“Do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you. It’s you who can change the world.”
As we huffed and puffed our way up a steep hillside, and Pushpa didi darted up like a squirrel on a tree, all I could think of was the courage she possessed that made her change her little world in Munsyari.
Pushpa didi is one of the many women of Sarmoli, a picturesque village in Munsyari, who support their families by setting up homestays in the village, selling local produce, organizing marathons, and acting as hiking guides to their guests. All this amidst their daily work of collecting firewood, cooking and taking care of their homes.
But even as they juggle a multitude of roles, they never forget to smile; transferring the warmth of their hospitality to everyone they meet.
Hiking past troves of rhododendron and looking far down into the valley below, we finally managed to reach her ‘office’. A bunch of women sat there giggling, knitting and documenting accounts, but welcomed us like long-lost friends as soon as we set foot in the room. From sweaters and caps to rajma and locally-produced bhang, we ended up buying everything, without them having to convince us even once.
After a brief, but joyful tête-à-tête with our new friends, Pushpa didi took us to another remote part of the hillside, where her new home was being built. Like an excited child, she ran past trees and leaped over boulders, while we struggled to catch up with her enthusiasm. But once we reached there, it was a sight to behold; windows spanning entire walls, and a view of the mighty Panchachulis.
What was even more beautiful was that gleam in Pushpa didi’s eyes; the feeling of pride, infused with a childlike eagerness to display a newly-acquired toy.
In the evening, when we came back from a long walk, we were amazed to see Pushpa didi hard at work, preparing for the festivities awaiting us the same night. All this without breaking a single sweat, while we nursed our sore foot, unaccustomed to walking miles.
She cooked and shared her stories of how she got married, her dreams for her kids, and why they ended up building another house. In an effort to widen roads leading to other remote parts of Uttarakhand, via Sarmoli, the government had decided to raze all houses facing the road to make space for a bigger road. While communities stood up to protest the demolition of their dreams, a lot of people eventually gave up, accepting meager compensation in return, and paving the way for the government to have its way.
The story broke my heart, but Pushpa didi cheered me up with the delicious kheer she made.
Later that night, as we all sat around a bonfire, talking about our respective lives and joking about cultural nuances in different parts of India, I looked up and blessed my stars for having had a privileged life, and marveled at the existence of women like Pushpa didi; the ones who make lives better, one bowl of kheer a day.