E Zine of KV Pattom published by the Library

The Girl by the Lamp Post

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2017 at 8:41 am

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Darkness. It was pitch black all around. A man going for a late night stroll in Privet Street would be accompanied by nothing but the sound of crickets. A cool breeze was blowing. At the stroke of midnight, I heard a scream. A scream of complete agony…

Starting off like this, you would think mine is a ghost story which it is not. Hi! My name is Swapnika Priya. Sixteen years old. I was a very self- centered girl and unlike all the other music and love crazy idiots of my age, all I wanted at the moment was a gaming laptop. Mom had promised to get me one. She was not at home but had gone to Mumbai to visit my dad and would return the next day. Now resuming what I started with.

I was all alone in the Apartment. Except for my pet cat, it was just me and Pokémon Go. At midnight exactly, I did hear that scream. It was one of agony, fear. I felt myself getting paralyzed with fear. What was that? Surely, it was the scream of a girl. The feminist inside me asked me to go to her rescue. But the terrified, scaredy cat inside me urged me to get under my blanket. It was a debate between my ‘bold girl’ self and my ‘I’m so scared of cockroach’ self in which the bold girl won. I gathered up all my courage and went out of my apartment. I was quite pleased to see that the scream of the girl had disturbed the sleeps of my neighbors and they were all coming out of their apartments. Good, so I was not imagining things. I swiftly joined the small group of people going out to see where that voice came from.

As I came to the grounds, I noticed that there was a small crowd gathered around the lamp post. I pushed my way through the crowd and there, I saw this girl who taught me, or rather, made me realize so many things in just one night.

Sitting under the lamp post was a girl, pretty one, maybe of around my age. She was very pale. Anyone could say with just one look at her face that she was petrified with fear. A thousand questions popped into my head. But the self- centered, poor creature inside me prevented me from voicing them. Fortunately, Ravi uncle stepped forward. “Who are you girl? Came to steal or what? Huh?”

Till that moment, her eyes had shown nothing but fear and agony. But now, the damage was done. Her eyes welled up and she began to cry. This aroused sympathy in a few but “tell us what you came for”, “pagal kaheen ka”, “just stop crying, will you?” was all that could be heard for the next few minutes.

And me? I was getting sick of that business. Now that had got to stop right? A girl appearing in the middle of the night, first screaming, then crying, saying nothing, what was going on? Suddenly, out of irritation, the ‘bold mini me’ grew bolder. “Sister, will you tell me what the matter is?” My tone was not one of command, not one of anger, not one of sympathy. It was a mix of, say, 50% empathy, 20% encouragement and 30 % command. And guess what, it worked. It was as though the girl was waiting for another girl to speak to her. She began her story…

Her name was Meenal. She was a girl of a tribal community. She was all alone in the world except for her father who had passed away a week ago. From the very next day onwards, she was constantly disturbed by many men, most of them drunk, whistling and knocking at her doors. When she thought she couldn’t stand it any longer, she had run away from her place until a few hours ago, she reached Privet Street. She had screamed earlier as she had been chased by a stray dog.

That was it. I was shocked to see that a few people were moving away to their houses as if what Meenal had told was the story of a TV serial. What were they thinking? “Poor little girl, had no food for days, no place to go, may God bless and help her? Huh?” and people say India is developing!?

There was silence for a few seconds. When I felt certain that no one was going to break it, I stepped forward or rather, ‘bold mini me’ pushed me and I heard myself saying, “Come in sister, I’ll get you something to eat”. “If anyone in this crowd wants to help in seeing the smallest difference to the violence against women, try to help this one”. Wow! I said that to the crowd? Cool! ‘Speak your mind, Swapnika’, someone said from inside me. I said, “You will be safe in my apartment until some of the so called “grownups” turn up”.

There were a few more whispers- “This girl’s gone mad”, “This Meenal can very well be a thief”, “What’s with this one now?” I couldn’t care less. At least this girl made me realize that there was something more to life than video games and gaming laptops. There were much less fortunate girls and boys of my age, crippled by the hardships of life. Of course, mom wouldn’t scold me for helping someone, I hoped then. My only priority at that moment was to make Meenal comfortable till mom was back. But as we were walking to the building, I noticed that we had followers. Cool. So, keeping apart the narrow minded fools who put everything on poor God’s shoulders, there are still people who can see the pain of others…

There was a small crowd at my apartment that night, where a few hours ago, it was just me and my video games. We didn’t sleep that night. We fed her, she washed and changed and we talked to her, more about herself. At the crack of dawn, there came the van, someone had arranged the previous night. A few grownups went with her to admit her to the orphanage nearby. As Meenal entered the van, she turned back and smiled at me. At that moment, I felt that nothing was more beautiful than that sweet curve which fought its way through tears of love and gratitude. It said everything. How grateful she was to me and the others, for not letting her to be a victim of violence or maybe, death…

My conscience was very clear when my poor mother arrived the next day with my gaming laptop, of which, I took a photograph and put on OLX for sale for it was a night that changed my life or, to be more precise, my attitude towards life. For me, life was nothing but me and my video games. The thing I treasured the most was my phone. I think as I write ‘Mobile phones were invented so as to save peoples’ time’. This is probably the most ironic sentence I have ever heard. While there are hundreds of Meenals in India pleading for help, a larger section of the Indian society are busy enjoying.

Now, coming to the conclusion of my story, Meenal was safe and happy ever after. Mom was shocked to death when she heard what I did when she was away for just one night. She promised that we would go and visit her one day. And me? I am a changed person now. I have put serious limits to my video gaming, for the youth of India has many other things to concentrate upon. My two inner selves don’t debate anymore for whenever I feel something is not going in the way it is expected to go; I always let my bold inner self overpower. All because of ‘that girl by the lamp post’.

by Nyma Nazreen, X D

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