I had heard a lot about her even before I really met her. I had never spoken to her, but her voice had floated in through the phone conversations I would have with my friend, drifting in between snatches of our own conversations, like those small rays of sun that play hide and seek through those big leafy trees, right in the afternoon.
That day, as I entered the house, she was sitting right there. I wouldn't have suddenly recognized her, the signs were not that obvious. I knew she was petite, and young, very young. But I really hadn't imagined her to be so young, like a little pixie, short and frail, as if the slightest wind would be enough to derail her.
As my friend introduced us, I smiled, but her big smile had turned into a grin even before I had actually smiled mine. She came up to me and enveloped me in a hug, one that didn't even reach me properly. I am not huge, but in front of her, I seemed a different proportion of huge altogether.
We sat down facing each other, I was busy with my friend, while she was fiddling on her phone. I think she was waiting for an opening to start talking, but I really didn't know what to say, I didn't know about anything that we may have in common.
After a while, she got up and went towards the kitchen, and soon I could smell the aroma of fresh coffee being brewed. Nothing fancy, but it was still a warm heady aroma nevertheless. And as she came out with our cups, I thanked her all over again.
"I make really good coffee you know," said the tiny voice. And I smiled, nodding a 'yes.' How old would she really be? 16? 17? 18 at the most? Given a choice, I would have put her age at 16, but definitely not a day over 18.
Over sips of coffee, she was talking about all those things she missed now, things she left behind at home, things she left behind in her childhood. But she wasn't really complaining. She was reminiscing, talking about times that were, and telling me about times that are. She was talking about how as a child she would get fascinated with certain people and things, about the glamour she thought was associated with certain 'grown up' professions, how she and her friends would watch with wide eyes the grown-ups who would each day head out to work, and how they would talk about the future, giggling and dreaming.
She was also excited while talking about her life now. About her work. How she smartly handles clients, how the higher ups are happy with her progress, the camaraderie she shares with her fellow colleagues, the girly things they do at work, the banter, the laughter, the chit-chat, how she gets ready for work like a grown-up, makeup and clothes in place, ready for her shift.
How life is good and she is happy to have a nice home to live in, how she feels happy to see couples in love, and how she reacts when her colleagues or friends go out on dates or are with the loves of their lives.
How she reacts when the police arrives suddenly when there is a raid, how she gets really scared when she is hauled to the police station, how she keeps a calm mind and answers everything, how she assures the others that everything will be fine and that they should all be truthful in their answers, how she should not be scared but take it as another part of work, and manage it the best she can.
I had been to a Mumbai dance bar once, and even without realizing, I had begun to cry, silent tears wetting my cheeks, streaming down my face, even as my friends wiped them away. I remembered how I had hated every single man sitting there, whether or not he was ogling at the girls, girls who were barely into their teens, girls who, even after they grow up into real women, should never be looked at the way they are looked upon there, or should never be presented in life the way they are presented there. I remembered how I was told that many of these girls prefer this, because of the amount of money it offers, and how, many of those who are rescued or are given the chance to leave refuse to do so. None of that assurance had worked for me, and I had left the place with a promise never to go back again, never to go to that place that made me so claustraphobic, never to revisit that place that still gives me the nightmares. I hated that experience, and I wished no girl has to go through it, no matter what amount of insane money it has to offer. For those girls who are actually educated and have held good respectable jobs in the past and still do this for the easy money, I have no sympathy, I don't have one tear for them. But for those who don't have another option, I wish there was an alternative.
I remember how she reacted when my friend told her all of this, of my reaction at the dance bar. The tiny girl said - "Yes, I understand. You must never have been in this atmosphere no? You must never have experienced all this. It's not for you." And it was with the seriousness and the gentleness and the thoughtfulness she said all this that it touched my heart all over again. I could feel the tears brimming over, but I didn't want to cry in front of her, I didn't want her to feel I pitied her. Coz I didn't.
I was amazed at how such a tiny young girl could be so strong. At how she faced each night and day with such a smile and so much positivity. How she focused only on the good things in life that her limited and stifled world had to offer. I was amazed at the way she was talking about people who had found true love and how it made her smile, and I wondered if she would ever meet that person who would truly love her, and who would truly give her a life of love and happiness.
Maybe I am thinking too much, maybe I put too much into that one afternoon of meeting. I don't know...maybe.....or maybe not.....
Once we were done, she called her mother, telling her she was reaching home soon to meet her. And she was dying to meet her pets. And she told us she would be back later in the day, and asked us if she could keep anything ready for us to eat. She gave me a fake angry look when I told her I would be leaving, and wouldn't be back anytime soon. She hugged me tight, and with a smile and a wave of her pixie hand, left, with a bounce in her feet, her eyes glued to the smartphone in her hand.
- Debolina Raja
And like I always believe in and say:
"Heal the world we live in
Save it for our children" - MJ