Ankur was 18. He walked as though he was an old man with an anchor around his neck. Three times Ankur climbed to the top of the building and looked down, contemplating death. His life seemed unbearable… until, late one night.
Ankur stood outside his hostel supervisors’ door and knocked.
“Open the door.”
“I want to talk.”
“Open the door.”
The door opened. A groggy supervisor with eyes barely open, returned to his bed. “Yeah, what?”
“You know my mother died … I wasn’t sad.”
In tears, Ankur told bits and pieces of his story, yet couldn’t find words for what his heart needed to reveal. Listening, his supervisor was soon in tears as well. He later told me Ankur had a story; his background was in the dark and needed to come out. He needed to be known.
I asked Ankur to share his story with me, but he was reluctant and put me off, until one day he said, “I’ll tell you my story tomorrow.” I was surprised and pleased. Tomorrow came and went without a sign of Ankur. However, early the next day he appeared at my door, determined and ready. I invited him in. He settled himself on the couch, making sure the pillows were ready to support him.
“My mother died when I was about six months old, so I was too little to know anything about her. Only my dad actually knows how she died. He hasn’t told me. I call my stepmother Mom, since she’s the only mother I ever knew. My father remarried in order to look after me. She was a cruel woman. I don’t know how she treated me as a baby, but I survived somehow. The doctors said my deformities are from birth, so I can’t blame her.” He grinned and I laughed. Ankur had a leg much shorter than the other, and walked with a big limp. His spine needed major surgery —life-threatening hospitalizations were in his future.
“I was very scared of her. We were soon 6 children. I was number 4.”
“Once, when we were getting ready for school, Mom locked all of us kids inside the room while she went to the hospital for her AIDS check-up. It began to rain, and our clothes were hanging on the roof. We knew she’d be angry if she came home and found the clothes all wet, so we tried to yell for a neighbor to come and open the door so we could go up the outside stairs to the roof, but no one heard. We called for help, and yet were fearful to go out of the house at all —mother said not to. We stayed in the room and got ready for school. We didn’t want a beating —ever.
She was seething when she came because the clothes were wet. She dealt with her anger by hitting us repeatedly with a spoon until our skin was bright red. She hit my lower arm multiple times and just wouldn’t stop. After that she grabbed a pan and kept hitting me on the head. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I reached up and rubbed my hair and scalp and held out my hand. It was covered in blood. That finally made her stop. She took the bloody clothes off me. When Dad came home, he saw my arm and head and asked what happened to me.
Mom responded fast, “Oh, he fell down.”
“I had my head cracked open at least 10 times by her. Once, she was running after me and was beating me badly. I was trying to get away and I ran up the stairs. To make sure I wouldn’t get away she threw the pressure-cooker and it hit me square on the head.” Ankur laughed at the memory. “There are lots of stories I could share about her beating me with pots and pans and spoons on the head and everywhere else.”
“Ankur,” I asked, “why didn’t your older brother stand up for you?”
“What was he going to do? He was older, but young. We were all afraid of her, but he was less afraid and sometimes he would stand up to her.
“Because my father was a priest people gave food and sweets for his blessings. They gave us lots, daily. All that food was sufficient for our family, but me and my brother were always hungry. Our mother never fed us, and we never asked her for food. We were lucky if she gave us a little, though it was never enough to fill our bellies. Our father loved us, but he kept himself unaware of our lives and how she treated us.
“One month later I started going to school. I was in 4th class. If there was a holiday, I never wanted to stay at home. I would get up early; search or beg for food, come home in the night, get a beating. That was my holiday routine.
When my brother and I walked to school we looked for people who left food outside their door for cows to eat, while at home there was so much gifted food in our house it would sometimes rot. I began to steal food at home, and then began stealingfrom shopkeepers. I even stole lunch boxes from other students. When I was caught, a teacher started sharing her tiffin with me. She was really nice.
Our family moved to our own, small piece of land. There was a temple nearby. My brother and I wanted money to buy food, which we could easily steal from the temple. It was easy to grab, left lying where people threw it to the Gods. Being the youngest, I was always ordered to do the dirty work by my siblings. At the temple I grabbed five rupees. We used it to buy some hajmola (a sour tasting, chewable digestion pill).
“As soon as we got home my brother started vomiting; a white tapeworm came out of his mouth, about a foot and a half long. We thought it was because of the stolen hajmola we’d eaten. I was really scared. It was hanging from his mouth, wriggling back and forth, but not fully out —so creepy and disgusting. Finally, it dropped out and fell in the ditch. A neighbor saw it happen and told my father and mother. The result was a beating. They asked how it happened, and we said we ate hajmola. Then we got another beating. After that, my brother started having seizures. They took him to the local doctor. He kept on having seizures and they kept taking him to the doctor.
“We had to go quite far to get water in the morning. It was the duty for all of us kids. One day a bread truck stopped near the water tap. My sisters and brothers told me to go take a loaf of bread. I obeyed but my crime didn’t go unnoticed, and we all took off running. I ran wildly, going here and there, totally lost and separated from the rest. I started crying. A shopkeeper saw me and took me into his shop. He gave me water and biscuits. He asked where I lived. I didn’t know my address, so I had to describe it, telling him I lived near a small pond. He figured it out and took me home on the back of his cycle. By then, my sisters and brothers were already home and told our parents I was lost. For this, my brother got a beating. My mother told him, “Go! Don’t come back until you find him.” After he left, I arrived home. They waited for my brother to return until evening, but when he didn’t come, everyone went searching for him.
“At last, he was found, far away, where we used to go to school, sitting in the temple crying. My father asked him how Ankur got lost. He said, “Ankur was stealing bread.” Then I got a beating. The good thing was that my father wouldn’t beat me for every little thing. He let the “wrongs” add up to about five or six before he gave me a beating. But my mother beat me every day.
“My brothers and I always got up early and dressed for school, even though school didn’t start for another 4 hours. Our aim was to get out of the house before she got up so that we didn’t get a beating. She beat us all the time, no reason needed. I would go to the park and beg, hoping to find generous people who would share their food with me. I usually secured a little. Then I’d head for school. After school, I’d go back to the park to avoid her.
“One of my older brothers was braver than I was. Sometimes he would talk back to her. He did not like the way she treated him, or the way she treated the rest of us. We didn’t lie when our parents interrogated us on our comings and goings; we thought we would get less of a beating or no beating. I don’t know why we thought that —it never worked that way.
“One day, my father was in the temple and my mother refused to give me food. I said something to her that she didn’t like, and she took a broken piece of wood with a sharp pointed end and started beating me like crazy! She hit me seriously right in the eye. It became red and hurt badly. Because Dad refused to be anything but oblivious to what was happening, we made up our minds to do something. We decided to run away.
My sister regularly went to tuition classes held by Jains. I had gone only once. The Jains were really nice people. My second eldest sister, my brother, and I ran away. We weren’t dressed very well, but we went to their place. They treated us kindly and gave us snacks. We asked to see the Aunty who taught the studies. We told her what happened. She straight-away called the police. Then, the three of us, Aunty, and the police all went to our house. Our parents didn’t know we had intended to run away for good. They expected we would come back. They asked my mother where we had gone, but she didn’t know. We’d never have chosen to return to the house, but we had to go with the police.
“After that it became a big scene; all my relatives got involved, saying we ran away because “she” doesn’t take care of us. An uncle we’d lived with earlier was really upset, but nothing improved. My birth mother’s side of the family were always eager to see me. They loved me and wanted me to be with them. They felt bad for us. Still, nothing changed. We were back at home, living the same life of neglect and beatings.
“My elder brother got HIV. Later, my mother died from the complications of AIDS. Two years before she died, she started treating me nicer. She would even talk decently to me. I tried hard to treat her fair. We had a talk and sorted out some of our relationship. That was really important for me to do before she died. It didn’t make me too sad, though, that she died.”
Ankur leaned further into the sofa as his legs stretched onto the floor. He melted into the pillows and released an enormous sigh. A tired smile lit up his face as the weight of years lifted.
“I’ve never shared my story with anyone. I feel so light!”
Ankur’s anchor had been caste-off; nothing weighed him down. He radiated energy and life. He boldly shared what he wanted to forget. He was known.
Like Ankur, I had my own journey and was captive; frothing with rebellion, guilt, hurt and anger. Years went by. After some very dark times, I broke down. There was only one escape —talk. I opened the door… just a crack. I talked to God. He accepted me unconditionally. It always amazes me how truth and sacrificial love births freedom and changes us. I talked to God and he listened; I started reading the Bible and it made sense:
I’m on a learning curve; talking truth is an on-going experience. It takes a life-time. For Ankur, as well as for me, it’s meant freedom. Every time I open up, more light comes in.
I’m thankful for who I am and who I was — including all my experiences, both good and bad. Being known by someone is necessary; being known by God is full-proof.
Ankur talked and was known.
Freedom is available. Truth is safe.
P.S. You have a story. Talk. I’m ready to listen.