A Shot At Redemption
A Shot At Redemption11 mins 24K 11 mins 24K
Four years ago...
I have been a follower of mainstream politics since my teen years. I would sit for hours in front of the TV listening to the same political debates on different channels, ‘question hours’ in the parliament, political rallies and similar programs. I was fascinated by the buzz created by the political issues and the politicians.
On the very first day of my college, I enrolled myself into become a member of ABVP. For the next two years, I actively worked for every event of ABVP and turned out as one of the most recognized face among the party members and in the University campus.
In 2011, I was announced as the candidate for Delhi University Student Union (DUSU) election by ABVP. The announcement came as a surprise to everyone as other senior members of ABVP were vying for the post too. Within no time, the entire campus was festooned with giant cutouts, posters, leaflet that had my ‘hand folded’ picture saying Rajbir Singh - ABVP candidate.
I was teeming with varied emotions - overwhelmed, excited, anxious, all at the same time. I eagerly waited for the celebrations to end, so that I could relieve some of my incessant anxiety by sharing the news with Roshni. However, she kept busy throughout the day. Unlike me, politics didn’t appeal to Roshni at all. She was more inclined towards dramatics and theatre. She had an activist sort of personality. She would sweetly dodge any topic about politics. But she never stopped me from pursuing it, rather on some emotionally low occasions, she had helped me boost my confidence.
Once everyone left the campus, I quickly dialled her number. It was strange that she had not called me even once in the day. Although, I was sure that she was not aware of today’s developments, but she would definitely call to know my whereabouts.
Her number was switched off. I tried a couple more times but in vain. 'This had never happened before,' I thought to myself. I thought of calling after some time, but sleep took over me.
Roshni’s past was a troubled one but bearable. She was brought up in an orphanage in Delhi as her parents were told to be dead. She has worked extremely hard since childhood and this year was her final year of B. Com (Economics) from Delhi University. This has been her past story till now or at least what she was told.
Little did she know that someone from her past was going to resurface into to her life now. Roshni was shocked to see her orphanage warden along with an old lady. This lady's body was draped in an old cluttered saree. Her scraggly body structure revealed more than just her old age–may be a chronic disease. Her face had deep furrows with jaw sucked in and chapped lips. Her hair was loosely tied. Her eyes had a deep sense of regret or sorrow or something very upsetting. Roshni could sense it but stood confused trying to understand what exactly it could mean. The old lady deliberately kept avoiding eye contact with Roshni.
Before Roshni could formally greet her and ask who she was, her warden said, "She is your mother, Roshni!" The warden's tone held no emotions like she was trained to say so.
With that words, Roshni froze. Her mind went blank. Her eyes gaped. She didn't know how to react to such a situation. She started reminiscing her childhood memories where she craved for mother's love. She always wanted to know how having a mother would feel like, and now her mother was in front of her. She was baffled. She didn't know if she should hug her or hate her. She had questions waiting to be answered.
The old lady still avoided eye contact with Roshni. She sat on the chair.
“How are you?” quavered Roshni, finally breaking the silence.
“I’m good,” replied the old lady, looking at the ground. Her voice sounded heavy like she was on the brink of a breakdown. Her tears were on the brim of eyelids, waiting to roll down.
“Where were you all these years? What have you been doing?” Roshni shot the next question without waiting a moment. This question was jostling the most to come out.
A long silence prevailed. The old lady looked uncomfortable, her hands and feet were trembling and the tears were slowly rolling down her eyes. It was as if somebody had stepped on her wounds. But Roshni repeated her question in a demanding tone.
“I was a prostitute!” was her reply. Roshni froze for the second time in the last hour, but the old lady continued.
"I lived on GB Road. When you were a few months old, the pimp threw you outside the orphanage because it was affecting their business. He threatened to kill both of us if I ever dared to bring you back. I wanted you to keep away from that place too; else you would have been forced to carry my evil legacy," reveals the old lady while sobbing heavily. Maybe this was the reason why she was not look into her eyes. Maybe she was afraid that Roshni would be judgmental like other people.
"Now, as I’m old, I cannot sell myself and with old age, I have turned into a liability. Last week, they threw me out," she said as she rubbed her eyes with one end of her cluttered saree.
Roshni looked perplexed. She was trying to gulp down the truth about her mother. That's when her phone beeped signaling a message. She leaned forward to pick it up from the table and opened it. Her distressed expression became even more distressed. She threw the phone back on the table in dismay.
The next morning, I woke up when my mobile crashed on the floor. I guess it was vibrating for long. I bent down to collect all the dismantled pieces restored them and pressed the power button.
There were 10 missed calls from the President of ABVP.
"Oh no...!!!” I was in panic. The President never calls personally and that too these many times. I knew right away that this wasn't good news. I was about to call him when I received his message saying, “Come to the party office, immediately." I could not muster the courage to call and ask for the reason.
On the way to party’s office, I saw my posters ripped into pieces. When I was near the office, I noticed a huge crowd of students shouting slogans against me; some had even draped a saffron cloth over their neck. I was bewildered by the sudden change of events overnight. Even the people who had congratulated me yesterday were present in the group. I jostled among the students to reach the party’ office.
The tension was in the air. All the eyes in the office leered at me, and some lips whispered in one corner.
"Where were you, bastard?" shouted the President, the moment I walked in. The room was full of who’s who of ABVP.
"Who is this girl and what’s your relation with her?" bawled the President again, even before I could answer the first question. He threw few photos of Roshni over the table. I looked at them and could not understand what Roshni had to do with all of this.
"She is my girlfriend," I uttered hesitantly. "But what has she got to do…." and before I could complete, he threw the newspaper across the table. The front page of the newspaper read – ABVP candidate Involved With A Prostitute's Daughter.
"Do you have any respect for party's image? How can you be linked with a prostitute’s daughter?" barked another ABVP member. The moment I heard this, my perception of her changed. I felt ashamed of myself for having a relationship with her. I felt cheated and morally corrupt. Within seconds, I labelled her with her mother’s profession.
"You have to publically disown any relations with this girl," a senior member spoke "or else you have to resign and step down from candidature," he concluded. He handed over a written memo which I was expected to read out before media.
I agreed immediately-to clear my moral conscience. More than the conscience, I was afraid of losing the candidature. I had worked hard and could not let such labels steal it from me. The cloak of conscience was just to hide my selfishness from me.
I read out the memo loud before media and our relationship ended. I never called her or spoke to her and hated her for being a prostitute’s daughter. She called me a few times, but it stopped after a while.
And I lost the elections too, and I hated her more.
It was still dawn when I stepped out of the cab and walked towards the entry gate of the Delhi airport. The early morning February air was pleasantly cold.
I was travelling to Bengaluru to attend a college friend's wedding. It had been four years since we graduated from the same college. This wedding was also going to be a reunion of our batch mates. But the reunion was about to take place right in this queue, in front of the airline counter.
I was almost sure it was her. HE had the same height, complexon and long hair. Curiosity had my eyes glued to her. And then about 60-odd seconds later, when she turned, I knew I was right. Roshni stood two places ahead of me in that queue. We never met after the college farewell. But I ignored her then too.
Past memories resurfaced this time. I felt embarrassed for being judgmental about her. Deep down, my selfishness was the reason which I knew then too but had failed to accept. All these years, I thought of apologizing to her, but never had the courage to look into her eyes again.
I boarded the flight and took my seat. But fate was playing with me. When I reached my seat, I saw Roshni seated on the adjacent seat L1. This time she saw me. Hesitantly, I settled on the seat avoiding looking directly at her. She too, turned her face towards the window.
The mournful silence that prevailed between us suppressed all the other sounds on the flight.
At last, Roshni broke the ice, and I was relieved.
"How are you?" she asked.
"I'm good. How are you? What have you been doing all these years?" I pretended as if nothing had happened.
"I’m good too. I have started an NGO Second Chance to help the prostitutes and their children. I run it with my mother," she rays. She pauses for a moment to notice the expression on my face.
“We help prostitutes in Delhi and other metro cities to relive their lives by engaging them in vocational activities,” she continues.
“What are you doing these days?” she asks. I suspect a little taunt in her tone.
"I'm working with a company in Delhi," I reply.
"And politics…" pop comes another question.
“Well, that ended after elections. I thought I was selected for DUSU candidature on merit, but later on figured that it was merely because I belonged to Gujjar community. Not my work but my caste mattered to them,” I replied mockingly.
"I have lost too much to politics," I say directly looking into her eyes. She knew well what I meant.
"I'm sorry for what I have done to you. I was selfish. I was blinded by my political aspirations." I say, gathering all the courage I could. I did not dare looking into her eyes while I said this.
Silence again prevailed in the air. A few moments later she spoke.
“You know what Rajbir…I’m what I’m today because of you. That day when you read out the memo before media and labeled me as a prostitute, it changed my life. In fact, it directed my path for future” she replies calmly.
“After that day, I was thrown out of the hostel. The boys ogled at me, passed ludicrous remarks, whispered behind my back and my friends left me too. But it didn’t make me any weaker. I’m a stronger and more confident woman now. I started working for the people where I belonged," she continued. Her eyes were on the brim, but she managed to keep the tears from falling.
I was dazed by her revelations. Every time she used the word prostitute, I felt mortified. I realized thst I had done more damage to her than I'd thought. I wanted to hug her tight, but I had lost that privilege long back.
“But that was past, and I have moved on. I don’t have anything against you,” she responded seeing me in discomfort and embarrassment. I still adored her caring nature or maybe she wanted to make me feel better. But whatever it was, I revered her for everything, for the love, courage, confidence she gave me before the unfortunate day and for now for giving a little relief to my unending guilt.
We talked about her future plans for the NGO, my work and other random things. I felt lighter on the inside as we continued talking. We were not as comfortable as earlier, but at least, I could talk to her.
The two-hour flight passed like a breeze. I walked her down till the airport exit. Just before she was about to take a taxi, I asked her, "Can I work for Second Chance?"
She gazed me for a second.
"Sure, you can," she smiled and drove off in the taxi.