The whirring machine stopped and out came the finished product. She hesitated for a minute and then took a step forward to pick it up. She touched it carefully, scared that she might befoul it with her hands and then slowly, a radiant smile enveloped her face. This is what dignity and freedom looked like.
Shanti was like any other boy in her village. When other girls would learn to stitch and weave. she learnt how to climb trees, steal the chociest of fruits from the orchard and swim in the nearby pond. She had a great aim; better than even her brother, Gopal. In catapult contests, she would walk away with the biggest prize; a colour pencil on one day and a handful of toffees on the other.
Today, too, she was excited. The prize on offer was a bagful of cashew nuts, which were sponsored by the fat dawdling sarpanch’s boy, who thought he could beat Shanti. Let him try, she thought and immediately started thinking about her little luxury.
But when the contest was about to start, Shanti was nowhere to be seen; her mates searched for a long time and finally asked her brother to go look for her. Gopal returned and simply said; “Let’s carry on, she won’t come”.
Shanti had disappeared forever…
To make up for the loss of their bubbly daughter, her family brought in a new child. She looked exactly like Shanti; same eyes, same nose and the same face; only without her infectious laughter. In school, ‘the new Shanti’ started disappearing at least 5 times a month like other girls.
Surprisingly, the school master, who would cane any boy who would take a leave without his permission, did not even raise an eyebrow when he was informed that a girl had decided to skip his class. The boys hated it, it wasn’t fair, they would say; but they couldn’t do anything about it.
Shanti hated missing school; but she had no option. Her brother, in a span of six months had shot up 9 inches. He needed milk, her mother would say.
And what about her father’s drinking? Was that necessary. If he would give up his drink for three days every month, she could make it to school. “Shhh,” her mother would say, “He is your father; he has a right to enjoy. Learn to adjust like me.”
The barn was a scary place. Shanti had to go there on days when the cloth hadn’t dried. It was worst during the monsoon. She would sit huddled on the bundles of hay, in the overwhelming stench, amongst the cows and buffaloes who were locked in like her. Her stomach would hurt, but she couldn’t do anything. Finally, tired of trying to blocking her nose with her fingers, Shanti would sleep off. At the end of five days, she would sob uncontrollably as her ordeal was over; but only for now.
All these incidents were flashing in front of her as she was about to address the small gathering of women in front of her. Soon all those sceptical eyes had a faint ray of hope stirring in them. Shanti was back. She decided to go door to door along with her tow of warriors. Some gave in to reason, some pity and some had to be bullied. But she did that and more; just to reach the required amount. With shaking hands, Shanti dialled Mr. Arunachalam’s number and haltingly made here request. She told him about how he came across her and even told about the funds she had managed to accumulate. Her faint smile was enough to calm down the anxious eyes staring at her throughout the conversation.
Within few weeks a truck came along with a group of lady volunteers. Step by step they learnt how to operate the machine and finally the day had arrived. Nobody could even blink from the moment the machine started whirring till it came to a stop. Shanti stepped forward, completely dazed. All she could hear was a round of applause the minute she touched the village’s first sanitary pad, Azadi.
This post has been inspired by Arunachalam Muruganantham TED Talk, which you can check out here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1iWhljEbTE