It's about a woman called Sita and this is her story!
"Meri bachi ko bachpan mein tv nahi dekhne ko milta tha...par aaj meri bacchi tv pe aa rahi hai.."
Her eyes were wet. I went and sat on the arm of the sofa that she was sitting on edgily, my hand rubbing her back. I knew that it wouldn't help. Mothers, you know the way they feel, get overwhelmed and all. It may have looked like I was trying to comfort her. But in reality, I was just sitting as close as possible to feel her love for her daughter.
"Jab mera baccha log chota tha na.. to hamare ghar mein tv nahi tha... padosi ke ghar jate the.. Ramayan, Mahabharat ya cartoon dekhne ke liye.. to bhaga dete the... dadi ke ghar jate to TV band kar dete. Aankhon mein aansoon leke vo mere paas aati thi...bolti thi ke - mummy tv nahi dekhne de rahe. Mujjhe bohat dukh hota tha...Main kehti thi..jab tere naseeb mein nahi hai to kyun tu..."
We just sat there and watched TV.
A day before, I was running along to finish an assignment for the WORLD AIDS DAY. That's when I met 28-year-old Sita.
The moment I saw her, I realised she was nothing like I had expected her to be. The email info had read - a 28-year-old widow and mother of 3 children. HIV +. And TB +. And well, TB free now. And that she's ready to talk about openly. I had imagined a downsized face, just short of a ghoonghat. Wanting to complain about life. Of course that was what I needed for my story.
But when I did set my eyes on her in a cabin-ed NGO room, all I could see was a young woman, clearly in her prime, a nice simple haircut that suited her, in a knee length grey woolen coat of the salwaar kameez that she wore underneath. She was eager to meet me.
I met her eyes, but I couldn't find a ghoonghat. Her irises were clear. Very clear. I just gave a tight smile.
"Now I must explain this clearly before we start shooting with you. You don't have to, if you don't want to, you know. We are fine with hiding your identity. We just want you to voice your story." She looked across at her colleague, Harish Singh, HIV+ too and almost double her age. Both shook their heads. "Jo baat hai so hai. Mujhe kuch nahi chupaana."
Frankly speaking, I had hoped for it.
"Mera naam Sita hai. Main HIV+ hoon. Mujhe nahi pata ke mujhe HIV kahan se hua. Ho sakta hai ke mere husband se hua ho...kyunki vo driver the. Ho sakta hai, needles se hua ho, ya fir khoon se. Mujhe nahi maloom."
I was meeting Sita today because of some statistical reasons. I mean, statistics that made sense only to health journalists...like more than half of HIV+ people in this country die due to this preventable disease called TB.
"Mujhe HIV ke vajah se TB bhi ho gaya. Magar mujhe ek doctor bolta tha ke aapko TB hai. Doosra bolta tha nahi hai. Ek hospital confirm karta tha. Doosra negative. Kayi baar jaanch karaane ke baad.. kam se kam teen mahine ki bhaag daud ke baad.. unhone bola ke mujhe TB hai. Bohat time lag gaya...jisse Tb badh jata hai."
"Itni bhaag daud. Aur mujhe kaise pata ke kaunsa doctor sahi bol raha hai? Hamareliye to dono hi bhagwaan hote hain na... kitni baar jaun?? Main aapko kya bataun mam'.. sorry aapka naam kya hai? Main bhool gayi.. Shaalni...?? Shalniji main aapko kya bataun..aap sunoge to pareshaan ho jaoge...mere jaise na jane kitne log honge jinke paas paise bhi nahi hote ilaaj karane ke liye..."
In the midst of explaining her crisis, she was mentioning others as well. I noticed that. Does she draw strength from that thought? I wondered.
How much does the NGO pay her? I asked. She had just joined one as an HIV activist.
"Mushkil se 3000 rupaye..."
I tried imagining her in my head. Living in a small rented house (I suspect maybe only a single room) somewhere in JJ nagar in Wazirpur in Delhi. With a family that comprised three adolescent children, an 18-year-old sister, a must-be-50-year-old mother. Did the children go to school? Yes, a government school. Sita herself never got to study beyond the 6th standard. So all she could do is find work in factories now...as unskilled or skilled labourer, earning her livelihood, earning bread and butter, or roti or chawal, or I suspect whatever the most subsidised cereals are, for herself and her family. Her husband had died more than two years ago. The cause of his death was unknown. It could have been HIV. But unknown. After him, Sita was left as the only earning member in that small rented house. And because of the infection, she herself falls ill and very often.
"Main Nepali hun na.. isliye mere liye aur bhi mushkil hai. Naukri nahi milti aasani se. Sarkaar kuch bhi dene ke liye pehle ration card maangti hai. Main kahan se laun? Mera makaan maalik likh ke nahi deta. Isliye jo ration milna chahiye vo bhi nahi milta."
"Maine padhai likhai...zyada nahi aata merko. Isliye chota mota kaam karti hun. Magar main vahan bata nahi sakti ke main HIV+ hun. Maine jab pehle baar bataya to mujhe nikaal diya gaya. Isliye agli baar jahan naukri mili...vahan maine nahi bataaya. Magar mujhe aise achha nahi lagta hai."
What must be it like to live in the shadow of fear? I asked her again if she really wanted to do this interview. I wasn't sure any longer if I wanted it. What if she lost her job?
"Jo hoga so hoga Shaliniji! Main darti nahi hun."
I just stared at her. Almost confused. That was coming from a woman who earned less than Rs 4000 a month, has a lifelong infection to deal with, costly medicines without which she may die a painful death, special diet, 3 children to feed and an 18-year-old sister to take care of, an old mother...If I were her, I would have been angry with myself. I just stared at her. She must have noticed that.
"Main ye ladai sirf apne liye nahi lad rahi hun... sab ke liye lad rahi hun..."
I just took a deep breath. It was one thing to tell HIV activists that they were doing a great job at it. But, this? To watch someone's life, livelihood at stake? I mean...
I just shook myself and went on with the interview
"Aap ka TB status kya hai abhi?"
"Kal mera final report aana hai... shayad TB khatam hai ab. Pata hai kyun? Maine apna bohat acche se khayal rakha. Ek din bhi dawai miss nahi ki. Aur sahi tareeke se khana khaya. Chalees kilo ki ho gayi thi main.. aaj baawan ki hun. She smiled sheepishly. Magar bohat log aisa nahi karte. Vo maante hi nahi hain ki unko HIV hai ya TB hai. Ek aurat ne to mere saamne report faad ke faink di thi. Kaha ke mujhe HIV ho hi nahi sakta. Maine bola usse.. behan.. test galat nahi ho sakta. Par vo maani nahi. Maine dawai li...aur main theek ho gayi. Kaash vo bhi aisa karti.."
I sighed. I was learning the meaning of my own script now. More than a million HIV+ people at risk of TB deaths. I thanked god that the woman sitting in front of me was TB free now. But I knew very well that for Sita and many like her...it was only a small triumph in a bigger war.
"Mere doctor ne mujhe bataya tha. HIV ke baad TB ho jaye to...death bhi ho sakti hai. Magar dawai hai. TB ke liye dawai hai. Maine kahan unse..mujhe jeena hai..."
"...par haan...HIV ke liye abhi koi dawai nahi hai na. Isliye ham kuch nahi kar sakte... par fir bhi mujhe jeena hai... main ladna chahti hun isse..."
Her ease almost shook me. Her innocence almost shook me. Not that she was the first survivor that I was interviewing in my career. Not the first ever +person I had met. But it was her very positivity that was almost unbelievable. I decided to pull the final straw.
"Aapko pata hai...aapki umr shayad zyada na ho? Jaise aapke aas paas ke logon ki hai..."
"Haan pata hai.. kabhi kabhi sochti hun main... ke main itna nahi jiungi...par fir mujhe lagta hai ke...jab thoda hi jeena to... to khush ho ke kyun na jiyun? Chahe ek pal ho, ek din ho, ek saal ho... jitna bhi ho...kyu na main khush rahun, acche se rahun, apni phamily ke saath time bitaaoon..."
"Mere gaanv mein sab mujhse ghrina karte hain...meri behan ko bolte hain ke iske saath mat reh, isse baat mat kar...Main jaanna chahti hun kyun? Isme meri kya galti hai?"
"Par fir bhi..."
"...Main batana chahti hun logo ke... ke ghut ghut ke nahi jeena...yeh nahi ke HIV+ ho to mmm... aise mooh banake ... dukhi hoke... nahi nahi nahi.. aise nahi jeena...khush rehna hai... haso haso haso...haan aise...hamko bhi ache se jeena hai... dikhaana hai duniya ko.. ke ham bhi kuch hai... hai na?"
I do not know what my expressions were like. But her broad smile was enough. The sparkle in her eyes was enough. To be alive, seemed just enough!
We wrapped up the interview.
The story ran all day long. In the midst of a busy day, I kept fidgeting, wanting to blog. But something about this amazing woman was stopping me - my own admiration for her. For though it was a day away from her regular routine, a nice meeting, heart to heart chat, it hadn't changed her life in any other way. I knew she really had nothing to look forward to - no help dawning immediately, her rented flat had no windows. And with the infection, her life felt rented too - never knowing when it would be time to simply leave...
And yet, till that moment, to live and to not be able to leave. I didn't want to imagine. And to have to fight for something, constantly, in a losing battle. I didn't want to imagine. And to still see life eye to eye. And with clear irises. What was this woman made of! I couldn't comprehend. I couldn't write either.
In the evening, we invited her to the studio. She was excited.
As she sat inside, chatting with the anchors..."dekhiye jo ho gaya so ho gaya...ghut ghut ke nahi jeena chahiye"...I sat by her must-be-50-year-old Nepali mother. We both watched the television. Each with a different kind of pride.
After seeing them off though, the words flowed automatically. For at last, it dawned on me that what really kept this awesome, chirpy, smiley, happy Sita, with every reason to be otherwise, going in life! What really kept her positive!
Love does keep one alive... I thought.