The mobile rang…incessantly ….persistently till she fumbled in the dark to pick it up and squint at the number from which the call was being made. One look and she was wide awake!!
“Hullo!” She mouthed cautiously into her un-smart phone.
“Aarati!” It was a terse address,”You are required right away…emergency!”
She could gauge the urgency by the way the message was intoned. And the caller was someone whom she could never say no. Moreover, this was her calling…..the chosen path and she could now not look back….ever….again.
She jumped out of bed. Nimble footed that she was it took just ten minutes for her to get dressed and be out of the hostel, which she and many others like her, occupied.
She knew the gypsy van would be waiting for her outside the gate and the hostel guard would know better than to stall her.
As the van sped past the deserted alleys and streets she made mental notes. It would take almost fifteen minutes to reach the spot. She had these fifteen minutes to rehearse what she would say though every situation demanded something fresh, something special from her, which she had to improvise on the spot after connecting to the victim. And each time she connected with them her past came alive.
“She is in very bad shape,” Said Mrs. Ramnath, “Absolutely inconsolable. She blames herself for the mishap,”
“Let me handle this, will you please?” She replied.
“Yes, I know you can.” Said Mrs. Ramnath, the social activist associated with juvenile rape victims.
She entered the room noiselessly.
One look at the disheveled bundle whimpering in the corner, an audible gasp escaped from her lips. Cruelty lay undefined before her shocked gaze. So? She wasn’t immune enough, was she? She moved quickly towards the bed and the next minute was hugging and rocking the tattered and torn doll.
Infinite moments of silence ticked away before she could collect herself and start speaking to the child. And as she did so, she recalled another night, fifteen years back, when Mrs. Ramnath had hugged her as tightly as she hugged the girl now…
Shazia waited in the dark. Soon she would hear muffled voices and staggering steps approaching her bedroom. And then her body would be slashed with thorny blades whence myriad wounds, dripping blood and oozing tears, would once again reinforce the hard hitting fact that she was just a body. She should have now become immune to the endless agony and hardened to the nocturnal ordeals which had become an unalterable routine of her shackled existence. Yet, she pined for her parents who had ruthlessly shoved her into this hell-hole. Married (or sold?) at the age of ten to a man twice her age who pawned her every night for mere subsistence, she yearned for the sunshine kissing the lush meadows by the gurgling stream where she used to merrily play hide and seek with her fellow mates….
She tried to pick up those known sounds which curdled her insides. There was absolute silence. It was unusual, she thought. Yet, it was this unexpected moment of absolute bliss that she had waited for countless nights. She tiptoed towards the door at the other end of the room. The rickety get-a-way opened on the back yard. The latch made a screeching noise. She held her breath fear paralyzing her for a minute. No! No one seemed to be nearing the room. It was the store-room where sacks of grains were stacked. Tonight she had taken refuge therein in anticipation of a slim of a chance which might give her a lease of fresh breath… Yes! That very precious moment was here for her to steal. And she did what she wanted to do for a very, very long time.
The door creaked open letting in a gust of air redolent with the fragrance of Haashnuhaana. She inhaled deeply closing her eyes for one nano second of overwhelming relief and then the next moment she lurched forward, crossed the courtyard in half a dozen leaps, jumped over the stunt thicket of a fence and raced through the unkempt vegetation unmindful of the jagged pebbles on the pathway lined with sharp-ended clumps and bushes. As long as her heaving chest and scarred feet could outlast her dauntless spirit, she simply ran and ran and ran towards a horizon outlined in gold and softly stroked by the wings of freedom…
It was after countless hours, a sprained ankle buckled her into a ditch near a stretch of barbed wires demarcating sovereignty, where she lay crumbled in fetal pose oblivious to the world around…
Tickety Tick….Tickety Tick…Tickety Tick….!!!
There is a strange rhythm when the train ambles through fields, mountains, villages and cities. Just like the oscillation of the hammock as mother draws the strings to and fro in cadence with the sweet lullaby that she sings to put her baby off to sleep. Punnu’s body rocked to the metallic rhyme of the train gliding on the tracks…
Tickety Tick….Tickety Tick…Tickety Tick….!!!
And she did not know when her eyelids drooped over her soft cheeks and she was transported to the fairyland where the butterflies sashayed in rainbow colours over flower beds of glittering hue. The breeze brought in fragrance of a faraway land. Jasmine? Rose? Or some other bloom name not known?
As she played on the swing going right up to the clouds one moment while on the other her feet dragging on the soft grassy ground, the sky glimmered in bright blue shade and the sun hollered to the chirping birds. A squirrel called out to her from one of the branches of a fruit-laden tree,”Hi Punnu! What’s up? While Babloo, her neighbour’s cat, blew up hundreds of tri-coloured balloons with satin ribbons. The braggart with bloated chest thought no end of himself. Look! How he strutted around boastfully. The balloons had, by now, slipped out of his furry paws and were flying high …higher than the swing she was on. And then all of a sudden the dark brown evil-eyed Mr. Hawk flew in from nowhere and punctured the balloons, one after the other, with one master-prick of his sharp beak. Then and there the colours faded , the sky grew ominously dark, the butterflies clamped up their wings and vanished into the wilderness, the flowerbeds turned into clusters of untended weeds and Babloo, the boastful feline brat, was to be seen nowhere…
The hammock had stopped rocking and the lullaby had died down…
Punnu opened her eyes to find the train empty standing forlornly in the yard where many other empty wagons, goods and passengers trains stood in waiting. The shadows were lengthening and daylight seemed duller than the time she had boarded the train with her parents.
It took sometime for Punnu to realize that her Maa and Paa were not in the train any longer. It took a little more time for fear to register in her heart. And some more to understand that she was abandoned by her parents for good. Yes! Parents who were desperately trying to cross over the ubiquitous hurdle in their miserable lives called the poverty line by a heartless method of progressively reducing the number of hungry mouths which they were, by compulsion of being the providers, responsibility-bound to feed the bare minimum necessary for sustenance.
Punnu’s eyes filled with tears. Her nose flared up, cheeks puffed up and her lips pouted. She bellowed out a long wail in the hope of being heard. Alas! The echoes that reverberated in the unmanned railway yard did nothing but deepen the silence.
Aarati, Shazia and Punnu (names changed) are inmates of “Prayaas”, a non-Governmental and non-profit making Organization which rescues and supports hundreds of homeless, abandoned, driven to prostitution, socially victimized children till they attain the age of eighteen. Aarati, a rape victim, is now a trained rape-victim counselor at “Prayaas”. Shazia, exploited by her husband and in-laws, was rescued from the red-light zone and is awaiting to be repatriated to her homeland, in line with the legal requirements of both the bordering nations. She does not want to leave the comfort-nest called “Prayaas” which she considers a place more secure than her own home. Punnu is recovering from her past and aspires to be a painter when she grows up.
More than financial assistance (which is always welcome) “Prayaaas” hankers for “emotional involvement“ of feeling hearts who are willing to be the mentor, guide, friend, philosopher of these hapless kids before they get lost in the nameless crowd of this over-populated country.
Come and Join “Prayaas”
Twinkle to these Sky-less Stars
Anchor to these Aimless Vessels
Visit Prayaas at : www.prayaschildren.org
E-mail at :firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
This post is dedicated to Vishwajeet Ghoshal, the devoted head of the Tughlakabad Branch of Prayaas, a tireless spirit and a loving guardian, a supportive brother, a warm-hearted confidant of Aarati, Shazia, Punnu and many, many more like them!!
Prayaas – The Tughlakabad Branch
Vishwajeet Ghoshal in conversation with one of the visitors
Christmas Celebration in Prayaas