Nilanthi Pushpakumari (36) is a parking attendant working in Colombo. “I don’t have a house of my own, so I still live with my parents in Grandpass, while taking care of them. My mother is very old, and a cancer patient so I bring this one — he is still nine months old — to work with me,” she said.
Carrying her youngest child all day, despite the heat of the day, or the rain, Nilanthi strives on. “Whenever my shoulder starts to hurt, I switch him to the other side,” she said. “I still breastfeed him. In the morning, I make sure to give him cereal. I finished the last of it this morning, which means I won’t have it for him tomorrow. But I’m hopeful that someone will come along and I will earn enough money to buy it.”
A single parent, Nilanthi’s husband is serving time on drug charges. “He is an addict; when he was home, he used to hurt me. I still have the scars he left on me,” she said. “I’m glad he’s inside, I’m living in peace. Otherwise, we would be suffering; in those days, my life was spent going back and forth to the police.”
Her small income from her parking duties is spent primarily on daily expenses. This, Nilanthi said, has put her dreams of sending her son to a boarding school, at risk. “He is growing up fast now and I don’t want him to grow up to be his father. I can’t change that because of the area I live in. He can easily lose his ways if he continues to live with us. I want him to grow up to become a successful man in life. It has been a constant struggle to get the money for this since. I can’t save anything that I earn,” she said.
“I didn’t have any ambitions when I was a kid. Maybe because where I live, it’s hard to have big dreams. We couldn’t think beyond the situation we are in. So we never were never interested in anything, not even studies. I still regret not listening to my mother’s advice. I married the wrong man without listening to her. But a woman can achieve a lot even without the support of a man. I will somehow work towards that and make sure my children lead good lives.”
Images and story: Roar Media/Nazly Ahmed