Chinamma had 12 children, but only three daughters have survived and grown up to have their own families. She lives with one of the daughters in a small house in Bengaluru’s Rajendranagar slum, owing to the simple—yet deeply poignant—fact that none of her other daughters will have her. A few years ago, Chinamma would have spent her day alone, waiting for her daughter’s family to head back home while she waited around the slum.
Today, Chinamma looks forward to dressing up and heading out each morning. She makes her way through lanes to join her friends. Huddled in a small room, these ladies chat with each other, sing and dance, and wield their creative instincts making colourful recycled mats and paper bags.
For the last five years, the Rangoli Centre has enabled elderly slum women in this Bengaluru neighbourhood find company and remain self-sufficient in old age.
The project was initiated by the YWCA of Bangalore city. When a small building in Rajendranagar was being rebuilt, the MLA of the area permitted the organisation to set up a centre in a small room, for women. There were many elderly women in the area. “Some were homeless, but a lot of them were also very lonely and neglected by family members,” says Udayashree A, community coordinator.
The Rangoli Centre for Elderly Women is a space for elderly women to meet, feel cared for and pursue activities for income generation. They are engaged in two tasks — one is making paper bags in two styles for the purpose of shopping and menstrual waste disposal (in packs of 10). The other is crafting handmade rugs and floor mats from discarded fabrics.
Each morning, the women arrive at the centre, starting with a prayer and some exercise before starting on their mats and bags. “Around noon, we give the women lunch every day, and eggs twice a week. Donors also bring in old clothes, rations and treats,” says Udayashree. “Then, they head home for their afternoon siesta.”
As the elderly women leave, the centre moves on to its next class. A group of younger women from the slums arrive for tailoring lessons. Next door, a day care centre caters to the neighbourhood’s children, also run by YWCA of Bangalore city.
The Centre currently has 25 elderly women engaged in the activities, approximately aged 50 onwards.
Supervised by Shanthi Joseph, a tailoring teacher who has been managing the centre for a year, the women use fabrics sourced from tailors or donations to make rugs of different shapes and sizes. They cut strips of fabrics and tie them across a base of jute, in coordinated shades.
“Over the years, we have also taught them coordination and matching difficult shades like pink,” says Usha Abraham, a member of the YWCA.”One of the distinctive features of the rugs is that they are knotted in a way that both sides look equally beautiful.”
The products are available for sale, and the women will also make rugs (in varying shapes, colours and sizes) on special request.
The major part of the profits from the sale is given to the women, while a small portion is allocated for logistical expenses. Over the years, the YWCA team has also helped these women avail of old-age pensions, apply for identification like Aadhaar and receive medical assistance.
The centre is now in its sixth year, and the need of the hour is to showcase the impeccable carpets made by the women to the world. Volunteers are also welcome, to aid outreach and management, as well as donors for the products and the needs of the women.
For the elderly women struggling with failing health, poverty and loneliness who find respite in meeting and interacting with each other at the centre.
Located in close proximity to the National Games Village, the Rajendranagar area is characterised by a string of shops, small homes and roads crowded with people, cattle and cars. But what really defines the area is a perennial stench caused by the massive garbage dump that piles up on the road each day. Drivers often turn up the car windows to spare passengers, but for those who live in the area the smell is their perpetual companion.
Life can be especially difficult for the neighbourhood’s elderly, who are often entirely alone or dependent on their children and relatives. Take for instance, Hamsamma who is often late in reporting to the centre. “My sons won’t eat if I am not around. My daughter-in-law helps, but I have to do all the work at home,” she says.
Varamma has four children, three of whom are speech- and hearing-impaired children. One of them has gone missing, and she is still getting over the loss while seeking a match for another of her sons. Then, there’s Muthulakshmi — unmarried and childless — who often depends on the kindness of neighbours to help her in times of need, but never hesitates to make room for the other elderly women in her own house.
In spite of their daily trials and tribulations, the women are happy to interact and help each other, learn new skills and find a friendly respite from their otherwise lonesome days. What do they enjoy most? Singing and dancing and sharing stories with guests. As their experience might make clear, their lives aren’t always happy but there’s a silver lining of hope in their eyes.
For more information on the Rangoli Centre team, get in touch with Udayashree or Pearl here.