Aabir -Learning hope

Learning hope.

On 15th August that year, Binodini was asked to sing bhajans at the Independence Day function of the town. The chief guest at the function was a renowned social worker, Mr Somnath Pandit. He had an internationally-reputed NGO that supported marginalized communities, especially women. During his speech, Mr Pandit promised to help improve the living conditions of the widows of Vrindavan. He also mentioned Binodini and praised her devotional singing. 

Impressed and encouraged by Mr Pandit’s words, Binodini gathered courage to talk to him as he was leaving the function. She requested him to look into the living conditions at the ashram, and Mr Pandit left with the promise that he would return soon. 

After Mr Pandit had left, one of the function’s organizers flared up at Binodini. She had somehow been impertinent in approaching a man as eminent as Mr Pandit. He was a chief guest. She was just a poor widow. Impertinent or not, this young woman’s request had a decided impact.

Somnath Pandit returned and inspected the poor living conditions of the widows at Gokul ashram. He arranged funds for the building’s renovation and for the construction of decent toilets. The news spread to other ashrams as well. Once the renovation was completed, Binodini requested Mr Pandit to help her set up a training centre for the widows. She wanted to equip them, at least, with basic arithmetic and literacy. She felt that the widows should also learn some practical skills so they could earn a living with dignity and respect. 

Mr Pandit was impressed by Binodini’s initiative. He contributed the space and the funds for Binodini’s training centre, which educated needy women and provided them with the skill to make products that could be sold in the market. In a few months, the widows of Gokul ashram were making papad, achar, and many more food items. Through his NGO, Mr Pandit managed to have the products sold in various markets, even in metropolitan cities. 

Eventually, Mr Pandit expanded the centre to teach sewing skills to the women. Binodini fell short of words when thanking him, “Aapne iss ashram ke vidhwaon ko ek nayi zindagi di hai.” The combined vision of Binodini and Mr Pandit had renewed the life of the widows not just from Gokul ashram, but from all ashrams in the vicinity. Their efforts sent ripples of hope and optimism through the widows living in the town of Vrindavan.

Glossary:

papad: papadum; a thin, round, crisp flatbread

achar: pickle

Photography: Jassi Oberai

Location: Vrindavan, Mathura, India

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