The risk of being 13

Bhojpur. 6.14 a.m.
“When you are born and survive as a girl, you have already taken a risk. I take risks every day by not thinking about the future, by thinking I will come back to school tomorrow to read stories with my friends, I take risks because I know anyone at anytime could stop me.” Anshu, age 13

Bhojpur is waking up to tinkling cow bells and a sleepy farmer is walking towards his cattle. His unhurried footsteps are no match for the pair of flip-flops that fly past him, school bag spilling open, papers fluttering and a white dupatta struggling to escape – waving in the wake of a running girl.
6.15 a.m. Anshu is late for her coaching class. She knows her teacher must have already begun talking about the rise of the grand Mughal empire and she doesn’t want to miss it. Once, with her family, she had travelled to Delhi where she saw fort ruins, they were giant. The largest and oldest thing she had seen until then was the 200 year-old banyan tree that stood behind her school. Her mind is wandering again, slowing her down she scolds herself. She has to focus on running. But harvest season has begun so she has to help around her house. Help her mother and her aunts bring in the grain, help her brothers pack it into big sacks and store it around the house. She has been asked to stay back from school and help – not just today, but many days.
Anshu’s father lives in Jaipur and so she’s been left in charge of being responsible and taking action- addingweight and force to her thirteen years. Several years ago, when her family had decided to move from Madhya Pradesh to Bihar, Anshu had been separated from her family at the Patna railway station. In the whirl of sounds, smells, people, and suitcases, she remembers being afraid realizing what loss was. However, with measured footsteps she had found her way to the railway officer’s chambers and waited patiently until her father came to get her. Once she realized that she could take care of herself she realized she did not need to be afraid. Thoughts are distracting her, she knows her classmates will have moved on to Humayun after learning about Babur. Her teacher understand that girls are expected to miss school and help at home, that’s why they were usually late for class or did not turn up at all. But Anshu thinks maybe he does not understand that some girls really do want to come to school to learn new things. If girls can’t tell their parents they want to go to school – perhaps teachers could try? Parents might listen to them.

She nods to Doctor Uncle who is swiftly walking in the opposite direction. He must be late too. He usually opens his door to patients at 6 a.m. every morning. Harvest season is slowing everyone down. There are five doctors in the village now. Two years ago there were none and everyone had to take a bullock cart and two buses to reach the nearest hospital. Anshu still wants to become a doctor. She always feels needed when she is able to help relieve other people’s fears and worries. For reasons she does not understand, she wants to treat bones. Bones that break so easily while you run and bones that are the building block of everything we do. She wonders if doctors who treat bones could also be interested in the Mughal Empire. Maybe she can study about the bones of the emperors – there are actually people who do that. Archaeologists they are called. But they cannot cure people.
Anshu has been reading stories about people who do unbelievable things – like a man who builds bridges in South India, a woman who makes solar lamps, and a boy who opened a tribal medicine centre. She reads these stories on Saturdays when she goes to school for skill story school. This is the only day of school she really likes, her teacher says he likes it too. Saturday is three days away.
Anshu runs the last ten steps to her coaching class catching her flying dupatta. As much as she wants to see the world, she loves her village and her people. She will go to Patna and maybe even Delhi to study, but she will come back to home. There are five doctors here already, but she could be the next one – she’ll be theonly doctor who will build a hospital and will treat bones and tell stories of Mughal emperors. But her big dream depends on tomorrow. If her family will let her go back to school. Her dream for every tomorrow to go to school school is the risk she takes every day.

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