Friday, September 9, 2011

What was Her Name?

i was walking through an empty road that flanked duplex houses on both sides of a posh colony admiring the beautiful homes with their creative gardens and prim lawns. Was also wondering about the rich people living behind those squeaky clean French windows. The drapes of which moved gently to the rhythm of the central air conditioning, perhaps.
Right from their impressive custom made wrought-iron gate to the name plate to the architectural design of the duplex and the landscaping, each house looked unique in it's blend of modern cum ethnic. i walked along, full of admiration on the one hand and trying to make a mental note of all the new fusion on the other hand and thought, " Maybe i should take a picture of the best looking house. Later when i plan to have one of my own the picture could come in handy as a visual that would remind me to incorporate some of the creative, Eco-friendly and functional aspects.
i could also improvise and accommodate some of these combinations of hedges, ornamental grasses, vines, succulents and garden flowers... on whatever size the plot is..."
Building castles in the air never felt so good.

Can i take a picture?
Will someone object?
Let's see if i can take permission...perhaps compliment them for their good taste in designing their dream home.

Alas! singling out one which could be the best of the ten or so was not an easy task for my discerning eye.

Then something...some sound...some movement behind me jolted me out of my reverie.
i paused and realized all of a sudden that i was not alone on that empty, quiet road. Someone, something was following me and i don't know since WHEN.
i would've panicked but not this time. There were figures behind those designer gates hovering around the shiny luxury automobiles. So help was at hand. Besides the faint sound was not intimidating or frightening at all. It sounded more like a timid scuttle and i think i heard something that did not growl or hiss but gurgled in between some whimpering, like an infant.

Naturally, i was not surprised, not really to see my stalkers. The eldest of the threesome holding her younger brother refused to return my smile. But the kid sister hid shyly behind her elder sister clutching on to her shirt with one hand while the other touched her shoulder and smiled back at me. The gurgling/whimpering perhaps had come from the toddler who seemed rather annoyed to see a stranger woman in spectacles instead of his mother. i tried striking a conversation by asking them if they were wondering who i was and what i was wanting to do with that device in my hand. The elder did not respond but the younger nodded a shy affirmative.
 i was eager to wipe that look that seemed part angry, part questioning and largely sad . i tried another attempt to make her feel comfortable. So started explaining my intention, that of taking a picture of one beautiful house with a garden but was finding it very difficult to decide. The girl stood listening without uttering a word. i was not even sure if she understood me clearly. The younger kid sister showing more joi de vivre than her sibling, popping out her face a wee bit more and thus i could discern the resemblance among the siblings. The kid sister was all full of shy smiles. But the girl whom i was hell bent on placating stood with the same expression. Her thin body just shaking in inertia to the jerks of her baby brother's kicking legs.
i could see no flicker in her eyes nor any movement in her facial muscle that could convey what she was feeling. Was she pleased or displeased with my gesture? i had no clue. For she donned the same part angry, part questioning and largely sad look.
My final attempt sounded something like this-'' Okay shall i take a photo of yours and show you how you look in a photo?"
My final elicited yet another nod but not a twitch for a smile. The kid sister continued to compensate for her.
This was how the picture was shot and i feel at a loss that there was no way i could capture the moment when a natural and the most beautiful smile transformed her countenance in a manner like she's just jolted out of some strange spell and is all bright and pink of spirits. Another Snow-white !!
 i heaved inwardly hearing my own sigh of relief. She warmed up to life by kissing her own picture with her smiling eyes. 
Alas! that smile happened only when she was peering into the camera and viewing her image along with her siblings. She kept smiling and looking at her serious picture and it felt awkward and harsh pulling the camera and my hand that held the camera away from her smiling face. 

That idea to take the picture of the most beautiful house then fizzled out and for sometime we just walked together. There were no conversations just companionship. i don't know what she was thinking but i knew what was going on inside me.

 i was conjuring the shape of the emaciated woman, the mother, who perhaps was performing chores behind those custom made doors. i was also thinking about this girl who could be anything between five to eight and was already a surrogate mother of two when she should be playing hopscotch with her friends.
Then i was imagining her in some other life where she is sitting in a pink frilled frock of silk,  satin ribbons and soft lace. Sitting nice and snug on the lap of her mother/father and listening  enraptured to the story of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs being read out to her from a big colorful cut out book which shows her the various characters in motion

When i took her picture it was never my intention to make her the subject for my blog. Mainly because i feel responsible for her plight. i feel responsible for her anger, her questioning and her sadness.

i have not been able to forget her and would not exaggerate or lie to say that she's always on my mind. But she creeps into my thoughts suddenly when i seem to be having a peaceful and a jolly good time. 
There is a strange feeling then of guilt mixed with remorse and i keep asking myself, "What if it was me instead of her? How could i go on like this living my life and not do anything about it...?"
It feels rather cruel to keep counting my blessings. i would rather that she and every SHE who becomes a mother to her siblings from infancy-any age should be me.

Was it her passive, reticent self then that prevented me, of all the people, from asking for her name.
 Me who has a thing for knowing names to the extent of peering into the badges of people in the service sector and address them by their names if i have to ask them anything.
Me who hunts and researches to know the names of the trees, the plants, the birds and insects...and efforts even more to remember them. Why did i fail/ not bother to ask her name?

 And i hope that she who was sharing the burden of running the family along with her mother is not called NAKUSA.

i hope that when food is distributed at home she gets her fair share of whatever there is .
i hope if and when she plays truant to her chores, she is not flogged mercilessly.
i hope the brother whom she balanced on her bony waist remembers her service and sacrifice when he grows up.
i hope that boy of a brother is not pampered enough since he is a male to become a rascal who survives on his sister's earnings.
i hope she is not a victim of abuse and molestation.
i hope and hope...
i hope she is not  expendable... 
And i hope she has been named well. Something that does not make her wonder why she was allowed to be born if she was UNWANTED.

Before i can quit i have to shake off the sadness that surrounds me and as usual a poetry would be ideal. This one is by a highly respected living Urdu poet, a lady who is often invited to India to recite her enigmatic but powerful compositions. Zehra Nigah
i have read from the newspapers that some of her compositions have been translated in English by Rakshanda Jalil.

i don't know any except this one which is most recited and often quoted called 'Samjhauta'.
Samjhauta means compromise.
It goes like this...

Mulayam garam samjhaute ki chadar

Yeh chadar mein ne barson mein buni hai

Kahin bhi sach ke gul boote nahin hai

Kissi bhi jhooth ka taanka nahin hai

Issi se mein bhi tan dhak loongi apna

Issi se tum bhi aasooda rahoge

Na kush hoge, na pashmanda hoge.

Translated in English it should be like this...
"Warm and soft, this blanket

Of compromise has taken me years to weave

Not a single flower of truth embellishes it

Not a single false stitch betrays it

It will do to cover my body though

And it will bring comfort too,

If not joy, nor sadness to you."




  1. Hi Shivani, thank you for your visit to my post and your comment. You picked up on the essence of the thoughts.
    I feel what you have written here, it is a sad picture and quite humbling as is the poem.

    (had problem with google)

  2. @BM Thank You on your kind gesture for not only stopping by and providing me with with a glimpse of how you felt but also for being prompt enough to return a genuine gesture.
    It is a laid back weekend morning and you made my Saturday.
    i am glad... this time at least i was able to share my intensity in a manner that you could feel it too.
    Making others sad and glum was not my intention though.
    i come from a well to do family but believe me while i grew up and was provided with good education and everything i had my own share of gender discrimination too. Maybe not as sad and bad as the nameless girl or girls who are named Nakusa but what happened years ago still chokes me and while i wrote this the hazy but painful memories made me cry.
    That you read it through inspite of google problem...can't thank you enough.
    Hope to see more of you and you can bet...the color of my post is not always blue. :)

  3. Nice reading your thoughts...poignant and thoughtful lines which touches the hearts.

  4. @Kalyan Thank you not only for stopping bye and having patience to go through my post but also for sharing your feelings with your kind words of appreciation.
    Hope to see more of you.:)

  5. Its really soul searching article.We need to introspect and change to avoid NAKUSA

  6. Valsala.bk@gmail.comSeptember 12, 2011 at 3:10 AM

    Hi Shivani,
    A touching narration indeed. We can only hope and pray that a better future await these children.

  7. @Anonymous much that i would like to thank you for stopping by and sharing my angst, would it be okay if i address you as Mr Anonymous?
    Thank you indeed for your inputs.
    At the moment i can only agree with you verbally.
    But perhaps would feel joy and satisfaction only when things change and in bringing about that change somewhere i have played my part well.
    Actually that change should first start within me.

  8. @Valsala happy to see you here.
    Don't know if hoping and praying would bring about the desired future for these children of the lesser Gods. But sure hope and pray are always the least we can do.
    Thank you so much and hope you will grace my page with your presence soon. :)

  9. Really pathetic state of affairs. More so in Northern India. Rarely see such sights in southern part of the country.

  10. @Navita finally after all that jazz i get to see you here. Happy...very happy.
    That's one aspect i hadn't thought about and you are right. i guess then it's the literacy and the change in outlook associated with education that does it.
    The Northern part is still lagging behind.
    Thank you so much for your time and patience as i am aware much to the chagrin of my limited readers my posts are rather long.
    Will take a lot of time to reach that level where i could be brief and concise.
    Till them help me to improve.

  11. Sometimes we miss that life time chance to get that perfect picture that we are not ready for.
    But that smile and that moment is captured in our mind and remains forever.