We run from ghosts, because they scare us,
and her home was full of them. Ghosts from the past.

Ujjwala was a very creative child from the very beginning and everyone knew about it. How can I define her more than her own name? When she entered a room, it felt like the sun had shone upon that particular part of the earth a little more brighter than everywhere else. She grew up in a home full of love. Especially from her Daadi. Her Daadi used to call her “Chhamki”, because of the sound her anklets use to make. They announced her arrival before she came.

During one summer break, her daadi taught her some stitching and she felt like her imagination had gotten wings. That was the first time that she stayed awake till 2 at night and made clothes for her doll and that was the day 12 years old Ujjwala gave the verdict that she wanted to be a fashion designer and later on, she got into the college too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet.

You must be wondering that everything is so bright and shiny, then why did I start the story on such a black and blue note?
Well, you haven’t met Ujjwala’s uncle yet. Ujjwala’s uncle used to live in Australia. He used to work there with his wife. They didn’t have any children. Anyone who would meet him would become fond of him from the very first meeting. So, what’s wrong? Wrong was how he made Ujjwala feel.

Whenever uncle came home (that would be once a year), he would bring Ujjwala all sorts of gifts and assorted chocolates. He would make her sit on his lap and caress her. He would kiss her cheeks and hug her from behind. She hated all of that but told none. She grew up with time. This kept happening every year. Once she mentioned it to her mother and her mother told her that nothing was wrong. Her uncle lived abroad, and it was okay in his culture to be a little physical with the way they express their love and that he treated her like his own child. That night Ujjwala slept on that thought and the next morning woke up thinking that everything is in her mind. That’s what she told herself and kept telling again and again whenever those thoughts crept her mind.

When she was 16, her uncle came home. He had decided to live in India now. He wanted to have a separate house but Ujjwala’s dad forced him to stay with them, saying that in India brothers live together and that they’ll always be a family. So, now he lived with them. In that house. Ujjwala would see him every day, talk to him, laugh with him.  She had nowhere to go after all, but this time things were fine. So, she was convinced that everything was actually in her mind.

One day, her entire family had to go to attend a wedding, except her. Her mother said she couldn’t go as she had her board exams the following month and her entire career would depend on how much she scored in her boards and the entrance exam for her college after that. So, she agreed, but her daadi didn’t. Daadi said,” It’s not safe for her to stay alone at home. The world isn’t a safe place and who knows who’s been keeping an eye on my princess. If she stays, I’ll stay too. ” On which, her uncle jumped into the conversation and said,” Amma, what can you even do, even if you stay? You go to the wedding, I’ll stay and protect her from everything.” Then he looked at Ujjwala and smiled creepily. He then turned towards everyone and said,” I’ve grown to not be fond of Indian wedding culture anyway. So I’ll stay.” Everyone agreed upon that thought and went away leaving Ujjwala and her uncle behind.

Ujjwala was studying in her room when her uncle knocked and came in without waiting for an answer. He asked her, “Gudiya, what are you studying?.” And before she could reply, he came very close to her and sat on her bed. She got a little uncomfortable, and he took her hand into his own and said,” Hey, don’t be afraid. Don’t you remember how you used to sit in my lap when you were a little girl? I hate that we grew apart. I want you to sit on my lap right now.” He started to do all sorts of things that she had learned were bad in her health education class.

She knew she should talk, she knew she should say something, but she couldn’t. The words would form in her mind but not come out of her mouth. Morning came. Then another day, another week and next month came within no time. Everyone noticed that the light of their house had somehow dimmed, but they thought that maybe she was stressed because of her exams. So they encouraged her to study.  She gave the exams and somehow passed. She cleared the entrance test too and got into a fashion designing college as well. Her college was in another state. So, she went away, with a thought in her mind that she won’t come home. Ever. And that she did. For a year at least. Her parents would come to visit her and urge her to come home with them but she refused. During vacations, she would always plan a trip with her friends and go away.

Time passed and she had started to heal. At least it appeared so. Ujjwala had started becoming the life of the party again. She channelized all of her energy into her creativity and dumped the dark part of her story in some dingy corner of her brain. She was happy, until last month when she heard about the lockdown. Now, she had to go home. Her home. Full of ghosts she didn’t want to acknowledge.

Reluctantly, she went home. Reluctantly, she went to her room. Her mom had put on the same bedsheet on her bed, that was there that night. That darkest night of her life. Reluctantly, she saw her uncle. She saw him smile and she stood like a dead body when he hugged her and welcomed her home. She stayed there. Fought with the demons inside, but one of them was out in the open. She was living with him. With the ghost, that she left in her past. Which she was seeing in her present. There was no way out. Every time she looked at him, all the memories would become fresh and she would feel stale. Yesterday, Ujjwala left us. She used the same bedsheet to hang herself from the fan in the same room. She left a note.

“Ghosts scare me, and I see one every day.
I know I should try to make it go away,
But it keeps on growing,
It’s bigger than it was yesterday.
It’ll be bigger tomorrow.
I can’t see it anymore.
So, I’ll go.”

There were 92,000 calls of child abuse in the first 11 days of lockdown in India.
According to a report by The Hindu, there has been an increase in the number of calls by 50% after the lockdown.
A similar situation occurred in France and they started relocating the victims to safe hotels.
I hope such measures would be taken in India soon.

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Source: The Hindu.
https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-lockdown-govt-helpline-receives-92000-calls-on-child-abuse-and-violence-in-11-days/article31287468.ece

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