At home in Ballimaran.

At home in Ballimaran.


I never enjoy getting on a plane. If I can, I always prefer driving, to my chosen destination. But driving to Kashmir during the floods was not an option. It was on my flight back to Delhi from Srinagar on the 14th of September, last year that I met her. Arshi was a bubbly, seventeen year old, Dilli 6 ki ladki, who spoke nineteen to a dozen-about the floods and about herself. Being the youngest of six siblings, she knew how to hold my attention. I soon became ‘aapi’ and of course, I was totally enamoured by her charm. After all, she loved Ghalib, too. 

Recently, I caught up with my little spitfire at her home in Chandni Chowk and strolled through Old Delhi. Here, are excerpts from the conversation.

Do you feel pressurized to wear a hijab?

No! It’s my wish.

When you step out of Chandni Chowk, do you ever find people staring at you?

Yes, but it doesn’t make me a difference.

What do wish for young Muslim girls, such as yourself?

First, we should be independent. We should be allowed to speak our minds, freely not only at home but outside, as well.

Do you consider yourself to be independent?

Yes! I do. Mein kissi ke dabaav mein nahin aati. I move freely. I do what pleases me but I try to be good.

Can you tell me about your experience during the floods in Kashmir?

I was really excited to visit Kashmir. There was a family wedding in Srinagar and my sister and I reached there on the 1st of September. The wedding got over on the 4th of September and on the 5th the area, Batmaloo started submerging in water. We were evacuated from smaller houses and moved to taller buildings.  It was very difficult to get through the night. There was no electricity and it was really cold. Hum bahut pareshaan the lekin, Allah se dua karte rahein. Then Allah helped us and after a few days we returned home.

Did the neighbours help?

Yes, the roofs were connected with planks, so first we shifted to a neighbours house and then as the water receded we moved back to our relatives. When it had receded to our waist level, we walked through it and caught a flight back to Delhi.

What do you like to do?

Mein speech me sabse aage hun. I participate in a lot of debates and competitions. I have many participation certificates and have won many prizes. I love to dance and my teachers love me because I am freedom.

Plus, you love reciting poetry. Do you want to recite something?

Yes! I love poetry. Hame kyaa maloom tha zindagi itni anmol he dosto. Kafan odh kar dekha to nafrat karne wale bhi ro rahe the.













The Girl In Dirty Shoes

The other day I woke up startled at some Godforsaken hour in Srinagar. The white light from the compact fluorescent lamp woke me up from my slumber or maybe it was the floods. The sound of grown men howling in hotel corridors, people pleading for food and water or just yelling out to be rescued…for the first being alone in Kashmir scared the living day lights out of me.

I fumbled out of bed and went towards the mirror. This had become a habit since I’d started wearing lenses. Through my half blind, -8 eyes I peered at myself. The skin had become two shades darker and the hair was as unruly as ever. I smiled sardonically. I was miserably failing to meet the boyish standard of beauty- untamable  hair, dark skin, crooked nose. The events of the past year had shattered my self image, claimed many. They were now known as ‘many’. I no longer addressed people as friends or family- In my head everyone was now neatly labelled as acquaintances, people I knew and people I was related to.

I put on my lenses and the image in the mirror was no longer a blurred outline of a person but an actual reflection.Over the years I had been described as fragile, mad, eccentric, bitchy, egoistic, child, woman…hell, once a poem was written on my contradictory qualities. Nothing ever seemed like a perfect fit.

In the corner of my room were a pair of shoes that had gotten dirty while working in Bemina. That night, when I saw those shoes- for the first time I truly saw myself. ‘Some women are smart, some are beautiful. Some please your friends others please your family. I would always be just the girl in the dirty shoes…going everywhere she shouldn’t… doing everything you wouldn’t!’.

From The Srinagar Airport On The Way Back To New Delhi.