Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A story between the cup and the lips

With that night her life came to a halt. That dark, cold, wintry night when her husband lost his job. Then began the story of “ Chaiwala Mashi”. A story woven with the fine threads of struggle and triumph, light and shades, dreams and reality.

Tapashi Das is one of the million faces in Kolkata for whom each day is a new beginning. Her struggle starts with the rattling of the mobbed Sealdah- Barrackpore local that takes her to the “city of joy”.

The last ten years have given her a new identity. She became “Chaiwala Mashi”. She now owns her roadside tea-stall near Gariahat main road. For the tea-lovers of the locality, Mashi’s cha is real magic.

But ten years back, things were completely different. Then, she was only a housewife. Her husband worked in a local construction company. And she looked after the household chores. Life was sailing smoothly. Suddenly, came the first jerk. Her husband lost his job and everything started messing up. She was utterly confused. She knew that she had to do something, but “what”?

The answer came from her Didi. The latter stayed in South Kolkata. She gave Tapashi the idea to open a food stall near Gariahat main road. And a new journey began in Kolkata, the land of opportunities. Initially, it was tough, though. A new face in a new city. Alone and helpless. She was floating like a silent bubble on a sea of noise. She didn’t know towards what shore.

She had to spend the whole day far away from her family and children. New duties and new commitments. Her job, her customers and her marketing strategies. Some people around were friendly and helpful. Yet, some used to make things hard for her. Many clients were satisfied, but many were not. And there were competitors too. Mashi soon realized that if she was to succeed in the long run, then she had to offer food of the finest quality. She slowly and cautiously solved the puzzles. Situations taught her the lessons of life. She started gaining confidence and finally succeeded in taking off with her own capabilities.

Her family, she admits, was her strongest support. When she was striving for a new identity and while her husband was knocking at the new doors of opportunity, there stood her elder daughter, Jyoti. She dared to take the reins of the family in her hands. Time shaped that sixteen-year old girl into a mature woman. When her parents were out, Jyoti looked after the house and her younger brother and sister. For that, she had to sacrifice her studies. Mashi claims it was a struggle for existence. The toughest challenge they had to face. And together they overcame the hurdles.

But right then came the second blow. The nightmare of “ Operation Sunshine”. Her food stall, her hard work, her struggle---everything was crushed. She was back into the no-man’s land. But this time she was not alone. Bulldozers could ruin her stall but not her confidence. By then she had learnt the ways of life. Her “mantra” was to cope with the difficulties undeterred and move on with the task at hand. Finally, she managed to open a small tea-stall on the opposite side of the road.

Now she earns five to six hundred rupees monthly. Her husband has become a van-rickshaw-driver and her younger daughter and son are studying in schools in classes twelve and ten respectively. Mashi is also searching a right match for Jyoti.

A workingwoman, a wife and a mother, she did not fail in her duties. Situations gave her the potency to challenge her own limits. Whatever the obstacle, she knows, she has to face it. She refuses to be an escapist. And she believes if one has to survive and earn the bread for her family in this city, then one has to battle for it. It is a never-ending struggle for subsistence.

There remains another facet in Mashi’s life. She is a dreamer. Now she lives in a rented house with her family at Barrackpore. Yet she dares to dream of her own house with her own money even though she knows very well there are many slips between the cup and the lips. But then, dreaming of the impossible is the first step to making it come true.

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