twilight is my favourite time of day in india. at home it is morning – early, quiet morning, but here the mornings are loud and, to an uncaffeinated mind, vaguely hostile, full of bustle and sound and intrusion.

but twilight… twilight is magical, safe, and elusive.

as i was coming back from kasturba, in nearby simraha, twilight was that magical hour when everyone turns home, myself included. along the road old men walked with their buffalo, pointed towards town. in the fields children herded goats and cows, driving them towards their shacks of bamboo and mud. there is a magical tree here; green in the fall, bare in the winter, and then, for one week which i blessedly was here for, they burst into flames of bright red, enormous flowers. no foliage… just bare branches with crimson blossoms balanced on them. they look like magic took root and grew in the savannah. their red is the same red of the women’s sindoor, dark and rich.

the girls at kasturba have been amazing lately. in class last week karishma reached her arms overhead and swirled her hands in the sky and the look on her face was almost ritualistic, so deeply felt were the movements. it brought tears to my own eyes, as she closed hers in half-bliss, swaying to her own music. spring is infectious here, and though the days are each one hotter than the last, the girls are full of life. nisha (remember nisha?) is like the red-blossomed trees; she glows now with internal light, when only 4 months ago she was threatening suicide and had no spark in her eyes. this is what safety has given nisha; not being home, not being prostituted. she looks alive now, when before only her body walked and talked, with nothing behind it, no glow, no spirit. i am awed to see this resilience, but not all are blessed with it. kajal puts on a brave face, but her hurt is evident, like a deep-wound that has healed over but scarred permanently. she says it is because she trusted her family all the way up until the point when she realized they had betrayed that trust, when her virginity was sold for a night to a man older than her father. now her smile is tempered, and though she laughs, it is not the carefree laugh that a thirteen year old’s should be. but still she tries; she plays and runs and gossips and when i came today she borrowed my sunglasses and mugged for the camera, striking model poses. these moments you can almost see the safe child within… almost, but not quite. i hope desperately that resilience is contagious; that nisha’s strength to re-find herself and her joy spreads to her friends.

twilight is magical at kasturba, too, because it brings everyone together. when the power goes out, as it always does and the fading daylight doesn’t make it into the concrete rooms, the only light in the compound is the dim, yellow glow of the solar panel’s wan bulb. this is in the center, in the courtyard, by the water pump, and so when the darkness comes we all gather there, coming from the room where we dance, or the rooms where they sleep 16 to a room on plywood beds, or the kitchen where they squat and chop vegetables. we all gather in the courtyard to wait out the night, or the light. we sing, trading songs, one from me in english (all my songs are melancholy, so they beg me, ‘happy song, didi! happy song, no sad!’) and then one from them in hindi. we sing back and forth, we play with each other’s hair. one or two of them will drape themselves over my shoulders and chest and let themselves be cradled and safe for the moment, holding me tightly and letting me hold them back. i try to visualize my heart opening like a trap door, pouring light and love from my body into theirs in the dimness of twilight in bihar as the goats bleat from the field on their homeward way.

it isn’t much, but it’s what i have. goodness knows the light and love of these 52 girls fills my life with brightness, no matter the darkness around me, as i walk past the flameflower trees and the cows lowing softly to their calves, on my way home.

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