87-yr-old tells her village she’s alive with blank sheet of paper
Dharamshala: Every day at dusk, Kaushalya Devi, a widow who lives alone in a village in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district, sticks a neatly folded sheet of white paper in the window of her home. At dawn, she removes it.
This daily ritual is performed at Jaladi village, about 20km from Shahpur town, just so that neighbours know that the 87-year-old did not die in her sleep at night. “If she has removed the paper from the window, we know all is well,” says Darshan Singh, a neighbour who works as an insurance agent.
His family is among six others in the neighbourhood that keep an eye on Kaushalya Devi’s house. “We occasionally call her daughter from Chamba when Kaushalya falls seriously ill,” Singh adds.
The octogenarian lost her husband, a daily-wage labourer, about eight years ago. Her 47-year-old son, Budhi Singh, left home about five years ago and has not been seen since.
She passes most of her time alone in her crumbling house with its black slate tiles and yellowing walls. Weakened witage, she says in a frail voice, “All I worry about is my son keep enquiring about him from passers-by.”
The practice of using the blank, A4 size sheet of paper folded into a rectangle as a signal for life and death was started after Kaushalya Devi fell ill one day and was unable to even reach out to her neighbours. It was only by chance that one of the neighbours noticed her condition.
Sanjay Sharma, a social worker, had in early August, shared Kaushalya Devi’s helplessness in a Facebook post. The post, which talked about the blank sheet of paper, had gone viral almost immediately. “I am hoping that the attention she got will help her get some financial support,” he says.
The post also caught the attention of filmmaker Vivek Mohan in Mumbai, who now plans to make a short film on her. He told TOIover the phone from Mumbai that the film has been named “The Bus Stop”. It will be shot in Mumbai and the story will be based on Kaushalya Devi’s story.
“What amazed me was that this lady wants a dignified death,” Mohan says. “She is cut off from the world being a resident of a village in Kangra, but she has the intelligence to use a sheet of paper to signal her death.” Mohan had won the National Award for his critically acclaimed documentary “Malana — In Search Of…” in 1998.
Adds Sharma, “Kaushalya Devi’s house is in very bad shape. The neighbourhood is her only permanent support.”
Kaushalya Devi sticks a folded sheet of white paper in the window of her home in Himachal Pradesh’s Jaladi village. She removes it at dawn