Freeset is far from the perfect community. We’re a bunch of imperfect people, with more joining the community all the time. As we journey we make lots of mistakes along the way. There are lots of freedom stories to celebrate but, if we’re honest, there’s just as many to weep about too. There are times where we do both at the same time.
Freedom, short lived is a hard thing to celebrate, especially for the Freeset family. Sarada finally succumbed to the tuberculosis, hepatitis and H.I.V. Aids that had ravaged her body for years. As we all sat down in the courtyard remembering her life and sharing stories soaked in tears there was little to be thankful for. The theme of a troubled life ran deep as each one shared. Trafficked from Nepal, Sarada’s family have no idea where she has been for many years and may never learn she has died.
Sitting amongst the Freeset family on an unused bag of sand, the same theme ran through my mind. I pictured Sarada in her Sonagacchi brothel in what must be one of the worst rooms I’ve ever visited. It had no window so the door was the only source of light and air, which meant the room was stale and musty. Sarada couldn’t afford electricity and I remember thinking a fan to circulate even the bad air would have helped. And then there was the stream of water that ran across her floor, perhaps the result of a rusty old drainpipe, leaking dirty water from the rooms above.
Standing at just 4ft 11inches and never saying much Sarada was easy to miss in a crowd. Her needs tended to bring her to the fore more than anything else. Despite a new, dry room with a light and fan she always struggled. Through unwise spending her Freeset wage never lasted the month and no matter how hard we tried to help her manage we were always buying her food. Her two boys, Abhijit (2) and Omit (6) paid the price of a mother who couldn’t even look after herself.
At the crematorium Sarada’s body joined the line of those waiting to be cremated. Her body was in line again but this time she wasn’t a lonely figure from a dark dingy room standing with others selling her body. This time she was joined by 150 others as her Freeset family gathered to mourn and say goodbye. This time she was somebody important in that line, someone who will be missed, remembered and honored even if her Freedom was short lived.
Saying goodbye in Kolkata is never a private affair. Hundreds of strangers gather together in absolute despair at losing their own loved ones, as the Hindu Priest goes about methodically administering the last rites. And yet, amongst all the chaos and turmoil, in that last opportunity to say goodbye, the Hindu Priest was upstaged as Sarada’s family burst out in prayer and song to Jesus. For the first time, there was a sense that for Sarada there is, and will be freedom at last.