sahasra had come in. They had understood Kaveri and had believed in her.
“You must go. You have a dream to serve people, you have to go ahead, Kaveri. This place is where your life began, but this can’t be your destiny. You must build your life where your life leads you to.”
The day Kaveri was to leave had been a silent one. Karuli hadn’t spoken to anyone as usual and had spent the whole day at Padmaja’s, who probably would have managed to make her mother feel miserable. Father had spent his day with Kaveri, talking about the preparations he had done.
“I’ve spoken to Sahasra, you’ll be staying inside the NGO campus with her family,” her father said with a weak smile.
Sahasra’s family had arrived. Kaveri had packed her items in small plastic bags as they had not had the money to buy a travel bag. She had put the small plastic bags into a larger one and her hands into the holes on either side of the bag. The bag hung on her back as she walked to her mother.
Kaveri noticed her mother’s eyes were swollen.
“I’ll come back soon,” she said, waiting for her mother to say something.
But her mother stood silent. Instead, she bent down and kissed her daughter on the forehead, as if she reluctantly let her go.
Kaveri smiled, disappointed, and moved onto her father, who had a small pouch in his hand.
“This is for you,” he said, extending his hand, offering it to her.
She knew what was in it just by touching it.
“I’ll miss you, Father.”
She hugged him tightly. Her father broke down too. He was the reason she could now flow towards her destiny. Sahasra and her husband, Prabhav, smiled at the beautiful scene of Aadeshwar and Kaveri clenching onto each other.
I have a great responsibility now, she understood. Sahasra and Prabhav didn’t have children yet. “Now she would be our daughter,” her husband said, as Kaveri ran towards their rickshaw.
The rickshaw drove away from her hut. With her head turned back, Kaveri watched as the Sun sunk below the horizon, silhouetting their hut. She could see her father waving and her mother standing, downhearted, by the door, her hands hiding her face.
By the time they reached the bus-stop, it started to rain. Kaveri took off her plastic bag and tied a tight knot with its sides so that her items wouldn’t get drenched in rain. Prabhav paid the old rickshaw driver ₹30 and unloaded their drenched luggage.
The breeze blew cold that evening and the rain became gentle. Kaveri left the bus stop’s broken shelter and drenched herself in the rain. As though filling herself to the brim, before she could set free to flow.
The bus’s headlights were now visible at a distance, the raindrops noticeable in its path. The bus waddled slowly towards them, as the dirt road had become muddy. Sahasra and Prabhav boarded the bus behind Kaveri and they settled down. The bus took off. Kaveri sat by the window, looking at the clear blue sky looming overhead and the dark land passing by.
Soon they entered the city and Kaveri looked out at the busy city with excitement, as she had never come into the city. For years she had been caged in her hut, now she had come to witness the world. The busy market, the traffic, the tar roads made her feel like she had entered a place very foreign to her. Like she had come exploring a forest far away from home, which made her feel unsafe and uncomfortable.
“Look,” said Sahasra. “That’s the school I worked in.”
Kaveri saw an age-old looking building as the bus paced past it.
“So why are you leaving?” Kaveri asked.
“They cut the funding. The principal had no other choice but to shut the school down,” Sahasra sighed.
The bus was now steadily speeding on the highway towards Tamilnadu, as though she was now flowing towards her destiny in a steady flow. Her eyes were now half closed as the lights passing by outside became bokeh. Tightly clenching her plastic bag, she let herself slowly drift away into sleep.
At dawn, the bus came to a stop. Kaveri was woken up by the thrust. She was told, by Prabhav, that they had almost reached their destination and that the bus had stopped for a break on the highway.
Kaveri saw that Sahasra was still asleep. She pushed aside the curtain that covered the window and noticed it was early in the morning. Mist filled the sky, making the visibility really low. Nevertheless, it looked beautiful.
“I’ll be just back,” she said to Prabhav and headed towards the exit.
“Wait for me!” He went along.
They got down from the bus and saw people crowding at a coffee stall.
“Sahasra always wanted a daughter,” Prabhav said, looking at her with a smile, as the queue moved forward.
Kaveri understood. She didn’t know what to respond, but her blush exposed her happiness.
When they reached the counter, she took out the pouch, which her father had given her, to draw out a ₹10 note to pay for the coffee.
“Don’t insult me,” Prabhav instantly said, when he saw what she had been doing. “Save it for later.”
Kaveri sipped the hot coffee. They returned to their seats just in time. The conductor blew his whistle and the bus was off.
Kaveri couldn’t sleep. She watched as the Sun slowly peeked out of the horizon. She loosened her grip on her bag and made herself comfortable. She continued staring out at the Sun as she started fantasizing about her future. Suddenly, her mind rushed back to her mother. She started flipping through all the things that had happened, like chapters, in her life. She wanted to ask Prabhav to call her mother, to check on her, but then she decided not to. Her father’s words continued to resonate in her mind, making her feel confident again, “You must go.”
The Sun shined bright with no mercy. The wind was hotter than Kaveri’s village. She was stunned by the crowd when she got down at the bus stop. Waves of people were boarding buses. Various buses were taking off in all directions. People were running behind buses to board them. Beggars were sleeping on the pavements. The flower-selling ladies were walking through the busy crowd. She moved closer to Prabhav and Sahasra, hoping not to get lost.
After they had argued for a cheaper fare, they had got an auto rickshaw by the bus stand and were now going to the address Prabhav had in his hand, written on a piece of paper.
The driver told them it was just six kilometers away but it would take an hour to reach, because of the traffic. Most of the people on the road seemed to be in a hurry and looked tense. Kaveri heard various swear words being exchanged among the people in the traffic.
When they reached the campus gate, they were welcomed by a short, stiff looking man.
“Mr. Prabhav?” He reached out his hand.
“Yes,” Prabhav nodded and shook his hand with a smile.
“I’m Azib,” he said, bending down to take their luggage. “This way,” he started walking towards a rusted green gate, which looked like a security post.
Kaveri was startled by the security. They completely emptied Sahasra’s bag to check. The security gestured Kaveri, asking for her bag. Kaveri looked at Sahasra, nervous.
“It’s fine,” Sahasra said.
Kaveri removed her bag reluctantly and gave it to the man. He removed the knot she had put yesterday and checked inside.
The security procedures were over and they were led inside the campus by Azib. After a five minute walk, the family reached the main office.
“This is their key, Dilip sir,” said Azib and left.
Dilip welcomed the family, especially Kaveri, into his office and explained that this NGO had been started by his father. It was a center mainly for charity, but also for education. The NGO ran a private institute for non-profit education.
“What do you wanna learn?” Dilip asked Kaveri. He had noticed the curiosity in her eyes when he had led them in.
“I … I want to work for the … the charity,” she stammered.
“You don’t have to feel nervous, what you want to do is something most people avoid,” he said. “You have to be proud that you have chosen to do this. But tell me, why do you want to serve?”
Kaveri thought for a moment, then spoke, “This is Sahasra …” she pointed. “She is the one who home-schooled me. I read the biography of Mother Teresa a few years back, which she had bought me. It made me think. It taught me empathy, and gave me this instinct to serve.”
Dilip smiled. “We needed a person like you, Kaveri. Welcome!”
He then gave her an introduction to various courses they offered and she chose Charity Management. He then told her what she could do after her degree.
“We expect our students to become the next generation leaders of non-profit organizations,” Dilip said. “We would love to hire you, but remember you must prove yourself first.”
The house which had been allotted to them was a two bedroom apartment, just a five-minute walk away from the office. Kaveri, who had been living in a hut since her childhood, had never seen a place like this. She was stunned to know she would have her own room. As the apartment had been already furnished her room had a bed, an empty bookshelf, and a study table.
“I … I don’t know what to say …” Kaveri seemed taken aback.
Sahasra and Prabhav laughed at Kaveri’s reaction. They had lived in a decent one bedroom house, so this had not come as a major surprise, although they were happy about it.
Kaveri helped Prabhav and Sahasra set up their room. They had bought a new sofa—which Kaveri loved to sit on—a television, a phone, a computer and an internet connection. Prabhav told Kaveri all about the internet and taught her to operate the computer. She felt afraid to use it at first, but after a week she made it a habit.
“I want to talk to Father,” Kaveri said.
Prabhav taught her to operate the phone, so she could talk to her parents whenever she wanted to. But the problem was that her father didn’t have a phone, obviously. Prabhav had to call his friend, who lived nearby Kaveri’s hut and ask him to visit her family.
When the phone was handed over to her father, Kaveri’s first words were: “Thank you.”
She thanked him for taking authority in her life, for setting her free and most importantly for letting her go in spite of her mother. When Kaveri asked about her mother, her father replied: “She’s missing you. With you gone, our home feels empty and so does she.”
“I didn’t want to leave you, Mother, but I just had to.” Kaveri sobbed on the phone when she spoke to her mother.
“Come back soon Ponni …” Karuli didn’t express much, but the quiver in her voice let Kaveri know how much this separation had broken her mother.
Kaveri’s course timetable and schedule were sent to her email, which Prabhav had created for her. Her subjects ranged from hospitality to leadership, from taking care of elderly people to running a charity, from fundraising to financial management. All this made her feel excited, but at the same time nervous. Being more exposed to the world, she felt insecure in this new atmosphere. There were apartments all around, occupied and crowded with people. This style of living made her anxious.
Before Kaveri’s classes began, the college arranged an induction function. She made her way into the auditorium, nervously along with Sahasra, avoiding anyone who seemed to approach her to have a conversation.
Sahasra left Kaveri and joined the group of faculty, who stood in the corner.
The stage was decorated with a huge polystyrene sign which read: Welcome Future Leaders! The event began and the students were given an introduction to various courses. The NGO’s history was spoken about and they were taken through a walk into the nature of the charity sector.
Kaveri’s next seat, which had been empty, was now occupied by a girl. Kaveri didn’t let her head turn in the direction of the girl, which if she did she would have to talk to the girl.
“Hello!” said a voice just beside her.
Kaveri turned her head reluctantly and saw a geeky looking girl sitting beside her.
“I’m Indhumati,” the girl introduced herself and extended her hand.
Kaveri had seen Prabhav shake hands with Azib the day they had arrived. She tried to imitate his action. She awkwardly shook the girl’s hand.
“What course are you in?”
Indhu smiled and said that she had also picked the same course.
Kaveri smiled nervously, not knowing if she should be happy or worry about it. She noticed that most of the people there were much older than she was. Even Indhumati looked way matured to study an undergraduate course.
The students were sorted into groups as per the course they had chosen. Kaveri and Indhu sat together in the front row. Kaveri had expected a lot of people, but to her surprise, there were only about twenty in her class.
Dilip, the person who ran the NGO, came up to the stage to give a speech. He thanked and congratulated the students, as they had chosen the charity sector. As the program progressed, Kaveri and Indhu spoke to each other about their past. Kaveri was nervous throughout the conversation. She told her about her village, her mother, her father, Sahasra and the book that had changed her life.
“So that’s how you got here? All the way from Karnataka?” Indhu asked, surprised. She never knew people who would travel so far to study charity.
When the program ended, Kaveri discovered that Indhu was staying in the hostel, which was also on the campus. The two of them decided to meet next in class and returned to their rooms.
Kaveri was excited to attend her classes, which were about to start in a week’s time. But then there was English, the language. She could read and write to some extent but couldn’t talk as good as Indhumati. This made Kaveri feel lower than she had already felt.
“It isn’t about talking perfectly Kaveri,” said Sahasra. “It’s about talking confidently.”
“But her accent is much better than mine, that obviously degrades me,” Kaveri frowned.
“That is what we call diversity, Kaveri. It’s supposed to be celebrated, not laughed at.”
Kaveri felt reassured to some extent. “Imagine if Indhu attempts to speak Kannada like you do. She would fail, wouldn’t she?” Sahasra added.
“That’s true,” Kaveri smiled.
“All you have to do is talk in your own way, with pride, and with confidence.”
All she had to do was to flow with pride and confidence.
On the first day of the class, Kaveri learned about her course in detail. Their syllabus included hands-on sessions about taking care of old aged people, training for the leadership of a non-profit organization, charity campaigning, targeting potential donors and multiple other training programs.
Even though Kaveri wasn’t good at communication and theoretical study, she had the curiosity to learn, and the craving to serve. This spirit made her unique from everybody else.
Luckily, Sahasra had been offered the post of a leadership training lecturer. She helped Kaveri to cope up with theory studies. She would explain all the theories given in her book in a very practical way so that Kaveri could understand its applications in the real world.
Most of her classes were based on the role of charity in a society and its demand. They were told the real-life stories of people who had set out to become Humanitarians, the effect they had on society, and the change they had brought about.
Kaveri felt her life was now on the right path. The flow of her empathy was now turbulent.
A Tree of Empathy
Time had passed. Kaveri and Indhu were now in their second year. They came face to face with the many faces of the society, a terrible society. The NGO ran a daily campaign to provide free food to the poor. Hundreds of people would turn up at the campus to eat. The second-year students were given the task of serving. Kaveri’s face changed when she saw the hunger in each person’s eyes. Most of the men were shirtless. Their backs covered with a thick layer of dirt, a sign of homelessness. The women’s dresses were more disturbing. They wore dirty old blouses, which Kaveri could say weren’t their’s as the size of the blouses were either much larger or much smaller than their bosom, most probably were donated by someone else.
“I need more,” moaned a man, looking at her pleadingly.
Kaveri stood stunned, still baffled by the terrible face of society, which she had earlier read in books but this had been the first time she witnessed it. She gave the man a few more chapathis and moved on to the others.
Mutilated legs, frayed faces, heavily hunched backs, marks of acid attacks and many more pathetic people were the norm that day.
They have to fight even for their needs …
This day did nothing less than water the seed of empathy in Kaveri’s mind, which Sahasra had sown a few years back. Since then, Kaveri attended the free food campaign daily.
By the time she was in her third year, the seed in her mind had grown into a plant. A plant which had deeply taken root in her mind. Young, yet with so much potential.
The third-year students’ classes dealt with only practical training. They were taken to the old age home on the campus almost daily. The funding and management classes were taken thrice a week and most importantly the students’ performance review had started. Based on their performance, the students would be hired by the NGO.
Kaveri and Indhu were now on the same page. They were discussing what they would do if they couldn’t secure a job at the NGO. Kaveri’s record in practical classes was excellent and so was Indhu’s theoretical record. Kaveri realized she was more of a field-worker and Indhu, an office-bearer.
“What other choices will we have?” Kaveri asked, concerned.
“No idea …” Indhu shook her head.
“Perhaps we should think about this later …” Kaveri sighed.
“No, think about it, we don’t have any other field to work in. We aren’t going to be technology graduates. We should seize this chance,” Indhu seemed determined.
“Let’s just get to class …” Kaveri had already been worrying about her placement. The last thing she wanted now was to discuss it. She decided to mind the present and checked her timetable to find what class it was next. Under the last hour cell, it read: “Elderly Care”.
“Elderly Care up next,” she said.
“New subject?” asked Indhu.
“Starts today,” Kaveri nodded and they walked to their class which was about to take place in the Elderly Care building.
When they entered the class, the room was filled with old aged people, most of them on bed rest. Their classmates and the lecturer were already there.
“Alright, gather around … Let me give you an introduction,” the lecturer said.
They listened to the introduction of the hospitality and its quality, which the charity must make sure the people receive.
“Take off your bags, collect this paper from me, and you’re off to work,” the lecturer said.
After she collected the paper, Kaveri read the various listed responsibilities for them to follow. As they started working in silence, the people there stared at them in shock. For a moment, Kaveri started to feel nervous and she exchanged looks at Indhu, who was also looking confused by the elderly’s reactions.
This particular lady, who was sleeping in the last bed, suddenly coughed and called out for water. “I need … water,” she groaned and tried to sit up.
“Wait, let me help,” Kaveri helped the woman to sit up by placing a pillow for her to lay back, making it easy for her.
When she saw Kaveri, the lady was shocked too. Kaveri noticed the woman’s dry grey eyes staring into her’s.
“I’ll go get water for you …” she said and quickly went off to fetch water.
When she returned, the woman was murmuring to the others lying beside her. Kaveri, ignoring them, held the woman and helped her drink the water, as she was looking tired. The woman’s dry eyes kept reading Kaveri’s face curiously. Kaveri couldn’t resist from asking anymore.
“What’s wrong?” Kaveri asked as she wiped the old woman’s furrowed mouth with a tissue.
“How old … are you?” she asked, her face trembling.
The woman was now smiling. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m a student here,” Kaveri said, still confused.
The woman exchanged looks with her friends nearby, who had also heard what Kaveri had said.
“What’s your name child?”
“And where are you from?”
“Karnataka,” Kaveri said.
For some reason, the old woman’s eyes were wet, her lips were twitching. “And you now have quenched my thirst, Kaveri.”
“That’s my work,” Kaveri clarified.
“No, you don’t understand,” the woman said. “We don’t get to see people like you here.”
“Yes, like you. Young and willing to help us.”
Kaveri stood stunned at her place.
“Look around,” the woman said slowly, pointing to all the aged people in the room. “No one wants to do this work. I’ve been under this NGO’s care for over fifteen years, never have I ever come across a young person like you. People who work here are here because they didn’t find employment anywhere else. But you … you are different.”
Kaveri’s mind went back to the time when Indhu had said that she was twenty-seven and had reluctantly chosen the course. She smiled a little and said, “I’ve always wanted to do this.”
“God bless you,” the old woman said, smiling.
Kaveri smiled back and helped her lie down. As she turned to leave she asked the old woman’s name.
“Tamizh,” the woman replied.
Kaveri understood that the charity’s need for service was demanding but the people ready to provide it, were too less. This was the only place where she found her true purpose and the only way she could continue to serve that purpose would be seizing a job here.
“Indhu,” she called out.
Indhumati turned and noticed Kaveri waving at her. She walked towards Kaveri, as she took off her medical gloves and stuffed them in her pocket.
“What is it?” Indhu frowned.
“I know what we have to do,” Kaveri said, determined. “We have to get that job.”
Kaveri and Indhu sat down at the canteen to discuss. Kaveri told her what the old woman had said to her.
“That’s true, why would anyone choose to work in here when there are better ways to earn?” Indhu said, not taking it seriously.
“This isn’t something you do just for the money, Indhu,” Kaveri said. “I want to continue working here. Not just as a volunteer, but in the management. There’s hunger here. It takes a person who empathizes with the people here, to run it well. I’ll manage it well.”
Kaveri’s destiny had been faintly visible to her all this time, but now it was crystal. Kaveri spent time with Tamizh every day and got her insights so that she could understand their needs.
The plant now grew branches deep under her mind and took hold of it. Eventually, it became a tree of empathy, which went on to provide shade to the people.
The day of the announcement had come. On the last day of their classes, just before their final exam, Dilip had brought all the students to the auditorium. The names of the people who had secured a job at the NGO were announced. Kaveri’s practical score and Indhu’s theoretical score secured them a job. Kaveri was ecstatic, that all she had dreamed about had now come true. Indhu looked as though something impossible had happened.
As soon as Kaveri reached her room, she touched Sahasra’s feet, as a sign of respect for her guru, and rose up to see her smiling. Sahasra looked as though she had already known it.
“You knew?” Kaveri asked, surprised.
“I was the first to know, Dilip told me himself.”
Kaveri cried and hugged Sahasra.
“Prabhav!” Sahasra called out.
Prabhav came out of their room and blessed Kaveri.
“Call her parents,” Sahasra said.
Prabhav dialed his friend’s number and asked him to visit Kaveri’s hut so that she could inform her parents.
“Hello Father, how’s Mother?” asked Kaveri, enquiring about her mother before saying anything else.
“Better now, as you will be back soon,” Aadeshwar’s voice was audible to everyone in the room.
“Yes? Are you alright?” Her father’s voice became tense. “Is something wrong?”
“I’ve got a job at the NGO.”
Her father’s sobs were a sign of happiness. He blessed her and gave the phone to her mother. Kaveri informed her mother too, and her reaction was something she hadn’t expected.
“So, you won’t come back?” Karuli asked.
“I won’t,” Kaveri replied. “But you are coming here to stay with me.”
Kaveri told her mother that every person who works for the NGO would be allotted a room within the campus. Kaveri’s mother broke down. She said that she wanted to meet Kaveri as soon as she could and never leave her. Kaveri told her that she would meet them soon and promised that she would request Dilip to do their shifting arrangements.
Mother Comes First
“You know I always wanted to donate a part of my salary to these people,” Indhu said. “Didn’t expect I would end up working my whole life for them.”
They were now in their formals, sitting in the NGO’s office. Kaveri and Indhu had been given the responsibility of operations supervision of the NGO, working directly under Dilip for four years now. Kaveri’s practical instinct and Indhu’s intellect made them a great team.
“But I’m afraid it isn’t enough,” Kaveri said, plainly.
“So what would you do? Work for them and also donate a big chunk of your income to these people?”
“The funding isn’t enough, we’re still having backlogs,” Kaveri sighed. “I don’t mean to say I’ll just give up all my money for them, I must provide for my family first, that’s where I come from, I must make their life comfortable, and then I can help these people. Mother comes first.”
Kaveri had handed over her first salary to her parents and had touched their feet, paying her respects. One of their trembling hands had held the packet of money, while the other had rested upon her head to bless her. Since then she had been sending a part of her salary to her family. “Mother comes first,” she had always kept up her promise to herself.
“Ahh! Don’t get started with your practical approach again,” Indhu scoffed.
“It’s logic!” Kaveri shrugged. “Alright listen, I met Dilip to pitch an idea I had in mind.”
Indhu was surprised. “Hey! Tell me!”
Kaveri giggled and told her all about it. By the end, Indhu was impressed.
“That’s just great! Did you tell her yet?”
“No, we’re keeping it a surprise.”
Just then, their office phone rang.
“Dilip,” Indhu mouthed, checking the phone number. Kaveri answered the phone.
“The induction program for the first years is about to happen in an hour. I’ve invited your family here, I want you and Indhu to join us.”
They made their way to the auditorium. Kaveri and Indhu were surprised looking at the crowd. At least a hundred students were present there in the auditorium.
“Our campaign worked!” Indhu said, amazed.
Kaveri nodded excitedly.
The operations supervision team had been asked by Dilip to run a campaign in schools to encourage students to take up the charity as a career. They had visited various schools in Tamilnadu and had described the charity sector’s nature and needs, to the students. They had also tried to convince the students that this would be like a career in any other industry and now it had worked. Hundreds of students were now sitting in the auditorium, waiting to be inducted into their courses.
Kaveri’s parents were sitting in the front row. In the corner, were Sahasra and Dilip. Kaveri and Indhu reported to Dilip. Sahasra, who was standing beside Dilip, approached Kaveri, looking ecstatic.
“Kaveri! The school I worked in, it’s going to be funded by our NGO,” Sahasra seemed so happy her eyes were now filled with tears.
“And Dilip has asked you to manage it,” Kaveri replied with a smile.
“How do you kn—” Sahasra was shocked. “You! You were the one who asked him to!”
Sahasra broke down and hugged Kaveri. “Thank you! You know how much this means to me.”
“Just giving back,” Kaveri replied.
The school would be refurbished. The paint wouldn’t be peeling off the walls anymore. The benches wouldn’t have layers of dust on it. The classroom would be noisy with children. And most importantly, the principal’s room’s broken door would be fixed and the name board outside it would read: SAHASRA PRABHAV, PRINCIPAL.
The End of a Destiny Begins Another
Kaveri and Indhu were surprised when Dilip had said, “You two must address the students today. I thought it would be nice if you give a speech, maybe about your experience in our institute. It would motivate the students, you know.” Kaveri and Indhu stood speechless. Although what Dilip had asked had been sensible, the girls were nervous, as they had never given a public speech.
The relationship of Dilip and Kaveri had been of a mentor and a disciple. When her education had been questionable, Dilip had come into her life and had volunteered to fund her education. When her career had been questionable, he had given her a job. Even though he had said: “It’s because you are talented,” Kaveri always felt lucky to have such benevolent people around her.
Still thinking what they would speak about, they nodded and took their seats next to Kaveri’s parents. Karuli’s hairline now exposed streaks of white hair. She now looked as though she had lost a lot of weight, apparently, she had. The detachment from her daughter had made her feel lost and alone in their hut. After three years she had met her daughter last month. Aadeshwar’s slippers weren’t paint-stained anymore. Moreover, he wore a new pair of slippers which Kaveri had bought him.
Dilip walked up to the stage, welcomed by a round of applause. He held the microphone in front of his cheerful face and greeted the crowd.
“Our love and regards to the students who have chosen to join us in our mission,” he expressed. The parents, the faculty and the management, including Kaveri and Indhu, applauded. He went on to talk about the pride of his NGO, his faculty, and their mission. Soon, he arrived at the end of his speech, thanking the students, reminding them that they are constantly in need of people to serve and that they would be happy to hire from the students sitting in the auditorium, provided they prove themselves worthy.
“Kaveri, our operations supervisor, who started off just like you, will now share her experience of learning, and working with us,” he gestured Kaveri to come up the stage.
Pride crept into the hearts of Kaveri’s parents and Sahasra as she walked up the stage. She collected the mic from Dilip, as she started to tremble with nervousness. She stood there in front of the same Welcome Future Leaders! polystyrene sign which she had seen during her induction. Having no idea what to talk about, her mind went completely blank, her vision blinded by the spotlight which shined on her heavily.
Trying to compose herself, she thought about what she would like to impart to the next generation of non-profit leaders. Her mind went racing back to her past, her home, her mother’s love, her father’s and Sahasra’s influence in her life.
“Welcome … I’m really happy to see all of you today …” her voice echoed throughout the hall. “I would like to tell you three important things today, three important things from my own life. Just like you, I was interested to work for charity. In fact, I felt this was my destiny, which now I know is true. As a girl confined to my home, I couldn’t afford to explore. Before I talk about the problems I faced, I would like to talk about my family,” she pointed to her family in the front row, to which every person’s head in the crowd turned towards. “That’s my mother,” she said, lowering her hand. “Manipulated by an uninvited politician, she never allowed me to explore, not even to play with my gonna-be friends. She was scared of the people outside but this was because she loved me too much.” Tears gleamed in her mother’s eyes. “All I had during this time were my books, and that’s where Sahasra came in,” she pointed to her guru. “I believe I have two mothers,” she smiled. “A mother who gave birth to me, and a mother who gave birth to my destiny.”
The crowd applauded, but Kaveri wasn’t distracted. She had entered into a vision. All she could see was a mirage-like figure, an apparition of a girl about eighteen years old, looking hopeless. Her face anxious, she sat in a dark room, metaphorically looking caged, as though she had been deprived of her right to be free.
“Just when I needed a person to set me free, Sahasra was the mother who gave birth to my destiny by setting me free to think. As I wasn’t physically allowed to wander around, books became my connection with the world. I would like to thank my guru for mentally setting me free to explore. I stand here today because of her, her initiative gave me a destiny, a goal, a direction to flow towards, even though my chances of reaching the destination had been very less.”
The girl now had a mirage-like companion, a middle-aged woman, sitting behind her, motivating her, pushing her to dream. The girl now looked curious, her hands held a book, revealing the words: Mother Teresa as Kaveri looked closer. The vision now metaphorically looked as though the girl had a dream, inflamed by her guru but hindered by her manipulated mother’s love.
“This is where my father took charge. He fought for me so that I could get a chance at my destiny,” Kaveri paused. With the help of a mirage-like man, the girl now broke free, it looked like she had crossed the hindrance in her life and had started flowing towards her destiny. The man dissolved into thin air and another man appeared. It looked as though he was taking care of the girl.
“Also, I believe that I have two fathers. A father who took authority in my life and set me free, and a father who takes care of me since then.”
The apparitions vanished and the crowd in the auditorium fell into her focus.
“These are the three most important things in my life, which made me reach my destiny,” she smiled. “It may not make sense to you yet, but bear with me.”
Her mind went back to the first thing she had said, “The only thing that I learned from my life and I wish to impart to you is that to take authority of your own life. With due respect, my mother was my hindrance, but she didn’t know this place needed a person like me, she was being manipulated and that manipulation brought hindrance to me. Nevertheless, she loves me the most. I had to cross the hindrance, but the worst part was that I needed someone to take authority of my life. I couldn’t do it on my own, I couldn’t make my mother understand that I must leave. I was not in a position to take charge of my life. Now, this is where I got lucky, I had my father and Sahasra, who took charge of my life and made the decision for me. You need an authority in your life! You can either take up that authority or be lucky enough to have someone who will. I got lucky, not all of you will.”
Immediately a thought came up to her mind.
“I’ve read somewhere that we are like a dried leaf hanging on a branch of a tree. When you snap and fall from the tree, you should glide where you want to go or the wind would blow you somewhere else. So, what do you choose to do? Do you want to take up that authority and choose your destiny or let the world decide it for you?”
The auditorium erupted in applause, every person in the hall was on their feet. Kaveri went furiously red, and suddenly it dawned on her.
This is where I belong. This is my destiny.
All Kaveri had needed to reach her destiny had been an authority which she hadn’t taken up, but had been lucky to have someone who did.
Kaveri had not just inspired the students but had also sown a seed in their minds, just like Sahasra had sown in her mind long back. A seed which had the potential to become a plant and then a tree. The end of her destiny had now sown one in many others’ minds.