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March 2015

The Unsung Heroes : The Parents Of India’s Daughter

By now most of you reading this post have already watched the much discussed BBC documentary, India’s Daughter, a documentary film about the heinous crime that took place in Delhi on the night of December 16, 2012.
The Indian government decided to ban the film in India in true reflection of the prevalent traditional attitude in the society of hushing things up. Lets push it under the already over-heaped carpet and pretend it never happened. Well, that is impossible in the age and times of the Internet and Social Media. Clearly the power of which was underestimated.
Several links floated on different social media channels and like many of you, I watched the film. I read that the film has been globally banned now and this is beyond my comprehension. Why?
Enough has been written and said about the documentary already. I have spent hours reading posts and opinions on the film. Yes, the statements from the defense lawyers were beyond outrageous, the accused interviewed did not bear any signs of remorse, the sentence for the juvenile in comparison to the crime committed is non-reconcilable and this is a wide-spread broader issue of how women are looked at in the country. The documentary is about only one such case.
My piece of writing, after seeing the film, is solely dedicated to the courageous and forthright parents of Jyoti Singh.
For when they spoke of their girl, it was with the kind of love one has for their children and with the grief that one suffers on losing a child. The mother narrates that her first words to her daughter after the incident were that they would stand by her, no matter what.  That is rare in the sub-continent where women are shamed for the crimes done against them – domestic violence, harassment for dowry, sexual assaults and rapes. Shamed by the society. Shamed by their own family and loved ones.
A victim becomes a social outcast and most often is disowned by her own family, her own parents. But here the parents stood by her, fought for her even after her death and would have still been by her side today if she were alive. They did not feel shamed for what was done to their daughter. Instead they stood strong, spoke for her and fought for the cause. 
That speaks a lot for itself. That must have taken a lot of courage. They must have faced a lot of hurdles. But they have also set an example for many parents who fail to shelter their own children in the face of meaningless norms and boundaries created by the society.
Shame? Who should be shamed? The victim? Or the accused? Is there any other form of crime where we lay the blame on the victim?
Why blame the society when even the girl’s parents look in the wrong direction in such cases. There is a deep-rooted culture of misogyny in the Indian society and universally as well. One that education cannot diminish single handedly. It will take much more than that.
If education alone could eradicate such behaviorism, we would not have heard those remarks from the “educated and qualified” defense lawyers, said so unflinchingly. Change in mindset begins at home, within the family first. In the patriarchal society, children grow up observing and knowing that women could be treated with disrespect and that treatment is deemed acceptable.
For this reason, Jyoti’s parents are no less than heroes. There stood the grieving eyes of a father holding the fond memories of once teaching his child how to walk, giving her wings to reach her dreams and then living the nightmare that overpowered it all. But their daughter was and will always remain their pride. She will always be loved. She will always be defended no matter what. Some one will always be there to fight for her. Someone will not worry about the stereotypes.
I have nothing but my utmost respect for them. And I hope and pray that every girl has a parent like them. That every daughter is loved and respected at home, even when she has been wronged outside.
  
Written By : Piya Mukherjee Kalra 

RED

“Once upon a time in a country called India…” She paused and rubbed her severely wrinkled forehead. The children sat around her patiently. Everyone knew you couldn’t rush a story out of Dadi.
“No, not India. In Pakistan. But at that time those houses were in India.” The children were all very quiet, even the youngest lot. 
“It doesn’t matter. There are no houses anymore. At least not there.”
 “Amma! They are too young for this!” Shanno turned her attention to the little ones, “Chalo! Run home! School tomorrow. You too, Sheetu.”
The others ran away and Sheetu pretended to snuggle up and sleep. Once Shanno was out of earshot, Sheetu sprang up.
“Who lived in those houses, Dadi?”
Dadi coughed and whispered, “Sleep, child. Your mother would be back to check on you.” Sheetu used to share Dadi’s bed on the terrace that overlooked the village.
“Did you live there?” Sheetu ignored.
Dadi didn’t answer. She continued instead. “There were eleven houses in the tiny village and every evening children from those houses wrecked havoc in the fields. From stealing mangoes to chasing donkeys through the field, they kept all elders on their toes. And all of ten, she led the gang of the little rascals. Junaid was her best friend out of the lot. Religion had never mattered there. Their families had lived together in the tiny village forever. They had never tasted slavery and so didn’t really understand freedom. The English had never travelled to those parts.”
“They didn’t even know about Britishers?” Sheetu’s eyes widened. “I know about British rule and I wasn’t even born back then.”
“Once a year,” Dadi smiled and continued, “Junaid’s abba would go to the next village, Bada Gaun, and sell the produce. He would then buy provisions for all houses. No one needed to go anywhere for anything. She would always climb on the last tree right at the top of the hill and watch him disappear into the forest across the railway tracks.”
“What was her name, Dadi?”
“Whatever you want it to be. It doesn’t matter. Not anymore. She was busy climbing trees with Junaid and the other children when the rest of the country was gearing up for Independence. The last tree was the most coveted one because that was the only one which gave a clear glimpse of the train that passed through the next village down the hill, across the patch of forest, every fortnight.”
 “After a long day of running aimlessly, the children knew it was time to go home when the crickets started rubbing their feet to invite the moon. On that night, the air was different. It smelt different. She noticed it and so did Junaid. The rest of them were too busy chasing fireflies. Junaid’s Abba stood with the rest of the men, listening intently to what Hari chacha was telling them. Junaid signaled to her and both slipped away from the rest of the bunch and inched closer to the elders. No one seemed to notice two shadows behind the Chaupal.
 “So where are we now?” Her father asked Hari Chacha, the postman from Bada Gaun.
 “I don’t know. The village didn’t figure in the list on the Indian side. Maybe you are in Pakistan now?”
 “Hmmm. Does it matter? It hasn’t so far…and bodies, you say?” Junaid’s Abba shook his head.
 “Uncountable bodies, Khan sa’ab, unimaginable. I suggest that you do not go to Bada Gaun this year.”
 “Arrey? If we don’t, who will negotiate the crop prices? That is what carries us through the rest of the year and I have to go as soon as possible. Nothing will happen. Those are our people. All these things happen in big cities where people have lots to loot and kill for.”
 Junaid pulled her away. Abba seemed relaxed. He assumed there was nothing to worry about.
 Next morning, all the little ones raced to the hill. It was time for the morning train. Junaid was the fastest runner amongst the lot but not as fast as her. She outran him and quickly climbed to the very top of the tallest tree, and perched on the thick branch facing the valley. Junaid grumbled and got on to the lower branch. From where he sat, he couldn’t see her. That was another reason why everyone tried to get on the top – the thick maze of leaves made it a perfect hiding space.
TOOOOOT! All kids held their breath. The train chugged nearer.
Da Dhak.. Da… Dhak…… Da….. Dhak…… Da…………. Dhak.
 It had slowed down. The children exchanged puzzled glances. It never slowed down here. But that day, it stopped. Junaid looked up. He still couldn’t see her. The air smelt different again.
They could hear people shouting at a distance. Tiny specs had spilled out of the train and were making their way up the hill. The children sat rooted in their trees. Soon the specs turned into people, and soon the people were clearly visible – complete with blood shot eyes, blood stained clothes, carrying bloodied swords and air that smelt different.
Junaid fell out of the tree just as the first of the bloodied lot reached the top. She was too shocked to let go of the branch.
A moment’s silence was followed by a sickening whoosh of the sword. Then they shook trees. The other trees were smaller, and one by one the little ones fell.
Swoosh. Slash. Silence.
 She still held on.

The crowd moved on. She still held on. Shrieks rang out behind her. She recognised each one of them – Babaji, Abba, Junaid’s ammi, Ma, bhaiya, Kaka, bhai jaan – one by one she recognised them all.
The bloodied people returned. The dried blood was replaced by fresh stains, and ground below was now darker and wetter. She still held on. 
TOOOOOOT!
 The train chugged along.
 Da…………. Dhak. Da….. Dhak…… Da… Dhak….. Da Dhak.
 She still held on.
 That evening Hari Chacha returned.
“Arrey Khan Sa’ab!” He hollered. “I have found out! We are in India! Look, I even brought a flag. Khan Sa’ab?”
She could hear his crazed screams as he ran from one house to another. Then the screams got nearer. She let go.
Junaid cushioned her fall. Now she was drenched too. The pale pink in her clothes took on a darker, more sinister hue. Junaid’s blood – on her clothes, her hands, and in her head.
Hari chacha scooped her up and ran down the hill towards Bada Gaun. He was still clutching the flag. Colours were swimming in her eyes – saffron, red, white, red, green, red.
 Dadi went quiet. Sheetu’s throat went dry and her eyes were moist. She found her voice after a while, “Dadi, what happened to her? Who killed them? Why?”
“She breathed. She died that day but she kept breathing. The day the country got free was the day that she was lost forever. If only she had let him win that day……If only she had let go in time, she would have been one of the dark stains on the earth below the tree. But she lived. And she never forgot the flag. Never celebrated it, and never forgot it.”
Somewhere, someone burst crackers. It was midnight. 15th August was here.
A single tear rolled down Dadi’s cheek and she murmured, ‘Saffron, red, white, red, green, red.”
Story Credit : Dr.Tanushree Singh. Tanu Shree is a frequent storyteller at Chatoveracuppa. She is a parent to two boys, a lecturer in Psychology, a storyteller, a bibliophile, an artist and a baker among many of her other talents. She blogs at tanushreesingh.wordpress.com and at Huffington Post India. 

Photo Credit : Soumi Haldar 
The story was originally posted at Tell a tale as a part of #myindiastory contest. Participants had to write a short story about the India they know, the India they think existed or the India that should be. The story was to start with the phrase “Once Upon A Time In A Country Called India… 

A Birthday Note For Dr.Seuss From A Very Young Reader. Hope He Is Reading!

Three years back on this day, my then four-year old daughter wrote a very sweet and candid letter to Dr.Seuss on his birthday. She had just learnt and began to read then. Now this almost seven year old is a voracious reader. She will read everything that is available to read. She had a little trouble understanding his writing at first (she explains in the letter why). But till date, even after having read so many authors, books by Dr.Seuss hold a very special place in her heart.
Dear Dr.Seuss,
Wish you a very Happy Birthday!
I am a little girl. I can only read. I do not know how to write. So I told my mom what I wanted to write to you on your birthday. Here is what I told her. 
A Cat In The Hatis one of the very first books that my mom read to me when I was a baby. I am a big girl now and can read the book on my own. I even read the book on the iPAD once while my mom and dad were looking for a new phone at the Apple store. You know it wasn’t my own iPAD. It belonged to the store but they still let me read from it. If you go to an Apple store, they will let you read your books as well.
When I was in the preschool they used to read a lot of Dr.Seuss books to us.  I liked listening to them but I did not understand them much. I just enjoyed seeing the pictures  – pictures of your hat, the whiskers of the cat who wore a hat and the apples on top of a tiger.
Last year when we were visiting LA, my Mom’s friend took me to a store that had Dora, Boots, Diego, Hello Kitty, Sponge Bob, Lorax and you. She said she would gift me whatever I wanted. I surprised her (she thought I will pick a Dora) when I picked you and found you a place on the windowsill of my bedroom.
A few months later, a friend of mine (he is actually in 2nd grade) gave me his copy of Six by Seuss. He told me that it was a big book but I could finish it, as I was very good at reading. I read the book a little bit. Although I could read it, I still did not understand much. 
There were many rhyming words. My mom says you wrote rhyming couplets. I don’t even know what that means.
There were so many gibberish words. My mom tells me not to speak gibberish. But she is fine with the gibberish in your book. I don’t understand why. 
Then one day my Dad showed me the movie The Lorax. I loved the movie. So I went back and read the Lorax story all by myself. It took me a few days to finish the story but now I understand it too.
As I was reading through it I found that there were few words in the story that even my mom and dad could not pronounce well. They did not even know the meaning for some of them. That was so much fun because they always tell me they can help me with all kind of words. But I now know they cannot help me with some Dr.Seuss words. Yipppee!

And that’s my friend(who gave me the book), dressed as Lorax himself for Halloween.
See I told you everyone loves your books. 
I am now getting very fond of your stories. The next story that I am trying to read is “And to think that I saw it on the mulberry street”. This story was published in 1937. That is from many years back.
So you must be really a very old man and you are getting one more year older today. Happy Birthday! And if you wish to speak to me on your birthday, you will need to toss in 15 cents in to the pail. And then..
“I will call you by Whisper ma-phone, for the secrets I tell are for your ear alone.”
From –
A Bar-ba-loot in the Seussville

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