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A Girl Named Hope

By Raahen Sinha

The start of her day went as generic as possible. Asha woke up to her phone’s alarm- a small screen phone which was bought in the bracket of three to four thousand rupees. There were a lot of budget cuts in the family due to the pandemic gentrifying her father’s job. However, her mother was an optimist, she saw the light even in the darkest of situations- and so she provided her with a gift that Asha desired, despite knowing the consequences on the family’s funds.

She saw her mother, who was getting ready for the day. She nodded to her daughter- gesturing towards the dal-chawal kept on the table, which wasn’t the typical breakfast food. Asha observed her mother putting the dupatta over her shoulder wound- something that was a result of a bludgeoning injury- Asha had seen enough crime shows on the tv to know. Her mother gave one last smiling look to her daughter that she was all to accustomed with, the forced smile to see her through the rest of the day.

And that’s when she decided to follow her mother.

She didn’t even change clothes. She grabbed a spare pallu from her closet and descended from the chowl she was living in. She was greeted by a swarm full of people in masks as usual- frequenting the place to do their menial labour. The government had realised how futile the social distancing phase was- so they instead emphasized on developing breathable masks- ones that filtered even the densest of air.

Asha however, did not see it that way. It was now difficult to read people- about what they were thinking beneath the mask. The expressions she missed all so much, the smile as her kaka met her, or the frustration her friend Shairee had when she was caught in luka chuppi. It felt like she was in a city of drones, faceless people grown numb after the pandemic.

She kept her vision on her mother, with enough distance to be tracked but not so close enough to be identified. It felt exciting for some reason. She watched as her mother talked to the istriwala, before heading off on the main street. She saw her mother get into one of the small- van like buses. Asha immediately called for an auto, demanding the driver to tail the bus. Autos were strictly used for emergencies, since bus fare was much cheaper, but after noticing the wound, she did know that this was a necessity.

She watched as the auto took her through the decade’s reflection on the streets. Pillars of the new metro line lay abandoned by the pandemic. A line of smokers hiding as soon as the occasional police car rolled by. The line of fast food joints, each of them modelled to only serve takeout’s- governments new policy. Asha sighed as she reminisced her childhood days, when her late father used to take her on these ‘special’ trip to McDonalds every month- and she could buy any burger on the menu. Anything. Below two hundred rupees of course.

She watched as the bus stopped by a building, a skyscraper she recognised. It was a newly constructed building whose residents had caught the disease at the onset of the pandemic, when the threat was much more serious. The place had been vacated completely, each investor backing out from it, with the place becoming completely abandoned.

Asha went on ahead when someone grabbed her hand. It was an old woman, her clothes dirty like the gutter, her hair dishevelled completely and her body malnutritioned. Her eyes reflected utter despair and pathetic pity, and Asha realised that she was so focused on her mother that she did not even see her immediate surroundings.

Tents and camps holding numerous beggars had been set up beneath the building. Asha realised that they were all victims of unemployment- the people who failed to secure or maintain a job once the pandemic hit. The numbers were so shear that it was almost debilitating.

Asha watched as a few street urchins looked her way. She closed her eyes and reluctantly freed herself from the old woman’s grasp- realizing if she paid the woman, she would have to pay for the kids too. She tried her best to ignore the woman’s unintelligible groans as she foraged ahead, trying her best to maintain herself.

Finally, she came across her mother, who entered another smaller building, the security greeting her before let her pass in. She tried to follow her too, but the guard stopped her.

Ae, kya kaam hai?’ He asked.

Asha said nothing, instead pointing inside. After a moment he understood, nodding at the teenager.

‘Accha, toh tu nayi maal hai.’ He said, ‘Kam umar ki lagti hai, par theek hai. Jaldi jaa andar, sardaar ruke hai.’

Asha nodded. The guard had just given her the permission to enter.

She continued to walk inside. The inside of the dim, shadowy apartments was converted into quarters with no doors. Instead each entrance was covered with a makeshift curtain, not too transparent to see what was going on inside but was not that opaque either to not see humans shifting behind the curtains. She occasionally heard moans behind some of these rooms, an action she requited by putting her hands over her ears- ignoring the very evident sounds.

Asha finally came to a hall like room- the walls discoloured and the façade seemingly looking like they were breaking down. Her mother talked to a middle aged man, who was previously talking to a bunch of other women in saree. He flicked his hand and the women in saris left the room, passing by her, giggling. Asha hid herself, trying to evade the old man’s eyes but then she overheard the women talking.

‘Kamala to gayi ab.’ One of them giggled to the other

Kamala? It was her mother’s name.

Asha did not understand. Her mother had told her that the masters had allowed her to work back at their place, and all this time Asha had thought that she had gotten a new job- a new job somewhere else since the masters had shifted too. But as the realization slowly crept on her Asha broke into cold sweat, mentally denying anything that the situation was cooking up for her.

She watched as the man began arguing with her mother. Their debate turning intense. Asha wished to hear them but they were just out of earshot, and with the women in the nearby quarters doing their business very loudly, she found a very hard time to concentrate.

However, she didn’t have to wait long for hell to break lose.

She watched in utter shock as the man slapped her mother, who collapsed on the ground. The incident took her by shock, but then he took out a gun from his belt and was about to aim it on her mother.


Asha charged the man, and grabbed the hands of the consternated assaulter. They wrestled for a bit before the mother joined in, all of them trying to pry the gun from his hands. In the ensuing struggle, they heard the sound of a bullet go off. And then the man collapsed on the ground, unmoving.

Asha fell on her knees, panting. She let the moment sink in, however harrowing that it was. It didn’t take long for the scene to be filled with numerous other women, who looked at Asha and Kamala in surprise. Among them a woman stepped forward, someone older than the rest, her expression reminiscent of someone past their prime.

Tu… Asha?’ She asked

Asha looked at her, nodding on the question regarding her name.

She sighed, before looking at the man. She headed over to him and dug into his pockets, trying to find something. She then got a hold of his wallet, from which she removed a bunch of notes- many, many notes. She then headed back towards Asha.

‘Yeh le.’ She said.

Asha, still dazed, shook her head.

‘Nahi, main yeh-’

Aur kuch option bhi nahi hai tere pas.’ She said, still holding the money, ‘Teri ma ko pakad.Yeh le aur bhaag. Bahut dur bhag.’

Asha looked at the money- an amount she had never seen in a lifetime. She took another deep breath before taking the money.

Shukriya.’ She said, before she held her mother- who seemed to go in a catatonic like state, ‘Chalo, ma, chalo.’

She gently picked her mom and exited the room, the women making way for her. Some led her down another path- one that didn’t go through the security guard. As she wet through the building, she came across a few stifled half-dressed men, who looked at her in confusion- but said nothing.

Asha finally exited the building, clasping the hand of her mother’s- which was still shaky from the encounter. She knew this was the time when she had to stand closest to her mother. And support her for the life to come, as she heard police sirens blazing in a distance- knowing that she was never safe from danger.

By Raahen Sinha

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