Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Pratyusha, Munmun will always miss her 'Anandi didi'....

Non-fiction, Pratyusha Banerjee, Indian actor, suicide, Anandi, balika vadhu, colors channel

A 'child bride's' take on suicide of tv actor Pratyusha Banerjee, whom she and many other little girls idolised as Balika Vadhu Anandi....  

By Tarannum

She was loved by millions of girls across the country for being one of the strongest young girls on Indian television. Most of them considered her to be their idol, especially those from the rural parts of Northern India. In a country where more than 50 per cent of the rural girls get married before the age of 18, Indian telesoap Balika Vadhu and the protagonist Anandi were role models...... 

And like many child brides, Munmun too had idolised Anandi. After all, Anandi was just like her. Married off at a tender age when she was busy marrying off her dolls, Anandi had seen a lot of ups and downs in her life, including her mate, Jagya, falling for someone else and finding love again. Munmun, who had changed her name from Muniya when she finally managed to join back school again after being a dropout for 4 years, saw herself in Anandi. 

I remember when I first met her, she had told me about her fascination for Anandi. "Didi, wo bilkul mere jaisi hai na.... Mujhe Anandi didi (she had thought she was much elder to her) bahut achchhi lagti hai..." Munmun had said. A 11 year old in the backward SiddharthNagar district of Uttar Pradesh, Munmun's only obsession at that time was to watch her Anandi didi almost every alternate day. The NGO who was supporting her had a TV in their care centre and she made it a point that if there was electricity, she would catch Balika Vadhu on TV. 

After all, for her Anandi was the epitome of courage. And when the little girl grew up to be the enchanting Pratyusha Banerjee, Munmun followed everything she could about her. "Ab main akhbaar padhne lagi hun didi.... Anandi didi ka asli naam Pratyusha hai. Wo bhi ek chhote se shaher se hain.... Mujhe wo bahut pasand hain..." .... When Anandi grew up, Munmun grew with her. When Jagya ditched Anandi for another girl, Munmun cried and felt heartbroken. When Anandi found love again in Shivraj Shekhar, Munmun rejoiced. Infact, I remember Munmun, who was now studying, asked her parents to get her a new suit made to celebrate Anandi's wedding with the bureaucrat. 

And then Anandi changed. Pratyusha Banerjee left the soap for her reasons and was replaced by Toral Rasputra. By this time, Munmun too had changed. She knew that Balika Vadhu was a soap and these characters were actors. But in her mind, Pratyusha 'Anandi' Banerjee was always her idol. A child woman who gave her strength to fight, to pursue her life once again. 

When news about Banerjee's suicide started flashing on all news channels, I decided to reconnect to Munmun. After all, Pratyusha was her idol.... her soulmate... her 'didi'. "I know it Didi. Anandi didi committed suicide...." she said, as sadness filled her voice. I did not want to discuss anything more with her, but what she said summed up every Indian child bride's thoughts for Pratyusha.... 

"Wo toh itni himmat wali thi... Jeewan mein har mushkil ko paar karne wali... Dadisa ke har julm ko sehne wali.... Apni raah chunne wali. Jab Jagya ne unhen dhokha diya tab bhi unhone sambhal liya tha.... Fir jab asli zindagi ke Jagya ne dhokha diya toh wo kyun bikhar gayi... Kyun nahin Anandi ki tarah aage badh gayi... Usey peechhe chhod kar..." 
(She was so courageous... Defeating all problems in life.... facing all the hurdles by her in-laws Dadi sa, choosing her own path. When her hero in the serial deceived her, even then she had managed to sail through. So when her hero in real life deceived her, why did she break down.... why didn't she move on like Anandi, leaving him behind...), munmun said.... 

Yes Pratyusha, you were the idol to many Munmun's in India.... you were loved by them all dearly... you were the fighter they always looked upon.... you were the epitome of strength for them.... 

Wish you would have imbibed the reel Anandi in your real life too... wish you would have stayed strong... for Munmun and many other's like her.... 

Rest in peace.... 


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Beautiful and nostalgic... that's how 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' music is

#This is my first music review and purely based on my opinion. I am not a critic, but have a really strong ear for music and this review is my heart-felt opinion.

Valentine's Day is around the corner and for any Indian Bollywood buff, the day (or rather the month) is incomplete without mentioning Yash Raj songs. But their latest offering 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha' is not your usual YRF music. Still, it is worth listening and has some interesting moments and beautiful melodies by the evergreen Annu Malik. Here's a review

Annu Malik comes from a strong musical background and amidst the Nadeem-Shrawans and the Anand-Milinds in the 1990’s, he still gave us some beautifully hummable tunes that are still played on a repeat mode on FM channels. And YRF’s Dum Laga ke Haisha is just the perfect comeback vehicle one expects from such a fine music director. Incidentally, the album doesn’t sound a wee bit like the typical Yashraj songs (no soft romantic music), yet is pretty enjoyable in its own way.

Here are my some cents (well, not fifty to be precise) on Dum Laga Ke Haisha :
  • Moh Moh ke dhaage – An amazing composition with Papon on the mike. Has a sufi kind of feel to it, strong flute opening the song with Papon’s soulful voice. The words do complete justice to the melody. Sample this : ye moh moh ke dhaage, teri ungliyon se ja uljhe…  Strongly classical instruments like flute and the long forgotten shehnayi feature so beautifully in this composition. Annu Malik still creates magic with this melodious song. The second version by Monali Thakur too sounds beautiful, but somehow, it’s Papon who takes the cake here. However, her humming is more beautiful and serene. #WelcomebackAnnuMalik.
  • Dum Laga Ke Haisha - The title track is a simple yet fun composition. Starts with a guitar, with Kailash Kher’s high pitched voice opening the song. The energies of Kailash Kher’s voice gets a befitting partnership with Nooran sisters (of Patakha Guddi fame) and gives loads of energy to the song. With the film’s centre being a ‘wife-lifting’ competition, this song seems to be providing a good and hi-energy ‘push’. #WorthEnjoyingTrack
  • Tu – Remember ‘Sun Sun Sun Barsaat Ki Dhun’ from ‘Sir’… that was the classic combo of Annu Malik and Kumar Sanu in the 90’s. Tu is very 90’s in its lyrics, music, feel, music arrangement and even the whistling. Although Sanu doesn’t sound the same as he did then, yet Annu Malik’s composition is bang on the era. Watching the trailer, one realises that Kumar Sanu's voice forms an integral part of this Ayushmaan Khurrana-Bhumi Pednekar starrer. And the song does complete justice to Sanu's 90's dripped voice. #ListenItForNostalgia
  • Sundar Susheel - My personal favourite. A very very enjoyable track that can be a good pick for the wedding season, specially in the Hindi Belt. The unconventional voices of Rahul Ram (Of Indian Ocean fame) and eminent folk singer Malini Awasthi come together for this super fun composition. A song about a girl and a boy's expectations from their partner, the lyrics are indeed the king of the song. Listen to this : (boy) Shimla Kullu Manali jo sang sang jaaye, (girl) Sham ko ghar aate aate sabji laaye, (boy) Aisa hi different dhoondhege ... The aspirations and desires are different, and so are Ram and Awasthi's vocals. But together, they create a magic that makes the song worth enjoying.  It is Malini's 'Tana nana nana' which is heard in the trailer too. Malini Awasthi is a reknowned name for folk in the Hindi Belt and her voice does complete justice to the rustic flavour of the song, while Rahul Ram comes as a surprise and certainly gets some interesting moments. #VeryEnjoyableIndeed
  • Dard Karara : The 90's combination Kumar Sanu and Sadhna Sargam is back. And this is so.... Annu Malik kind of a song. Takes you literally back in time, when a thousand similar dressed dancers in the background formed the core of every romantic song. This one too has a very strong chorus. #StrictlyForNostalgiaOf90s
  • Prem's theme : Has a very strong resemblance to 'Aahatein' by Agnee which was the theme song for MTV Splitsvilla. But still, it is a beautiful piece, which shows Papon's prowess in a full blown manner. I can see lot of boys humming this on guitar for their beloved. #TrulyMagicalandBeautiful

    Hope you all liked this review. It's just what I felt. You can hear the songs here . This review is not sponsored by or YRF in anyway and is just what I felt. 

    Do leave in your comments and thoughts below as I would love to read them. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

पलाशमयी ........

मार्च १९, २०१३ 

पलाशमयी ........ 

उसे खुद याद नहीं था कि पलाश से उसे कब प्रेम हुआ। शायद बचपन में ..... नहीं, तब तो पहली बार पलाश से उसका परिचय हुआ था।  

उसके पिता वन विभाग के आला अधिकारी थे।  इसी कारण जंगलों और पेड़ पौधों से उसका परिचय बचपन में ही हो गया था। खुले आसमान के नीचे आज़ाद परिंदे की तरह निश्छल उड़ान भरना तो जैसे उसके स्वभाव का हिस्सा था।  और बाबा की सरकारी नौकरी ने उसके इस अरमान में मानो नयी ऊर्जा भर दी हो।  अगर बाबा का तबादला किसी छोटे शहर में हुआ, तब तो बस आस पास जंगल ही जंगल।  और अगर किसी बड़े शहर में, तो भी जहाँ बंगला मिलता था , वहाँ अनेकों सुन्दर पौधे बंगले के चारो ओर नज़र आते।  

पलाश से उसका प्रथम परिचय झाँसी मे हुआ था।  उसे याद है बाबा की सरकारी गाड़ी में बैठ फिर एक नए सफ़र पर जाना।  चूँकि झाँसी में सभी सुविधाएँ थी इसीलिए बाबा परिवार को अपने साथ इस नयी पोस्टिंग पर ले आये थे।  मीलों तक फैली हुई सुनसान सड़क और सड़क के दोनों ओर लगे पलाश के पेड़।  चूँकि फूलों का मौसम था, इसलिए पत्तियां कम और फूल ज्यादा दिख रहे थे।  बाबा ने उसे बताया था कि अंग्रेजी में इन्हें फ्लेम ऑफ़ फोरेस्ट कहते हैं।  हाँ, ये फ्लेम ऑफ़ फोरेस्ट जैसे ही तो  हैं …मानो जंगल में आग सी लगी हो और हर पंखुड़ी एक लपट सी हो, जो अपने अंदर पूरे जंगल को लील लेना चाहती हो।  

बाबा के अधिकारी वाले बड़े से बंगले के पीछे कई दर्जन पलाश के पेड़ लगे थे।  और सरकारी माली रोज़ उसे टोकरी भर के पलाश के फूल दे जाता।  "अरे ये तो रंग छोड़ता है। . " उसने एक दिन शिकायत करी।  तो दादी बोली, "न री। । वो अपना रंग सबको देता है। " दादी ने पलाश के फूलों को सुखा कर होली के लिए गुलाल बनाना सिखाया।  "ये सबसे अच्छा रंग होता है गुड़िया … कोई नुकसान नहीं और पूजा में भी ले सकते हैं …पवित्र भी और कोमल भी … और एकदम निश्छल … " 

पलाश से उसका परिचय हो चुका था।     


हाँ, तो बचपन में तो केवल पलाश से उसका परिचय हुआ था।  लेकिन फिर प्रेम कब हुआ ? शायद यौवन की ओर प्रथम पग लेते ही।  दादी बंगाल की थीं , इसलिए उनकी इच्छा थी कि वो शांति निकेतन में कुछ वर्ष बिताये।  इधर बाबा का तबादला भी जल्दी जल्दी होने लगा था। … इसीलिए उसे विश्व भारती में आगे की पढाई के लिए भेज दिया गया।  १७ साल की उम्र में उसका पलाश से फिर एक बार परिचय हुआ।  लेकिन ऐसा परिचय, जिसने उसके लिए पलाश का अर्थ हमेशा के लिए बदल दिया।  

बंगाल में रह कर कोई भी बंगाल की संस्कृति से अछूता नहीं रह पाता।  और सरस्वती पूजा से तो बिलकुल भी नहीं। वो उसका दूसरा साल था शांति निकेतन में। टैगोर की कहानियाँ तो वो पहले भी पढ़ती थी , लेकिन अब उनसे रोमांचित हो उठती थी।  और इस बार, उसने अपनी सहेलियों के साथ सरस्वती पूजा में फूलों के गहने पहनने का निश्चय किया।  

"हम पलाश के फूलों से गहने बनाएंगे।  देवी के लिए भी और अपने लिए भी।  उन्हें शुभ मानते हैं ," देबोनिता ने उससे कहा।  "लेकिन उसने तो रंग बनता है ना … क्या ज़ेवर भी बनते हैं .... ?" उसकी मासूमियत पर सभी ने हँस कर जवाब दिया .... "एक बार पलाश को तुम्हें छूने तो दो , और किसी के छूने में वो मज़ा न आएगा। । " 

आखिर वो भी टोकरी भर के फूल ले ही आयी और बैठी उन्हं नया रूप देने।  
पलाश के उन सुर्ख , लेकिन बेहद नाज़ुक फूलों को हाथ में लिए मानो उसे कोई पुराना पल याद आने लगा  …… कोई पुराना प्रसंग  …… कोई पुराना नाता …… मानो कोई सालों से उससे मिलना चाह रहा हो, उसे छूना चाह रहा हो। … 

वो धीरे से उन फूलों को एक सफ़ेद धागे से पिरोने लगी।  एक माला गले के लिए , एक वेणी के लिए , दो हाथों के लिए और एक बाजूबंद .... और जब तक उसके सारे आभूषण ख़त्म हुए , उसने देखा कि पलाश उसे अपने रंग में रंग चुका था …… उसके फूलों का रंग उसके हाथों को ही नहीं , उसकी आत्मा को भी सराबोर कर चुका था।  

'पलाश' …ये नाम ही नहीं, इसका सर्वस्व उसके सर्वस्व में समा चुका था।    


उत्कर्षा  । बाबा ने तो यही नाम रखा था उसका। … उनके अनुसार , चार बेटों के बाद उसे पा कर उन्हें बहुत हर्ष और गर्व महसूस हुआ था।  इसीलिए वो उत्कर्षा हो गयी।  उसे हमेशा से ही अपना नाम पसंद था।  भले ही क्लास के अटेंडेंस रजिस्टर में उसका नाम सबसे अंत में आता हो, लेकिन टीना, गीता, लता , स्नेहा जैसे अनगिनत छोटे छोटे नामों के बीच उसे अपना नाम बहुत खूबसूरत और भाव भरा लगता था।  शांति निकेतन में बड़ी नामों वाली सहेलियों में भी उसे अपना नाम बहुत सुहाता था।

"बाबा , क्या मैं अपना नाम बदल सकती हूँ, " उसने धीरे से पूछा। … बाबा ने चश्मे के ऊपर से देखा, और फिर अखबार पढ़ने लगे। … "बोलिये न बाबा। । " उसने उन्हें धीरे से हिलाया।  इस पर उन्होंने सर उठा कर उसे देखा और पूछा "लेकिन क्यों। । तुम्हें तो अपना नाम पसंद था न …… फिर क्यूँ बदलना चाहती हो ? और क्या नाम रखोगी ?" वो धीरे से बोली "पलाशमयी" 

बाबा हँस पड़े। … ये भी कोई नाम हुआ भला।  इसका तो कोई मतलब भी नहीं।  अगर उत्कर्षा जैसा कोई गूढ़ अर्थ वाला नाम ले कर आओ तो विचार करेंगे।  लेकिन अर्थहीन नाम रख कर अपने जीवन को अर्थहीन न बनाओ - कह कर बाबा फिर से अखबार के पन्नों में खो गए … और वो कह भी न पायी कि बाबा इसी नाम में तो मेरे जीवन का सारा अर्थ छुपा है … 


"अम्मा, क्या मैं दुल्हन के रूप में फूलों के गहने पहन सकती हूँ? ", उसने पूछा। घर में होती तैयारियों के बीच उसका ये सवाल अम्मा को कुछ अटपटा तो लगा, लेकिन भोला भी।  अम्मा भला क्यूँ मना करतीं, बोली "हाँ हाँ। । कल ही तेरे लिए बेले और गुलाब के फूलों के गहने तैयार करवा लेती हूँ।  विवाह कि किसी भी एक रस्म में पहन लीजियो। " "नहीं अम्मा, इन फूलों के नहीं" … "तो ?" ....... "पलाश के गहने अम्मा …… " 

"बुद्धू लड़की। । इस मौसम में कहाँ मिलेंगे पलाश के फूल ? और फिर यहाँ तो पलाश होता भी नहीं है।  कहाँ से मंगवाएँ ?" अगर तेरा पीले का मन है तो गेंदे का बनवा देती हूँ। … वो कह भी न पायी कि अम्मा, मैं पलाशमयी हो जाना चाहती हूँ। .... आखिर गंदों और सोने के गहनो के बीच वो चल पड़ी एक नए और अनजान सफ़र की ओर।  


शादी के बाद पलाश से कुछ स्नेह कम सा हो गया था पति बहुत प्यार करते थे और ससुराल में भी सब ठीक था।  और फिर मेरठ में तो पलाश होता भी नहीं।  सालों हो गए थे उससे मिले। । तो वो प्रेम केवल उसकी यादों में बस कर रह गया।  घर गृहस्थी , पति और एक नन्ही बिटिया के साथ उसका समय कैसे कट जाता उसे एहसास भी नहीं होता।  पलाश तो बस अब होली के कुछ दिन पहले आने वाली याद सा बन गया।  


समय आगे चल पड़ा।  उसकी ससुराल झाँसी के पास उनके पैतृक गाँव वापस आ गयी थी।  पति की असमय मृत्यु हो गयी और साथ ही बेटी की भी।  हाँ , लेकिन पलाश से एक बार फिर उसकी मुलाक़ात हुई।  उन जंगल में आग से फूलों को मानो वो अपना चुकी थी।  अक्सर ससुराल में पीछे लगे एक पेड़ के नीचे बैठ अपने आँचल में पलाश के फूलों को भर लेती।  अब ससुराल का रुख उसके लिए बदल चुका था।  वो उनके लिए सिर्फ छोटकऊ मौड़ा की विधवा थी।  एक पलाश ही था , जो उसे उसकी पहचान से जानता था।  

वो वापस अपने घर लौटना चाहती थी , अम्मा और बाबा के पास।  लेकिन बाबा अब थे नहीं और अम्मा भाइयों के साथ रहती थीं।  और बचपन में ढेर सा लाड़ देने वाले कोई भी भाई अब उसे फिर से लाड़ देने को तैयार नहीं थे।

आखिर उसके ससुराल वाले उसे ईश्वर भक्ति में लीं होने के लिए वृंदावन के एक वृद्ध आश्रम में छोड़ आये।  आते समय, वो अपने साथ एक पलाश का छोटा सा पौधा लेती आयी।  सबने कहा कि वृंदावन की हवा और मिटटी पलाश के पौधों के लिए उचित नहीं होती और ये तो मर जायेगा।  लेकिन उसने हर दिन उसकी पूरे स्नेह से सेवा करी।  

शायद दिन की पूजा में जाना उसके लिए नित्य कर्म नहीं था , लेकिन पलाश के पास जा कर उससे बातें करना और पूरे मन से उसकी मिटटी पानी का ध्यान रखना उसके लिए एक अलिखित सा नियम बन गया था।  और कोई उसे मना भी नहीं करता।  आखिर उससे किसी को कोई परेशानी भी तो नहीं थी।  

वृंदावन कि मिटटी में वो पौधा बड़ा तो हुआ , लेकिन फूलो का रंग कुछ फीका सा था।  "शायद यहाँ का पानी इनके लिए सही नहीं होगा ......." उससे अक्सर मिलने आने वाली एक एन जी ओ की सहायिका, अस्मिता, ने कहा।  वो अक्सर उससे बातें करती थी।  पलाश के बाद उसे ही अपना मानने लगी थी।  

"जानती हो, मेरी एक ही इच्छा है …… " 

"क्या …… " 

"जब मेरे प्राण चले जाएँ, तो मेरी अस्थियों को किसी नदी में न बहाना।  इसी पलाश की जड़ में उन्हें समाहित कर देना …… मैंने लिख दिया है।  हो सके तो इस इच्छा को पूरा करवा देना ……  " 

"लेकिन ये तो अलग सा है।  अगर कोई न माने तो ? इसका तो कोई नियम नहीं है ?" 

"तुम तो मेरे और पलाश के रिश्ते के बारे में समझती हो ना … तुम कर दोगी। … जीवन में अंतिम बार। । बिना किसी नियमों के बंधन से बंधी मैं, अब पलाशमयी होना चाहती हूँ " 


एक महीने बाद , आश्रम से बुलावा आया।  

"अस्मिता जी। … ये सब कल रात ही हुआ।  आपसे शायद इनका कुछ अधिक स्नेह था।  आपके लिए एक पत्र छोड़ा है। …… " 

अस्मिता जानती थी कि उस पत्र में क्या है।  "आपसे एक अनुरोध है।  मुझे इनकी अस्थियां प्रवाहित करने दें।  देखिये इनका अपना तो कोई है नहीं।  इनके पत्र में भी लिखा है।  " 

"ठीक है।  कल सब हो जायेगा तो आप दो दिन बाद अस्थिकलश ले लीजियेगा।  शायद उन्हें आप मुक्ति दिलवा दें …"

दो दिन बाद अस्मिता को  कलश दे दिया गया।  उसे सब अजीब लग रहा था।  आखिर वो क्यूँ उसकी अंतिम इच्छा को पूरा करना चाह रही थी ? उसके लिए वो अलग सी क्यूँ थी ? शायद उसका पलाश प्रेम उसे सब से अलग करता था।  उसे पलाशमयी बनाता था।  

तीन दिन बाद, अस्मिता ने आश्रम के पीछे लगे उस पेड़ की जड़ में उसकी अस्थियों को मिला दिया।  उसे डर था की कहीं इससे पेड़ को नुक्सान न हो।  कभी कभी हमारा साइंस पढ़ा हुआ दिमाग हमारे दिल के भावों पर हावी होने लगता है।  लेकिन अब उस पौधे कि देखभाल कौन करेगा ? हाँ, यही सही है।  


पलाश वहीँ रहा।  आश्रम में कुछ और लोग उसे पानी देने लगे थे।  वो मरा नहीं था।  लेकिन शायद जीवित भी नहीं था।  लेकिन कोई उसे मरने नहीं देना चाहता था।  

उस साल , उस पलाश के पेड़ में एक बार फिर फूल आये।  शायद अब तक से सबसे  ज्यादा ....  पूरा वृक्ष मानो केवल फूलों से ही भर गया।  और इस बार , फूलों का रंग हल्का नहीं था।  वो चटक सुर्ख नारंगी रंग के थे।  एक एक पंखुड़ी मानो सुबह से खिलते सूरज से अपना रंग ले कर आयी थी।  

ये उसका ही तो रंग था …… उसके प्यार का, उसके अपनत्व का …… उसके समर्पण का … 

आखिरकार, वो पलाशमयी हो ही गयी। …। 


all the photographs used in this story belong to the writer. Copying any part of the story or the photographs would mean infringement of the intellectual rights and a criminal offence. 


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Remembering Nisha

Remembering Nisha

Nisha..... Her name may sound like our quintessential bollywood heroine, who loves flaunting her chunariya, singing some romantic lines in the beautiful scenic locales.  

But this Nisha was no heroine. She was your everyday simple girl, whose heart ruled over her mind. Who felt that whatever she did was right.... because she had always followed her heart. Even when she suffered, she was positive about it. The harsh realities of life had only made her trust her heart even more strongly. 

It was summers of 2002 when I first met Nisha. True to her name (Nisha means night in hindi), she was a dusky skinned girl. Well built, she may not be considered beautiful in the conventional manner, but there was something very attractive about her. Very different... someone, you could not have missed... 

I met Nisha at the state run protection home for women at Lucknow. As a part of my job, I used to often go to the protection home to write stories of the inmates there. Some stories were very interesting, and some, simply just-another-stories. When I met Nisha, she wasn't the "story" I had gone to cover. But at the end of the one and a half year association I had with her, she became one of the stories which has been etched in my memories... forever. 

It was my regular visit to the protection home with another journalist friend of mine. As we were talking to some of the inmates there in the room that housed about 12 such girls, something pinched me. A pair of eyes, from the window of an adjoining room, was constantly looking at me. 

It was uncomfortable first. But then, as someone who broke new grounds almost everyday as a part of her profile, this wasn't something new for me. I was used to be looked at inquisitively... but these eyes weren't inquisitive. 

They were demanding... demanding to know me... or rather, let me know more about them.... 

That day, when I went back to my office, I could still feel those brooding eyes. I had to go back and look deeper... deeper to explore the unspoken stories, which those eyes were waiting to tell.  

Next day, I went back to the protection home, much to the surprise of the superintendent and to the joy of the girls, some of whom I had befriended. Searching for those eyes, I finally saw her. Standing by the door, she was once again looking at me. 

"Suno... Yahan aao..." I called out to her. But she kept looking at me. She may have been silent, but her eyes did all the talking. No, they were not the eyes of a victim. They spoke volumes of a woman... yes, they were mature enough to be called those of a woman, who knew what she wanted. 

And this time, they wanted me to go to her. Mesmerised by the strength those dark brooding eyes had exhibited, I walked towards her. Holding her by her hand, I said, "Mujhse baat karogi. Main tumse baat karna chahti hun..."

An affirmative "yes" left me smiling. And thus began my first conversation with Nisha

"Mera naam Nisha hai. Meri umr 17 saal hai. Main apne ghar se bhag gayi thi apne aashiq ke saath. Police ne pakda, toh woh chhod kar bhaag gaya. Mujhe yahan bhej diya gaya kyunki main apne ghar nahin jaana chahti... aur abhi main nabalig hun... " She went on saying, without pausing even to catch that breadth. For a moment, I found it funny. 

But perhaps this is what every girl living in such protection homes across the country is accustomed with. Each day, they have to "churn out" their saga in front of those, who feel that they are "more privileged" and have all the right to probe into the lives of these "less fortunate" young girls. 

"Arre baitho toh Nisha... baatein toh hoti rahegi..." I called out to her. The girl inside me told the reporter to shut up  - To stay away from becoming a probing journalist and rip apart the pieces of Nisha's life through my words. The reporter sat silent, and the girl won. 

Thus began my conversation. In the next twenty minutes that passed, Nisha told me that she belonged to Hardoi. Third daughter of a weaver, she went to school till class V but was forced to dropout as her father was not in favour of the daughter getting "too literate". 

Always listening to her heart, she wanted to study more. Nisha fell in love with her neighbour who worked as a rickshawpuller and ran away with him. However, he refused to marry her when they were arrested by the police. She was then sent to the protection home since her parents refused to take her back. 

Had it been someone else, this would have been a sob story of a victim. But Nisha refused to be called a victim. Instead, she wanted herself to be a called a bird. "Maine galat kya kiya. Dil ne kaha mohabbat karo... toh kar li... Phir kaha bhaag jao... toh bhaag gayi... Ab kehta hai yahan raho, toh reh rahi hun... Udta parinda hun didi... jahan dil kehta hai... udd jaati hun..." 

Her statement summed up the desire of every adolescent girl. The desire to be free, to live the way they want... to enjoy that flight of freedom and to sing the song their heart wants too. Ironically, barely a few manage to actually live their desires. And Nisha was one of them. 

That day, I knew I had stuck a bond with her. As I bid her goodbye, she asked for my number. I was surprised, because girls of the protection home were not allowed to make outside calls. "Arre hamesha yahan thode hi rahungi didi... Jab dil kahega, phir udd jaoongi... Tab aapko phone karungi... ," she giggled. 

From that day, talking to Nisha during my weekly visits became a regular affair. She waited with eager breadth to know more about what was happening in the outside world. She loved showing off her small pieces of embroidery, which she did in the home. 

We just met for barely 10 minutes each week, but somehow there was a bond that we had formed. 

Even if we just exchanged smiles, it felt as it we had spoken for hours. She looked different from all the other inmates around. Always smiling, well dressed and never bowing down in front of anyone. Nisha was a child woman with a lot of pride... 

Everything was going fine. Nisha had started making small embroidery pieces in the home and was even looking forward to complete her education. But then, she wasn't a regular girl. She was a 'woman'. And one incident proved it. 

"Tarannum, jaldi se home pahuncho... Nisha wahan se bhag nikli hai aur bahaar bahut bawaal ho raha hai...." my journalist friend called me up as i was on my way for another assignment. "What!" I was surprised, but not astonished... neither shocked. Because, we were talking about Nisha

I reached the protection home only to find Nisha, outside the gates, shouting with a kitchen knife in her hand. My friend and another colleague were trying to stop her along with guards and the superintendent from the home. "Now this is filmy....," I thought to myself. But then, after a while it looked serious. 

I found that that Nisha had got to know that she would be sneaked out of the protection home for some "work" which involved her "pleasing some big people." I freaked out. This can't be true. This can only be in films. Not in real life. 

"Nahin Didi. Yeh sach hai. ye saale mujhe bech denge. Aap mujhe yahan se bahar nikalo...." she shouted. 

Sensing the gravity of the situation, we decided to take her away immediately. However, better sense prevailed and we immediately called some activists of an NGO which worked on legal isssues. Nisha was sent off with them, while a complaint was lodged against the home authorities. What followed next was months of court case and stuff, which doesn’t need a mention in Nisha’s story.

So Nisha went to live in the NGO’s office. She worked as an office help, while they continued to pursue her case. She met me often; however, we hardly got an opportunity to talk. For the next four months, Nisha was just another chapter in my life. We also found that she had just heard about being sent off and perhaps, overreacted. And then, another incident happened.

“Arre yaar, wo ladki Nisha… ek driver ke saath bhaag gayi hai. Kahan gayi ye toh pata nahin… bas ek letter chhod ke keh gayi ki bhaag gayi…,” I got a call from the NGO’s project head. What? Not again. But then, wasn’t this Nisha? Totally, unpredictable… 

All efforts to trace her out proved vain. And finally, we all decided to close the chapter. Since she was already a major now, no one could stop her from going away with a man of her choice. So Nisha was just another “closed case” for everyone.

“Hello didi, main Nisha bol rahi hun. Rae Bareli se… Kaisi hain aap…?”… for an instant, I failed to recognize her. But the characteristic chuckle after the sentence, the soft but firm voice instantly reminded me of my child woman. “Nisha…. Kahan ho tum… kaisi ho… kahan bina bataye bhaag gayi… ?, I asked her in a huff. But she only replied, “Didi, main kal Lucknow aaoongi. Inke kaam se… aap milengi..” We decided to meet near the Hanuman temple near University, because that was the only place she could come.

One look at her and I could sense that she was happy. Hands full with red and blue bangles, dressed up in blingy salwaar kameez, hair neatly tied with oodles of sindoor flashing from her parting… skin glowing as ever and her pearlies, even brighter. And I could not miss the baby bump. My child woman had grown up.

After our regular talk on how she fell in love and then, ran away with the driver and now, was living a very happy life… I asked her… “Apni zindagi se aise kyun khelti rehti ho Nisha… Jab mann mein aata hai, gaayab ho jaati ho… Aisa kyun karti ho…”

Her reply left me speechless. For, it was a reply that was nurtured by the dreams of thousands of child women. Irrespective of their background, whether they were rich or poor, literate or illiterate, privileged or lesser mortals… every child woman nurtures the desire to fly… to live a life which is not bound by traditions, but by the call of her heart. To enjoy her freedom, and, not be scared of it.

“Main toh dil ki sunti hun didi… Dil ne kaha, tum ab is home se nikal jao… Main nikal gayi… phir kaha ki ek baar phir se pyar karo.. kar liya…  Kaha bhaag jao.. bhaag gayi… Ab ghar basane ko kehta hai… Aage bhi Dil ki hi sunungi Didi… hamesha.. kyunki ye samaj mera nahin… mujhe nahin samajhta… par ye dil toh mera hai.. toh main usey kyun na samjhoon”

My child woman had indeed grown up…. And etched her words in my memories… FOREVER.


till next, take care. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Remembering Shabana....

Remembering Shabana.... 

For everyone else who stood there, she was just another 'Case'. But for me, she meant a lot more. 
With only her dark hazel eyes visible from her black burqa, she was hardly any different from any other muslim women, who still preferred to move out of her house in a burqa. 

Perhaps, she still wasn't one of the 'liberated' lot. 

It was a scorching hot afternoon of May 2001. Lucknow wasn't as sweltering as it has become today. I was still a cub reporter, who was trying to get into a "serious reporter" mould. 

Thanks to my wonderful editor, I was given an opportunity to handle a column all by myself, where I wrote about the issues of women and also, got to write about some interesting cases which we tried to settle. Of course we only acted as mediators, but then, this was something, which was perhaps giving me the much needed 'serious' feel I was desiring. 

My first meeting with Shabana was at the Mahila Thana. Yes, this was her name. And this name, which she pronounced "Sabana", was her only similarity with Indian Cinema's one of the most fabulous actors. Standing coyly with her parents, Shabana had come to lodge a complaint at the thana.    

I had struck a chord with the station officer of the Mahila Thana, who often called me up whenever she felt there was an interesting case around. Shabana, for her, was another such interesting "case".
It was difficult to identify her age. With two children aged 10 and 8, Shabana could well have been in her late thirties. She was wearing simple chappals, which could not give away her economic status either.

On the first look, there was nothing interesting about Shabana that could have coaxed me to talk to her or know more about her. But there was something very intriguing about those hazel eyes, her only visible feature, that made me walk up to her and speak.

The back of her palm was barely visible from her burqa, but her porcelain skin shone even from there, just like the sun rays trying to filter through the window panes of the Imambara. 

 "Haan... toh kya kahani hai aapki. Kyun aayi hain aap yahan thaane mein..." I started off with my usual question. Expecting her to start crying or atleast start narrating her story in a very cliched manner, I took out my writing pad and pen. 

 I waited..... waited and waited. But she did not reply. Often, it took some time for women to open up. I wasn't in a hurry. So I decided to speak to her mother instead. The old lady was more vocal. And before I could ask her something, she immediately asked me my name. 

I always thanked my parents for giving me a name that would not bind me in the worldly shackles of caste and religion. And this time too, my name came in handy for me to get closer to Shabana"Inse baat kar lo, ye toh apni hain. Sab samajh jayengi..." her mother told her. 

Okay!... so going by my first name, she had mistaken me to be a Muslim. 

However, Shabana still did not open up to me. Her mother told me that Shabana's husband had married another woman and thrown her and her kids out of the house. After 40 minutes, i decided to just take the copy of her complaint and do a piece from it. Although this did not satisfy me, I thought that perhaps, this was one of those bad days when my 'charm' did not work. 

A week passed off, and since I got some more interesting stories to go for (I just had to do one piece in a fortnight for the column), I completely forgot about Shabana. But two weeks and a phone call later, I was once again standing face to face with Shabana.  

"Arre iske aadmi ne bechari ko is baar bahut mara hai. Ye ghar gayi apne bachchon ke kapde lene...," the SHO had informed me. "How could he! #@$@" I decided to meet Shabana, who once again had come to the Mahila thana. However, this time she was alone.   

And for the first time, I saw the real Shabana. Fair, thin, her frail body wrapped in an ill-fitting chikankari suit, long black hair tied in a plait. Her body was void of any jewellery, except a nose pin. Her only makeup were the several bruises on her pale white skin, with the blue marks talking aloud of her husband's torture. 

This time, when I started speaking to her, Shabana opened up. Having been married off at the age of 17, Shabana was just 28 but looked much older. Her husband was a relative from her mother's side and was 12 years elder to her. She had a daughter and a son, both studying in one of the most prestigious schools in the city. 

What! Shabana was well off! I was shocked. I wanted to know more. Her husband worked as a senior manager with one of the best known companies in India and had a house in one of the most plush addresses of the city. 

Till I met Shabana, I always opined that atrocities came on women from the lower economic strata. But Shabana was an eye opener for me. And as I got to know more of her, I was more shocked. 
"Yahan nahin. Paas mein kahin chai peene chalte hain, wahan baat karenge..." she told me. I was shocked. For someone who did not speak a word on the first meeting to a confident young woman asking to chat over a cuppa, Shabana was surely leaving me shocked. We decided to go to the nearby Madras Cafe for a coffee instead. 

90 minutes, five cups of coffee and two sambhar wadas later... Shabana had completely changed for me. No... she did not want to go back to her husband. She never wanted to. The day he declared that he wanted to marry another woman, she decided to leave him forever. 

"Par tum logon mein toh allowed hai na..."... I naively asked her... only realising it that I had given away the fact that I was a non-muslim. For a moment, she looked at me with shock. Then, realising what had happened, she just smiled. 

"Hai toh, par uske bhi bahut se kayde hain. Mazhab chahe aapka ho ya mera, aurat ko zaleel nahin karta," she replied to me with a smile. Aha! So she was well read also. I was getting more impressed by Shabana
We decided to meet again after two days. I shared my number and said that incase she needed any help, she could call me or the SHO. "Shayad zarurat na pade...," she said, as she boarded the tempo from Janpath. 

Our next meeting was more fruitful. Shabana told me that she never wanted to go back to her husband. Instead, she wanted to divorce him as he had started loving another woman. "Hum log insaan hain... jaanwaar nahin ki jab mann bhar gaya toh aage badh gaye. Ab badh hi gaye hain toh peeche kyun jaana..." she told me. Was this Shabana! the burqa-clad girl was surely progressive in her thoughts. She also told me that her decision to divorce had angered her husband, which is why he kicked her out. However, her parents insisted that she should go back, a decision she refused to comply with.

Despite being educated, most of us still judge people from what they wear or how they speak. A suit clad girl would be termed as a conservative behenji with mediaval outlook. Similarly, a burqa clad muslim girl is thought to be totally backward, without any knowledge of what her rights were. 

Even in a country which seems to be independent, our thoughts and outlook are still archival. Despite calling ourselves secular, we continue to judge people even on their religions and even first names.   
I introduced Shabana to some activists who I thought could help her out. Three-months later, I got to know that she had finally managed to get divorced from her husband with a good mehar (alimony) and two fixed deposits for her kids. 

I was happy for Shabana and met her last at the NGO's office. This time, her hazel eyes smiled just liked her face. This wasn't just a smile of happiness, but a smile of determination. 

As days passed by, I slowly moved away from Shabana and her memories. She became yet another success story for me, who had been "freed" through "our efforts". However, the mark she had left on my understanding and my outlook was something that had been etched forever. 

It was 2009. I had gone to Gorakhpur during the general elections. Deciding to meet a few activists friends, I went over for a cuppa to one of their offices. 

As I sipped my masala tea, I was introduced to a woman with spatter of grey in her hair, wearing a smart pair of glasses but a simple chikankari kurta. 

As our eyes met, we were both astonished with joy. "Shabana!"... I could not express myself. Much to the astonishment of my hosts, I hugged her. She too was happy to meet me. 

Six cups of tea and a plate of noodles at a famous restaurant later, I got to know that Shabana had completed her graduation and her post graduation. She was now doing her Ph.d in Rights of women in Islam and was a volunteer with the NGO, helping them educate muslim women of their rights. 

She still pronounced her name as "Sabana". She still spoke in hindi, with barely a few words of English thrown in. She still wore chappals and simple clothes. She still wore a burqa when she went to unknown places for the first time. 

But irrespective of all this, the Shabana I knew was indeed a liberated woman. 

Liberated from her shackles of conventional thoughts and her inhibitions. 

And it was not only Shabana who was liberated. I too found some shackles breaking inside me.... only to be better. 


till next, take care and enjoy....