The bus came to a halt suddenly, jerking me awake. It’s always hard to wake up while having an unexpected nap on a hot sunny afternoon. “Jodhpur aagaya madamji”, said the conductor, whom I had befriended. “Hi. I am Sapna. Yes my name means dreams and to be true that is all I have got to have also. Just dreams I mean, nothing ahead of that.” The conductor repeated again “Madamji, aapka stop” and I had to get down, though all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. Then it hit me, sending a chill down my spine. I was awake, more than awake.
Getting down, I pulled out my Nokia 1100 – a phone I had just bought from a small shop on the way. I called the NGO to figure out the way to reach. Making way through the tiny lanes, it was hard not to think of the past. “What was I saying before, the dreams part. Huh! My life was a happy one really. My parents named me Sapna for the reason that I was their love child – a celebration of their relationship. A couple who everyone looked up to, for the intense bond they shared and awed for the respect they had for eachother.”
“They brought me up with the same values – respect for an individual, for one-self and humility. I was a born feminist and my parents were proud of the fact too. Wondering why am talking in the past tense? About 5 years back, on our way to an amazing holiday, a car crash changed our lives. My dad died, mum and me got terribly injured. Waking up in a unknown hospital, I found mum lost in time, she could not bear to not have the ‘love of her life’ taken away. In turn, she refused to recognize me, now and then calling out for dad. Her screams still seem to linger in my mind. Yes life changed! Changed like I had never known before and I turned 18 the next day.”
I reached the NGO and looked in awe at the huge door. ‘Aayiye Aayiye’ is all she said not meeting my eyes. It made me smile. Why are people this way, is all I could ask myself and the universe. A shelter home in Jodhpur, it was located in a silent serene location away from the hustle and bustle. Apprehensive staff, who always wondered why strangers showed up at their door but happy non the less. As these strangers meant additional help and funds coming in.
Sita was her name. Quite ironical I thought, considering her husband had left her for another after he felt for no good reason that Sita was cheating on him with his cousin. I had to cox myself not to speak my thoughts out loud, not wanting to hurt her. I was shown into a small room, my home for the next couple of weeks as I worked at this NGO. Quite unlike all the places I am used to living in, but I was thankful for a roof over my head. I had stumbled upon this NGO through the social media, somehow trusting it to make sense. Throwing my backpack in a corner I turned around, only to have the mirror stare back at me.
“None of the family or friends took me in after the accident. Turned out my parents were soo much into eachother that they never noticed, how nobody cared or loved them. Mostly envied them for having found eachother. With no grandparents, I was estranged. I carved out a life from scratch, taking care of my mother. I somehow knew, she would never be alright without dad. Taking the reins of our travel business at an age I knew nothing, made me hard like no other.”
“I worked day and night to coupe with the pending work, spending the little time I could find to learn about the industry. Taking baby steps, the company started making profits again. I felt happy, proud but life didn’t seem to like that. Mum bid adieu to go to her love. To be true, I felt happy she could be with dad again. But got branded, to be stone hearted. Then came another disaster, a few friends and family felt entitles to own the company I had loving nurtured, including the only house we had. They didn’t seem to care that I would have nowhere to go. It shocked me to see this side of people.”
“It didn’t end there. Dad’s friend’s son suggested I marry him and hand over the company to him. I fought, I argued, I even threatened to save the one last thing I had of my parents. It felt surreal. It always had irked him that I had a voice and I was successful. That too being a WOMAN! Like it was another test that I had to go through. Why couldn’t I have had easier, happier times atleast for a while?”
A couple of girls rushed into the room, giggling and excited talking to each other, but stopped as soon as they saw me. The youngest came forward held my hand and pulled me down, she ran her fingers on my face and said “Bahut dard huwa hogana didi?” Tears fell as I painstakingly remembered that dark night, a month back.
“I was heading home from work and a man came in front of my car forcing me to break suddenly. Recognizing the face, I quickly locked my car. Smirking, he smashed the window, forcing open the door. I screamed as he pulled me out of the car. I kicked, abused and did everything in my strength to get away. It was him, the friend’s son, who had the ‘I shall show you today’ look and something hidden in his hand.”
‘Marry me now’ he threatened and I laughed, don’t know why I laughed loud. I said ‘Never’. It irked him more and he moved away. Thinking this had worked, I started to move towards the car trying to open the door but it was jammed. I turned to check if he was gone and SPLASH! All I remember is the excruciating pain and a voice that said, this will teach the feminist in you. I could not open my eyes but tried hard to shriek for help before I passed out.”
‘Didi, bahut dard huwa?’ shook the little girl out of my reverie. I didn’t know what to say but cry as I knelt in front of her. The other girls ran towards me and asked ‘Aap ro kyun rahe ho?’, I tried to smile with my half burnt face, with no eyebrows or an eye lid . The little girl pushed everyone away and hugged me tight ‘Didi, you are beautiful. Aap bahut khubsurat ho’ .
I feel myself freeze, then felt a warmness spread across me as I smiled genuinely and for the first time I realized that nothing was permanent in life – friends, circumstances, riches or parental love, but how a concern, love and warmness from anyone even a stranger could redeem you of all the baggage you carry. Life had changed again, where I had set out to help the kids, only to realize, it’s me who they are truly helping, on this path of healing.
“You Are Beautiful!” it rang in my ears.