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Sometimes, who you are born as doesn’t matter – trying to rise above it does. April 2016 Muse of the Month winner.
This year, we bring you the Muse of the Month contest. Congratulations to all the winners of the April 2016 contest.
The cue for April 2016 was:
“How like the flowers we are,… knowing nothing of the fate we simply inherit from others.”– Jaishree Misra, Rani.
The second winning entry is by Kasturi Patra.
I tried drowning out the noise of the alarm by pressing the pillow tightly over my head, but the persistent strains of Adele’s “Someone like you” won in the end. I had set my favourite Adele song as an alarm to convince myself that waking up won’t be such a mean business anymore. But alas!
The room was flooded with sunlight. It was already noon and I’d have to really hurry up if I wanted to make it in time for my Financial Economics class. My room, although sloppy as usual, bore the unmistakable signs that my Ma had stopped by in the morning. The diffuser was lit in the corner spreading the camphor smell that I found so soothing and the pile of dirty clothes I had left on the floor last night was conspicuously missing. I stepped out of my room and went to the common kitchen.
“Buri ma have you seen my mother, anywhere?”
We call our beloved cook, Buri ma which means ‘old mother’ in Bengali. She had been here long before my mother was born and it is amazing how active she is even now.
“Look on the terrace, didibhai. She has again found a pigeon.” Buri ma flashed her toothless smile.
“Uff Ma.” I grunted half annoyed, half amused. This was my mother’s favourite past time. Making pets out of injured birds and then nursing them back to health before returning them to freedom. Not that these birds forgot. They’d religiously visit the terrace every morning to peck at the grains she strewed all over first thing after her morning Puja.
I loved my Ma. My God-fearing, kind-hearted, yet strong mother. A mother who had brought me up through all the storms single-handedly and gifted me a peek at freedom. Like those pigeons being nursed to health, I dream of flying away one day. But the only difference between me and the birds would be that I will take my mother along with me.
I opened the terrace door to find her sitting in a corner with her recent ‘patient’.
“So what is it this time?” I smiled and asked her.
“Oh, same old. A bigger bird had attacked the poor thing and broken one of her wings.”
I took the soft thing in my hand. The fluffy tummy, the fragile bones, the white feathers streaked with crimson blood. The bird seemed to look at me with the conviction that she would be alright and fly once more. Or was it my thoughts that got reflected in her eyes?
“She is a tough cookie, Ma. I think she’ll fly again.”
“I know she will.” My mother gave me that knowing smile steeped in unbound faith. I think she meant those words for both the bird and me.
“I’m leaving now, I’m so late today! Will be back by five.”
I rushed down the stairs while her voice floated above me. “I have packed sandwiches for your lunch. Take it from Buri ma.”
“Okay Ma. Tata.”
I could hardly catch my breath when Professor Ghosh entered the class. Sumi passed her bottle and I took a gulp. Sumi was my only close friend in college. We’d sometime roam around College Street when classes got over early. Sumi’s father was a professor in a neighbouring college and her mother worked in a bank. She knew very little about me but I liked her ‘compassionate without being overtly curious’ nature. That was the main reason why we gelled so well.
I was considered to be an introvert by some in my class and as a snob by others. I felt exhausted at people’s haste in judging an entire human being after catching merely a tiny glimpse of their personality. But it was better that way. The more people left me alone, the more relieved I felt.
Anyway, Sir went up the dais with a stack of papers under his arms. “I have the papers for this semester with me and since this was the last one before you appear for your post graduate degree exams, I had made it especially tough. So, don’t worry if you haven’t scored well. Just try understanding the concepts behind the question or ask me or your fellow student to help you.”
My heart started beating faster. Financial Economics was my area of specialization. I was really aspiring for good grades in my Economics post-graduation. After all, my acceptance in a reputed U.S. university for a PhD was hinging on how well I do here.
Sir smiled. “There was one person, however, who to my surprise did very well even in this paper. Class, please go to Tia in case you don’t understand some parts of the lessons. I want to see if she can explain as well as she can write.” Sir smiled and looked at me while I stared at the floor.
“Tia come here and distribute the papers.”
I felt a bit embarrassed to be the centre of everyone’s attention but even then, I could sense a warm and fuzzy Ma shaped glow in my heart.
Classes got over at four in the evening. Most of the papers were given back today and I topped all my favourite subjects. I was happy with how my preparation was going for the finals.
I reached home and Ma was already waiting for me with rice and fish curry.
“Ma, you know my exams went really well.”
She wiped my face with the end of her sari. “I always knew you’d find a way out for us, Tia. See, I wasn’t wrong.”
“One day at a time, Ma. One day at a time.” We hugged each other and cried like babies.
After my meal, my mother sat next to me.
“Do you feel like taking a break, today, shona*?”
“No, Ma. And please don’t feel bad for me. We came this far and we will go farther. Remember, when I was young and while you taught me maths, I used to get so impatient for not being able to grasp division for a long time? Do you remember what you used to tell me?”
“Yes, shona. One day at a time.”
“Exactly! That’s how we’ve come this far and that’s how we’ll go farther, Ma.”
Ma wiped her eyes and started ironing my attire for the evening. A halter necked black shimmery mini dress. She will do my make up, too. But first I will finish one more chapter of Macroeconomics.
Then I will go to earn my living by selling my body. Yes, I’m a sex worker by night. And a student by day. My mother has been in this trade since she was a teenager. She doesn’t even remember the remote village in West Bengal from where she was trafficked to this brothel in Kolkata.
But guess what? She never gave up. She was very young when she got pregnant with me. But she got her tubectomy operation so that she could bring me up well. She started saving for my education and little by little she sent me to school. I too had to take up the trade because as you know, this profession is not too kind towards older ladies and my mother couldn’t earn enough after I grew up. I took up my mother’s profession because I had to pay for my education and sustain our lives.
Words won’t do justice to express what I went through in those initial days of facing humiliation and defeat. The first day after a middle aged man violated my 16-year-old body – devouring it like a piece of meat, dehumanizing me, reducing me to a mere object so that he could derive momentary pleasure – that day my tears felt like hot wax against my cheeks. I expected my face to melt away, and finally my entire body to convert to dust and mix with the insignificance of nothingness. While scrubbing myself sore in the bathroom, I even took the razor up to my wrist, thinking about the possibilities.
But then I halted.
There were these images jostling against one another inside my head to come to the forefront. In one image I saw my mother–exhausted after a rough night, barely able to walk–come to check on me late in the night while I pretended to sleep.
In another image, I saw her peers ridiculing my mother for putting her daughter in a reputed school, making sarcastic remarks like, “Have you ever seen a prostitute’s daughter become something else?”
To which she’d reply with a steely determination, “I have not seen one, but we will all see once my daughter grows up.”
My tender, loving mother, who didn’t think twice before working overtime just to put me through school, who’d leave the better pieces of fish for me so that I become smarter, who tried keeping me away from this filth for as long as she could. The raw fear and pain in her eyes when I was being taken away on the first day was more horrific than anything I’ve seen in her while she herself underwent all those years of torture.
And I’d just kill myself and let my mother suffer? That was the moment when I decided to fight back.
How like flowers we are… knowing nothing of the fate we simply inherit from others.
But the fate we inherit should not be just taken lying down. I am a warrior and I fought tooth and nail to get out of this darkness. I studied hard, and finally, I can see the blue sky of possibilities opening up before me, asking me to break free and fly. I can envision my dreams of studying in the U.S. with a full scholarship coming to reality. The social workers who come to help us have promised to aid us with the travel and accommodation. I will take mother with me and we will start a brand new life which we have written on our own.
Yes, we have no control on the fates we inherit but we do have the power to mould it and shape it according to our dreams.
One day at a time.
Author’s note: *Shona means ‘darling’ in Bengali.
Kasturi Patra wins a Rs 250 Flipkart voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the 10 top winners at the end of 2016. Congratulations!
Image source: escape from the cage by Shutterstock.
Kasturi’s debut novel, forthcoming in early 2021, had won the novel pitch competition by
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