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pandies' corner

Children of the Nithari: Dhaani

Written in Hindustani and translated to English by Kiran Mishra

Kiran Mishra is 22 years old. She was just 7 when she started coming for pandies’ workshops immediately after the Nithari pogrom. A fabulous performer in all senses of the word she has been in all Saksham productions with pandies’, including a lead role in the performance at The American Center, Delhi. She has done her MA in political science. Aspiring to be a teacher, she is currently doing her B.Ed. She also has a senior diploma in Bharatnatyam dance. Central to the teaching programme at Saksham, she started teaching there after high school and currently she is both a teacher and the Co-ordinator at Saksham. She says, “I love to teach these kids specially those who want to get educated but are unable to because of different reasons. I think when we teach one kid, we teach one whole generation.”

Dhaani

I had come to Kota, Rajasthan for some company work but suddenly I had to leave for Delhi for an urgent meeting in office. Train tickets were not available and so I decided to take the inter-state bus to Delhi.

A small box like ticket house had been constructed at the bus stand from where I bought the ticket and boarded the bus to Delhi. The bus was full, people had left their belongings on the seats and not even one seat was without something on it. The next bus was at 4 am, too late. So, I knew there was no choice but to take this one, the last one that night. I entered the driver’s cabin thinking I will ask him where the earliest seat would get vacant. I was surprised that the seat next to the conductor was empty, nobody had noticed it. I quickly occupied that seat.

Settling I realised that the condition of the bus was bad, really bad. But well, I had no choice. Soon the driver started blowing the horn to indicate the bus was ready to leave. Hearing that people rushed to occupy their seats. The bus started moving. It sounded like a bronchitis patient. A girl aged 24-25 came and stood beside me. I started to ignore her, thinking I might be asked to give my seat to her as she was a woman. And as a man, it was only courteous to offer my seat. Without looking at her I could feel her staring at me, she kept doing that for a while and slowly she said, “This seat is mine.” I finally turned to her and raised my head and saw that her face was covered with a dupatta. She repeated, “This seat is mine.”

The bus was moving at a hesitant speed. I kept looking at her, the dupatta slipped a bit and half her face became visible. I could see she was beautiful. Though only her nose and lips were visible, I could estimate her beauty. I was still staring trying to estimate her face when she repeated that that was her seat.

“Now I can’t see how it is your seat when I am sitting in it”? I retorted finally. She continued in a very polite and sweet voice, “Yes this seat is mine since I kept a handkerchief on it and went to the washroom.”

I looked carefully at the seat, and yes there was a hanky, a white hanky, lurking in the corner. Irritated but conceding her point, I took a long breath and stood up to give her the seat. It felt like she grabbed my arm and then she said, “Hey, why are you getting up? Just shift a little and we can both sit together, any way there is no vacant seat in the bus.” And with that, she sat down next to me. I felt slightly embarrassed at the closeness, but she was seated quite comfortably.

The bus was moving slowly, as if protecting itself from the big potholes on the road.

It was November, and the chilly wind was blowing through the broken glass window. But the touch of her body started to thrill me to the core of my being. We sat on the single seat, clinging together lest we fall off the seat. I felt we were merging together. Her dupatta was raised more now, and I could see her whole face. This is what they call an “apsara[1]”. She was unbelievably beautiful, her nose, her eyes and her lips were like rose petals and the teeth like pearls between. Travel with such a beautiful girl was double fun and there I had been cursing the ride and the bus.

Every road bump would propel us in the air and then we would land almost on top of each other. A couple of times we almost fell off but in a second, she would be sitting, fully composed as if nothing had happened. Looking at me, she enquired, “Are you uncomfortable? Are you experiencing any trouble?”

“No, no, not at all,” I said reassuring. She started looking straight into my eyes and asked: “I think you have not recognised me”.

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I looked at her carefully. Her face clicked somewhere. And I was wondering where I had seen this face. She said in a very soft tone, “You have forgotten me.”

She said this in a way that I felt heartbroken and kept staring at her and thinking for some time but could not remember her. Avoiding her, I looked at my wristwatch. It was 10 pm, an hour since we started. She had turned the other way. Angry and upset at my not giving an answer? She was looking outside, and my mind was all in a mess.

Suddenly a word jumped into my mind: “Dhaani.”

I suddenly blurted out: “Dhaani?”

As soon as I said that the glow returned to her face, her eyes were happy, and a beautiful smile floated on her lips. “Too late,” she said, “But at least you have recognised me.”

“Hey, how are you here Dhaani?” I asked.

“Just understand,” she said, “I have come here to this bus only to meet you.”

“So, you have learnt how to joke too,” I remarked. “I still remember how you would get irritated over small things.” She looked at me with imploring eyes. Her eyes were raising questions and the four years she was in my life came across me.

This is about the time I was staying in Delhi to study. I needed money. So, along with studying, I wanted to give tuitions. A friend, who did tuitions, gave me her address and asked me to go to her home. I met Dhaani the first time there. I was giving tuitions to her younger brother in the 8th grade. Both her parents were working and she had done her graduation and was preparing to study further. There was a servant, but he was usually missing. Three of us would be in the house and Dhaani would give me tea and sometimes some breakfast. We became friends and I advised her with her preparations too. I did not realise when Dhaani fell in love with me. Dhaani was not her real name but she wanted me to call her that. Things were going fine but then something happened, and we could not meet again.

Dhaani was from a Rajasthani family. And one day, her maternal uncle arranged a marriage proposal for her and I too reached at the same time. Her family members were talking among themselves, so I went to another room and started teaching her brother. After a while, I was feeling thirsty. As usual I called out to Dhaani by name, and asked her for a glass of water. This created the trouble. Dhaani’s uncle came and glared at me. I could not understand. He roared, “Who did you call Dhaani?”

I pointed at her.

“Do you know the meaning?” he asked.

“No”, I said, “Maybe a nickname.”

Realising I was innocent, her uncle backed off, and the elders explained to me that the word meant “wife” and is used as an intimate address for one’s spouse. I could only stare at Dhaani who had tears in her eyes. Her father told me firmly that my services were not required anymore.

Four years later, I had never thought I would ever meet Dhaani in this rickety old bus in the middle of the dark night. Dhaani was shaking my shoulders, “Where are you lost?”

I blurted a series of questions: “Just remembering the old times. You got married, didn’t you? What does your husband do? Why are you travelling alone?”

She asked me “Did you get married?”

“No,”I answered.

“Why? You should have,” she responded.

We had left the town behind. We were in the jungle. Trees and sand. It was dark, the lights of the bus were weak and the visibility was poor. People were asleep in the bus. Maybe to keep awake, the driver started singing aloud a film song. His voice broke the silence.

I asked her again, “Why are you travelling alone?”

She said with a heavy heart, “I am on a journey that never ends, just one wish to see you and meet you once.”

“What nonsense!” I said, “Please answer my question.”

“You want to know where is my husband? Husband is one a girl like me falls in love with once, I am his Dhaani and never again will anyone settle in my heart. But you will not understand these things.” She took my hand in both her hands, “Swear to me that you will get married and have a family and a home.” With that she got up to leave.

I said, “Where are you going to go in this forest?”

“It’s a forest for you,”she said in a low voice, “For us it is our new home, we’ll never meet again but keep your promise.”

Saying this she got off the moving bus. I was stunned and stopped the driver, “A girl just got off the moving bus and you did not stop for her?”

The driver looked amused, a bit irritated, “Which girl?” he asked.

“The one sitting next to me, the one who I was talking to,” I was almost shouting.

He chuckled, “Near you. You were sitting all by yourself and yes you have been talking loudly to yourself but we get people like you, it doesn’t bother me.”

I craned my neck out of the bus and saw a smiling Dhaani waving to me. I was sweating despite the chill. “Dhaani, why did you do this?” I looked at the handkerchief in the corner, picked it, it had Dhaani written in the corner. Squeezing it tight, I cried. The bumpy potholes could not measure up to the pits in my heart.


[1] nymph

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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pandies' corner

Children of Nithari: A Will To Be Human

Based on a real life story by Sachin Sharma, translated from Hindustani by Diksha Lamba

Sachin Sharma joined the pandies’ workshops when they started there in 2006 and has been among the most consistent ‘performers’ there. He calls himself a dreamer who harboured a secret desire to be an actor as a child. He found an English word to describe his shyness when he joined the school run by the NGO, Saksham, in 2003 — “introvert”. The support of the two organisations helped him survive the difficult times following the Nithari pogrom. He resolved to not give up on his passion for the arts while doing what was necessary, financially, to aid his family. His family also encouraged and supported his interest in acting and singing. The onset of the pandemic left him unemployed as the company he worked for shut down under economic losses brought on by the lockdowns. He used that time to finish a Masters’ degree in English Literature. He sings Haryanavi songs along with his elder brother and works for a multi-national company at present. He is also pursuing a course in Event Management as that area would combine his passion for acting and entertainment with the capability to earn for the family. 

A Will To Be Human

In this world brimming with desires, humans have high expectations from life. Some look up to others, some to God and some look within to find the human strength and courage to achieve those. All of us do know that in this world full of hopes and desires no one has it all. 

This is a story of the human will to resolve to find happiness and purpose in life despite many hardships. Here we have a boy who was dealt a bad fate, you could say, because of a disease but it was made worse by a human error, yet he refused to accept defeat.

Ankit was born in a small village called Nithari in Uttar Pradesh to a middle class family. In this village, which sat uncomfortably as a necessary evil in the heart of Noida City, children are born with desires higher than the skyscrapers and malls towering on top of their village and desires deeper than the overflowing drains and sewage pipes under their feet. 

The fragrance of freshly made sweets greeted the guests who had visited the family to welcome Ankit into this hardened world. Ankit’s family could not stop smiling and distributed gifts and clothes to near and dear ones. These smiles would be wiped off their faces soon. Small villages like Nithari are treated as necessary evil by the encircling city.  The children born here have as precarious an existence as the village itself. They may or may not find the right kind of medical care at the right time. 

At the height of festivities and celebrations, Ankit’s body started to burn with high fever. He was immediately rushed to Mandiki hospital where the doctor, unfortunately or just out of sheer habit, was not on duty. A compounder (close to quacks with no medical education) gave Ankit the wrong injection in doctor’s absence. Polio preyed upon Ankit’s small body and he lost the use of both his legs. This resulted in a lifelong dependency on crutches. 

The family felt crushed with helplessness. The government’s polio awareness campaign had not yet crossed the residential complex across the street to this village yet. The cramped lanes and the aroma of overflowing drains make it harder for public awareness campaigns to reach such small places. This smallness was not to define who Ankit would become as he grew up. Such is the strength and power of the human desire to live and to live with dignity. 

When Ankit started school, he made many friends. They were supportive and sympathetic about his situation. The thought that he could not jump around and play like other kids in school kept nagging Ankit. He gradually resigned to what fate had in store for him. Something else – that was more powerful – also grew out of his handicap. He started focusing on the talents he did have. His heart and mind took up the challenges life had strewn in his path. 

Even when he was just a child, Ankit had a sharp mind and a keen interest in sports and education. Unable to play with friends, he spent most of his time studying. He earned a postgraduate degree and simultaneously started to work harder on his interest in music.

He made it a point to spare enough time from his hectic coursework to practice music at home with his younger siblings. With a desire to establish himself an artist, he picked up musical instruments like dholak (drums) and harmonium, and started singing. 

He managed to take long strides ahead with his brothers by his side. He made considerable progress day by day and released his first Haryanavi song on YouTube along with his younger brother in 2018. The song received much love and appreciation online. Ankit has never looked back since that day. He carries on singing. Many of his songs are played during wedding festivities and are famous on YouTube.

Ankit’s will power had the courage to change his weakness into his strength. This story is about all those people who find their inner strength when life gets tough. People who accept defeat should take inspiration from Ankit’s story. If you are willing to work hard, it is possible to make a mark in this world. 

This is my elder brother’s story. You can find this name, Titu Sharma Nithariya, on any social media platform today. The boy fought against hopelessness and followed his passion against many odds to start his own company, TSN Records. I write in the hope that, like me, you will find inspiration to dream big even in moments of crisis. My brother has been my inspiration and both of us have decided to contribute to the world of singing. We hope to inspire others through our art.

Diksha Lamba is among the senior members of pandies’, having over 15 years of experience of performing (acting and workshopping) for the group. Coming from a background of studying and teaching English Literature, Diksha is now pursuing Law and teaching a course module of Theatre and Law at NLSIU, Bangalore.  She has been associated with Saksham, Nithari from the time that pandies’ started working there and has a 15 year association with the place and with Sachin.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL