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The Girl Who Ran Behind A Helicopter

“Anitaaaa stop, you will hurt yourself, don’t you know girls don’t run like boys", said Kusum aunty, unable to understand Anita's eagerness.

Chapter 1 — Did the helicopter land?

In the biting winter of Ismail Chak, a small village in Bihar, five-year-old Anita was attending her mathematics class sitting next to her close friend Sita. It was the first period of the day and her Mathematics teacher, Mr Budeli was scribbling some numbers on the rickety blackboard with thick white chalk. The thatched school had only two rooms and most of the classes were conducted outside.

During the scorching summers few of the lucky classes used to shift under the old banyan tree and in chilly winters, students apart from wearing home-knitted sweaters used to carry dry branches to light a dinky little bonfire around them. Today, Anita was wearing a grey sweater, knitted by her mother which she completely abhorred for its dullness. “Let me wrap your neck with my purple muffler, don’t you love it?” said her mother, Leelawati in the morning to peacefully pacify Anita’s irritation to wear a more vivacious colour.

She was one of the few girls in Ismail Chak whose mother used to get her hair cut short since it was becoming a huge struggle in the morning to get Anita ready for the school and this was the most appropriate solution to make the situation proportionately easier. Although this look came with a little detriment to Anita’s feminine sensitivity. During Janmashtami there were celebrations organized by the Ismail Chak temple committee in which the children were asked to dress up as Radha and Krishna. However, Anita never got the chance to become a beautiful Radha like the other girls. “Look at Sita, Ma, she looks like a beautiful Radha in that shiny blouse and skirt. I look like a boy with this flute and dhoti”.

Ismail Chak was like any other underdeveloped village of Bihar and the villagers used to find it impious to get the facility of a bathroom in their homes. Therefore, at the crack of sunlight, before any male members in the family, women were expected to get up and visit a nearby pond or a river to be prepared for a long day filled with only tedious household chores. The eldest of the three siblings, Anita would impatiently wait for the dawn so that she could run across the village to bathe in the pristine Ganga. To control her waggishness and to make her babysit the other two younger siblings Leelawati used to prepare Anita’s favourite savoury, rice kheer. It captivated her for some hours but couldn’t stop her from climbing their conservative neighbour’s mango trees. “You should control her” was the common advice given to her mother. Anita was quite a trailblazer.

The monotony of this winter morning was taking a toll on Anita while her best friend Sita was sitting like an ideal student showing conspicuous unwillingness to get into any indecorous adventure. It was the year 1971, India was gearing up for its fifth general election, and the cacophony of the politicians was omnipresent in the air of Ismail Chak. In those times, India was going through a metamorphosis of curiosity and anger, politicians were trying to allure the nation through superficial promises whereas people were indignant and sceptical of anything proposed. The era of national political leaders who were once admired for their infallibility and eloquence was slowly dying and the frustration of the common man was becoming conspicuous.

Chhapra was the main constituency at stake for the leaders in Bihar. It was a point of discussion at many tea points for the male voters that if one can win Chhapra, the throne in Patna was theirs to take. Ismail Chak was a part of Chhapra and was a crucial part of the political battleground. Ironically, politicians who were promising for a well-connected road in Ismail Chak used to reach there by helicopters and the news of its thunderous landing created tremendous excitement amongst the villagers.

By now Anita was awfully displeased with Sita’s mousy drift and her lack of participation in her recalcitrant ventures and then unanticipatedly echoed a sharp vibrating noise of blades which sounded like the thunder of thousand birds flapping their heavy wings. She saw many villagers running and waving at the sky and with utmost bewilderment, she lifted up her head too. It was finally here, the gigantic helicopter.

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Anita finally saw it, breathtakingly, mouth agape with amazement. Meanwhile, other people were running behind it like an eccentric tail waving their t-shirts, dupattas or anything they thought can draw the pilot’s attention towards them. Anita was perturbed and just mere glance did not satiate her yearning to see the helicopter. Anita was restless and squatting to run and was only waiting for Mr Budeli to stop clapping with elation.

She thought, “Yesterday, Papa had said that the helicopter needs a clearly marked hard surface away from obstacles to land itself, I am sure they are running towards the ground near the railway line, that’s huge and away from the village?”

Oh, the curse of a curious mind, she threw her books away and by the time, Mr Budeli could furiously react, she ran away like a swift little rabbit coming out its burrow. Also, in the influence of her contagious fearlessness, ran Dholu, Guddu, Bharat, and Gopal. None of the girls showed that audacity, they could envisage the consequence of such audacious mischief.

Most of the girls in those days were limited to only primary classes and abandoning the fortune of being in a school would only bring shame. However, Anita was exhilarated by the thought to tell this proud experience to everybody in her class. The ground was two kilometres away and after some five hundred meters, Anita’s fellow five-year-old classmates were finding it an exhausting and a wearisome task and have started to wither away in between. However, Anita showed an undeterred endurance and was running like a raging avalanche in the mountains.

“Isn’t she Bhagwan Sharma’s daughter, Anita? Her mother is so docile and looks at this little cracker, running like an untamed puppy,” said the pregnant Seema to her sister who was rubbing coconut oil on her legs. Seema got married when she has just turned 14 and on her wedding day, she locked herself in the room and refused to come out for the garlanding ceremony with the groom who was a 30 years old widower. She kept crying with her school books close to her chest, it was her younger sister who entered the room through a broken window and could bring her out. Her parents were ashamed in front of the guests and to duly represent their venerable family values, Seema’s father slapped her in front of everybody.

Today she is like an apostle of child marriages “get them married as soon as they hit puberty, especially the girls, the more they study, the more they develop cantankerous opinions, and men don’t like such obstinate ladies.” Anita, who had to slow down her speed to cross the open pothole in front of Seema’s home, immaculately smiled at her.

On her way to the ground, she found her chubby and affectionate Kusum aunty washing the greasy utensils. Kusum was known for her acts of philanthropy in the village. Once she sold her own piece of gold jewellery to get a neighbour’s daughter, Rashmi, married. On the wedding day, the brawny father of the groom theatrically refused to enter the wedding venue gate until he received ten thousand rupees in cash from the bride’s family. The groom had a humble graduate degree and was on the look for a government job in Patna. He stood with his father there like an obedient pet tied to a leash.

Kusum who had arranged for this suitable matrimony quickly went to a pawnbroker and exchanged her gold for 8000 rupees, meanwhile, the bride’s maternal uncle arranged the leftover amount by selling his bicycle. The marriage took place with all the conjugal paraphernalia in order, however, Rashmi came back to her home in just six months after she discovered her husband had a wife in Patna. After a brief consoling session, everybody blamed Rashmi for not being a good harmonious wife. She was left flabbergasted and therefore rightfully chose to return to her husband than hear the constant obnoxious jibe of her parents.

Kusum saw the spirited five-year-old running like she has found a treasure and therefore, inquisitive by Anita’s zealousness she shouted, “Anitaaaa stop, you will hurt yourself, don’t you know girls don’t run like boys, come, and have some rasgullas, your uncle got them yesterday from Patna’s best sweet shop ”. “I’ll have it on my way back, I will miss the helicopter Kusum aunty”, Anita stoically curbed her temptation as she passed by Kusum’s home. She just had one more garden to cross but suddenly her right knee started to hurt and as she looked down, she saw multiple scratches with tiny drops of blood coming out of it like fresh dew on green grass. Anita thought, “Maybe this happened when I was trying to cross Mahabir Mama’s mango garden, oh lord! It was so dense, and why didn’t I pluck some mangoes? Leave it, I will steal it on my way back”, with that delightful thought she ventured into the final part of her long sprint towards the ground near the railway line.

On her journey, Anita had imagined the helicopter to be a giant steel machine with a table fan on top. She couldn’t figure out the colour from the distance she had seen it and with her little knowledge of only primary colours, she was struggling with that lone thought.

Her heart was pounding with utmost joy and pride, she will finally see the helicopter. Suddenly, she heard the sound of the helicopter again, she lifted her head to see the jumbo machine. Anita was completely astonished, this time it was nearer to the ground than when she saw it at the banyan tree. It was humongous, majestic. To savour the majestic sight, she stopped running and saw the helicopter gradually flying past the ground near the railway station to a destination she did not care about.

After this short yet pleasant layoff, restoring herself, Anita started running like a loose cannon. Ecstatically, she reached the ground but the helicopter had vanished in the clouds. Anita turned her head upwards and bewitchingly stared at the serene boundless blue sky.

 

Image via Pixabay

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About the Author

Shruti Rai

Major dog pamperer! A Feminist and writer in progress, perpetually get weird fire dreams. read more...

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