Story 14: Chal meri Dhanno
Babita woke up at first light and stretched out her tiny frame. Despite 8 hours of deep sleep, every muscle and every joint in her body was sore. She went to the washroom and splashed water on her face. She had been wearing the same set of clothes for 6 days now. But it didn’t matter, for the worst was behind her.
“Le kha le, alu ka paratha,” said the petrol pump wale bhaiyya. “Tujhe taakat ki zaroorat hai.”
105 kms to Darbhanga, but 995 from Gurgaon. That’s how far she had come. As Babita sipped sweet, milky tea she said a prayer to Hanumanji. Who had given her the strength to take up this impossible task. When she first told her mother the audacious plan, Munni Devi was shocked. Arey pagli, yeh toh na ho payega. But there was no alternative.
No bus, no train. People were saying, wait a while longer. Magar kab tak? The landlord was threatening to throw them – and their meagre belongings – out on the road. Na re, better to leave before that, Babita said to her mother. You don’t worry, I will figure out something. For in these 4 months, the 15-year-old had learnt to be resourceful.
When she first came to Gurgaon from the village, Babita was overwhelmed. Badi badi building, alag tarah ke log. She had come to help Baba, after his horrible accident. The owner of the auto rickshaw refused to contribute a single rupee for his treatment. So Amma took a loan for Rs 15,000 from her SHG group.
“Dhyaan se kharach karna,” she told Babita. Though it need not have been said.
Babita quickly realised the big city was expensive. Medicines, food, rent – they all swallowed up money. So in the afternoons, Babita started working as a maid in the nearby high-rise building. After all, she was an expert in ghar ka kaam. But on March 25, everything changed. Her employer called her and said, kal se mat aana.
Why? Ek nayi bimaari phail rahi hai, said the jeep with a loudspeaker. As if that was something to be afraid of, Babita thought. In the village, one or another bimaari was always spreading. Anyway, the long and short of it was, she was stuck in Gurgaon. Had Baba been well, they could have started walking home, like everyone else. Alas…
When Munni Devi got an SMS saying she had got Rs 500 credit in her Jan Dhan account, Babita knew what she had to do. Gathering her last bit of savings, she made the purchase from a neighbour. Baba was aghast when he was told what to do. Log mujh par hasenge, was his worry. Besides, how would this frail little girl manage this superhuman feat? But she had.
“Chal meri Dhanno!” Babita said under her breath. Don’t let me down today.
With only her dupatta, to shield her face from the sun, Babita gathered strength, for the last leg of the journey. That day, she dreamed of her future. She dreamt of going back to school. Maybe even become a teacher. And one day, in the distant future, Babita imagined herself, sitting in an aeroplane. Ab kab aur kaise hoga, yeh to pata nahin…
When they finally reached Chamoli at 9 pm, the sarpanch (wearing a mask) personally welcomed father and daughter. For news had spread, about Babita Kumari cycling 1100 kms, from Gurgaon to Bihar, with her father riding pillion. A father who had tears in his eyes. For he remembered that long-ago day when he cursed himself for being the unlucky man with 3 daughters and no son.
“You are my Shravan Kumar,” he said to Babita in the quarantine centre. The little girl’s heart swelled with pride. What more could she ask for?
A week later, Babita Kumari received a call from the President of the Cycling Federation of India. What stamina, what determination!
“Aapko hum national team mein shaamil karna chahte hain… uske liye Dilli mein trial hoga.”
They had even promised to send an air ticket! But deep inside, Babita knew, what she really wanted to do.
Chal meri Dhanno! Le chal mujhe school.