Parvathamma’s Lesson

A lesson in Rural Livelihoods and Urban Demands

Parvathamma would come daily to office, in Tumakuru, Karnataka. Everyone just called her “Flower lady”. Her job was to go around and provide fresh Jasmine strings to women in the office, and to adorn the photo of Goddess Lakshmi.

I was an exotic piece for her since despite being a Hindu I neither used a bindi nor put flowers in hair. She was flabbergasted and perplexed on my audacity. She tried her best to get me to wear some Jasmine but I told her how the sharp fragrance gave me a headache and also my hair was too thin to hold them.  With a heavy heart she surrendered, but instead started bringing me other loose flowers.
I went on with my snobbery. I repeatedly told her how i loved flowers but that instead of plucking them daily for me she could just get me a flower pot and be done with it. She would laugh and dismiss me, and if I wasn’t on my seat I would return to find a bunch of them.

My teasing and her insistence went on for about three months until one day, a customer was extremely happy with me for some reason and was inviting me over to lunch at her place. Parvathamma happened to be present. I declined her offer so she wanted to thank me in some other way she deemed fit. She insisted that today she bought flowers for me. I told her that I didn’t wear any, because I hate flowers being plucked for one’s vanity or joy.

She got up, removed her hair pins, took a big Jasmine string from Parvathamma and both of them somehow fit them painfully on my scalp ensuring that not a single one would fall till evening. An arrogant, exotic North Indian was reigned in by them and entire branch was delighted on my conformity.
That day, however, Parvathamma walked with her head high. She wasn’t carrying away my charity. She had sold something that was in demand. She had earned money not by pity, but because someone had manufactured a genuine need for what she could sell.

I didn’t continue wearing flowers in hair. I did stop lecturing her. I had realized that our wants prey on needs of others. It had dawned on me, that my “ideals” and “principles” stem from my privilege. They are a luxury. I had no right to be ethical on something which was sustenance for someone else. If our demands were in sync with what our informal economy supplies, perhaps we would be closer to humanity.

Palaguttapalle Bags ( Aparna Krishnan’s efforts with her village)are one of the very, many demands that our informal economy needs. It is not about the bags. Eating millets, wearing “ethnic”, foregoing restaurants, understanding our traditional practices- are not personal choices. They are strong, very strong Political choices.

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