Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Shortlist, Diksha Goyal


“Sarita, are you getting any sleep now?” asked Dr Richa, a PHC-trainee, fervently to her last patient of the day.
“No madam ji. Not enough really.” replied Sarita looking sheepishly at the prescription given to her by Richa last week, “these medicines seem to have absolutely no effect on me”.
“Have you been taking them properly?” asked a surprised Richa.
“Calm down Sarita. Tell me, what is troubling you?” Richa asked sympathetically as she put her hand on Sarita’s back to calm her down.
Sarita, an emotionally wrecked widow, seeking some solace in the doctor and looking out for some sympathy and love just couldn’t hold back her tears any longer. She broke down immediately and began with her story.

Sarita was from a poor background and was married off at an early age to Ravi, a daily wage labourer, who managed to earn enough only to provide themselves with a two-square-meal. Life was just fine. Like a typical Indian wife, even in her state of “Aamdani Atthani Kharcha Rupaiya”, the barely-there position, she loved her husband and tried to keep happy in whatever little money brought in the house.

Soon after, they had a daughter, Varsha.
The couple was highly disappointed on finding out that it was a girl. But unlike others from their background, they didn’t kill her, rather blamed it all on Karma.
They decided to “raise” her.

Things were going just fine when Ravi, along with many other civilians was fired upon by ten gunmen at CST Main Station on 26/11. He was admitted to the nearest hospital by the locals and was undergoing regular treatment.
Sarita was all alone in this crisis. His medication had proved to be too much for the poor house wife who put in all her savings and even rented out their house and thus managed to save Ravi’s life who, unfortunately, was left crippled for life.
Varsha was a cheerful girl with a beautiful smile. But, being a girl born into a family where raising a “girl child” was considered a sheer waste of resources, she was forced into all the household chores and look after her father.

So Varsha never really got her share of parental love every child, irrespective of the gender, truly deserves. She always talked about going to school. More so, when a financially restrained Sarita joined a girls’ school as a helper in the kitchen for the mid day meals. Varsha dreamt of becoming a doctor some day. But she was laughed off at and even scolded by her parents for even daring to think of all the “fancy stuff”. Sticking to their old and obnoxious superstitious beliefs, they didn’t send her to school, rather worried over saving money for her marriage. They cursed their sore luck for having a single girl child!

The testing times of the family had not ended as yet. Ravi fell ill once again. This time he was diagnosed with leukaemia.  Sarita’s meagre income was barely enough to support the family properly. She didn’t have any money to pay for the expensive treatment bills and for the medicines.
But she had to arrange for some money urgently to save Ravi’s life.

One day, a man in his thirties and with a convincing & empathetic smile came to their house. He introduced himself as Rohit, a representative of PRAYAS Agency, an NGO working for the welfare of poor children. He told them that they took children with them, sent them to schools, fed them and took great care of them. They even provided them with jobs so that they could save some money and send it to their families. He told them that PRAYAS Agency received financial support from people across the globe and hence they are able take up and carry on with the noble cause of educating & helping out poor children for free. He also told her that the agency would give some money in advance as well to the family as a part of their taking a noble step towards a better future for their children.

Sarita was initially reluctant but when she learnt that many neighbourhood families had agreed to send their children, she readily agreed to send Varsha with the agency too. The poor woman tried to reduce her responsibilities by taking all from one. Besides, she needed the money desperately to save her husband’s life!
So Varsha was sent along with a few other neighbourhood children to Mumbai.

There was no news from the agency about the children for almost an year now. Meanwhile, a lot had happened. Ravi could not be saved. He passed away leaving Sarita as a lonely, childless widow. She missed Varsha and wanted her back.

Sarita had occasionally called on the number provided by the agency people. Initially, they responded well. But later, they started making excuses and avoiding her calls. She was worried about Varsha.
She had nobody to go to help, no shoulder to cry on. All the smiling faces of the girls in the school where she worked reminded her of her own Varsha. She felt miserable and was in great distress. She then befriended Insomnia.
With this, Sarita broke down inconsolably. Richa was left numb by the misery of the poor woman. She was taken back to her own childhood & was reminded of her own past. She calmed down Sarita and talked her heart out.

“Calm down Sarita. Girls are a precious gift of God. They are a boon and not a bane to the family they are born into. No offense Sarita, but what you did to Varsha wasn’t right. So what if she was a girl?  You treated her like some burden you were forced to bear. Now that you are all alone, you want her back in your life.”

“You know what? Let me tell you a story. Years ago, there lived a girl who dreamt of being a doctor. She had no father and her mother was the bread winner in the family. As she turned 18, there was a lot of social pressure on her mother to get her married off. But her mother was strong. She lived for her daughter. She was determined to help realize her daughter’s dream. She went against all odds.
Today, that girl is a doctor and all her proud of her. That girl was none other than me, Sarita!
Only because my mother supported me all the way and understood how important it is for one to be educated nowadays, irrespective of the gender, I’ve reached this far in my life. I owe it all to my mother. It was once an eyesore for my relatives to see me studying when I should have been busy washing clothes and utensils. But the same relatives give my example to their children when they see me live my dream. Varsha needed you. You yourself are a woman Sarita, you shouldn’t have taken this step.

Regretting now, Sarita listened to all this with shame. She felt sorry for mistreating her daughter and desperately wanted her back.
“Please help me, doctor ji, please! I’ve realized my mistake. I now promise to live for her. I will give her all the love she truly deserves. Had I knew this, I wouldn’t have...Please help me bring my Varsha back doctor ji, please!” pleaded Sarita helplessly.
“Yes Sarita, I’ll try and figure out. Give me a day. Just calm down and come back tomorrow with the agency’s business card. I shall make a call.” Replied Richa.
Later That night, Richa almost choked on phone while telling about Sarita to her fiancé Sameer who calmed her down.

Taking charge of the sensitive situation, he said, “There are around 44 million missing women in India. Gender bias, neglect of girls, infanticides & feticides are responsible for all of this and for the significant fall in sex ratio here. Every year millions of children in India are taken into evil hands and all we do is read about them in papers and watch the masala mixed documentaries on news channels.
We have saved some money for our big fat Indian wedding. All that’s going to happen is people wasting food and we will end up getting bored on the stage being starred by a lot of guests. Don’t you think we should rather invest it for a noble cause? We have our chance to make a difference. What say girl?”

Richa was delighted to hear this. “I love you Sameer!” she exclaimed with joy.
 Richa called up the PRAYAS Agency next day and after few minutes of pleading, shouting and finally blackmailing, she managed to get hold of Varsha’s whereabouts.

“Hello?” an old woman answered the phone call as Richa dialled the number provided to her by the agency where, as Richa was shocked to know, Varsha was made to work as a domestic servant.

Richa briefed herself to the old woman and explained the scenario to her. She seemed to understand the situation and freely shared all the information about Varsha.
“Oh she’s become very weak since she’s come here. Poor child! Hardly eats anything and keeps crying all the time.” exclaimed the old woman.
“Hm, I understand Doctor, don’t worry. Yes, you can take her with you. Poor children are not meant to serve. Thank you for opening my eyes” Said the old woman sympathetically as she gave Richa her address.

“And here, you can talk to her also.” The old lady handed over the phone to Varsha.
“Varsha?” asked Sarita as she almost choked with tears on phone.
“Ma?” came a meek, restrained voice from the other side.
Beti, I miss you! Please forgive your mother and come back home beti. I love you, Varsha. I am sorry for what I did to you, but now I want to live your dream together.”  Said Sarita as she broke down on phone.
“Ma, I miss you too. Please take me home with you.”
“I will, Varsha, I will. I’m coming to take you with me very soon. I’m coming for you.”

Sarita took the next train to Mumbai and brought back Varsha with her. She was overjoyed to have her back. She took Varsha to the clinic to meet Richa and thank the doctor for helping her unite with her daughter. Besides, she was wary about the presence of stitches on Varsha’s back and suspected something fishy.

Richa was astonished to see the stitch marks on the lower lateral side of Varsha’s back and on further examination discovered that one of Varsha’s kidneys was missing. She broke the news to Sarita who was dumbfounded.

“So this is what those @#$%^% agency did to my Varsha! Those bastards! They fooled me! I will never be able to forgive myself for sending my Varsha with them!” roared Sarita furiously.
“Will Varsha survive, doctor ji?”
“I’m sorry to say this Sarita. Her other kidney is also not functioning properly. She’s not doing well at all. She needs to have a kidney transplant at the earliest”

Sarita couldn’t believe her ears. There was no way she could afford a kidney transplant. She didn’t have enough savings. And her income wasn’t enough for the expensive transplant.
She blamed it all on Karma again and silently accepted the fact that Varsha wasn’t going to live for long.

Richa was aware of Sarita’s financial status and knew that it was impossible for Sarita to arrange for this huge sum for the transplant. Besides, Sarita had still not recovered from the shock of this piece of news and was unable to even think of anything.

 She looked at Varsha who was gazing silently at the wall and seemed fascinated by the various colourful flex charts hanging on it. Richa could relate her own childhood to Varsha’s. She took Varsha’s hands in hers and asked, “What do want to become when you grow up Varsha?”
“ I want to become a doctor, just like you.” replied Varsha weakly but with a sudden sparkling in her eyes so enigmatic that Richa was filled with an urge to help Varsha out and save her life.
She asked Sarita to bring Varsha to the city hospital next day.

“I’m proud of you, Richa.” Sameer supported the noble cause Richa had taken up.
Richa had decided to spend her savings on Varsha’s kidney transplantation. She doesn’t mind the simple marriage but the satisfaction of saving life and relations would be over and above the weird feel of watching silk draped aunties enjoying chaat.

Thus, an open minded couple donated all their savings.
“Let this be the last time we see tears in Sarita’s eyes” said Sameer affectionately as he hugged Richa tightly, “Had it not been for you, we would never have earned this once in a lifetime opportunity.” And he kissed Richa on her forehead.

Luckily, Richa managed to find a suitable kidney donor for Varsha and her kidney was successfully transplanted. After the transplant, Sarita thanked Richa and promised her that she will not only educate Varsha but also support her all the way to help her realize her dream.

Before departing, Sarita took out a small “Cross” shaped silver pendant from her purse and handed it over to Richa and said, “Keep it with you Doctor ji. This cross shape is a symbol of you crossing our path of life as a guardian angel and helping us out in our times of misery. You not only taught me the value of daughters but you also set up an example for many other girls out there. You even saved my Varsha’s life! You’ve given me a reason to live, a reason to survive now. Please accept it and keep it with you as our gesture for your love and kindness. I don’t have much to give you. So all my blessings go out for you doctor ji

Two years later...
Richa’s encounter with Sarita had had a huge impact on her life. The event was so inspiring that Richa and Sameer ended up starting their own NGO and worked zealously for girl child awareness and education and also against child trafficking for inhuman acts. They set up successful awareness camps in various villages and educated people about the same.

Both Sameer & Richa were proud to have a baby girl after their marriage.
“So what are we going to name her?” asked the proud father as he held the tiny hands of her daughter in amazement.
Richa looked at the cross pendant she’d been wearing for almost two years now and immediately knew what name she’d give to her daughter.

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