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.... 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Remembering Chhotu......

Chhotu... nothing usual about this name... At an average, those living in Northern India come across atleast one Chhotu in their lives. And the most common ones are those who work on apna nukkad ka chai shops. 

My first meeting with Chhotu was in 1999. It was winters (December to be precise) and i had just started off as a writer for one of the biggest national dailies. Fresh from Delhi and just a few months out of college, life for me had a different perspective. 

My pro-active outlook, courtesy my initiation to the socialist world (thanks to my Alma mater Gargi College and some friends from JNU) made me always stand up for the rights of such "Chhotus", considering them to be the children of lesser God. That I still stand up for rights is a different story altogether.                                                       

Okay, so coming back to Chhotu. This is how he looked. About 12 years of age, short, stout. Dark complexion, completely tanned. A bright smile with teeth shining like the Page 3 aunties new diamond neckpiece. Wearing a torn pants (which obviously belonged to someone else since it went much below his toes and he had folded it to hold it in place) and a baniyan, he always kept two pieces of cloth in his hands, alongwith the chheeka (a six-cup holder, common for all roadside chaiwalas) whenever he came to serve us tea in our office. He was the chaiwala boy, working 24X7 at the Bhargava tea stall situated at Rana Pratap Marg. 

Since he loved the atmosphere of a newspaper and desired to be a famous 'lipoter' (that's how he pronounced reporter) someday, he was a regular to our office. There was something about his smile that attracted you to him instantly. Even if you did not wish to have tea, his sweet "didi le lo na, adrak ilachi maar ke banayi hai, ekdum feeresh", flashing his pearlies, made you reach for that glass of the divine syrup. 

Everyday, while leaving at office at 5.30 p.m., I, alongwith a few collegues made it a point to have our last cuppa of the day at Bhargava's. And if Chhotu was around, we made it a point to ask the stall owner to send him to serve us. Standing outside the shop, under a tree, we find out an opportunity to sneak some moments from his 'oh-so-busy' schedule and talk about him. 

His real name was Rajkumar and he belonged to Hardoi. A few years ago, he had come to Lucknow alongwith his Chacha (paternal uncle) in search of work so that he could support his poor family. He had studied till class II and could join alphabets to form words. Rest all about him was very cliched. 
But what was interesting about him was his reason to become a "lipoter". "Hamare gaon mein ek lipoter hai didi. DM ho ya police, sab uske aage chhup rehte hain. Kuchh nahin karta, par har mahine ghar mein anaaj aa jaata hai..." In his life of 12 years, Chhotu had been initiated to the negative side of journalism. The real picture was far away from him. 

I always liked his inquisitiveness which he showed when I came back to office every afternoon to file my report. "Didi, aaj kis Policewale se mili aap?", "Arre didi, aaj kis police wale ko hadka diya aapne?"... It was difficult for me to make him understand that I was a culture reporter, covering plays and music festivals, and that cops and crime were out of my domain. However, since he barely interacted with the crime reporters, he had no clue who the actual "criminals" were. 

Slowly, Chhotu became the centre of attraction for all the girl gang in office. One day, he asked a senior colleague of mine, "Didi, ye hepy birlday kya hota hai?". We all laughed at his innocence, but told him that the day when we are born is celebrated as one's birthday. While we were still smiling, i suddenly saw two tiny droplets rolling down his bright eyes. 

All our laughs just vanished. "Kya hua Chhotu?".... 

"Didi, mera birlday toh koi manata hi nahin... main paida nahin hua tha kya?"

His question may have sounded simple, but deep inside, it clearly reflected the two spheres that have been there since time immortal - the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor and the urban and the rural. In one simple question, Chhotu had not just questioned the economical differences that have risen across the length and breadth of India, but also, the lifestyles that still reflected the disparity. 

We all decided that after two days, we would be celebrating Chhotu's birthday. A plan was churned out, and together we all managed to woo Chhotu's employer to give him a day off. We gifted him two shampoo sachets to have a bath (although he insisted that he bathed and brushed his teeth everyday), a new striped shirt and a pair of denim shorts and even got him a black belt. The neighbourhood hajjam (the hairdresser whose salon is the tree with a mirror and a chair in front of it) was all the more happy to give him a new haircut, complete with the spikes in front (they had just come in fashion and Chhotu loved it) free of cost, setting it with gel. 

We got a simple cake from nearby bakery, some muffins and patties for Chhotu. In the afternoon, we assembled at the garage of our office, where a small cake-cutting ceremony was held. The entire girl gang, along with some other colleagues, joined Chhotu's first ever birthday party. 

That day, his pearlies flashed even brighter. His round cheeks glowed with joy. Some senior colleagues even gave him some money (a Rs 10 note and some, even Rs 50) which he neatly folded and kept inside his pocket. Not wanting to share any of his gifts including the muffins, he was quick to stuff two at a time to finish them all, something which made us all laugh. Giving us all a quick hug, Chhotu smiled and said, "Thankoo didi... Aap log bahut achchi hain.." We went home with a smile that day. 

After a month, I changed jobs and shifted to another organisation. No longer did I get an opportunity to meet Chhotu. At times, when I did get an opportunity to go to the old area, I tried to look for him but was told that he has left this shop. Slowly, Chhotu vanished from my memory as time took its charge and also, the charge of my memories. 

It was the winters of 2008. I was heading back to office (this was my third organisation in Lucknow) when suddenly, I alongwith a friend thought of making a stopover at a famous chaiwala near Mayfair cinema hall. We ordered 1 X 2 tea and bun-makkhan (this outlet serves one of the best combo in the city), standing next to our scootys. A young man, 20 something, lean but with a round face, came to us with our order. 

There was something familiar about him. The pearlies... perhaps. The bright shining eyes... maybe. 

Suddenly, before I could realise, he bowed down to touch my feet. 

I was shocked. Realising that my reaction would have caused trouble for him, he was quick to say, "Didi, main Chhotu... Bhargav tea stall wala. Pehchaana...!!!"

My brain flashbacked to 1999. Within a few minutes, I could recall him. I smiled. "Arre... tum? Ab kahan ho Chhotu... kya kar rahe ho...??"
He quickly informed me, "Didi, main yahan kaam karta hun. Paisa theek milta hai. Open school se Xth ka exam bhi de raha hun." 

I was happy. Finally, Chhotu was finding his foothold. He was trying to fulfil his dreams and perhaps, had even grownup to the harsh realities of life. 
But it was his quick last sentence which sums up this entire story. "Didi, main ab apna birthday bhi manata hun doston ke saath. Har saal. Apni kamai se..." 

Having found financial independence, Chhotu, in his own way, had moved to the other side of the sphere. From the have-nots, to the haves. 

till next.... have fun and take care..

Hi Guys....

just started this new blog.

Hope now i can blog regularly.

So, have a great time reading From Frappe to Latte....