Sheroes… My beauty is my smile

“I was three years old when the catastrophe dawned upon me. My father did this to me. My paternal family incited my father for the attack, to vanish us into ashes, for we have no brothers in our family. Also, greed for property and matter fuelled this adversity to the extreme cruelty. They would then arrange a second marriage for my father. The blistering burns of the acid remained with me while my sister who was a year and half at the time of attack could not withstand the ferocity and passed away at the hospital. My mother and I, then fled from there…” 

Neetu finished her story with a sigh; a sigh of a long pertaining echo of anger and rage, of helplessness and loneliness and of brutal and inhumane act. Having heard the story, I gulped back my emotions and did my best to wear a smile, a smile to appreciate her journey through all the nuances. But I was rather stunned by the conviction and ease with which she held her composure and finished her story in the most subtle way.

Neetu is one of the eight women working in Sheroes Hangout, a restaurant in Agra that provides the acid attack survivors with a mean to re-live their lives, a moral support to rise and grow and a decent way to outlive all the rages and brutality that society once poured onto them. It started as one of the outcomes of an awareness campaign #StopAcidAttack on 8th March 2013. The other being Chhanv foundation which serves as a bridge between the survivors and society.

‘My mother and I joined Sheroes in 2014. The time when society wasn’t really ready to accept us, Sheroes gave us a home, a light to grow again. But… the initial 2 years were very tough for us. People used to make weird expressions and didn’t feel comfortable having us around. The restaurant building is a rented one, so we have to not only pay for the stuff but also meet the dues on time. We have seen such hard times…’

… A sudden halt to Neetu’s story and the air seemed standstill, with every elapsed second spanning to uncomfortable extents.

how could someone push a little angel, a daughter of his own to the verge of extinction, how did she compose herself through all those barbarity, how much sacrifice did she embrace to stand on her own, that too at this early age; she is strong, stronger than anyone in this room, maybe the strongest in this whole universe…

… I paused, dumbstruck and was not able to find the right words to speak out. I wondered about life for a second, as to how it leads a person through outbreaks and breakthroughs in its short span. Breaking the cobwebs of my inner self and the uncomfortably still air, I pointed towards the menu and the various photographs hanging on the wall.

‘When we started Sheroes, we thought of doing something new, something which people can cherish afterwards. And hence this idea of having no price tags in the menu, instead we let the customers pay as per their wish so that people belonging to every class, may it be of poor or rich, can afford to come here and have a good time.’

She added, indicating to one of the pictures there, ‘Akhilesh Yadav Sir, the then CM also visited us, appreciated our effort, promoted our campaign and gave a plot of land for two years in Lucknow to operate another Sheroes Restaurant. We are really grateful for his generous gesture. But… since the two years of time has elapsed by now, I guess we have to shut it down, and the lives of all 12 sheroe-ian will return to its primordial plight. I wonder how… ’ and she stopped amidst. I realised what might have caused her to stop and hence I didn’t ask further.

A cluster of emotions and thoughts preoccupied my mind. At this very moment when people are complaining about the poor Instagram filter for failing to mask their pimples, or the curry for being salty, or getting a mark less than the topper, or the car scratch on the bonnet, or the movie they have missed and what not, there are these brave souls at Sheroes who struggle every ounce of their existence for their identity and for bringing worth to their lives. The land where we poise the symbol of love, the Taj, do we really justify its significance? When we welcome millions of tourists from all over the world just to marvel this wonder and to become awestruck by the integrity that Shah Jahan beheld for his beloved wife, a daughter, a sister, a woman, have we really extended our gestures to all the love-deprived and terror-stricken people? Is it a metaphorical coincidence to be in the juncture of what is being believed and what is being bestowed? Isn’t it? Does it feel strange to just pause for a second from our productive, prosperous and progressive lives and look back at our footmarks and then look ahead to the path we have chosen? Doesn’t it? You and I, me and you have sensed it then, now, here and there. Have we just shake our heads in prohibition? Haven’t we? It is a truth that lies at the tip of the nose, seen by many yet overlooked by self; a truth that is known to all yet to be reminded again; a truth that is louder than a scream yet inaudible to many.

Now the truth has been told and portrayed as one of the biggest victories of good over evil, light over dark, humane over inhumane, justice over injustice, and love over hatred! Every Sheroe-ian is a spark of that truth, a glam of the victory and an inspiration to many. The best thing that I have learnt from these people is the way they have accepted reality. The lives of these people have shown that to live by the hardest way and to get a little less do not mean the end of our lives or do not decide its worth, it is the ethics we carry in hard times and the zeal to move past the adversities that decide the righteousness of our lives. The way they never lose hope despite being pushed by the odds, is a true inspiration to all. They are not just some people, they are ‘The Sheroe-ians’; an inspiration to many!

Sharing some pictures below.

 

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A day at Amritsar

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…”
– John Lennon

We all have that one or two or maybe everytime-wala episode(s) when we deliberately plan a trip to some exotic destination, but could never make it. I guess you can feel me, folks! My plight is not different from this. It took me a year and a half and a ton of excuses to postpone the trip until this January when I finally made it happen; another destination off my list!

Disclaimer: I will not go into the detailed significance and history of the places. I leave it on the reader’s part.

How to reach: The connectivity to Amritsar from all the major cities of India by train, bus and flight is very good. You can book any of the modes as per your convenience. We took the roads (by car) starting our journey from Chandigarh through lush paddy fields, roadside dhabas and some major cities (Jalandhar). Thanks to my friend Raman for his car and hours of focused driving.

Where to stay: It is advised to stay near Golden temple so that you don’t have to waste unnecessary time in transit during your trip. There are lots of hotels (budget, economy and luxury) near the Golden Temple.

There are a few ‘Niwas Ashthans’ maintained by the Golden Temple authorities where free accommodations (Dorms) is provided to the pilgrims. They also provide rooms at a minimal cost. You’ll be provided with mattress and blankets for the night. The Niwas Ashthans are very clean and the authorities maintain strict hygiene there.

Best time to visit: The north Indian weather is extreme in both summers (temperature reaches as high as 45 degrees) and winters (temperature dips as low as 4 degrees). Therefore it will be better if you visit there in the months of September and October or February to April. If you wish to visit there during special occasions like a new year or festivals like Lohri(January ), you have to book your tickets early cause it will be very crowded then. 

Places to visit:

1. The Golden Temple: The Golden Temple, also called as Sri Harmandir Sahib, is the holiest place of pilgrimage for Sikhism. As you walk through the premises and see the holy sanctum plated with gold foil, surrounded by the still water, you will stay awestruck for a moment or perhaps more than a moment. But trust me, hold your breath cause there’s much more to see!



Things to do:

  1. You need to cover your head while entering the temple premises. You can keep a scarf of your own or find a bucket full of saffron scarf in front of the main entrance, kept solely for the pilgrims.
  2. You need to keep your shoes and bags in the cloakrooms provided there.
  3. In order to visit the holy sanctum, reach as early as possible. You will be lucky to face a long queue rather than a loooooong one otherwise.
  4. The holy Guru Granth Sahib is taken out of the sanctum every night at around 9:30 or 10pm as part of the rituals performed at the golden temple. If possible, plan your visit in a way such that you can witness this event. 

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6. Perform Seva. It is a selfless service that the pilgrims offer without any desire for reward, appreciation or Pat on their backs. The Sevadars (the one who performs Seva) are tasked either to serve water or to wipe the floor or to wash dishes in the Langar. To know more about it, visit my Instagram page or click here. (Seva at Golden Temple)

 

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7. Have a meal at the Langar. Langar offers free meal to everyone who cares to drop by its door. It is so huge that it can feed 5000 devotees at a time. Don’t worry!! you don’t have to wait in a queue to get your turn, everything is organised in a very disciplined manner with no hue and cry.

Not to mention the fact that the temple authorities maintain very strict hygiene there!

 

Things not to do:

  1. Do not make unnecessary noise and laughter inside the temple.
  2. Do not feed the fishes in the lake.
  3. Hygiene is strictly maintained in the temple and hence be careful to not litter the premises.

Note: This is to all photo-enthusiasts that I have a piece of bad news for you. Right after a day of our visit, the golden temple authorities have banned photography inside the temple premises. Sigh! But guess who got lucky!? *Wink*

Your Amritsar trip would be incomplete if you don’t visit Golden Temple during the night, cause the whole ambience in and around the temple complex transform into something so beautiful and serene that no words can describe it best. Spend some quality time sitting by the lake and enjoy the breeze touching your bare skin. It’s so soothing!


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2. Jallianwala Bagh: It is situated just near the golden temple complex within a walking a distance. As you walk past the martyr’s well, the bullet-marks on the wall, and a memorial in the memory of the departed souls, you could feel a sensation of sympathy for the unfortunate and of rage against the barbarity of the British forces.

Note: There are no entry fees there. You can take your bags with you as well.



3. Wagah border: I believe the is the only place where one can actually feel how it is like to be an Indian. When you see people from Pakistan waving their hands and flag from their pavilion and then look around you to ensure if we are able to keep up to them or not, your Indian blood will gush through your veins, explode out of sheer patriotism and you will cry out loud, ‘Bharat Mata ki jaiiiiii!!’

Note:

  1. The timing of the parade is 4 pm in winters and 5 pm in summers. It takes 40-45 minutes in traffic to reach Atari (Alternately used for Wagah border) from Golden Temple.
  2. There are no entry fees. Camera and other stuff are allowed but a tight security check is performed at the gates.
  3. Careful!! There will be people waiting to paint tri-colour on your face or hands and charge money afterwards. If you wish to get inked, you’re welcome, but make the money matter pretty clear beforehand.

Things you should not miss:

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  1. The market of Golden temple: Since I am not a shopping person, you might want to have the least advice from me. The streets, street lights and the buildings by the road give the visitors a completely different feel, even a walk through the market would be worth more than anything.

 

 

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  1. Amritsari Kulcha: It is one of the famous dishes in Amritsar as the name itself is quite descriptive of the fact. Although it is available in all the menus across Amritsar, I would suggest you try it in the restaurants of the Golden temple market.

 

 

Moral

Peace is not an act of surrounding yourself with good and positive stuff or of escaping from the reality that causes you unrest, it is a state of mind of how well you can interpret your life events and make the most out of it.

To be honest, I feel very difficult while penning down this blog, as I have to be very objective and informative keeping in mind the enquiries of  what-, how-, when- of a reader and the worth of time they can afford for this piece. But this place is not just any other tourist spots I have ever been, it is an emotion, a journey within a journey, a blend of peace and tranquillity, a limbo in the passage of time that enables you to escape the reality and dwell in ‘space and time’. I know, this concise piece of writing has not been able to bring justice to my emotions and deliver the best to the readers, hence my sincerest apologies in this regard.

(If you wish to know the emotions and insights that I have gathered in this trip, please leave a comment below. I’ll get back to you.)