She walks like the wind and speaks like a bird. She looks timid and physically challenged, but to her she is the queen of her slums. She passes along the huts that are dripping with water from the rain last night. Ladies are sitting outside their huts on the wet ground to get some fresh air. Black smoke from some huts fills the air indicating the preparation of lunch. Everyone recognizes her and pass her an occasional greeting. Her parents named her ‘Shehzadi’ , which means ‘the queen’. She loves to play with the little plastic bag that she carries around wherever she goes. Her little frock has innumerable patches and her hands are full of broken stuff that some rich kid had thrown away in trash. Her eyes are full of hope for a better future; her heart tells her that these days won’t last long. One day she will be able to see the ‘blue sky’ above, which is a dirty shade of grey right now. Some people of her locality blame the nearby factory for this mayhem but mostly and also Shehzadi know that it’s an indication from God that they are doomed in this lifetime for a sin committed in their previous birth.
Shehzadi doesn’t understand a lot of rituals that are practiced in the slums but she blindly follows them because they are passed on for generations together, of course she sneaks and fulfills some of her wishes, one of them being, owning a pair of footwear. Her grandfather tells her that it is a family ritual that doesn’t allow them to wear footwear, not knowing the real reason behind such obnoxious rituals-poverty. The people living in the slums have convinced themselves of living in the dirt and follow practices that provide them escape from the harsh reality. Shehzadi’s mother is a talented woman, she weaves excellent charpais and makes beautiful pottery products but the men in the house don’t permit her to do something that could earn two square meals for the family. Apparently if a women works for money, the whole family is condemned and doomed for the next 7 births. The slum is rich and prospering with cultures that were both prodigal and unacceptable. Of course Shehzadi is ambitious, but that is it. Even she doesn’t know the way out of this ash filled envelope that surrounds her. Every day she sees someone or the other die of coughing and spilling blood from their mouth. She gets scared but she has no choice.
Her father promised her to send her to school, but as his health deteriorated he couldn’t fulfill his duties of providing two square meals, so there was no question of any school for her. Her mother blew into the small pipe each day to light up the chulah to make food, the ash from the wood and coal was making her asthmatic and Shehzadi sensed something foul. She tried to find something in the garbage that could make her mother better. Each day she rummaged the garbage to find something to eat, to find some medicine for her mother. She had no knowledge of any medicine, but she had heard that eating those little pills improves people’s health. In that quest to find something pragmatic she found a pair of slippers that had two large holes in it. They were like ‘gold’ to her. She wore them and jumped around, she couldn’t feel the rough ground, she was wearing a pair of footwear. How amazing the feeling was. She kept it in the plastic bag she carried.
One afternoon a girl came in the slums. She looked like an angel. She was educated with curious eyes that looked and inspected every hut that she passed. She jumped around the water that was coagulated everywhere. The filth and the squalid environment made her sad. She talked to everyone around. Some people were apprehensive, they thought she had come to tell them to empty their houses and leave. This was turning into a regular trend in the area where large slums were converted into big industries. But she meant no harm. She came with a smile on her face and talked to them about their problems. After some time they understood that she was from a NGO and wanted to help them. Shehzadi flocked around the girl and demanded opening of a school for the children. She listened patiently and left.
Everyone is still waiting for her to come, she promised a better future, a school, some jobs and some happiness that could save them from this hell on Earth or as Shehzadi always called it “The Rich Slum”, the slum which is culturally rich and prosperous!