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What I heard sent shivers down my spine. If not for this woman, my life would have turned into the worst.
Maya looked up from the lectern where the papers with her speech written on it were placed. The audience sat there waiting to listen to her address the occasion. She could clearly see a lot of faces, eager to listen to her words, draw strength and inspiration from them.
A second glance at those papers and Maya decided today wasn’t the day to present her scripted speech before the audience. This was an evening she had waited for years and it had arrived after years of toil and struggle and it was time to tell the world her real story, the one that had given shape to this dream in the first place. There could not be a day bigger and better than today to pay tribute to the people who had helped her rise up against all odds to reach where she had.
“Friends, today evening, I can see a reflection of my younger in all of you” Maya said addressing her young audience. “I had those similar eyes, brimming with dreams and hope, but life had its own plans to make me come out of my wonder land. Today I am going to share my life’s journey with you, for I know the story of struggle will give you more valuable lessons to remember than any number of scripted speeches.” She continued.
“I belong to small town in a remote corner of the country. That is where I spent my childhood and acquired my early years of education. It was the books I read in school which opened my window to the wider world outside. I was a curious child with a thirst for knowledge which proved to be blessing for me as I scored well academically. In the tenth standard board exams I was among top ten scorers in my district.
It was my academic success which gave me the hope that my fate would be different from that of all the other girls around me. But I realized soon how naive and mistaken I was. A year after my tenth standard results, I was informed about my marriage which was to take place in a month.
I was shattered and broken; I had expected my parents to support my dreams for I felt I had proved my worth with my exceptional results the previous year. But they felt pressurized to follow social norms, they said I was far too educated than the other girls of my community. If they waited more, they were worried they would not be able to find a groom. Though their refusal to support me saddened me deeply, I knew I wasn’t going to resign myself to the kind of life the other women around me led, one in which their existence did not matter, they lived solely to serve their husband and their families and please them and often perished early in the process, only to be replaced soon by somebody else. I wanted a life of my own, one where I could decide what to make of it.
I had never seen the world beyond my hometown, but desperation gives you immense courage. At the dead of the night I set out from home for the railway station and boarded the first train that stopped there.
I wasn’t aware where it was headed to for most duration of the journey. This city was the final destination of the train, but as I alighted at the platform fear and reality struck me all at once. For the first time I had come out of my hometown, I was all alone and far from home, but I could not turn back. I had summoned great courage to escape the life being thrust on me and if I felt fear overpower me now, I would dig my own grave. I sat in a corner by the entrance of the railway station, clueless about what to do next. There was fear and helplessness written all over my face.
A while later a man approached me, asking if I needed any help. I was not sure if I should respond. He told me I look new to the place and he could help me.
I was gullible and naïve and immediately bestowed my trust on him. I thought he was a good Samaritan out to help me. I told him my story and asked him to help me find a place to stay. He assured he would and asked me to come with him, as we were boarding the rickshaw, I heard a woman’s scream from behind. I turned around and saw a frail looking woman menacingly advancing towards the man who assured me help. She caught the man and pinned him to the ground, shouting profanities at him, while bashing him with a stick she held in her hand. He somehow manged to free himself and escaped from there hurling abuses at her. Through this entire occurrence I stood there confused and also amazed at the strength this frail lady displayed. That was the first time I met Durga didi.
She turned around to give me a sound reprimand for being so foolish and blindly trusting just anybody. But looking at my helpless and confused state she calmed down and made me sit down and started talking to me. She asked me what I was doing here and where was I headed. With a little apprehension I told her my problem.
She calmed me down and took me to her house. It was a one room dwelling in the nearby slums with hardly any space for her. But she was large hearted to make space for me and even provided me food. She made a living selling trinkets and cosmetics at a cart outside the railway station. Despite her meager income, most of which I learnt later she sent to her family in the village, she decided to support me till I found a means of survival in the city.
A couple of days later she introduced me to another lady, who also played a very important role in shaping me to be the person I am. She was Leena didi, who ran an NGO, which helped in the rehabilitation of destitute and homeless girls. It was only with Leena didi and her organisation’s help that I could go back to continuing my education. I would work during the day, assisting in the administration and office work of the NGO while I attended classes in the evening.
That was a very difficult phase in my life. The place, the lifestyle and people everything seemed alien to me and if not for these two gritty ladies who walked into my life, I would have been lost and would have retraced my steps long back. But through all these years Durga didi’s anger and showdown the first time I met her puzzled me, for over the years I realized she was not a person to get angry for no reason.
Years later, on the day I passed my graduation final exams, I went to share the happy news with Durga didi. She hugged me and said “thank god, I found you at the right time, that day.” I looked at her confused, she replied “you remember the man who helped you at the railway station? He is notorious for trafficking young girls and forcing them into prostitution.”
What I heard sent shivers down my spine. If not for this woman, my life would have turned into the worst. I do not have any sisters by birth, but these two women are my soul sisters, they have been the support and pillars of strength in my life which my own blood relatives could never be. These two brave women taught me a very important lesson in life, that real women empowerment can only happen through sisterhood. As women we need to pull each other up, have each other’s back, be the strength for the one who is weak, pick the one falling and help them stand back up with dignity. For if we women do not stand up for each other, the rest of the world never will see the need to.
It is the inspiration and grit that I derived from both my selfless sisters, that has motivated me open “Anuja Awas”. A home for all my sisters in any corner of this country who find themselves alone or in circumstances which are unfavorable. Remember me and this home is there for help at all times. But all I request you is in your own small way do keep spreading the message of sisterhood and help uplift more of your tribe.”
Maya’s speech was greeted with a thunderous applause. She walked down the stage to help the two aged ladies who sat in the audience, their eyes brimming with pride seeing her fulfill her dream. For they had been her constant companions in her transformation from the timid confused girl to the confident and inspiring lady. They were her confidantes, her soul sisters.
Editor’s note: This story had been shortlisted for the Muse of the Month May 2019, but not one of the winners.
Image source: shutterstock
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