“I am determined to the make the world safe for women and girls, that’s what drives me – we can’t live in a world that’s not safe for girls, we just can’t.” Alisha, age 15
Patna, 8:07 a.m.
Alisha’s fatherpulls on his uniform looking for his rickshaw keys. His is momentarily stalled by a pair of soft palms clasping his worn hands to request, insist, “Hurry, we’ll be late Papa, I have to interview an entrepreneur to make a newspaper at school.”
Mr. Khan smiles. Alisha is excited to go to school on Saturday. He’s given up his morning auto-run to take her to meet Ochu, a sweetshop owner. Alisha wants to interview him, and he didn’t want to her to go alone. He’ll lose RS 1,500 today by not working. That worries him. It will cut into his savings. He’s been saving for two yearssince the day Alisha turned 13. There will be a wedding reception. He will apply for a personal loan this afternoon, after dropping Alisha to school. He’ll mortgage his rickshaw, hundreds of people will have a feast, Alisha a new sari, her groom, surrounded by laughing friends and family, and he, a proud father watching.
Alishawill have to stop school of course. He can’t afford to send her next year. Higher secondary school is intermediate college – the fees are higher, the prices of books increasing – her uniform is too small, her shoes too – she wants to pay for extra classes to be able to study for the civil services exam. Mr. Khan frowns thinkingabout her plans. She’s always wanted to become a police officer. Mr. Khan and his wife were shocked when she told them this: a young woman policeofficer, who had ever seen that? There’s no way he would allow Alisha to wear those clothes and risk her life like that. But Alisha’s was determined – she told him that she wanted to show the world that girls could become anything they wanted, especially a police officer who would ensure that other girls like her were safe. Mr. Khan loved his daughter, but what could he do. She had turned 15 last year, and people had already begun to talk at her father’s inability to find her a suitable groom.
“I am ready and you are not,” she breaks into his thoughts, hurrying down the stairs he climbs into his rickshaw. Alisha sits in the back, wearing her her school uniform, bag on her lap, a press card with her name pinned to her dupatta, and a smile. Her in-laws probablywon’t let her go back to school. He drives to Ochu’s sweet shop.
Alisha is tapping her foot, the only sign of her ebbing patience. She and her father had been waiting for over an hour at their table at Sadhu Hotel. Ochu, the sweet shop owner was giving them odd shoulder raising motions. The girl had initially annoyed him with her questions, driving away customers, but now he was curious – why was she here? She had said that he was a good entrepreneur to interview and that she wanted to interview him for her newspaper. He wondered who an entrepreneur was and why he was a good one as he weighed out half a kilo of his famous kala jamun to the customer before him.
It was afternoonby the time Ochu had made a receipt for his last customer, swatted the flies away from his halwa and jalebis, wiped his counter clean and made his way to the waiting girl and her father.
“An entrepreneur is a problem solver” Alisha explains, “You are the best of all entrepreneurs because you are solving a problem with a business.” Ochu’s face asks, what problem am I solving? “You provide food at very reasonable prices to hungry people don’t you?” Alisha answers at speed. “Students like me come to you, the rickshaw puller comes to you, my father comes to you when we have guests at home, and I’ve even seen the headmaster stop by for your samosa after school. So, you see you’re solving one problem already. Of hunger. Then, you pay Dinesh-bhai to sweep the floors and clean the utensils, you pay Ila-didi to help you make the samosas in the morning and you pay Geeta and Zulfi to hand out plates of food to your customers. You’ve built a team and you’re employing three women! You started a business that solves problems – that makes you an entrepreneur- a problem solving hero.”
As he watched Alisha skip away, her arm locked in her father’s, Ochu’s face was glowing.She called him a hero.
Mr. Khan had sat quietly and watched his daughter all morning. His earlier worries about not making enough money today or reaching the bank on time disappeared. He had watchedAlisha’s intelligent questions, the kindness with she explained her project to the irritated shop owner, and finally how her words and actions had changed Ochu from a grumpy man to melting sweetie.He started to see her in a khaki uniform, doing her best to make her country a safer and better place, rather than silent in a marriage hall.
Alisha chatted at speed as she clung on to his arm and they walked her to school. As they approached the school gate, she stopped and looked up to him, “Papa you now how I knew who was an entrepreneur? I thought of everything you do and told him.”
Ten minutes later Mr. Khan walked into the bank. The loan officer was just about to clear his desk. Mr. Khan placed all his documents on the table, and then said, “I need to mortgage my rickshaw for my daughter’s education loan.”