But, What is Your Name?

School? I wonder if I would ever be lucky if I could enter one as a student. I see girls in the nice ponytails and beautiful uniforms talking animatedly with boys who look so awesome just pass in the school bus standing in front of me waiting for a Kindergartener to stop his tantrums. I wonder why he wouldn’t want to go to school. I know the value for that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Sometimes I wish I could talk to them but I know my place in this world. I’ve never been to school in the entirety of my 12 years of life. Why have I never been to school? Hold the thought… I’ll tell it in a moment.

People hated it when they missed the green light, especially those who begin speeding from afar just to see the green to change to red. Some never stop! But I don’t belong to their world, I like it when the signal turns red.

Damn! Imbeciles! A biker zoomed past me as I began to cross the road. These are the kind who the end up dead some day. A truck almost ran me over. What was even happening? I though. Nevermind the minor setback, I still live. I walked ahead and knocked on a few windows and begged, “I need money, I haven’t had food for days. Just one rupee. In the name of God, just spare One rupee for a girl.” It was a habit now.

Yes, I am a beggar. The kind who walk up to your cars and ask for money. The filthy ones you find in the streets with tattered clothes who sometimes clean your windscreens too. We are the sort of people you wish never existed or perhaps that’s just how you treat us. You, may not want to know about a nobody. But, we have stories too. We too want to be heard. And I shall tell mine for I finally am equal to you all.” She said looking around the place which looked like a waiting room of some sort. She finally had an audience.

“Yes, as I was saying”, she continued before anyone could interrupt her. “I have never been to school. It’s not that none of us go to school; my brother does. The Government offered my Mumma to put me and my three siblings into a local school for free. But, only my brother was allowed to go to school. Why not me? That’s because I’m a girl. How would my family earn if I would go to school? How else would we pay the dowry if the girls didn’t beg? My brother would learn, grow up and earn. Especially after my father died by falling off the fifteenth floor of a building under construction.

In a way, I feel that’s right too. We girls, we can do nothing. It’s a shame that I was born a girl. It seems to be a universal fact that being a girl, I’m destined to bed a man my entire life and eat off the money he earns and gift him a baby boy. No, I don’t say it because of traditions and all, I just don’t want the girl to suffer like I did.

Oh! I’m sorry I got deviated a bit, I just happened to go in a flow; You don’t want a rant. You’re here for a story.

So, yes I went on knocking windows. People looked away, they looked right ahead as if they had nothing to do with a begging girl. Some looked at me and waved me off, and some dropped in some coins into my outstretched fingers. I begged in front of cars, two-wheelers, autos and even standing on the sides of buses. Each red light brought me about at least eight rupees.

But today wasn’t the same. None of them looked at me. I had to jump out of the way for bikers didn’t care if they rammed into me. My head hurt pretty bad and no one seemed to care about me. It felt as if I don’t exist. I was invisible. Was it such a crime to be poor? That people don’t even look my way?

Sometimes I just look at my reflection in the tinted window panes of cars. I just look. People sometimes shoo me off as if the glass would become impure by just me looking at it. It isn’t something I do to make you better off people uncomfortable, I just like to look at myself in the glass. I said I’m poor, not ugly. Sometimes, even the poor are beautiful. And that’s what I feel about myself and what everyone around me tells me. I look at posters of Bollywood actresses and sometimes I really feel prettier than those divas caked with makeup. But, alas, beauty is found only amongst the rich. In the poor folk, I’m just gonna become an vessel to be sold. My uncle always told me that.

Oh my god! Yes! My head hurt pretty bad. I remember running the previous night. Running away from my uncle who wanted to sell me off to a local brothel owned by the local mafia. I never knew he meant it when he said I was supposed to be sold! Is being beautiful, a curse?

My uncle burst into our house as ma was cooking dal, which was warm water mostly. He ordered my mother to give me up. He was drunk. He began to move towards me when my Mumma came between him and me. I was scared. I huddled in a corner behind her. She stood at the doorway of our room. But, uncle threatened to kill her and slapped her so hard that she fell to the floor and her ear began to bleed.

But why was uncle being like this? Did he get into debts? And was he threatened to be killed if he didn’t sell me off to the goons? He was never like this. What happened? I perhaps would never know*…*

Mumma screamed at me to run – Run as fast as I could. I sat there with my eyes wide open, frozen. I stuttered, “Mumma… But you?” I was in tears. I loved Mumma more than anything in the world.

“I’ll be alright!!! You run!!”, she shouted at me, I never heard that tone of authority from her ever. But now wasn’t the time to think about that. She picked up the pan on the flame and threw the hot Dal on my uncle to buy time for my escape. He shrieked in pain. Mumma turned towards me and said, “I love you, but you have to run. Mumma will make things right! And don’t let your sisters and brother come home tonight. Stay OUT”

No Mumma … The words wouldn’t come out. I turned around and jumped through the window in the back and ran. I didn’t know where I was running, but all I did was run. I could hear a few men running behind me and all I did was run faster and not look back. I kept on running and I stumbled and fell to the ground.

I heard Mumma scream in pain and then everything went silent. And black.

Maybe that explains why my head hurt. I don’t seem to remember anything after that. I woke up in a daze and found myself here and out of habit just began to knock car windows.

What am I doing here? Where am I? I looked around. I tried to read the sign boards but I couldn’t. Somehow even words eluded me. I tried asking a Chaiwala where I was. But, even he didn’t even look at me. He acted as if I wasn’t around. Perhaps because he was serving tea and coffee to the family who got out of the huge black car with four circles on the back. Why is it that we go through so much for just being born poor? Why? I tried asking few other people, and other beggars too. Even the downtrodden have a right to be heard, if speaking up is too much to ask for. I couldn’t tap someone. I’m an untouchable here. I’d just be beaten up if I tried anything of the sort. So, I just kept walking.

Where’s Mumma? I need to find her. I panicked and I tried walking around until I could see the Ram temple in the distance.

Each step just increased my anxiety. I finally reached the temple. My house, rather the hut was a few lanes away. I ran towards home from there. There was a crowd that surrounded my home whispering how my uncle hit Mumma with a brick and killing her instantly. My brother was on the footsteps holding my unconscious mother in his lap with the right side of her head caked with dried blood. He was staring into space without any expression and no one even came forward to comfort the six year boy. He didn’t react even when I stood in front of him. What happened to Mumma?

I tried to hold my mother’s hand, but I was unable to lift it. I suddenly felt weak. Please no. I held on to Mumma’s hand tighter and I could not feel a pulse running through her veins. I wept for a while, but my brother just didn’t acknowledge me. Did he hate me for running away? Did he blame me for Mumma’s death? Is that why he isn’t even looking at me when I called out to him? He looked down upon Mumma and silent tears rolled off his cheeks. My little brother. I never could see him cry.

I heard a sound from behind me. It was my sister. My brother looked up to her and asked, “Did you find Didi?”

“No”, she said and fell to the ground crying. “Where, did didi go? We need her. What do we do now? Mumma isn’t waking up. And Didi is missing. How can she go when Mumma is unwell” and they both wept together ignoring me as I sat beside them.

I shifted my position and tried consoling her to no effect. She just wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t get myself to hold their hands in this Could she even hear me? Why are my own siblings ignoring me? I’m right here in front of the both of you? Why do you still cry?

It was a while until we stopped crying and the crowd slowly began to disperse.

“You both must be hungry… I’ll try getting something”, I went inside and everything was toppled over with a bloodstained brick in their midst. I tried to hold back my tears, but I couldn’t. I had to cook for my little brother and sister. I found nothing worth having. As I walked out, I saw a few neighbours coming in. I begged them to check out for Mumma, but they ignored me yet again and picked her up to take her to be burnt.

I then ran out to go ask Aamer chacha for some food, he wasn’t home and I went in search of help everywhere but no one would even listen to me or even look at me. I gave up begging the neighbours. I wasn’t going home without food. The only thing I could do was to go to the nearby garbage dump to forage some leftovers. It wasn’t the first time I had to do it. I just feel horrible to not be able to provide anything to my siblings on a day like this.

I felt defeated. What sort of a sister am I? I walked towards the dump and I saw a blood trail. Maybe it was some goat that was sacrifised last night at the Temple and the remains were thrown there. I went on walking. I found some food from the big restaurants, I found a bread thing shaped like a rod with vegetables. I don’t know what it was called but I smelt it. It seemed to be alright and took a bite. The flavor was amazing and I felt like having it all, but I put the paper wrapping around it to take back home. The younger ones would need it more than me.

As I turned around to search for something more a bracelet caught my eye. It was similar to the one I wore. I brushed the mud around it and there was a hand beside it. A hand? I approached the bracelet and removed a pile of cardboard and clothes over the bracelet.

My face stared back at me. A wound on the side of my head. I reeled back in shock and fell to the ground. The pain in my head intensified so much that I had to grab onto my head with both my hands. I could feel the wound. I could feel the wetness of my blood. The blood was cold.

Did I even exist? Did my life matter? Would anyone remember me?”

“But what is your name?”, asked a man in a suit and a turban stained in blood. His hands adorned a watch made of gold and his breast pocket gave away the outline of a fat wallet. She eyed him closely.

“Would you have asked my name if you saw me on the road?”, she asked him, relieved with her response she took a deep breath and closed her eyes which could not stop tears flowing from the sides.

The girl opened her eyes and looked around the room. Her teary eyes wanting for answers to questions she dared not ask. Everyone in the room was silent. No one could look at the girl in her eyes. As she looked at them all expectantly, she saw they were all old, or diseased or bathed in blood from wounds. She wondered where she was, she had never seen a room like this. It was cool, bright and had a pleasant atmosphere. She looked around at the people in there wondering if she could recognise anyone and a few benches away, her eyes met those of her mother’s.

They Smiled.

Featured Image Credit: Namo Deet

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