The author, Nandishi Shriram

The author, Nandishi Shriram
Colors myriad, yet a land unexplore

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shackles....please let me be....





My father beat me every day. I was a girl child, a second child born in a conservative baniya family. I would get harassed every single day for no fault of mine. We were rubber part traders. My father had a small workshop in Patparganj. Every day he would take his battered brown briefcase, tuck it into the scooter net pocket and fit his corpulent body on the 2 wheeler and ride off to do some trading. I would be cleaning, mopping, washing the toilets. We had no help. My Dadi did not want to keep hired help. She felt that it was the girl's job to care for her family, never mind that they did not care back. By the time I would finish cleaning the house, I would then be toiling in our tiny kitchen, cooking breakfast,  lunch & dinner for my family. I was very young when I was initiated into domestic housekeeping.

My grandmother was the karta dharta of the family, the matriarch, so to speak. A strong woman with a whiplash acerbic sharp tongue, she ruled my father in an insidious way that he never saw through. He looked up to her. My Dadi had hated my mother. My Mother had died when I was one. She had developed a low grade fever, and due to negligence and lack of care, she had passed away in a brief span of ten days. She had not been provided with ample medical care. My grandmother and father felt she did not deserve it. Ram was 6 at that time. He did not miss his mother as he was never allowed to get attached to her. My grandmother kept him away from her and had started brainwashing hm against his own mother. My mother died alone, in her bed, with no one beside her. Her family was informed the next day. They had hardly kept in touch in any case. They came for the cremation, attended the last rites and went back to Kolkata. That was the last we ever saw of them.

My schooling was stopped when Pitaji lost his job with the insurance company. The company shut down so all the people were asked to leave. I was all of ten when this happened. My brother Ram carried on going to school. They never stopped him. After all, he had to keep the home and hearth going eventually. My father then got the idea of starting the workshop. He had a nest egg so he utilized that. With the help of a friend, he managed to start securing some small time orders. It was when he lost his job that he and Dadi decided to stop my education. According to them, I did not need to study. I needed to learn all the things that a girl needs to know when she enters her marital home. So begun my training. Everyday I had to sew a piece of cloth, or cook a specialty, or do flower arrangements. I was sent to the local beauty parlor for removing my armpit hair and my little bristly mustache. I knew that what was happening to me was no fair. There was not much I could do. I learnt all about gender discrimination later when I started my Women's Empowerment Group. I got to know about certain sects of Indian castes that believe in this strange culture. I studied it, specially the Baniya side.

Even today, in mid level income baniya families, women are treated as second class citizens. They never become the breadwinners. They are to marry and go to their husbands’ homes and it is a curse to be born a girl in a baniya family. I know that as I experienced this curse every single day when I was young. I was beaten hollow by Pitaji. He took out his frustrations on me, as there was no one else he could do that to. After beating me, he would lie down on the bed, with sweat beads trickling on his fat rotund, bald head. I would then have to press his legs. My body was always bruised and hurting. While all this was going on, Dadi would quietly retire to her room, as if nothing had happened. She shared the room with Ram. He would get royal treatment from Dadi. Ram would wickedly grin when Dadi would bring back choicest mithhais, samosas, toys for Ram, while I would be busy cleaning the kitchen, or mopping the floor of the house. Dadi was a control freak. She would many times kick me when I would slow down. I would say nothing. I had nothing left to say.













 I started reading. 'Aunty' was a teacher in a small time school. I would many a times quietly borrow a book from her bookshelf, and would spend hours learning the English language and its basics. I had a friend. The little servant boy, Ali. Ali would look after me when I would get fever. He would quietly make me a broth from the left over meat bones, and would tenderly give me cold compresses. Many times when my tears would soak my pillow, he would give me the end of his shirt to wipe my face. These are the kindnesses I could never forget. Ali became the brother that Ram could never have been. We would talk late into the night. I told him how I had come to be here. Ali was a kind soul. He gave me his home address where his folks stayed, in case I ever lost touch with him. This chit of paper was kept safely with my passport.

‘Uncle’ now decided it was time to use the trade off. I was sold to a rich Arab, for a hefty sum of Rs. 25 lakhs. This would cover the cost of my husband’s education. I was once again sold, for no fault of mine. I was paraded in front of the Arab in  ‘Uncle’s bedroom. The Arab took an instant liking to me. I was packed off in a hurry. I said a teary goodbye to my little friend Ali. I left my husband’s home with just a bagful of my belongings, the ones I had brought from India. I was not allowed to take anything else. Aunty bathed me that day, making sure that I looked presentable enough for the Arab. When I was leaving, no one came out to say bye. I was bundled into the car by the Arab and taken to a far away district. I had no idea about where we were going. I tried to ask the Arab, but he kept his glassy eyes on the road.


That night, I searched in my little steel box for the invitation letter. The letter was yellowing at the edges. It had my home address and my fathers name. In my spare time the next day, I  managed to gain access to the Arab's typewriter. His wife Nasma was not home. She usually stepped out every morning to go pray at the mosque. I slid in a sheet of paper and started typing out a letter, stating my home address in New Delhi. I then went on to mention that I was being invited to visit my home by my family. I signed it in my father’s name. I slipped out the sheet of paper, tucked it into my kameez and ran back to the outhouse. I had only 2 1/2 days to plan how to hide in the car without being caught. The boot only had so much space and I knew that the Arab would be taking his cartons of dry fruits too. I knew that if I got caught, I would never be allowed out ever. When the Arab got back that night, he made love to me and left shortly after. I waited for an hour. I then ran to the car in the dead of the night. I gently prised the boot lid open. I looked around for a place to hide. I could see nothing. I was feeling around when something gave way. It was the flap covering the stepney tire. I looked at it carefully. If I could curl my body in a foetal position, then maybe I could manage to squeeze in that space. I eased the heavy tire out. It nearly slipped out of my cold & clammy hands. I clambered into the car, raised the flap, and squeezed my tiny frame into the round space. It was a tight squeeze. I covered myself with the flap and lay there. If I could hide in there for an hour or two, I could manage. Beyond that, I would suffocate. I had to somehow make sure that the boot would not fully shut.
My knowledge of English came in use. I looked at the signs & found out where the travel desk was. I asked for the fare to Mumbai, India. It was all of Dirham 1800. For my visa, I had to have 4 passport size photographs clicked. I asked the man behind the desk in Hindustani where I could have this done. He seemed kind. He pointed out the photograph booth. I walked to the booth to have my photos taken. The attendant made me sit on a stool, placed a red cloth behind me. A moment later, she handed me 6 passport size photos. I walked back to the travel desk and the folder was given to me to present to Immigration. I was asked to fill out a form. My ticket was issued. I was handed back a wad of notes and some loose coins. My flight was to leave four hours later. I had yet to be issued my Visa. I knew from prior experience and from conversations heard that Visas are generally granted at the airport itself. I stood in the queue for my visa. I was really really scared. What if I got caught? What if they arrested me?

It took me nearly 10 hard. gruelling years to get to a decent level income bracket. Today, I drive my own 2nd hand Santro, I still stay in rented acco. Flats here are very expensive.
I do hope that someday men will understand. Until then, I am quiet.

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THIS STORY IS FICTIONAL & BEARS NO RESEMBLANCE TO ANY PERSON, LIVING OR DEAD.

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