I was eleven. She must be nine. Every day, I saw her dressed in torn, mismatched clothes. Grey salwaar, parrot kameez and a white dupatta. She wore it each single day. Her dark complexion, brown hair and that chipped nose ring complemented her look for the job. She was a servant after all. There was nothing to think about it. Her mother was a maid, too. If she did the dishes, Rupa cleaned the Verandah. Yes. Rupa. That was her name. Or maybe not. I like to think of her as Gudiya Rani or Laal Kumari. Somehow, they did suit her better. In my head, at least.
For reasons unknown, I wanted to be friends with her. I wanted to play with her. For the first and the only time when I tried, she ran away. Usually, she never mouthed a thing. She helped her mother do all the chores, spoke not a word and kept staring at my toys with her beautiful wide eyes whenever she entered my room. I was sure Rupa’s behavior changed the moment she came inside my gorgeous orange and pink colored rather designed bedroom. Belonging to a rich family, I never whined for stuff. I had the best toys, the best dresses and even the best wallpapers for my cupboards. Rupa always became quieter and closed up to see my stuff. I could see she craved for them. Days when my friends used to come to my place, I could sense Rupa eyeing all of us from behind the door. At times, I wanted to call her in. But I never dared to. I guess that’s what I had learnt in a rich school.
Her dad was an alcoholic and was unemployed. She had five siblings and surprisingly she was the eldest! He brutally beat her up and some say Rupa was abused too. That explained a new bruise on the face each day and her walking funny at times. I had heard my parents talk about how their work place is a whole new different world for them and how they feel good about themselves when they wear a tie and attend meetings. The eleven year old in me never understood it. Mainly because I could not see Rupa’s workplace being “a whole new different world” for her. If her father beat her up, my mother too never hesitated from slapping her hard on the face for not doing the dishes right. I felt the pain. The sinking heart sensation when you realize nothing is right in this world for you. Yet, I kept quiet. I kept quiet because maybe it was none of my business. Or maybe because I was afraid to make the issue any of my business.
I was just eleven but I vividly remember the day, Rupa was found hanging by a dupatta in her room. Her only white dupatta.
Today, when I come across issues like child labor, I want to erase Rupa from my memories. I am an educated woman and it hurts me to know that somewhere in the past I did have my chance to do someone some good. I know if I had dared, I could have pulled Rupa out from that hell. Even though I was young myself and couldn’t have provided her any financial help, I could have at least been a friend to her. Maybe she could have found the strength on her own. But I didn’t. All sort of possibilities occupy my mind whenever I think of Rupa. But I know it’s a waste. Once gone is forever gone.
This is to Rupa, the beautiful girl I once knew. And to all those little children whose childhood does not lie in cleaning shitholes. To all those beautiful gems of nature who do have a life of their own – I hope someday, this world will be a better place for you.
I have decided to not let another Rupa die in vain. Have you?