In monsoon, she gets up at 5 o’clock, cooks breakfast for her family under a tarp. She then walks one hour and fifteen minutes in rain that doesn’t so much fall as gush like a fire hose, across half a mile of muddy wasteland. She crosses an iron bridge, and walks another half mile through Varanasi’s tortuous staircases and alleyways to reach her classroom in time for 8 am roll call. All with twenty pounds of text books on her back. She’s fourteen years old and she’s already trained for deployment against the North-East insurgents. Her family is planning her wedding. She’s planning her major.
This is India’s real super-power. A girl who goes to school against the odds.
I’ve known Sunita for over two years now. When I first met her, she was selling marigold flower-candles on the ghats. The ones that tourists buy to light and float on the Ganges to make a wish. She stomped into my boat and barked at me to buy her flowers. I told her that she didn’t have to shout, and she shot me a ‘who the hell are you?’ kind of look, then sat down and handed me a flower-candle for free.
My nickname for her was ‘Tarakana’ which means ‘thunderous vibration’ because she almost never spoke in a normal tone of voice. Everything about her was different. She told me she wanted to go to school, and I could tell she was serious. When I gave her a couple of English lessons, she sucked it all up like a Hoover. Her uncle and a few fellow wanderers pitched in and together we got her into a local Christian school. She’s really good at art, but her favourite subject is math. I visited her in April this year and met one of her teachers, who told me she’s doing really well. And she doesn’t bark quite as much as she did.
Sunita hams it up for a fake Pepsi commercial...
Bek, you are most special. MOST special x