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There are ‘unsung heroes’ in Rashmi Bansal’s new book Touch the Sky, heroes that are not male by default, but women who have written their own destinies.
The term ‘unsung heroes’ was something I came across during my teens. It captivated me, and fascinated me enough to read the stories of some of the unsung heroes of our nations.
Of course the stories were of jawaans at the border, of fearless cops and relentless journalists. Even at the age of 15, I wondered where were the women in this collection of heroes. Not that they weren’t mentioned for their valiant sacrifices. The mother waiting by the door for her martyred son to return, or the silent wife sitting alone at the dining table night after night. Our bravery lay in our sacrifices; in putting a stone on our hearts and letting the men (our unsung heroes) do their jobs. Yet I grew up fighting with this niggling question, “Is the purpose of a woman’s life only sacrifice?”
22 years later the answer to my question came in the form of a book, hand delivered to me. It was given to me in exchange of an honest review.
Rashmi Bansal’s Touch the Sky is a collection of inspiring stories from across the nation. The tagline says “women who are writing their own destiny”; however, after reading these true stories of courage and grit, I would say, these are the stories of the ‘unsung heroes’ of our nation.
Interestingly, Rashmi has categorized the Touch the Sky into three very cheeky categories. Ziddi, Besharam and Bindaas. Every word that then had a negative meaning, now becomes the starting point of a fabulous adventure.
Ziddi starts with football fever. Who would’ve thought that a bunch of 13 girls from a tiny village in Jharkhand would go on to win the third place in The Gastiez Cup? Oh no, not in cricket, in football no less. All it took was a coach who believed in them.
It then moves on to three stories of true grit and courage. From Usha in My Choice, who refused to marry because she wanted to ensure girls around the nation got the right to education, to Meena in Dukh Sukh who fights domestic abuse in a situation that almost 75% of Indian married women are stuck in. The third installment talks of Chayya in Meri Mom, the young bride who couldn’t give a flying barnacle that her family thought that inviting her widowed mother to her own daughter’s wedding ceremony, was bad luck!
The last two accounts in Ziddi are by all means tearjerkers. Rabiya, the visually impaired woman who takes on Mission Impossible in a style more suave than Tom Cruise.
And finally Ma ka Pyaar, the one that broke my heart into pieces, and then stitched it back again in glistening threads of a mother’s love. I won’t say anything more, read it.
Of course Besharam would begin with the idea of a woman doing a man’s job. Because isn’t that how India defines the term Besharam for a woman? The story is Saatvi Pass Sarpanch, pretty self-explanatory, huh? But wait until you read about how Sushma went on to become the Sarpanch, and converted her biggest nemesis, her husband, into her greatest champion.
A woman’s super power is that she bleeds five days a month and still gets up, shows up and rocks the world.
I remember being in school when I went to a friend’s house and her elder sister was sitting on the floor outside the kitchen, like she had been punished. Later when I asked her, she told me that during periods her sister slept on the floor, wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and got to eat in a different ‘thali’. Wow?! I thought, but left it at that.
Aditi, from the story Chak de Periods! did not leave it that. Instead she, along with her boyfriend, went on to use comic books to educate girls and their families about periods.
Suniye Sisterji, “humari beti ko school jane ki zaroorat nahee hai.” Says a burdened father, wondering where the money for his daughter’s dowry will come from. But what the father does not know is that Sisterji, is Hafiza Khan, and she will not give up on educating young girls in her locality, even if it takes her a quarter of a century.
Swati’s story in Band Aid Family hits a little too close to home. Every single thing she has gone through, and is perhaps still going through, I can feel in my veins. There is nothing more like prison than being trapped in a marriage with two kids, and finding out that your husband has been having a long-standing affair.
Perhaps the most path breaking and unconventional story of courage is Being Human. One of Jyoti who learned after over four abortions that she is HIV+; and another of Vivek, who decided to screw what the world said and marry the woman he loved, Jyoti. If you had asked me about living with someone who is HIV+, my response perhaps would’ve been the same as any other. Vivek and Jyoti have opened my eyes.
Bindaas starts with the story of a girl called Sanam, in a wheelchair, who dared to dream. Who dared to love, to work, to start a booming business doing what she loves the most. And a big shout out to men like Suraj, who wouldn’t let something as miniscule as a wheelchair come in the way of a life with the one.
Well, how can a TamBram woman with two small children, hope to continue after her husband’s death? But this Pizza Granny, Padma, not just got a job, but rose within the ranks and supported her children. And when life gives you so much, it is only fair to give it back, isn’t it? So, when Padma realized that most of the wives of deceased workers from her firm are illiterate, she concocted the idea of Granny’s Pizzas. Now that I know it is in Bangalore, I can’t wait to go visit. Bindaas, for sure!
Next up is the story of a 130 kg Gujju girl, Apeksha, who now runs for marathons. If her transformation as a marathon runner doesn’t inspire you to be fit, nothing would. Lagey Raho is a roller coaster journey of an underdog who emerged victorious in the end.
The last installment in the Bindaas category is a literal blasphemy of a woman riding a Bullet, and then having the audacity of bringing in more women into the fold, and calling their gang, Bikerni of all things. Pure sacrilege, I tell you!
On a serious note, I have always felt that woman on Bullets are our modern day Artemis.
Now that I am done talking about the categories, I must warn you. You will walk out of this book, a changed person.
I have taken away a star because of the way Hindi is interspersed with English text. This often jarred me when I was completely involved in a story. But don’t let this stop you from reading this collection of the lives of our “unsung heroes”; maybe it will work better for you!
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Top image via Rashmi Bansal and book cover via Amazon
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