Standing behind a ragged curtain of her dilapidated, low-ceiling home in southwest Delhi, the stone-faced mother of India’s Braveheart holds out a diary. It was titled ‘The story of my life’.
“She couldn’t finish writing it. She couldn’t finish so many other things in her life,” said the 46-year-old mother, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“She would have turned 24 on May 10.”
Her diary is where she let her imagination, emotions and ambitions loose. She talked about everything that touched her life, from her love for her parents to her dedication to studies and, above all, her passion for life.
“I’m not selfish. I just want everything” is a sentence that pops up several times in the neatly scripted diary. What it tells the world about her personality is that she was a fiercely independent young woman but very caring and loving towards her family.
“It’s almost as if she knew she wouldn’t live long enough to say all this to us in person,” said her mother.
“She was full of dreams,” said her father, holding up a painting she made of her parents, two younger brothers standing beside a big car outside a beautiful house. She liked to dress up, go out and was saving up to buy a Samsung smartphone. She also dreamt of owning an Audi car some day.
“She would have graduated in January and come home. She would have been working to realise her dreams by now,” said her father.
She had not celebrated her birthday with her family ever since she took up a course in physiotherapy in Dehradun four years ago.
“She didn’t want to waste money, saying, the trip home and back costs Rs.1,000. But she would always ask what her birthday gift was. I would put Rs.200 in her bank account for her to buy sweets for herself on her birthdays she couldn’t spend with us. Even that made her very happy,” said her mother.
“On her birthdays, we would call her up a few moments before midnight so that we were the first ones to wish her,” said her 20-year-old brother, who finished school last year.
Since she would have completed her course this year, the family had grand plans for her birthday. “”Perhaps we will have had a small puja (prayer meeting). There has not been a single day when we have not cried and missed her,” said her father.
“She loved books, food and films. She had plans for a family outing. It’s impossible to reconcile with the fact that the liveliest of us is not around any more,” said her 15-year-old brother.
Her clothes and text books have now been packed away in her little makeshift room on the terrace.“We have no plans for May 10. Politicians want to observe it as Naari Shakti Diwas (Women Empowerment Day). That’s nice. But that doesn’t lessen the pain,” said her father.
The family is still struggling to pick up the pieces. After December 16, her father — who worked as a loader at the airport — resumed work only last month.
“The government has given us a two-bedroom flat in Dwarka. We plan to shift there in a month,” he said.“I met Rahul Gandhi. He has promised help in getting admission to a pilot training institute at Rae Bareli in UP,” said the older of her two brothers.
“We’re often invited to TV shows, press conferences. But we return to a yawning emptiness. I’m grateful to governments and individuals for the help extended. But the truth is that life’s not going to be the same again,” said her father.