Women In Need

On one of my afternoon walks, when I was very new to India, I saw a woman I will never forget. She walked towards me, head shaved, feet bare, lips cracked, skin burnt, eyes haunted, clutching a black woolen blanket around her naked body. I froze, completely stunned, as she passed me on that dusty road, she looked straight through me. I watched her walk away with a lump in my throat, my stomach in my chest. I looked around at the nearby paan wallas and chai stall customers, desperate for someone to help but everyone was busy attending to their business and no one noticed her. The woman in need, completely ignored, overlooked, invisible.  Helplessness and confusion consumed me, morphing into guilt at my inability to do anything. The next day, I looked for that young woman but I never saw her again.

That woman, clutching her blanket, has stuck in my mind since, she wanders around my thoughts reminding me of the extreme and unimaginable suffering in the world and my own helplessness and regrets.

Then, I met Leah and Usha. Two inspirational women who have dedicated their lives to serving those who have been abandoned, abused, ignored, neglected and stigmatised. 190580_167035690012765_1781190_n (1)

Leah left England to work in India’s oldest leprosy colony, Dattapur, in 1995. This is where Leah met Usha, a young Indian woman who had been affected by leprosy since the age of ten. Usha recognised the early signs when Leah contracted leprosy herself and supported her throughout her recovery. During this time the friends realised they shared a common goal, to assist stigmatised women who had been cast out of society. Although leprosy is curable, lack of awareness means that those who are receiving treatment for the condition are often abandoned by their families and forced to live in horrendous conditions.

In the early days Usha and Leah, being trained in leprosy detection and treatment, started to visit the slums of Nagpur, their funding coming from their own personal savings, travelling on public transport. They risked danger, walking through these parts of Nagpur, and through their dedication, hundreds of abandoned women had access to essential medical care, food, shelter and counselling.

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I recently accompanied Leah and Usha to Dattapur to visit the shelter they now run on the beautiful and tranquil grounds of the leprosy colony where they first met. The shelter, nestled in picturesque nature, gives women a place to relax, recover and rediscover joy in a safe environment, without fear of judgement. A place where they can be creative, learn meditation and receive therapy. 

It was such a privilege to meet the women living in the shelter, women who have suffered in ways many of us can not comprehend. Women who have survived every shade of horrific abuse, resulting in a high prevalence of HIV and profound mental illness. These women, embodying shakti (strength), have been repeatedly mistreated, due to no fault of their own. With compassion, care and the passage of time, the women start to smile again.

Thanks to the shelter, these women have been given the chance to regain their dignity and self-respect and where possible return to society with a continuous supply of medication and a new skill or business. This has been possible due to Leah and Usha’s relentless efforts and the charity founded by them called Women In Need.

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Usha and Leah show us that we can make a difference, with compassion and determination, anything is possible. It’s impossible not to be inspired and motivated by their passionate belief that no one is a lost cause, the thousands of women they have empowered and the kindness they pour into the lives of Nagpur’s most vulnerable. 

Many thanks to Usha, Leah and the other women at Women In Need, you are all so inspiring and I look forward to spending more time with you all very soon!

Donate: justgiving.com/womeninneed/donate/

Follow Women In Need on Facebook: facebook.com/womenineed

Read more about Women In Need: Women-In-Need.co.uk/

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Moving to Our Own Apartment

After over a year of living in a joint family, we’re moving out. I came to India fully prepared to live out the rest of my days sharing a home with my in-laws, but it seems I was too optimistic. The things I thought would get easier, got worse as my need for personal space and a sense of control grew. People warned me that joint family living is hard, no matter how lovely your in-laws are. I carried on without taking much notice, assuming it would be different for me, and I could make it work. I was going to be with my husband and that’s all that mattered, right?

Wrong.

I have found joint family life extremely hard, this way of life doesn’t suit me. I came to India to be with the man I love, not to be a perfect Indian daughter-in-law. I gladly embraced many of the  traditions and customs, but I’m just not cut out to do this 24/7, I want to be able to spend some alone time with my husband without moaning about how isolated I feel.

As a couple, we need our own space and I need to feel at home in India, at the moment I still feel like a lodger in someone else’s house. Unfortunately, I’m not built for joint family life. We all feel this is the best move for us as a family. I’m not against maybe returning to joint family life at some point in the future, but we are newly weds who jumped straight into marriage. We haven’t experienced time alone yet.

I hope that having our own space will improve my relationship with my new family and just give us all the breathing space we all need! Proximity breeds contempt, living in a joint family has taught me that. I feel certain that a little bit of distance (less than 1km) will nurture my relationship with my new family as I am absolutely determined for it to blossom!

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Goodbye Goddess Durga

I was feeling pretty down during Dussehra, I cannot tell you why because I don’t know myself. The following day, I was feeling a little better but annoyed I had missed the Dussehra celebrations. Dussehra marks the end of Navratri, the Goddess Durga idols are immersed in the lakes and huge models of the demon Ravana are burnt. No use in being annoyed at one’s self for feeling depressed, it’s natural I guess. We cannot be happy 100% of the time, right? 

The day after Dussehra, we went out to eat and got stuck in traffic. The traffic was at a standstill because the Goddess Durga from the polystyrene temple (the same one I previously wrote about), was being taken to the lake to be immersed. My husband told me that some of the idols are immersed the following day, to avoid crowds (plus many of the Buddhist pilgrims, who are also celebrating during that day, use the lake for bathing).

Hooray, thank you for waiting for us Goddess Durga. There was a parade, drums, a brass band, dancing, women carrying weird chandeliers on their heads. We had arrived just on time and our car had got stuck in the crowd at the perfect place to see the parade! The atmosphere was electric, so many people wanting to catch a glimpse of the Goddess before she left us.

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Oh, and I have some news… I am going to England for Christmas!!

Navratri: Polystyrene Temple

For weeks, workers in Abhyankar Nagar have been busy creating a huge temple made of bamboo, fabric and polystyrene! Now Navratri is in full swing, it’s so hard to believe that this structure, called a pandal, isn’t made of bricks, plaster and paint!! Just amazing! People come from all over Nagpur to take the darshan (seeing the divine image of God) of the gorgeous Goddess Durga idol within. The streets around the pandal are beautifully lit, it’s like Christmas over there!

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Beautiful lights, hard to capture on camera.

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Lord Ganesh welcoming everyone at the entrance!

navratri durga temple pandal festival nagpur

Hard to believe it’s only made of polystyrene, bamboo and fabric!

navratri durga temple pandal festival nagpur

Inside this huge pandal, which was inspired by the Jain temples in Jaisalmer, there are grand chandeliers, imported from Kolkata, and gorgeous rangoli (colourful designs made with power and/or flowers). The rangoli designs are refreshed daily, they are masterpieces, it would have been nice to visit everyday if it wasn’t for the crowds! The white decorations all over the temple are carved out of polystyrene, that stuff which is used in packaging and easily breaks into little balls (I remember getting in trouble once when I was really small for breaking up the polystyrene because I wanted to make it look as if it were snowing!).

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Chandeliers imported from Kolkata

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Carved polystyrene decorations

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navratri nagpur mandir pandal rangoli goddess durga devi love beautiful

Save the girl child!!

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Lord Shiva

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Beyond the crowds of people, the Goddess Durga idol stands! If you look at her face, sometimes she looks angry and sometimes she looks loving. That is the nature of Goddess Durga herself, a mother and a warrior. Absolutely stunning! I hope you enjoyed taking this trip to see Goddess Durga during Navratri with me! I still cannot get over the fact that this temple is made of bamboo sticks, fabric and polystyrene.

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