Many of us who grew up in India probably had a maid or two coming in each day to help with household chores. I remember this young woman who would come each morning to dust and mop. I was only a little child then. One day, we had bought some yummy, mouth-watering cakes from a delicatessen. I held out one for the young maid. She glanced at it, hesitated and shook her head.
‘You don’t want it?’ I asked, surprised. Who wouldn’t want something so obviously delicious?
‘No!’ It was a short answer, but packed with so much pain that even my 10 year old self was moved to ask…’But why?’
A tear glistened in her eye. ‘If I don’t know what it tastes like, I won’t know if it’s good or not. But if I taste it once and love the taste, it will make me miserable. Because I won’t be able to afford buying it myself.”
That day, my heart broke just a little. Not just because she was so stoic in her acceptance of the cards life had dealt her but also because she was so certain any other way of life was impossible.
Many many years later, I gave my first talk on women empowerment. The room was filled with young women, notebooks open, pencils poised. ‘Just listen….Don’t worry about taking notes’ I said. ‘You cannot go through life accepting your fate without putting up a fight. Don’t be afraid of dreaming bigger dreams. If you believe in yourself, the Universe will find a way to make it happen.”
That day in that room, many a tear glistened in many an eye. Each of them was thinking of her own secret pain….her own secret demons. I’m not sure how many of them walked out of that room and went on to shape their own destiny, but even if just one did, that’s a start.
And as for my young maid, who’s probably not so young any more..wherever you are, I hope Life has been kind. If I were to meet you ever again, I will offer the cake once more…the cake you were so afraid to eat because it represented something you thought you could never have. And if you refuse the same way you did all those years ago, this time around I’ll remind you gently that the only dream which is impossible is the one you’re afraid to dream.