It was a busy day at TVC Bureau and Meera was jetlagged between congratulatory messages and emails. Her print and online coverage on Samastipur children was a huge success. Everybody read it and felt it was covered keeping in mind every detail and most importantly welfare of the children.
“Great coverage, eh! Congrats.” Said, Rahim, Meera’s colleague and a well acclaimed reporter at TVC Bureau who handled political news.
“Hey thanks! How have you been?” Asked Meera
“Well! Nothing much. You see politics, same old pit of dung – politics.” Answered a cynical Rahim.
“But you love politics, isn’t it? You specialize in that.” Said Meera
“Ya! Like always Meera! Quite an interesting pit it is than development communication. You know better than clicking pictures of children and their leaked nostrils.” Rahim cleverly commented back.
“Oh I see! You just saw their nostrils it seems and didn’t hear what they said.” Meera didn’t take a moment in giving back either.
“By the way, Jatin was calling you. Please meet him.” Rahim left the room in a hush hush manner.
“Thanks!” Meera chuckled.
Jatin, chief editor at TVC Bureau was a lean man with a French beard, handsome and wise. A middle aged man, Jatin was widely recognized for his dedication towards his work and agility.
Meera knocked the door, “May I come in Jatin?”
Jatin whimsically answered, “Big people don’t need permission, do they?”
Meera said, “Stop pulling my leg. You called me it seems.”
Jatin said, “Yes, I did. There is something much more fascinating thing waiting for you. I am sure you are the ideal one who will do justice to the project.”
Meera became curious and asked, “Spill the beans please. Quick!”
Jatin said, “Well Meera, how about covering an aging hooker?”
Meera slightly surprised, “What?”
Jatin, “There is no rocket science to understand this Meera. Through our resources, we got to know about Janani. She is over 75 years now and is not doing too well in her life. Her health is deteriorating. I want you to write a story on her and even make a documentary. Trust me, it’s going to be one of a kind project.”
Meera answered, “I understand. Sounds interesting. Let me give it a shot.”
As per the information given to Meera from TVC, she finally decided to go on the “Janani hunt”. The team involved Meera, Rahul, the camera man and their driver. They were told that Janani resides in Behlam, a town near Nidaam, a city in Telangana.
“Looks like one dingy place. Google Maps don’t work here it seems.” Rahul said while fiddling with his smartphone.
“We will get through.” Meera responded calmly while they drove to Behlam.
The driver coaxed, “Madamji, the place is not very good. Please be safe.”
“Why?” Asked Meera
“Bhelam is mostly populated by hookers, old, young and abandoned. Well to do people don’t come here.” The driver answered.
“Hmm! That I could easily guess. Let’s see what is in our store.” Meera sighed.
The car got some jerks through the uneven roads and slowly took way towards the residential area of Behlam.
“Madamji! Car won’t go beyond this. The lanes are too narrow and it will only cause damage to it.” Said the driver.
Meera looked visibly annoyed while Rahul arranged his equipment.
“It’s ok Meera. The place anyway doesn’t offer too much infrastructure.” Rahul encouraged Meera.
“Yeah. I know.” Meera looked at the driver to see if he was joining in.
“Madamji, shall I come with you? Or should I take care of the car here?” Asked the driver
“You take care of the car.” Commanded Meera
The due graduated steadily towards the inner lanes. Small huts, common toilets and underprivileged population dominated the region. There were accented pavilions with torn curtains, they were made to make room for privacy. It looked like they were mostly one rooms sets having more than five people living in each. Kids were roaming and playing with tyres and it was obvious they didn’t go to school.
Women clad in sarees mostly were busy filling water or washing clothes. They wore heavy makeup that was unlike for the environment. Meera struggled to make way towards Janani’s home.
Rahul and Meera, both spoke to local people to track the address.
People gathered to see both of them and wondered what brought city people to their place. While there was mild commotion in the crowd, Meera voraciously searched for Janani’s home. Rahul meanwhile spoke to people and tried to match older women’s faces with the picture he had in his phone.
“Look at that green door, shall we knock?” Asked Meera
“Did Janani call you from there?” Rahul answered in a cynical manner.
“C’mon! The address says near Bihaal’s well and there is this well. We haven’t found any so far.” Justified Meera.
“Ok! Let’s see if we can find her.” Said Rahul.
They knock the door and find some young woman coming up. They ask about Janani’s whereabouts but somehow do not fetch any information. The due tried to look out at the places nearby and the people also could not give any concrete answer.
They walk another few kilometers to check if they missed out on the exact address. In the peak hours of afternoon when the sun was bright, it was getting difficult to walk anymore.
Rahul and Meera were tired and wanted to get back with no results in hand. Both felt disappointed with zero outcome and also, dangling deadline.
“We need to work on the address again Meera, I guess, we screwed up there big time.” Said Rahul while wiping out sweat.
“I second you.” Answered Meera.
It was a day later when Rahul and Meera decided to go on hunt again. This time, they took extra information regarding the landmarks and the location. While last time they went to the Bihaal’s well and found someone else’s house, this time they decided to take the nearby lane and check the place.
As they entered a very narrow lane, a pungent smell made the search tough. Rahul and Meera covering their faces moved forward. While Rahul spoke to people, he realized many refused to even help.
Right across the lane, next a forgettable well, there stood a dilapidated house. Looking at it, one could figure out, no one maintained it for several seasons.
Both of them without a second thought decided to give the house last shot.
After knocking for several minutes, the door was finally opened. An older woman probably in late seventies who struggled to walk was finally at the threshold. Hair almost white, she wasn’t much tall but was fair like peach. Through her wrinkles, her expressive eyes curiously scanned Rahul and Meera. She was not in her best of looks and it seemed she did not have too many clothes either.
“Hello! We are from TVC Bureau.” Informed Rahul.
“Hmm!” Confused Janani looked at them.
“Janani? Right? We have come to interview you.” Rahul tried to convince her.
“Are you sure, she is the one?” Murmured Meera
“Yes, she is.” Said Rahul.
“It’s been ages someone visited me.” Said Janani.
“We are thankful, you trusted us.” Smiled Meera.
Rahul was looking at the location and trying to set up his camera. While he looked around, he realized the house was not kept well may be because she wasn’t fit enough for the household chores. The curtains were rugged and torn and the floor seemed uneven. There was bedding by the side of one room set, some utensils were kept aside with a gas system and the shelves had some old photos.
“How long have you been here?” Asked Meera
“Don’t remember how many years, I managed to have this small abode long ago from my savings.” Janani answered.
After some brief talks on surroundings, Meera decided to talk to Janani as a person and as a woman. She asked, “Tell us about yourself, we mean YOU! Your life, your childhood, your youth, and everything about you. I will write about you.”
Janani smiled, “ME! No one ever asked about me all these years.”
Meera, “We are all ears. People will read about you.”
Janani said, “People will know about my deeds. But at this stage, I do not bother anything.”
Meera asked, “Time has changed and your voice should go out to the masses. Let the world know what you have been through.”
Janani paused for a while.
She began bearing thin lines on her forehead about her childhood and smiled for a jiffy.
Janani was born in a village in Andhra Pradesh. Born to poor parents, Janani was one among the eight children. She never went to school. To beat poverty, her uncle promised a job to her at the age of 13. Little did she and her parents know, she will be sold and will be never seen again in the village.
From there began a new story. She was in a town called Jamna, a modern place for her background. New people everywhere, voluptuous women with heavy make-up roaming around men, dingy lanes, small places to live in and scores of filths.
It was her first day there and she continued to live for next three decades. She was charismatic, men drooled for her. She was the most beautiful of all the women in the vicinity. Her voice, her gait and the persona, everything together made her a woman worth chasing for but the chase was only lust driven. She served several men.
People say her aura was so powerful that once a businessman wanted to marry her. He had almost decided to let go his wife and children for her. Janani on the other hand thought that this time, she is going to have a life of dignity. But, everything remained part of big words. The businessman never turned up and one day he went absconding.
It was her brief marriage that got her some happiness but it was not destined to stay long. Her husband died of excessive alcohol consumption, no one knows the amount of fortune she spender to save him. Her only son was taken by her relative who promised to give him a good life.
Time passed by and Janani started aging. She wasn’t the most attractive anymore, new girls in the locality had taken the stage. She was the last choice for men now. With the passage of time, she wasn’t healthy either. She caught diabetes and acute spinal ache. People said her smile had lost the charm. Not many knew, she had lost money too and was supposed to lead her life on her own.
Meera asked, “Your son doesn’t come to see you?”
Janani smiled again, “He comes occasionally and offers me some food. He doesn’t like the place and prefers to come in dark.”
Meera, “Oh! I see.”
Rahul, “How did you manage to have this house?”
Janani smiled way more brightly this time, “Long ago, during my hay days, I knew my beauty and youth will not go in the long run. From my savings then, I got this place. Today, I am living my way in whatever possible form.”
Janani offered some puffed rice to Meera and Rahul. She looked at both of them and answered, “I am doing good”.
It was dusk and it was time for Meera and Rahul to bid goodbye. There was lesser light across the lane and both of them switched on their phone lights.
Meera said, “I am going to write about you and share with the world. Let people know the struggles you made and how you overcame them. I promise, people will learn a lot from you especially your smile. I will come back to you with the print copy and the video and show you the fact that you look beautiful still.”
“Can I ask you something?” Meera said.
“What makes you smile all throughout?” Meera questioned.
“My pride.” Janani said and smiled relentlessly.
Meera extended some money while saying bye to her and told her she will be coming soon to meet her.
“Another hit eh?” Rahim exclaimed.
“May be, maybe not. But a lifelong lesson to live and smile.” Meera answered while she packed her bags.
“Where are you off to?” Questioned Rahim.
“To meet Janani.” Meera smiled and answered.
“Janani? Who?” Asked Rahim.
“I wish, had you read the story.” Meera said.
It was another day at Belham. People continued to do their mundane activities and nothing seemed different. Meera and Rahul walked through the same lane and kept looking around to make sure they didn’t confuse with houses.
And there it was, Janani’s house. But it was locked. They looked around to see if Janani was around. They wondered, she wasn’t doing too well, it wasn’t possible for her to walk much.
Rahul went to closest neighbor and asked her whereabouts.
“She passed away sir.” Said the neighbor who didn’t want to reveal too much.
Meera and Rahul gazed at the locked door.