87-yr-old tells her vil­lage she’s alive with blank sheet of pa­per

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NATION - Shri.Puri@ times­group.com

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

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