When we started writing India Fellow blogs, we were told how our stories were all unique, however common they may seem. We were told that no one would be able to represent our story and the moments in our journey the way we could. Today, as I board Himgiri Express with 13 girls of Nari Gunjan and Aishwarya, a precious co-fellow, I wonder how unique this experience is. We are given the responsibility to take these girls back to Bihar after a two-week camp at Aavishkaar, our organisation in the Himalayas. A few things were raking up my nerves:
- We were not going to be travelling as co-fellows but as guardians of thirteen teenage girls
- It was going to be a 6-hour bus journey followed by half an hour tempo ride, and then a 25-hour train journey, again followed by an hour long tempo ride
- Both the tempo rides were going to be in the middle of the night
- I had just three days to prepare
7 months ago it would be hard to even convince my parents to let me take this journey as an adult, and now I was telling my father 2 days prior about the role I was going to play. I wasn’t scared at all though. In the fellowship so far I have been able to learn to adjust my comforts a lot, I have managed to sleep in the tiniest of spaces, clean the dirtiest of places and even make my stomach strong enough to digest whatever kind of food available. I was also pretty sure of the assertiveness I had developed as a teacher-skill in the classrooms. I can be enough assertive towards strangers now to be able to show a demeanour where no one would be giving me any kind of gender biased shit. I wouldn’t let anyone snatch the seat I myself had cleverly annexed to sit closer to the girls.
Our faces were covered in the silt and dust of Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Ambala, Saharanpur, Moradabad, Bareilly and Lucknow so far. Only half an hour ago, I had a “missing-girl” scare. At Lucknow, at least 100 people alight each boggy, finding nooks and cracks to fit themselves into. Surely, on our seats, there was no space for butt cracks but our shawls and bags lay in much comfort. I do not pity the people standing ticketless all around me and just maintain a stern look on my face which seems to be perfectly strict with my huge spectacles adding to the effect. They look at me and then away, because I would virtually shoot anyone staring at these girls. That’s the kind of person I never was. I used to be a joyous and carefree version of myself, someone who would be awed in such situations. But this change of work responsibilities has truly made me a bad-ass. Oh! Not bigger than these girls, though. Little did I know, they wouldn’t let me enter their circle of trust too soon.
This journey was a reminder that these girls are completely independent and don’t care even a bit about any kind of pampering I might want to offer. Every time I paid Rs. 25 for using the toilets, they would cringe their faces and look at me with disgust. “Why did you have to pay all that money? Can’t we find another solution?”. When I bought an extra pack of snacks with breakfast, Dolly asked me “Oh, but why didi…”. There was so much regret on her face that got reflected on everyone else’s face too, throughout the first half of the train journey. At one point, they were hungry and wanted to have chowmein, but dare I let them know the price or give a glimpse of the struggle to reach pantry through the crowd, they wouldn’t be able to gulp down even a bite.
Hopefully now, we will reach Prerna Hostel at Danapur in the same pack and not get any mots from the woman in-charge at the hostel, Sister Sudha Verghese. I am dying to meet her, to hear her raw voice. I didn’t expect to get another chance of being inspired by her after our first meeting and was heart-broken. But when we last talked over a phone call, she invited me again. It was such a relief, something I perhaps have needed for a month. Another roller coaster awaits in this amusing park!