Krishna and her son, Alok.
Krishna thinks she’s about 42 years old. She knows her husband was 38 years old when he died of AIDS seven years ago. They left their native village in Bihar, India’s poorest state, about 18 years ago, with their three children to be near his parents who’d moved to Mumbai, all of them with a desire to escape rural poverty and seek better opportunities in a mega city full of dreamers and doers.
A slight, short woman with a wide smile, Krishna radiated warmth and grace as she invited us into the single room home that she shares with her three children for a cup of chai and conversation. We’ve known Krishna for seven years, since the death of her husband, when she came to Kane for help with medical bills. She was distraught and fearful that she and the children had also contracted the disease and asked for financial help with medical tests to diagnose whether any of them had HIV. The tests revealed that she had HIV, but all her children were HIV free. There was a mix of absolute relief for the health of her children combined with the fear of her own demise and the burden of more medical bills if she were to survive. She required a mix of drugs and supplements to keep her healthy, far beyond the reach of her limited income. She availed herself of the services of an AIDs specialist who sees her for her yearly appointments, free of charge. DWP stepped in to pay for her medication at that time and we’ll continue to pay until her children can support her.
Krishna talking with her neighbour
Her youngest son, Alok, sat with us on the floor, while we chatted about the family, her health, and their daily lives in a slum community in Chandivili, a community near Sakinaka. The bright orange walls stained with streaks of humidity and dust matched Krishna’s sari. Bags of clothing hang on the walls, slim shelves hold toiletries, and a stainless steel rack is the kitchen catch-all for dishes, cups and cutlery. She made us chai, while Alok was sent to the shop to buy us a chilled mango drink. A lovely host, she could sense that we were drowning in the heat and humidity of the day after our long walk to her home and a cold drink would be welcomed.
Alok, who’s eighteen years old, is charming, bright and full of positive energy. He’ll be in the 12th standard when school resumes in June. When asked about what his plans were regarding school and work, he quickly replied that he wanted to be in catering, to own his own business one day. He added that he’d never leave his mother. When he marries, he says, he will bring his wife to live with his family in the ninety square foot room they all share. He helps his mother with bills working part-time as a food delivery driver, using a motorcycle loaned by a friend. On a good day he earns 300 - 500 rupees ($6 - $10). Her daughter who’s 20 years old is in the 14th standard at school (college). Her oldest son, who’s 22 years old, works in a bank as a clerk.
Outside Krishna's home with Indu with Aarya, Aagya, Krishna and Alok
Krishna holds tuition classes in the home during the day for students living in the area, making about 7000 rupees ($140) a month. The rent on their slum home where they’ve lived for seven years is 4000 rupees ($80) a month. Their electricity bill is 1200 ($23) rupees per month and cooking gas is 700 rupees ($14) per month. They use the public toilets nearby and bathe in a small cubicle attached to the house, using a bucket and a public hose for water. Using a government ration card, they line up for grains a few times a month. One kilogram of wheat is 2 rupees, one kilogram of rice is 3 rupees and lentils cost 40 rupees per kilogram. The grains must be sorted for dirt and pebbles, mold and rat droppings, but they are grateful for the opportunity to access cheap, nutritious food that makes up most of their diet.
While sipping our chai, Krishna looks at Alok and tells us she will arrange marriages for all her children in Bihar. He smiles knowingly and agrees. In Bihar, she says, the dowry for her daughter will be less than a dowry for a husband in Mumbai. Her daughter, who aspires to be a professor, wants an educated husband, and for that her family will have to pay 4 lakh rupees ($8000).
The entrance to the slum community where Krishna lives.
Krishna’s health is very good at present. She gets regular yearly check-ups and blood work to keep track of her HIV status and she reports that the doctor is pleased with her results. Since 2012, we’ve assisted her family with school fees for Alok when required, and we continue to pay for her medicine and supplements to keep her healthy. She’s a brave, quiet, reserved woman who has seen her children survive and thrive in a difficult environment of poverty and chaos. Her move to Mumbai, although a difficult place to live, has given her children the education they need to survive. We’re happy to be able to help her in a small way, to remove a bit of anxiety, and to believe in the hope that she has for her children's futures, and who will lovingly care for her when she can no longer work.
Krishna’s medication per month: 500 rupees ($10)
Alok’s school fees (2014-15, 2015-16) - 10,000 rupees