I call her 'Akka', which means elder sister, and she is my "Miss Subtitles", who translates and explains Belgaum the place to me. Shridevi Kaamle works with Mahila Abhivrukti Samrakshana Sangha (MASS), Milaap's NGO partner in Belgaum, Karnataka. MASS works for women empowerment and children education, and I reached Belgaum on the morning of August 22, ready to make my mark.
I met Shridevi at MASS's office in Ghatprabha. We immediately traveled to Raibag, where I was supposed to stay, to find me a house. The first day ended in disappointment because we didn't find a suitable house but there was a silver lining. She asked me to stay with her in her house till I found my own house. So, for the third time today, I boarded a bus to travel to another village.
Shridevi lives in Bekeri, 5 kms from Raibag. What awaited me at Shridevi's house was all that a tired and ravenous person could dream of. A scrumptious dinner that nicely ended with a warm, sweet puran poli. A bed and hours of rest.
The next day, breakfast had dishes I'd never heard before with flavours I've never experienced before. The food eaten here uses more than just the two three staple grains we're used to, and my enjoyment was evident to every one at home. Every day we would go out looking for a house in Raibag, not finding suitable accommodations. My heart would rejoice when Shridevi Akka would say, "Chalo, Madam. Humare ghar pe aapko aaj kuch naya bana ke khilayenge." Let's go, Madam. I'll cook something new for you at home today.
Shridevi Akka's family has her mother Savitri Kaamle, four sisters and a 3-months-old nephew, and friendliness runs in their family. They all speak Kannada and we communicated in Hindi, getting to know each other quite well. I was surprised to learn that the four sisters were actually Akka’s cousins. They all called her "Mummy". Their mothers stay in the neighbourhood, but the cousins chose to stay with Shridevi Akka and Mummy.
Slowly, I began to see that not only the cousins, every child in the village addressed Savitri as "Mummy". At first, I was bewildered, but in time I had the answer.
One dinner, as I was eating, I spontaneously expressed my heartfelt gratitude to Shridevi Akka. Not just for the delicious food but for the entire week. Every day she came with me to Raibag looking for accommodation. She translated what people said to me and gave me tips of getting around. She had taken me into her house with her family and fed me such great food. Most of all, she made me feel welcome and at home.
Shridevi Akka laughed and Mummy inquired what it was. My words were translated and Mummy looked at me and said, "Tum mere beti ke jaisa hi hai, aisa thanks nahi sochne ka." You are like my daughter, don't say thanks.
That moment, I felt I had found, a home away from home, and a family away from family.