Wednesday, May 28, 2008


She woke up suddenly as if from a nightmare. She looked around; the streetlight outside her window cast an obscene orange glow on the room. Then, just as suddenly, the silence of her surroundings began to scream inside her head. It was a silence she hadn’t known for a long time. An eerie calm…
For as long as she could remember, her nights had been full of men. Men of every shape and size and kind. They all needed one thing from her and she came with a price tag. The whole thing was nothing more than a business transaction, nothing less than her way of life.
Human rights, exploitation, cruelty, women trafficking, were just big words. They didn’t mean much for a life on the streets. Now, as she stood by the window seeing the road below, she remembered each and every one of those men. Every face, every smell, every touch. It was all imprinted in her memory. But for them, she was just a faceless stranger. A faceless body that was meant for their pleasure. She knew that, and as hard as she tried, it was a fact she could not deny. But neither could she forget them and often they haunted her. Even on those rare times when she was alone at night. But somehow, she didn’t see them as her perpetrators. She never thought that she was being used or wronged. The matter was as simple as fruits on sale, only here, she replaced the fruit.
But the previous day had changed a lot for her. Some NGO, in an attempt to ‘save’ girls like her, got the police to raid her brothel. They were then sent to a home far from the city to be ‘cleansed’ and made fit for claiming a respectable position in society. Calm and sophisticated women, in crisp cotton saris spoke to them for hours on how they sympathized with their condition and how together, they would make the world a better place to live for them.
And then he came. His wife worked with the NGO. He had come to pick her up. His six-year-old daughter sat in the backseat of the car. He came up to each of the sex-workers and politely sympathized with them. As he spoke to her he didn’t notice her staring straight into his eyes. He didn’t remember this face. He didn’t care. He, along with his picture perfect family, drove off in the car. His daughter stared at her through the rear window. She remembered the car, she remembered the backseat…
For the rest of the day she kept thinking about him. She had been with him twice and he didn’t remember her. She had always believed that her way of life had been the best for her. Today he reinforced this belief. And it all seemed fake. The promises the NGO made and the life that was laid out before her. At the dinner table, they spoke about how women should be respected in society. She looked at the food kept before her and thought about his wife. The food would be eaten, whether it was laid out on china dishes at a luncheon or served in a steel bowl at the street corner. There was no difference.
That night she made a decision. She packed her things in a plastic bag and quietly stepped out of the gate. The night air was still and warm, as if someone had switched off the wind. She paused for a moment before walking back towards the city and its lights, and its noise and its people and its men…

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Looking for 'Someday'

Kohima is a quiet town. Quiet on the outside, but look closely, and everyone is screaming within, silently. The manifestations of anger here are many and suppressed. It shows itself in a villager’s dao or maybe in that soldier’s uniform or in as a little child playing in the alley and in those quiet eyes that stare at us from the dingy houses in the bylanes. The anger is all around us in a cry for independence and a daily struggle for survival.
In the middle of this chaos stands the Kohima War Cemetery. It is a gruesome reminder of the battle in Kohima between the Allied forces and the Japanese during the Second World War. The graves of the soldiers of the Allied forces lie in rows next to each other with a simple stone plate to tell the tale of the boy who lies six feet under.
I use the word ‘boy’ for a reason. The soldiers were no older than twenty-five. Most were much younger. Lives cut short by a pointless war in which all nations were destroyed in victory or defeat. As I walked past the epitaphs, one in particular caught my attention. As I read it, it felt like something within me was sinking and falling away, leaving behind a void. A void with a question. A 22-year-old soldier’s parents had inscribed on his headstone:

“Our Beloved Son, gave his life so that we may live,
Someday we will understand.”

The question wasn’t whether that ‘someday’ ever came. The question is that even today in Kohima and so many other parts of the world, parents are still looking for ‘someday’. At that moment nothing matters- patriotism, politics, war, peace, independence, courage, victory, defeat…hollow words. All that mattered was that a boy had lost his life. I began to wonder what his last moment could have been like. That one last painful, painless moment. The pride of having fallen at war? Or the regret of a life unfinished? Could anyone ever know?
My eyes welled-up for a stranger who lay there below the ground. Why? Because his reality was no different than mine. A cruel irony, as I stood by a soldier’s grave, a convoy of military trucks passed by on the road below. There were boys there too. A fragile boundary between the soldiers above the ground and those below it, even sixty-three years later. Sixty-three years after a boy’s parents wished to come to terms with his death, we are still struggling to come to terms with our lives.

Someday we will understand