This lockdown forced upon us by an unknown virus may have taken away a lot of freedom, and restricted our lives but it did make us all realise the importance of a home, and of staying around loved ones. From privileged people who are working from home and staying with their loved ones, to the famished migrant labourers walking thousands of kilometres, everyone wants to be safe at home. But one must wonder and especially after a cyclone the size of Amphan has washed away so many homes, how many people have no homes at all? For those who have no blood relations, who makes a family?
This is the story of a single woman, who has seen the worst hurdles that life could throw at her, and yet here she is, with a toothless smile, standing taller than many of our spirits. Rani Murmu (Name Changed), left her native village in Mayurbhanj with her brother almost 40 years ago and came to Paradeep for livelihood. Gradually her brother found work at Bhubaneswar and Rani stayed at Paradeep, finding work in some households. She never chose to marry as she was happy, and still is, the way her life is. Going against such societal norms is not easy for a single woman. However, she did. On an unfortunate day, her brother passed away in Bhubaneswar and in just a day, she was left with no family. She continued to work in Paradeep and stayed wherever she found a roof. Eventually one of the houses that she worked for, gave her a little space in Bauriya Palanda Slum before they migrated elsewhere, and Rani set up her abode there.
As time wears us out, so it has worn out Rani too but only physically. In spirits, she is as strong as ever. On that piece of land, she was living under some plastic sheets and a few bamboo sticks. She gets Rs 500 only, as a pension. Most of us spend that much on pizza, while an elderly single woman with no family to take care of her survives solely on that. Wearing her tattered pink saree, she tells us that she spent one month’s pension on buying 2 bamboo sticks. Just 2! And she would be spending another two month’s pension on some more.
Our team was more inspired than anything else at the grit and determination of this young lady. Yes, she’s very young at heart! Then started the arduous task of building her house, first came a simple design and then we realised that this would be an uphill task given that right now no services are easily available due to the lockdown. We started with a call for volunteers in the Bauriya Palanda area, to help us build the house. We got overwhelming support from the youth. Rani had been living alone for a long time, with no resources, and the community support to help her out was spontaneous and most pure! A local leader, with his fellows, joined in this venture.
With the help of Paradeep Phosphates Limited, we procured some bamboo sticks, and we started to dismantle the home taking out all her belongings and completing starting the structure from scratch. The process involved a lot of physical labour from all team members present and the community volunteers. Bamboos were to be cut to fit the shape, the ground was to be levelled and the raw frame was needed to build the house. Although these tasks need a lot of expertise, our volunteers picked up the skill with some guidance and we were able to build something.
The news of Cyclone Amphan being a super severe cyclone had also put us on a ticking clock. Having started the construction there was no way we could have left it incomplete, and the most minor ﬂaw could lead to severe repercussions in such a strong cyclone.
While we were busy building her house, Rani did not once leave the site. She didn’t ask anyone else for help, to cook her meals given that her chulha was demolished too. She said that she lived alone far too long to ever need anyone. If self respect had a face, it would be hers. With the generous help of community volunteers, local leaders and the determination of our team, we managed to build Ek Chota Sa Aashiyaan for Rani. Cyclone Amphan has caused havoc and many lives were lost, but Rani and her Aashiyaan were safe.
We live in a fast-paced world that leaves us hardly any time to look around us. There are many elderly people to the likes of Rani, who live by themselves, and they could always use a smiling face and a helping hand. In these times of uncertainty, we need more and more community support.