Last night a woman got on the ground and prayed.
We had just finished our Tuesday evening study. We meet in the home of Shanti – one of our JSK staff and fellow church members. Besides Shanti, Sheba and myself – we were a small group – two young adult brothers, two pre-teen sisters, and the lady. All the lives have been touched by AIDS. The brothers were orphaned when the oldest was just 14. The girls’ mother normally comes to this weekly study at Shanti’s home. But the mother did not attend tonight – because she has been feeling sick. She has HIV. And the lady who prayed has been living with HIV for years.
Lets call her Preeti.
Preeti is a tall woman whose life has been through the pits – and then some more.
When we got home - Sheba and I reviewed Preeti’s experiences and had to shudder at just how awful some of her experiences were.
Early on, after getting to know Preeti, our staff had taken her children to a special camp. In the middle of the camp – late one night – Preeti’s husband showed up and demanded that the kids go with him. He was going to the village. He left Preeti behind. Abandoned her and took the kids to his parents’ house.
We heard that his parents told him to marry again. But he was HIV positive too. And soon he fell sick. Preeti swallowed her pride and went to his village to look after him. She lovingly cared for him in his final days. After he died, his parents told Preeti to take the children and leave. She did.
She came back to Thane. Her eldest daughter had dropped out of school and was working as a maid cleaning floors in different homes – just like Preeti. But Preeti was also not well. She had repeated painful collections of pus in her upper thigh. It was horrible. Sheba put her on TB treatment. Preeti’s immunity was low so we started her on anti-retroviral therapy. She was struggling financially with her three children and her repeated illnesses. Would she even survive? We wondered about who would care for the kids – should they be put in an orphanage?
In the midst of the darkness, pin-pricks of light appeared. They were so small at first that we hardly noticed. Preeti started to pray. One of her abscesses burst and drained so completely that it was as if a surgeon had done it – and a trained nurse had then dressed the wound.
Then the light started to shine more. Preeti’s daughter started back in school. We found a couple who began quietly paying the rent of the small room where Preeti and her children stay. Preeti stuck to her TB meds and completed the many-month long course. She stuck to her ART meds as well. She worked. And prayed. Preeti started attending a local prayer group too.
I did not hear much of her for some months. In our work that can be a good sign – it’s the families who are going through complicated times that we tend to hear most about in our JSK staff meetings. In Preeti’s case it was a very good sign. She was rebuilding her life.
After this evening’s study we asked each other whether there were any things people wanted prayer for. Preeti beamed and said that she is so grateful that she was able to get a whole month’s worth of medicine today. The govt. ART centre in town has been running low on medicines for the last few months – and so people who are getting ART from them were often given medicines for only 8 days at a time and then told to come back for more. This is very hard for working people like Preeti. So Preeti was so thankful to get her full month’s worth of meds after quite some time. What struck me was her radiant joy. Instead of cribbing about what she had been through over the past few months – she was just so glad to get the medicines this time.
After we had prayed for all – and Shanti went into the other room to get coffee and biscuits – Preeti said she wanted to pray. She slipped down from the diwan and kneeled on the ground. And then she poured out her heart to Jesus in Marathi. It was deeply moving to hear the beautiful torrent of words. And to hear her pray earnestly for Sheba and myself and the kids.
We parted ways outside Shanti’s home on a drizzly and dark monsoonal night. The yellow street-lights saw us stepping out onto the street with the autorickshaws scurrying back home, wending our way past the vendours selling dried fish and small piles of vegetables. Preeti said a final good by – as did the girls – and then they were swallowed up by the streams of people.
Hidden in the dark city we live in – below the flash and the sorrow – there are stories of hope. Stories whose chronicler is not the frilly fanzines or the august financial broadsheets. There are people who do not make it into the glossy photo-spreads of the latest starlet showing skin. There are folks like our Preeti – whose deep hope reminds us that life is worth the living.