A light conversation with members of an SHG, situated somewhere in the hills of Darjeeling
3 minutes read
I was welcomed warmly by the members of a Self Help Group, and even offered a cup of chia (tea) in the jarring cold of Darjeeling. Smiling faces adorned these ladies, as they spared me kind glances amidst their busy schedule with multiple orders. Industrious and motivated, they cooked and sewed, selling dishes and garments. Having been a massive fan of their chicken momos, I thought I would venture out to ask about their best-selling dishes and the self-help group (SHG) on the whole.
They narrate their stories one by one, speaking like a collective with multiple perspectives. Having started with the SHG only during the pandemic, these ladies admit to have sanity and solidarity in the chaotic times. However, they vocalise their wistful wishes of starting the SHG sooner, only if they had been informed about such a scheme. This came as a surprise to me, as since the ‘90s the SHG movement has been on the rise, and 2020 seemed to be a pretty late entry to this nationwide race of women empowerment. The ladies whisper about how petty the head of the next village was, having known about it since 2018 and yet not informing them. They proudly whisper that now they have realised how information about such schemes are readily available on the internet, they shall try to keep themselves vigilant and aware about the same.
Their “Ajjai ek cup chia khau na” (Have some more tea!), hints their willingness to carry on the conversation about their SHG. Comprising of 18 hardworking-ladies, they had mostly sold dishes during the pandemic. Happening to be their regular customer, I compliment their chicken momos. With gracious nods they say, “Momos always work. Simple, easy and tasty!”. I internally agree, as I longed for authentic momos from my hometown unlike those sold on the streets of Delhi.
They proudly share that food profits have been plenty for them to invest into some equipment for further business. This SHG has also started selling hand-crafted objects like aprons and jute bags. With donations from the community like sewing machines and mixer-grinders, they feel even more ambitious to indulge into this micro-financial model, hoping to avail loans in the near future when needed. They have made many dishes with the extra ration allotted to them during the pandemic, letting not a grain go to waste.
Besides the financial security and long-term plans, they seem to have benefitted internally from this communal set-up. A sense of purpose ran through their collective veins, as they happily chatted while chopping onions, and quietly observed when the profits were counted. They confess feeling happy and confident, able and ambitious, safe and secure. “It is a gala”, one chimes, as she never got to see her friend when busy with the household chore and now does due to the SHG. They all snicker when one chirps in, “It is a relief to get away from home!”. When asked what is their overall feeling that encompasses your financial, communal, and skill-building success due to the SHG , they say “Nyano lagcha” (It feels warm.) Although I couldn’t relate, I could empathise with a cup of chia in the cold.