Courage is...Facing Life As a Girl Child in a City Slum

�The work goes on, the cause endures,
the hope still lives�
...and the dream shall never die.�

I remember hearing a politician say those fancy words a few years back � and ever since then, those words have clung to my very being like the smell of the dumps in my hair. They have become a part of my existence, an escape under the fringes of the iron curtains that surround my life. Those words give a bleak meaning to my loneliness, showering upon me the life-savoring element � courage.

For life doesn�t come easy to me. It is a daily journey through a quagmire � one that metamorphosises overnight to present a new structure every morning. Every obstacle I overcome adds another victory to my credit, another brick in the wall. And I intend to build this wall myself � so strong, so complete, that it is impregnable to even the most ambitious and the most corrupt.

Of my past, I have no knowledge � it is a whirlwind of forgotten yesterdays and yesteryears. I was abandoned at birth, brought up by an unknown woman who collected rags. And I find myself today carrying a large, dirty yellow plastic bag, extracting glass bottles and plastics from the dumps lining Chandni Chowk. After submitting them to a dealer in the heart of Delhi and collecting my daily wage � which does not usually exceed Rs. 5 � I retire to the slums � my home.

Having never known the luxuries that surround a comfortable life, it is hard for me to make comparisons. It is harder still to decide what I consider my own luxuries � for every human must have some. Perhaps my ultimate solace lies in Nature�s lap � where I can recline peacefully and temporarily rid myself of all worries. Staring at the Sun�s ascent through the rose-colored clouds or at the birds, swimming and synchronizing into beautiful patterns is a treat I look forward to everyday. But I am jerked back into reality, before I lose myself completely, by a rumble in my empty stomach. I stretch and look around � because it is a new place I wake up to everyday � and sling my bag over my shoulder, and start the odyssey.

My quest forces me to take unknown routes daily, through unknown territories that harness unknown threats. Being a girl makes life harder. Strange, how there has always been a tendency to see boys as made for success, particularly in a male-dominated society like India�s. Girls like me, who are constantly ostracized by society, that evil society that tries to smother us under this gender trap, would surprisingly agree with me if I said that we prefer it this way. We are content to prove our mettle gradually in our own way � so that biased persons eat their words when we emerge victorious. We have promised nobody, we patronize nobody, we have no expectations of anybody � but in the end our dream shall never die.

I see a man � so drunk that he can hardly stand upright � approach me. He uses some obscene language that I side step easily, with experience. Hardships have made me mature before time, so much so that I have far more knowledge about the world that any other girl my age � living a different sort of life.

�Life goes on as it never ends,
Eyes of stone observe the trends��

I have learnt to dodge these events that take place almost regularly. Some of my friends � other girls who have been forced to adopt a lifestyle like mine � have been in worse skirmishes and situations. One of them, Lilia, who is barely fifteen summers old, has a little son of her own � and in turn is like a treasure box of wisdom and knowledge. Her fate and sad history have made a woman of her, and now she is bent on repairing the ravages of time. She is like a towering pillar of strength � a tower that stands over us � guiding us and protecting us from the harsh glares of society. She once remarked that I was �an indomitable aggressive spirit� who was fortunate to have in abundance courage � courage that would sustain me long after others admitted defeat.

For courage, Lilia says, is not fighting for your country or discovering new lands. It does not mean saving a drowning person, or rescuing a friend in danger. Courage is colossally misunderstood as a synonym of strength and good-upbringing. However, she says, in real life, the idealists are as much at home as is a fish outside water, and only the true mammals can account for life as they see it.

Courage is living a life that holds no dreams and no promises � and still going on. Courage is enjoying a siesta in the afternoon behind a garbage dump � and not complaining. Courage is going hungry for days � but sharing your next meal with your neighbor. Courage is fighting life�s inequalities � and still saying that you emerged with the better deal. And then � courage is facing life as we face it � as girls in a city slum.

I trudge barefoot down the roads, always on the alert to treasure and grasp anything that affords the tiniest ripple of hope. I am constantly on my toes, for danger lurks behind every bend in the road. And life to me seems nothing else � a bend in the road, where what awaits us is unexpected. I have my share of pleasures, however diminutive they may seem. Walking through the streets of the chowk, away from the crowd of course � our black faces and mire-crusted hands single us out � when we have saved enough money to buy another bag or some delicacies, are looked forward to in earnest by us. Observing the firecrackers that light up the pitch-black sky never ceases to amaze our illiterate minds. And when the monsoons arrive, there is nobody to stop us from dancing in the showers, washing away the dirt and filth we lived in and along with them, our tense thoughts.

As the evening fades into twilight, I begin my search for a safe place to sleep. It was another day gone by, perhaps gratuitous to the outside world, but lucrative to my young heart. Yet again has courage given me the strength to live another day, and to look forward to the new dawn of tomorrow. As I settle myself under a Neem tree, I smile to myself. Another brick in the wall has found its place.   


More by :  Nimisha Mittal

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