Bilkij Brandon was sitting cozily in her shop supervising her tailors. They are busy carrying
out the work of cutting and stitching assigned to them. An hour had passed and Bilkij was feeling
drowsy from sitting and overseeing her tailors. On other days, she would not feel so sleepy as she
would be approached by women of all types for consultations. But today, even after an hour of her
opening shop there has not yet come any such needy woman. She yawned and, arching her back
against her chair closed her eyes and, quickly dozed off.
It had been two years since Bilkij opened shop but it has been only a year since that people have
been coming to her for consultations. At first her shop had only been a tailoring-shop. And it had
barely passed two years when she was necessitated in opening this shop.
Bilkij Bano, as she was called after her marriage, was a highly educated woman who wanted
to enter a government service. But luck denied her! So not wasting her youth, vigour and time to go
astray, she decided to learn cutting and stitching. But as her husband was a government employee
and belonged to the middle class, both he and his family members objected to this decision. But
Bilkij was adamant. She wanted to try out her luck and so enrolled herself in a tailoring school.
This made her husband furious. He was in love with another woman at that time and so
feared that Bilkij would get to know of this illegitimate affair. Of course, in due course of time, from
her attendance at the tailoring school and her interaction with her tailoring school-mates, Bilkij got
wind of this affair. ‘Cousin!’ her husband told her. But when she did not believe in this cousin-story,
then he plotted divorce or talaaq against her. So on some small pre-text or the other, on separate
occasions, he talked about ‘divorce’ or ‘talaaq’ three times with her. That was curtains for Bilkij in
her husband’s house.
But luck was with Bilkij. By the time her husband uttered ‘talaaq’ for the third and last time,
she had already learned how to cut, stitch and iron all types of dresses. And so when she was out of
her husband’s house, she set up a home alone in a rented room and found employment in a
tailoring-shop at a meagre Rs. 3,000/- per month. But for the hardworking, the diligent, the
persevering, the determined, the enthusiastic and the helpful, money is not a problem in the path of
life. And so, stitching clothes, she started a new life, all alone.
Luck does not remain the same for people all the time. It always changes. And for Bilkij of
course, it changed only for the better. One day she was visited by a male customer in her shop who
chanced to hear her pitiable condition and which he has also seen earlier in other women. He gave
her some advice. Following his advice Bilkij went to a building on the outskirts of the town. It was the
office-cum-residence of the “Compassionate sisters”-a Christian NGO working for the betterment
and privilege of women like her cutting across all religions, castes and communities. There she met
the sister superior, the head and president of the NGO. After some consultation, she was asked to
rent a shop for herself for which she was guaranteed some money as “shop advance” and also, a
swing machine, a high-table for cutting and ironing the clothes and, an electric iron.
Within a month, due to her sheer enthusiasm and determination, Bilkij was able to open a
tailoring shop by herself, with full help and support from the named NGO.
- At first, orders were lax
and she had to try hard to make both ends meet. But after some months, customers began making a
beeline to her shop. Within a year, she could keep two more tailors to help her in her work, so much
it had increased.
After about a year, Bilkij found that she could keep some money aside after meeting all her
expenses. So she decided to return all the money, including the monetary value of the material
things to the NGO, although it was not their policy to receive returns. The sisters were very joyous in
her such endeavour. So on Sundays, when she would visit them to return the money in instalments,
they would sit with her and gossip. From such conversations, Bilkij was so overwhelmed by the
sincerity and piety of the sisters that she thought of becoming a Christian, and so conveyed her
intention to the sisters. No religious fraternity discourages new converts to their religion and in the
case of the sisters also, they welcomed Bilkij wholeheartedly. So in a few days time, she became a
Christian and also changed her name from ‘Bilkij Bano’ to ‘Bilkij Brandon’. After her conversion, in
addition to following her profession of tailoring, she began to enquire of women who are unlucky
and oppressed as herself and tried to help them by initiating them to the NGO. This pleased the
sisters so much that they asked her if her shop could be used as an extension centre for their NGO.
Bilkij instantly agreed. So in consonance with the work, she changed the name of her shop to “Bilkij
Brandons’ tailoring shop & Extension Centre of the ‘Compassionate Sisters’, NGO.”
Bilkij woke from her slumber. She saw her employees engaged in their work. After some
moments, she heard murmurs on the pavement leading to her shop. Turning her gaze towards it,
she saw some women coming to her shop. She recognized their religions and communities from
their dresses-unerringly two are Muslims; one was a Sikh woman while the other two were an
Assamese and a Bengali respectively. Bilkij sighed! While only one or two women would come on
other days, on this day, even belatedly, five women from four different communities have come to
her for advice and help. And she will surely help them; not her but Christian charity rather, cutting
across all lines and around the globe, harming none but, benefitting all. Amen!
* this story appeared as a ‘short story’ in my book, “the grandee of gorokhiah gaon (and other stories)” and which is being published, both as an eBook and in the paperback format at Amazon.com. # fiction.