She would be the first to turn up every day. She would collect the keys from a neighbour, open all the windows, clean up the place and do many other small jobs that turned those two nondescript rooms into the local field office of an organisation working on women and microcredit. This is where I had interned.
On the first day itself, she came up to me and introduced herself. We shared a common surname. “So I am like your pishi (paternal aunt),” she said with obvious glee. She appointed herself my guardian, my ‘go-to’ person as I navigated this new universe.
She was a big help. There was so much I didn’t know. More importantly, I could not decipher the handwritings on many of the records made in the local language. She would patiently read them all aloud to me. Some of the staffs had hinted that she was mentally ill. Some of them spoke about her with warmth, some didn’t. But almost all of them agreed that she did a good job.
She would often walk back with me to the nearest bus stop. One day, she took a different route. I asked her how much time it would take to get to the stop. She answered in terms of numbers of steps taken. Another day, another route and the same answer. I realised that she measured distance in terms of number of footsteps. She did this for every destination.
Then, one day, she wanted to treat me to some local snacks. I was in a hurry that day. But we stopped in front of a small shop. I was a little suspicious of the kind of oil being used and the set up wasn’t very hygienic. I didn’t really want to eat there (Yes, this was early days!!!). She asked me what I wanted. I didn’t want to say no to her. There was a pause. Then, suddenly, she spoke to both me and shopkeeper together, “She sings. You sing, don’t you? And the oil is not good for your throat. So, you should not have all this stuff. She will not eat anything. Let’s go.” And she started walking at a brisk pace and I had to run to catch up. I made small talk, trying to guess if she was angry with me. She wasn’t and we were back to talking as we usually did.
She came with me to the bus stop on the last day of my internship as well. I thanked her for everything that she had done for me. She told me not to talk like that. Then, my bus came and I left. That month, I learnt about women’s groups, savings and microcredit and how these women interpreted empowerment. But my pishi taught me the more important lessons – about kindness and friendship.