Stories of how women fought against their odds and worked on themselves have inspired many like me and my friends. Pushpa’s story is slightly different in that – for more than a decade, she has been invested in the upliftment of people around her.
All it took was one conversation on a bus when she learned that the visually impaired people often struggle to write exams and therefore find themselves unemployed or underemployed. Having faced financial hardships herself, she wanted ‘better’ for others. That conversation led her to enroll as a ‘scribe’ (one who writes exams on behalf of someone else) that very day.
“I can write only 2 exams a day – and that doesn’t amount to much. I took the step nevertheless as it might help the situation of at least those two,” she says recalling her initial days of scribing in 2007. So, from then, while working a 9-5 job that barely kept herself going, she volunteered for evening colleges and weekend exams.
From entrance exams, bank tests and college exams – she has by now written 700 exams for the visually impaired, people suffering from cerebral palsy and people with down syndrome. During COVID times, she has written 10 exams already when I had this conversation with her (which has been a while now!).
When I asked her how she was able to commit to all of this she said that she was only ‘paying forward’. Pushpa’s father was bedridden for almost a decade before his demise in 2018 and her mother’s meagre income could not afford continuous schooling for her or her brother. She and her brother worked part time and did summer jobs to manage their daily expenses. They started working odd jobs at the age of fifteen and yet a simple ailment or hospitalisation in the family would often end up dropping out of school for not paying the fees.
She recalls an incident where she was refused to write her final exam and their acquaintance, Mr. Vasu, who suffered from polio, voluntarily paid her fees. That one gesture stayed with her all these years and encouraged her to relentlessly work for others.
Her dedication was acknowledged by the President of India when she was chosen for the ‘Nari Shakthi Puraskar’ award in 2018.
She has not stepped back in contributing whilst facing her own losses. She lost her brother in February 2020. She was very much attached to her brother and his loss affected her deeply. However, she found solace continuing her commitment to this cause of upliftment of society around her.
What is it like? I ask her – to be in the middle of such an emotional turmoil and still undertake what could be a defining moment for someone else?
“In India, the visually impaired have requested the ability to write an exam but when they go on a scribe hunt it is not so easy. Their reach, volunteers’ availability and the logistics all have their own complications. But it is a gratifying feeling that we are the reason for someone’s graduation or someone’s career. That one hour of listening to and writing for them often results in a life-saving moment for them.”
“I remember this visually impaired guy who was a ‘beggar’ and was refused to be seated inside the college. I wrote the exam for him sitting in the corridor of that college. To understand that from such difficulties he wanted to rise enough to do college education and to imagine that one day perhaps because of my one hour, he would have landed a job or a livelihood – that was an elevating moment personally.”
So, is it just scribing? No. She is in a constant loop of activities that help the people around her. If she is not scribing, she is coordinating for blood donations or lending a shoulder for aspiring amputee runners. During COVID lockdown, when any normal person was finding grocery shopping a bit difficult, she was busy smoothening the process for the visually impaired. She is also looking at establishing community-based services such as libraries and caring for the elderly.
She is opposed to the concept of NGOs. Instead, she wants to empower those who struggle and enable them to thrive in society. While scribing helps them in completing an exam and qualifying for a job, it is still not enough for their sustenance. Her next project (which she has already started working on) is to create employment for 100s of disabled people.
What started as a ‘one woman’s effort’ is now wonderfully blossoming into an enterprise. Her journey of being the hands and eyes of people who struggle with their difficulties has now transformed into being the voice for the underprivileged in society.
Her logic is that ‘everyone is capable of something and when we apply that to the benefit of others – it opens up a world of positivity and possibilities.’ ‘This is only the beginning of my dream and I cannot take it further without the help of good-hearted people out there’ she says about her dream venture.
I was awed by Pushpa’s energy and persistence in making the world around her a better place – one person at a time. Her enthusiasm for this sort of selfless service was infectious. It was genuinely a very humbling moment for me to realise that Pushpa’s dream was to enable the lesser privileged to dream and to empower them to live those dreams. Her beautiful mind, compassionate heart and hard-working hands build a haven for the disabled.