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by Amita Thakur
(Gurgaon, India)

In the slums of the far-flung area of Noida, where she lived, the sunrays had to jostle to penetrate. Even the pre-dawn glow failed to reach her 'JHUGGI.'(A small cell of the slum) She always woke up to her father's scream, and that day was no different. 'Billoori, jaldi utth ja, bhains ki tararah soot rahat hai raat din,' (Billori, get up fast, you keep sleeping like a buffalo day and night) her father screamed. She staggered towards the 'chullha'(hearth) as his scream echoing in her head.

For Billoori, dawn would break the clouds with lighting the coal in the chullha. Since the age of ten, she has been practicing making more than twenty rootis (bread) and a sabji (vegetable) every morning for her parents and her three brothers, who all were daily wagers. She would meticulously wrap their day's meal in the newspaper, keeping her surge of desire under the wrap!

That day when everyone left for the work, she walked about two kilometers to have a glimpse of a nearby school. It was her earnest desire to be inside the walls of the classroom, but she never even got the opportunity to be the other side of the school gate.

With each passing year, her burning desire to attend the school was dying like an ember. Though her parents didn't remember when precisely she was born, as per their vague calculation, she was almost thirteen. Girls of her age were in high school; this thought clouded her gaze. But she didn't stop gazing at boys and girls in blue knickers, skirts, and white shirts. Red ribbons in girls' braids were her most favorite accessory. She often dreamt of accessorizing her tan-brown hair with the red ribbon. The school bell clanked loudly, and everyone rushed inside the gate. Clamor outside the school gate ended, but the cacophony inside Billoori's mind became fierce.

Why can't I go to school? Why my parents and everyone treat me like shit? Why am I born to do chullha-chunka? (Kitchen work) Why they named me Billoori? As she was talking to herself in her head, her wretched childhood memories fogged her mind.

Her parents along with her three elder brothers moved to Noida form Mirzapur when she was in the lap of her mother. In the dearth of food and livelihood, they abandoned their farms and village house to settle in the slum near Noida.

She was not even three when her parents would leave her along with her brothers to fight hunger, pricks of flies and insects, the harshness of weather and multiple bacterial and viral infections. Soon her brothers picked up part-time jobs, and her drudgery increased many folds. She started cleaning utensils and filth around her at the age of five; as she turned ten, she was well equipped to make meals for the whole family as well. Due to heavy workload, loneliness and monotony she succumbed to torpor. She would often spend her entire day in the darkness of her jhuggi.

She hardly had any friend in the vicinity, though a man from their village, Jhamun, often visited as he lived nearby. When she reached back that day, Billoori saw Jhamun, who was ready to leave for work. She rushed to him and clung him hard, bursting into tears. She asked, 'Chacha, ham kahye iskool nahi ja sakte? Sarkari iskool mein zyaada paisa bhi nahi lagta? Ham ghar ka sab kaam khatam ker ke jayeinge, amma aur pitaji hamein kahe nahi bhejte? Panch log kamate hain, ek ko nahi padha sakte? (Uncle, why can't I go to school? Government schools don't charge too much money; I will finish all my chores and then go. Why my parents do not send me to school? Five of them earn, why can't they educate one?)

Jhamun, who was preying on her for long, wasted no time to grab the opportunity. He embraced her tight, pressing her bosom. Tentacles of his lust grabbed her hard. He took her inside the jugghi and asked, 'Ka hua Billoori? Kahe itna pareshan ho? Tumka iskool jane ki kya jaroorat, tum toh ek dam khobsoort ho. Tumhari billi ankhein, safeed chamari, bhoore baal! Hai koi tumsa khoobsorat puri bastai mein?' (What happened Billoori, why are you so hassled? Why do you need to go to school, you are so beautiful- your brown eyes, your fair skin and golden hair! You are the most beautiful girl in the entire slum) he said caressing her gently.
Billoori knew nobody would understand her painful dilemma, so she decided to remain quiet. But Jhamun's perverted desires raised many folds within minutes. He tried to commiserate her by sliding his fingers over her bust, buttocks, and waist. She felt strange, but Jhamun succeeded to put Billoori at ease for a while. He lifted her in his arms and flopped her into
the charpai (charpa). He slithered his fingers inside her kurta, to feel her teats. Billoori was buxom, but her nipples were still budding. He couldn't resist and pulled off her kurta to grab her wobbly bosom. Billoori resited, she failed to understand what he was trying to do. 'Ham tumko dikha rahein hai tum kitni sunder dikhti ho, iskool mein kya rakha hai, tum roz subah hamare pass aa jaya karo, ham tumko sab padha deinge,' (I am trying to show you how beautiful you are, why do you want to go to school, come to me everyday, I will teach you everything) said Jhamun.

He grew desperate, taking her sex into his mouth; he freed himself and absorbed her entirely until he relieved himself. Billoori witnessed the whole act as a mute spectator - she felt drained, hollow and ripped. Jhamun dismounted and wore his clothes hastily, saying, 'Kisi ko kucho nahi batana, hum tumka roz milne ayienge, aur kal ek kitab bhi lete ayinge tumhare liye. Utho, kapara pahen lo, ham subah phir milnege.' (Don't tell anyone about this incident, I will come to meet you every day, tomorrow I will also get a book for you. Get up and wear your clothes, I will see you tomorrow morning).

Billoori glanced at her body- blood oozing out from her genitals, bite marks all over her body, and the sultry smell of sweat was emanating from every bit of her skin. She lazily gathered her clothes, wondering what had happened?

Jhamun started visiting her almost every day after her entire family left for work. Sex with Jhamun became a routine for Billoori, like cleaning utensils and lighting chullha. Whereas, Jhamun was a perfect psychopath-he knew what to say, where to touch, and how to do the right things. He merely controlled her like the most potent predator, and Billoori surrendered like the most vulnerable prey. By and by she grew numb to his psychopathic mistreatment, and took refuge in denial.

And finally, after a few months, one day after having sex with Billoori, he started narrating an unlikely story, 'Billoori, ham tumhari ye billi se khobsoorath ankein hamesha yaad rakheinge. Kal ham gaon wapis ja rahein hain, shayad wapis na ayein. Apna dhyan rakhna.' (Billoori, I will never forget your deep-brown eyes. Tomorrow I am going back to my village, perhaps forever. Take care of yourself) Jhamun, who was a great manipulator and a convincing liar - idealized her, devalued her and wanted to discard her for his progression. His revelation didn't jolt Billoori at all. She laid half naked on the charpai (charpa), felt relieved deep inside her heart.

As Jhamun left, there was nothing much to enliven her life. She dragged herself towards the school. She kept sitting under the tree until mid-noon when she started feeling giddy and nauseated.

Next few weeks were terrible for her, as she felt low, drowsy and frail. She told her mother many times, but she never paid heed to her complaint. Instead, she always criticized her for not doing her chores satisfactorily.
'Billoo, charpai pakar ker beethe rahegi ya kuch kaam bhi karige, (Billoo, will you keep sitting in charpa or will do some work?) screamed her mother one morning. 'Amma, hamka chakkar aa raha hai, ham nahi uth sakeinge,'(Mother, I am feeling giddy, I am unable to get up) she replied. Billoori’s brother pulled her hair and dragged her to the floor. She had no option but to wail sitting next to the chullha.

Months passed, Billoori withdrew herself into her shell completely. She felt strange physiological changes in her body- her belly protruding, bosom enlarged, firm teats and strange fluttery sensation inside the abdomen. But she didn't know with whom to share? One night while she was cooking for the rest of her family, she overheard her mother saying,'Bhains ke tahar phailti jaat hai Billo, na kaam ki na kaaj ki, 'Mheena' bhi na chadha abhi tak.' (Billo is growing fat like a buffalo, as she has no work. She hasn't even started with her menses yet.')
'Mheena kya hoot hai amma?' (What are menses, mother?) She asked innocuously.
'Kaam ker, jab hoga aap hi pata chal jayega,'(You do your work, you will get to know with time) her mother snubbed.

The apathy of her family reduced her to a nervous wreck. That night she cried bitterly, and then collapsed, groaning with pain. Her parents took her to a nearby government hospital, and doctors revealed she was fully dilated and ready to deliver.

The revelation sounded weird and far-fetched to her parents!

When Billoori regained consciousness, she sobbed her heart out. A tiny baby girl, wrapped in the grubby green towel, lying next to her was proclaimed as her child!

Billoori: 'A story of a mother, who doesn’t know that she is no more a child.'

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