About two years back one day during the break while chatting with students in the Department of Interreligious Studies (DIRS) office of St. Xavier’s college, Mumbai, a young girl named Shalini Dubey came and sat beside me and asked me a question, “I have applied seven times for various posts in events like Malhar but have not been accepted. Is there something wrong with me? What is it?” On noticing how simply dressed she was, I guessed the answer lay in her poverty and told her that I would meet her the next day. After consulting a few students they shared that for prestigious events like Malhar, girls were expected to look highly attractive and competitive, elitist and wealthy.
When I met Shalini the next day she briefly shared that she was from Uttar Pradesh and that her father was a security guard. I proposed that rather than get discouraged by rejection she could explore opportunities to foster her strengths. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that she had represented her school for karate at the nationals. I chose her to read one of the prayers at the college InterFaith service that helped build her confidence. I also invited her for the weekly brief Art of Peace sessions that included some movement and meditation. She was delighted to move freely and spontaneously in the group and remarked that she felt at home in Xaviers for the first time.
What stunned me recently was the amazing news that she had taken the initiative to reach out to the people in her slum in Kurla during the lockdown due to the Coronavirus, when so many other privileged students are locked up in their fears. Together with her brother and a few others they put together some savings, got some support from DIRS students actively associated with SWAN (Stranded Workers Action Network), contacted an MP and have started a project to distribute food to about 350 people in her slum area. On asking her what motivated her to take this daring and caring initiative, she replied,
The tears in the people’s eyes.”
I was deeply moved and recalled the wisdom of the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “God appears to a hungry person in the form of bread”. It takes compassionate angels like Shalini to awaken us to the divine mystery of courage and hope in these fearful and hopeless times.