When I Took My First Breath Of Freedom At Eleven…

by | Jan 15, 2019

It was for the first time I stepped out of my village. My heart was pumping out, not blood but a completely different kind of impulse mixed with hope, joy, fear, and struggle. The goosebumps were not just because of the bitter cold but also due to that indescribable emotion. At the same time, my cheeks were warm with drops of waters running down my eyes. The drops of tears were an expression for the joy of freedom. To take a stand as I broke the age-old prison.

With teetering feet, I moved into the bus and found many faces staring at me. I took a seat near the window and kept my bags on my lap. When I opened the window, a cool breeze hit my face and whispered ‘welcome’ in to my ear. It felt like the breeze were waiting for just me, to give a warm welcome. Some hit me strong, while the others were mild. Now I turned back and I saw many faces of women. Again I started cursing my fate. I felt like I was the only one in the universe who was prisoned for such long years, unlike these women who seemed set free long ago; and dived into deep thought.

The shrill calling of ticket collector collecting the fare brought me back. A sense of empowerment just took birth in my heart when he asked me the fare. I felt I gained authority over my life. I gave him the fare. And something that was written in red ink against my seat stole my attention. The sticker said ‘Ladies’. That word struck me immediately as there was a lot going on my mind. Even in a public transport system, women were being given special care. But in my house … ?

The story goes back to 2008. When I was born. My father was not happy because I was born a girl. My grandfather was the head of the village so everyone was scared to come to my home. I spent three years playing with my doll, alone. Then after a while I was relatively happy when God heard my prayer and sent a small baby girl to play with me. We two were playing together because we did not have any other friends. We could not go even to the courtyard to play with others. And just like that, another cutie came to join us. We three became each other’s best friends and were living our sheltered lives happily. We had not felt the inequalities between boy and girl until the arrival of my brother, the fourth.

My parents were overjoyed at his arrival. Gradually all the attention, care and affection shifted to him. Because he was the one who would take this generation to the next. What was just such a big deal about going into the next generation anyway? The more love he got, the more i realized what i was lacking. In a way, it was better before he came, ignorance is bliss they say correctly. I and my my two sisters got demoralized and suppressed. I could not express my wishes because I was born a girl. I could not go to the fair with my dad, because I was born a girl. I started cursing God for making me a girl. I understood what deprivation meant. I had to wait until my brother is finished to have the remaining of it. I always got the first position in class, but no one ever appreciated me.

That was my life before that phone call. That phone call was the turning point in my life. To the people who are still wondering about my identity, I am your ordinary village girl who goes through similar events in varied backdrops.  

I got selected in Milaan Girl Icon fellowship. It was hard to believe myself as a leader. The girl who had never owned the authority of life now would head a group. Would I be like Indira Gandhi, charismatic and strong? Or would I be Sarojini Naidu, with her gentle ways to influence people? I was on cloud nine. My heartbeat went up, I could not sleep that night. But I forgot that I was in a patriarchal society, where girls were not allowed to get out of the home. And this was going to be a longish fight. When my grandfather did not allow me to go – a ray of hope that had managed to enter my life, shattered. I cried. I cried the whole day. And night.

But I fought. I fought against my conservative grandfather. I fought against my strict father. I could only see that innocent teary face of the lady who was a constant support. She always stood by me in my all decisions. In fact, she was the only one who got overwhelmed when I used to bring home, trophies. Finally, she gave me the courage and I packed my bag and stepped out.

As I crossed the hurdle within the family and it was time for my father to drop me at the bus stop, I wished for a better moment. A situation where my father could be as proud as he would have felt if my brother was at this junction, leaving for the better. To be honest, that was a wish destined not to come true at that time. He smiled half-heartedly, wished me good luck, and told me to keep safe.

Again the calling of ticket collector broke my chain of thoughts. He was calling out my desitnation to get down. And my heartbeat suddenly shot up further. I got out of the bus and started moving towards my training centre. When I stepped in, I paused a little because somewhere in that hustle and amidst the myriad unknown faces, I saw my dreams. Dreams that could be real. At that moment I was in charge of my life and I could control it.

I want to fly. I want to see the whole world. I want to give a bright future to my sisters. I want to give a comfortable old age to my parents. And now when I have started I don’t want to look back. I only want to move forward. And yes, I know it will take a lot of hard work, time and patience. I am willing to do it for my loved ones and most importantly, for myself.

*** The author (a fellow who works with the non profit, Milaan) talks about the story of a Girl Icon of the fellowship program by Milaan for adolescent girls’ leadership.

*** Feature image source is Stocksy.com

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