This is the story that helped me win the second prize in my college inter-department competition… Hope you like it..:)
Life isn’t fair to everyone or anyone. But, we, the white-collar job people, do see some sunshine amongst various other petty problems of ours.
Yet, it’s not the same to those who are pushed down to below the poverty line, wherein every woman is granted a feeling of inadequacy and are taught over time that there’s something wrong with them that is woven into the fabric of their country’s civilization for long.
Yea, such women wake up early enough to fetch water from the water pump. But, wait! Isn’t there a series of procedure for that? Obviously yes!
His Royal Highness – the bestower of light – the Sun himself wouldn’t have shaken off his long slumber when at 2 or 3 in the midnight, every woman and teenage girls in the slum area would get a call of the water’s arrival at the pump or by a tanker. Then, her scurry begins. She clumsily picks up pitchers and rushes out of her hut, elbowing her way before other ladies of the ‘hut’-hold would come.
Yet, she wouldn’t have made it first. A few other PT Ushas’ might have already obtained their Olympic medals (remember? It’s a daily struggle).
Then, a few threats, a hustle-bustle, sounds of padding footsteps past the swamps and marshes, a few harsh words and voila! The fruits of her toil would lie on her hip, as she’d carry the pitcher that is filled up to the brim with the bittersweet water (that tells the tale of her victory in every drop)!
And later, every girl would return to sleep, only to be woken up by brute words and curses for having born as a girl baby. She’d be deprived of education, asked to do the household chores and travail all day laboriously.
This is what I expected to hear from Samyuktha – a girl, my journalist colleague mentioned about, out-of-the-blue, when I had sought her help for a cover story on Women’s day.
“Just go, meet her once,” was all she said.
Indifferent, I found myself perched in one of the chairs of an NGO whose name I didn’t even bother to read out.
“She must be under the guidance of this NGO,” I thought to myself.
I tapped my foot impatiently as I pulled out my mirror and checked my appearance for the next meeting with a Kollywood star, scheduled one hour later. I fancied myself with remarks such as ‘pretty,’ ‘beautiful,’ ‘charming,’ ‘bold,’ ‘daring,’ from people who envy my fair complexion and professional status.
I was busy, applying blush on my cheeks, when I saw a hand that pushed its way between my face and mirror and heard a voice saying, “Excuse me! I’m Samyuktha.”
I got irritated for behaving unruly, without any manners. But, as soon as I looked up at her, I gasped and snapped my mirror shut.
Samyuktha was clad in a stiff cotton sari, her locks kissing her puffed up cheek now and then, but…
“Sorry to have made you wait,” she apologized, her hand still sticking out for me to shake.
“Nah, that’s k, not… not much of a problem,” I stuttered, giving a warm shake.
Her hands felt cold and a bit rigid.
She gestured me to follow her into a small, cozy room that had a business-like atmosphere with a neat table in the middle and a cushion chair on one side and two plastic chairs on the opposite end.
She took the former seat and I placed myself duly opposite to her, silent all the while. I fumbled into my bag and brought out a recorder and a notepad to sketch down.
I helped myself to a glass of water and slowly soothed my state of shock and empathy.
“Gita Ma’am (that’s my colleague’s name) had already informed me of the purpose of your visit.” she began.
“Great!” I replied, “So, where will you start?”
“Just like the maxim, ‘Once upon a time’,” she said, smiling between those awkward lips.
But, lemme allow her to be the columnist for the cover story or rather her story, of our magazine ‘Femina’…
“Once upon a time, some twenty three years back, set in the rural outskirts of a backward society in Vaadipatti (a small town in Dindigul district that still dwells in the time where superstitions exist), I was born into the family of a farmer who raised a meager salary through the two cows he owned, when his crops and the monsoon failed him and punished him unkindly.
Though I was an uninvited guest, as I was discriminated as the unpleasant creation of God on Earth – a girl, my mother didn’t get the heart to poison me at the suggestion of my relatives. Thanks to her, I’m alive to tell you all, my story.
I spent my childhood sauntering in my father’s fields and the golden corns and the dusty paddy were my ideal places of merriment. My father ill treated me by starving me continuously for a maximum of three days when I disobeyed him to stay inside my house.
“Krishna alone can roam around, huh?” I’d argue.
Krishna is my elder brother.
“Thwack!” I’d be whipped and thrashed hard.
I shed tears in the early stages but grew up to be tough that, making me realize I am a girl, wasn’t a child’s play.
I was taught to milk the cows and deliver them every day to the nearby huts as soon as the sun let out a silent squeal in the form of its rays.
Carrying two cans of creamy, frothing milk, I’d walk past our fields, a school and a few other buildings to distribute them to the neighbors who never paid their dues on time.
As months rolled into years, I was admitted in the school that I had walked past, mocking at the jailed children inside. Little did I know, that it was the place where I’d get enlightenment. I mean, um, my knowledge.
When I attained the age of thirteen, the rasping voices of my teachers and parents forced me to enter the bondage that a girl has to undergo. All the hardcore cooking, washing and scrubbing of floors were dumped on me and my mother rested like a queen on the torn mattress.
Gradually, they restrained me from attending school anymore and kept me engaged in the household chores, wherein I slaved under the surveillance of my relatives.
Soon, the feminine parts in my body commenced projecting its presence to the world and before I knew what was happening with my hormones, they said I attained puberty and it was time for me to marry and get whisked away by a man.
And all this, at the age of fifteen! Ridiculous!
But, I feared the vital changes that revolutionized in my body and thought that they only happened to me and getting married was the only way out! Such silly was my fear, then!
“Samyuktha!” my husband called me fondly, when I coughed, as a result of puffing the smoke, to keep the fire alive. Yes, I was preparing dinner for him and my in-laws.
As soon as I heard his voice, I threw away the dirty cloth that was greased with charcoal and ran to attend him. This is a custom that I was taught by the experienced women in my society – Attend to him first.
“Wear these flowers,” he said, giving me a tied bunch of jasmine flowers that were wrapped inside a banana leaf, “And these cashews are for you.”
This utmost affection was because I was pregnant and I was bearing his baby – or rather his boy baby (so did he think! Anyway, that’s the gender, people prefer even now, right?).
My husband was twelve years older than me and was a factory worker in a glass factory, which was situated five miles away from our home.
I gingerly placed the flowers on my head and rushed inside the kitchen to hide away the cashews from my sister-in-law. No! We didn’t live in an intimate nuclear family but in a crowded joint family of three generations.
I resumed my cooking and the other jobs that are specially placed under the category – ‘It’s a woman’s work!’ Oops! Pardon me! I left that menacing pointing finger!
Palani (my husband), (girls were admonished from uttering their husband’s name then, but I’d like to bring that idolatry of husband to an end) and I faced a bitter shock in our lives.
The doctors informed us that I was too weak and my reproductive organs weren’t supportive enough for the growth of our baby and so it had died inside my womb.
While the sensitive gift of God to women – tears rolled down my cheeks, the impervious anger surged out from my husband. His face was grim and as soon as we reached home and the news spread in the locality, I was beaten black and blue by him.
My height of vexation was that, none in his family hindered him. In fact, he satisfied everyone’s rage till the last thrash. I was locked inside a room, without any stock of food, or without any pity…
My parents soon arrived after hearing the dismay.
But I had made up my mind already. I had a steely resolve that couldn’t be shaken out of its roots.
As soon as I was let out of the room, like a caged bird witnessing the open world for the first time, I ran as fast as my legs could carry.
Upon reaching the police station, without any after thoughts, I filed a complaint against my husband and in-laws for having treated me ruthlessly. The constable looked at me in a demeaning manner, intimidating me to back out of my petition to arrest them. But, I was determined.
Without much choice, the police marched to my in-laws’ place and arrested them.
My husband raised his hand in rage to whack me, when a policeman cuffed him. I smirked at him and laughed at my ceremonious victory.
At seventeen years of age, I knew no girl would have tasted such a victory…
I know, by now, you’d be in a state, where you wonder, which movie did my story resemble? But, don’t you think these real life circumstances that has happened somewhere out-of-your-earshot, form the backdrop of such movies?
As I walked on those lanes where my childhood memories were etched in the air, I saw a few penetrating eyes that seemed to spit out the ambiguity that I was a traitor.
Yea, maybe I’m one, but from your point of view!
My parents and Krishna abandoned me for fear of losing respect in the society and I worked in a matchbox factory that helped me live my life with hope. I knew my life was shattered, but I felt the need to rebuild it again. Thanks to ‘Mercy Foundation’ an NGO, who, after hearing my story through the local people, came searching for me and gave me the chance to remould it once again.
“Are you ready to learn?” they had asked me.
With much enthusiasm, I had agreed. Since I had a foundation till ninth, they didn’t find much difficulty in tutoring me for tenth.
I was too eager to study even more, that the members of the ‘Mercy Foundation’ were happy and obtained special permission for me to pursue my higher secondary too.
I got a first class pass mark and was overwhelmed for reaching such intangible heights (it is something unattainable, in the society that I come from).
Later, when the NGO’s members were able to collect enough money to fund my further studies, I joined Political Science course. I wanted someone to shed some light, why India’s rural areas still remained in the dark and a chance remark by one of the NGO people, set my desperately-searching eyes to take up that course.
The journey that I embarked came to a sudden halt when one day, my husband, who was released after serving his imprisonment period, confronted me…
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh,” I screamed at the top of my voice and clutched my face in agony.
I got the burning sensation all over my face, on my shoulders and neck. It was like a thousand matchsticks were lighted at once and one was standing right next to the friction of the matches over the boxes. Such was its intensity!
I saw Palani running away, with a wicked smile and fear both dancing on his face.
I couldn’t even feel my own tears and people had surrounded me by now.
Before I could black out, I heard someone cry, “She’s been attacked by acid,” and fell down next to the dark brown bottle with a green lid, that reacted on my face, turning it into a soggy, black-charred unknown innocent…”
At this point, my eyes looked at her with wonder.
“I survived the attack,” Samyuktha continued, “but with serious injuries.”
I remained mute. A lump had formed in my throat and I found myself unable to even console her. I wiped away the tears at the corner of my eyes.
“Can life be too harsh continuously?” I croaked the words out.
“What’s life without conditions apply then?” she rejoined.
“So, is this the NGO that gave you solace and strength when you were in need?”
“No, this is my own establishment that I run for the empowerment of women in all walks of life. As soon as I found that my physical appearance was beyond repair, I became even more determined to give back to the society that punished me, but,” she paused, “in a good way.”
“Further, we’re in the constant look out for suffering girls and ladies and we extend our help, to elevate the society to a newer and better level, wherein every woman will be given due respect, that she deserves.”
I was stumped!
“Was your husband arrested again?” I asked.
She nodded. Her disfigured face turned expressionless.
“Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’ve a meeting to attend with one of the foreign NGO’s who are willing to fund a few aspiring women in our WAW,” she said, leaving her chair.
“WAW?” I asked, puzzled.
“Yeah, that’s the name of our NGO?”
I bit my tongue. I was filled with remorse. I shouldn’t have disrespected my friend’s suggestion or in this matter Samyuktha’s fruit of hard work.
She saw me feeling embarrassed and quickly said, “Anyways, it was nice meeting you.. er…”
“Dhevapriya,” I said.
She smiled, gave a quick handshake and left the room.
I replaced the contents in my bag and as I exited, I read a sign on the door that said,
Manager of We Are Women (WAW).’
My heart was filled with wallowing pity as I checked my reflecting image in my car’s mirror.
The old adage ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’ drifted to my mind. In fact, she is the one who is bold andbeautiful.
I knew the actor whom I was gonna meet next wasn’t as great as an achiever like this simple, innocent and true heart that emerged a winner, after battling every callous impediment.
As my car’s engine revved up to life, the last words of Samyuktha as she left, echoed in my ears, “He made me a victim. But I turned a fighter…”