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.