She wakes up in those dawns and rises with the sun. A sun whose rays seem to creep with reluctance into a dwelling that is bleak and stark in its lack of any redeeming feature. Did I say she wakes up? What I meant was that she is woken, as she is every morning, by a hand shaking her roughly and a voice telling her that she is a useless, lazy burden…that she is lucky to be alive when she has no right to live. Blows and curses: two alarm clocks that waken the twelve year old girl; and who is the brutal stranger who mercilessly wipes the smile of peaceful innocence from her sleeping countenance? No stranger, but her mother, or her father, or maybe one of her elder brothers.
Fear has made her a quick learner. She has learnt to smile in the face of anger. She has learnt to weep so softly that no human ear is disturbed, and she has learnt to wipe her tears away even as they fall. After all she is a girl, and her birth was an event cursed by her entire family. Her bleak future was decided that day, and with the first few steps, a begging bowl was thrust into her hands. She has now become nimble and agile with the experience of dodging through traffic, avoiding moving vehicles, where she taps pleadingly at windows. City life sweeps her along like the debris in the gutter after rain. She is carried forward by the impetus of life, but with no purpose or apparent direction.
Good health, adequate food, clothing, education – everything, is lacking in her life. Everything except her dreams. Yes, for she too like everyone else, dares to dream. She too, dares to hope. Somewhere, deep down a seed has been sown in her, born of grit and determination. She dreams of a life, a real life, where she loves and is loved. She dreams of reading books, of three meals a day, of being a good and caring mother and she has visions of a home away from the fetid cesspool of her slum dwelling.
The constant beatings haven’t yet cowed her spirit. Whenever a social worker visits, she listens with eager attention, striving to reach upwards as naturally as a flower that turns it face to the sun and sky. Yet this little blossom wilts only too often. In the darker moments, she often thinks of death and how much better that would be than living with the aches of her battered body and the gnawing pain of her empty stomach. Yet she is proof of the saying: “Often the best test of courage is not to die, but to live!”
So she lives from day to day, or rather exists from day to day, from hand to mouth. Clad in rags, her bare feet pierced with stones, she counts the coins in her bowl, in her wandering through the streets, and she smiles with pleasure at the sight of a soaring kite. Even though her childhood had been pre-maturely snatched away from her, she is still a child at heart. She watches wistfully as children in parks cluster around the balloon-sellers and ice-cream vendors.
It’s a world so far removed from hers, yet she dreams…maybe it’s a world that could belong to her children….hungry as she is for kindness, she knows that a smile can mask evil. She remembers the ‘uncle’ who gave her toffees and lured her into an alleyway. Her cries for help earned her a beating from her father. After all, who’s to blame? Not the ‘uncle’, of course, but her. It was all her fault; her fault for being a girl, her fault for being born in a city slum as an added burden to her ‘poor’ parents, her fault for existing…
She is still not a cynic though. A smile is returned with a smile and eyes that brim with gratitude for this small gesture. Hers is the courage that hardly anyone knows about, or rather chooses to ignore. Praises of her courage are not sung as they are for war heroes. Yet she is a hero in her own way. Her war is never ceasing. So many enemies to battle everyday, every second: poverty, hunger, illiteracy, disease and abuse. No medals will be awarded to her, yet hers is the courage that’s almost beyond belief, she will prevail because of this courage. She will endure…she will survive and, who knows? She may even triumph someday. She is a girl child living in a city slum. She is a survivor…
Meanwhile life goes on…you don’t let her story resonate in your heart for long or you may miss the essence of your favourite soap, or maybe the dinner at ‘The Park’ may not be as enjoyable as it should be, or maybe you might be late for the latest Sharukh Khan flick that’s hit the local cinema, or maybe you might miss out the last over of the match bowled by Shoaib Akthar to Sachin Tendulkar…Yes there are lot of better things in life that needs your attention. Stories like this happens everyday…everywhere…its destiny…”God’s will”…ain’t it??