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Monday, 3 September 2012

13 Until I Die [Chapter 6: Nobody's Children]

Playing safe was an unknown. What came next threw me off guard in ways never before.

The urchins in the street were exchanging unthinkable gaalis (abusive words) for their age. They followed me from the turn of the YWCA hostel to Bangla Sahib gurudwara's holy pond, my regular place to look for peace.

Thoughts on future were as good as vision without glasses. I stopped wearing the contact lens to save up on ReNu solution spends. Leaving UNI without finding another job was not the best thing to do. But it helped me understand what risk felt like in the grown up world's stomach. The previous month’s salary was my only backup.

While walking back to the hostel I decided not to give away spare coins to anyone - not to these abusive/ill-mannered urchins - I thought.

But they have their ways. "Didi kinni sundar lag rahi hai panch rupaye de na" [Sister you look so pretty please give five rupees]. The five rupee was given to the six-year-old who's smile reminded me of my youngest sister. "Didi fikar mat karo tumhe tumhara dulha raja bahut khuss rakhega. Sirf paanch dogi?" [Sister don't worry your prince will keep you very happy. You will give only 5?] said another. Naughty giggles followed me until the turn to the hostel.

At the hostel’s reception, once again I heard Mrs Varghese, the matron, storming at someone. “This is a hostel for working women… [Blah! Blah!] I have so many girls in the waiting list to get an entrée here [Blah! Blah!] … it’s against our principles to house the unemployed [Blah! Blah!].” I did not wait to hear the whole wretched sermon. I hurried back into my hole - dormitory I mean.

With each dorm mate leaving for work during the day the room of 6 was a dead place by 9am. One of my roomies worked at a call centre. She dragged her sleepy self into the room each day at 11ish to pull the curtains and crash. The sweeper was punctual at 12pm to do her usual stuff in a hurry. A curtained room was depressing and it added drama to my not-so-happening days.

I had to get out.

With my camera I walked nearby streets to take random pictures of regular things around. My fan club of street urchins loved to pose. I found a new pace to walk... unhurriedly to wander and stop anywhere I felt like. A camera or a mobile can make you feel less lonely and give more purpose on a damn useless day otherwise. Tan was just a plus you notice when you remove the bandanna - the gradation acquired each passing day was testimonial to my ambling ways.

Global March Against Child Labour team of friends and co-workers
When the heat was unbearable Standard Restaurant at the Regal Cinema building was the best place to hide. It gave the best view of the grass-scaped mountains that hid the underground Palika Bazaar [those were pre-Metro Rail days]. Standard’s ice lemon tea was my best quencher - it was cheaper than DeePaul’s cold coffee. At Standard no one was in a hurry. The waiters never drop hints that your time is up. It was heaven. Especially if it was raining outside and I got that favourite corner seat next to the window to savour the petrichor along with the drink. I wrote poems on their paper napkins and tucked em in my jeans pocket [to be found seasons later as papier-mâché].

Another nearby cheap haunt was this internet café with 100s of PCs in Paharganj. The locality was popular for cheap lodges, budget travellers and its streets full of noisy urchins. I came here to surf for jobs. A freelance feature agency WFS [women’s feature services] had emailed back approving my story idea on the ‘world wide web for women’.

PS: Payments will reach as DD on your provided address 10 days after the publication.

That was good news!

I bought two packet of jalebies. One for the boy who served them and the other for a beggar boy who followed me to the halwai. Fresh jalebies can make anyone happy.

Days passed by and my reserve was dwindling. I had begun to eat meals from the hostel’s mess to not give into sporadic thirst attacks near Standard Restaurant. I stopped tipping the urchins as often and they started giving me gaalis and broke into street raps stolen from Bollywood to have me entertained anyway.

The mess attendant Mr George used to save me a ‘kerala banana’ if I overslept and missed the breakfast deadline at 8am. Somedays food did not matter.

No matter how much you think you are living an invisible life that is not true.

The matron called for me. The storm was coming in pure convent-bred English with the right punctuations.

“Dear Miss [comma] can you please explain [comma] what keeps you busy these days [question mark with one eye brow higher than the other]” I replied in a wave of probable-escape-answers – “I am joining an NGO against child labour next week… was supposed to join last week.” As she never smiled, we girls never saw her other face(s) – “But why didn’t you let me know you don’t have a job [question mark]” The probable wave continued – “I did not know it would take this long. I am following up. By the way I am also freelancing.” She made a hate face while nodding in disapproval. I did not apologize as that was what was expected. I had a problem with people who intimidate you with their expectations. But I don't blame her - she had two grown up girls about my age and must have been fed up of hearing probable-escape-answers. “This is a hostel for working women… [Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah!] The sermon was the same – she couldn't hold the punctuations after the first two lines - she completely lost it when I did not apologize [or hang my head down in shame]. Well-built for a woman - I thought while she stormed. Distractions rescued me always and kept me saner in such situations. For that flash of a second I saw my mother and my school principal rolled into one. I left her office as guiltily as not having done the maths homework in the 7th grade. The eavesdroppers outside the office hurried their feet back to their holes before I could see who was who. Myopia had me since sixth grade anyway.

Actually my NGO story was not completely cock and bull.

Once while eating out at a dhaba (highway eating joint) where they had employed children to serve, I wanted to talk to the little fellows but was not allowed to do so by the owner [he thought am some NGO spy]. I expressed my concerns for those faceless children who cleaned his tables and he laughed offering me a free masala pan... in other words asked me to get lost. The friend who was with me asked me to keep off these dhaba-walahs and gave me a low down on many NGOs in the city working against child labour. He suggested that I could join anyone of them till I get a good job.

I joined Global March Against Child Labour. It was a no-pay voluntary writing post. I asked for some basic remunerations and they agreed. It was just enough to cover YWCA’s rent and food. The job was to collect stories for the NGO’s official magazine that went to the UN. The team travelled to Alwar in Rajasthan where rescued children from all over the country were housed. Gruelling stories rooted in religious evils to poverty to cold-blooded greed – had children stolen from their legitimate childhood. Only few stories could go into the magazine as other pages had to talk about the NGO itself.

The magazine was out in 3 months – in print as well as online. It was time to move on.

When earnings drop you learn to get over claustrophobia. It brings you closer to the ground realities. I learnt to hop-skip-jump into DTC buses and slap men who deserved it.

I left the hostel temporarily to 'come back later with a job' as the matron suggested. I still think that Mrs Varghese was fond of me though I was acting smart the other day.

My school friend Amita Gupta housed me for a month until my next job. The first DD from WFS threw me into ecstasy like no other pay cheque so far. It kept me afloat till I found another place to work.

It was the beginning of the dot com boom and my next job simply wooed me over. I will tell you why.

In between all this there was something else also going on... a special chat friend those days proposed to marry me. Spinning me into weird thoughts - from 'do I look marriageable enough' to 'should I marry'.

More later...

... to be continued

General disclaimer: Any resemblance to persons living, dead, or reincarnated is not a coincidence. No animals were injured during the making of this novelog although some monkeys may have their feelings hurt. Sorry.


1 comment:

Shagufta said...

thnks for the details this reminded me of the whole YWCA time.