Dear fellow Indians, you must have welcomed another year in cosy style when I, another homeless girl child on the street, was braving winter's wrath.
Amid your enchanting, captivating, quixotic, and alluring parties and coming of new hopes, aspirations, desires and promises, I looked up at the sky and asked myself if I'd be able to get out of the poverty cycle as the year changes? Will hunger and malnourishment take exit? Will I get food and clean water?
I see my brother in rags begging at the traffic lights down the alley and hopes he get a few coins, or a big currency note by luck, out of the man driving the red Mercedes; I haven't eaten in two days. My baby sister sleeps by my side.
Huddled on discarded foam sheets, we are wrapped in a tattered cloth we picked up from the municipal garbage bin.
Until recently, my mother worked as a domestic help at a Sahib's house. They paid her well and we could have two square meals a day, just enough for subsistence. Not anymore. Pneumonia took her away last winter. I now live with my siblings on the street, under the bridge, our only protection from rain and other elements. We've resorted to begging; that's all we could do. I taught my brother how to beg; he's good at it; on days, he collects even 100 rupees that helps us feed our infant sister, who is going weak and frail. I carry her tied to my waist, in a sling made out of rags.
I don't know when my birthday is but the changes in my body tell me I am approaching adolescence. I have started to cover myself up properly when I go out to beg. Boys and men stare at my body and make lewd remarks. The laughter rings in my ears long after the signal has turned green and they are gone. The other day, one man offered me 2,000 bucks to sit with him in his car. It was a tempting offer that meant food for a month and maybe an ice-cream also for my younger brother, but I declined it for the sake of my honour and modesty.
Like the seasons change, maybe my life will change, too. Someday, I hope. Mother always dreamed of putting us in school. I wish the same for my brother and Nanhi, if God wills. Does he exist? Life has been cruel but I never fret.
After every long night, the bright sun rises to greet us with its warm rays. A dash of sunshine might enter our lives, too, but today it's foggy and cold.
The signal has turned red. I must rush back to selling little Christmas trees and red Santa caps, and wish my fellow Indians a Happy New Year. I hope someone finds an appropriate answer to my simple question: "What is in store for me?" firstname.lastname@example.org
(The writer is a freelance journalist)