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As noted before, I have three older sisters – Varalakshmi, Parvathi and Sandhya. Parvathi cleared tenth grade with a good score and she joined us in our village. All those years up till then she spent at our grandparents’ home. She was a pretty girl, humorous, soft spoken and quickly made new girl friends in our village. Her friends would visit our home to meet her in the evenings. They would sit on the veranda and chat. She would sing beautifully during their girl-talk sessions, mostly musicals from the movies. Her social skills quickly made her popular among her girl friends and within the first few weeks of her arrival, they formed a small gang of five girls. Each of these girls had a brother who studied along with me in the same school, either of the same class or in a class above me. Parvathi was the brightest student among my sisters. One of the gang of girls was Cnu’s sister, who would spend most of her free time in our house. Parvathi aspired to get a good job after graduation, though she was never particular about a profession. Her main concern was to contribute to the family and be a support to my mother as soon as she could. That little ambition made her research what course to study further. After couple of days she came to a conclusion that commerce and vocational course would get her to land a job quickly, so she applied for admission to a nearby college. The remaining girls decided to follow her and applied for the same course in the same college. The day the girls received confirmation of their admission, they celebrated their joy with a little tea party at our house – like a first step to their newly brewed friendship.
After couple of weeks, the girls started their venture going together to the college. It was a big deal. In those days parents wouldn’t send out a teenage girl on her own as there were many fearsome stories of dangers that could befall girls. In addition to that, the girls would have to walk from the village to the bus stop where there would usually be no people at all on that route. However, everyone agreed to let the girls go by themselves in the hopes of changing the tradition and giving girls more freedom. A month passed and the girl gang won the confidence of the villagers as no disturbances were reported for that duration. They would ride a bus in the morning carrying their lunch box and travel seven kilometers from our village to the college. The college was located in a small town called Devarapalli, at the end of the line of the bus routes.
Devarapalli was an important town for the area and acted as a gateway to the various villages in nearby hill stations and the town hosted farmer’s markets and handicraft fairs where the villagers would sell various handmade products, including medicinal herbs, natural cosmetic products such as soapnuts, shikakai, and raw honey. . The only way to to reach these villages back then was either by bicycle or on foot. There are two major attractions in the small town of Devarapalli: a reservoir and a river. The river could get aggressive when there were heavy rains. We would listen to the villagers when they describe how they dealt with the tough times when there was such a flood few years earlier. My sister would tell us the tales of this small town and the people from there on regular basis. We all would sit around her and listen to her tales. She would shop for herbal and natural cosmetic products from the town on my mother’s recommendations. Now, of course, these natural products have been replaced by expensive big international brands and seem like a relic of the past.
One small event would build a lot of confidence and drive one girl in a positive direction. Rama Lakshmi was the most athletic girl in the gang. She won a few races during her school and was famed as a good runner and sprinter. She was a natural leader and took care of them while they traveled. She would encourage the other girls not to be frightened of the dark if they were ever out late. The boys preferred not to be around the gang when this girl was with them. Eve-teasing was a serious offense in the village and often would lead to severe punishment. A group of boys would watch the girls with admiration during their travels. One of the boys named Naidu would often try to start a conversation or even try to follow them to the bus stop irrespective of the girls’ interest. However, Rama Lakshmi would thrash him verbally and motivate the girls not to get scared of such teasers. For few days Rama Lakshmi couldn’t go to college due to a minor illness. Her absence led Naidu to take advantage… he went to the main road around the time girls usually return home and followed his habit of making unwanted conversation. The girls were worried by the unexpected guest yet walked briskly towards the village with no response to his comments. After some time the girls understood that they were panicking unnecessarily. That is when Parvathi took charge and initiated a neutral conversation about their courses and plans for the future. Naidu had little knowledge of education, so this made him intimidated and he soon took an exit when they arrived the village. The girls had a lighter moment talking about him afterwards, but soon separated to reach their homes. In following days Naidu never behaved like a teaser, rather he would start a polite conversation or ask a specific question relating to their studies and how the girls had progressed. This minor incident built confidence in the gang and all praised Parvathi for the her courageous move which resulted a hassle free journey for the girls in following days. The little gang created a good impression among the villagers, and they were the first group of girls from the village to graduate from secondary school.
In later years Parvathi went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in commerce and proved to everyone that was going places. She landed an accounting job after graduation to help our mother with the household expenses, and eventually secured a primary school teacher job. Today Parvathi has a beautiful family with growing teenage children. And I have more stories to tell where she played a key role.
Next Episode: Gurukul – The Beginning