That is a nice name, Haseena, I say.
She stops her prodding and regards me, suspicious and wary once more. Hey, hey, I say, alarmed by her ready and vivid assumptions. I mean no harm. I am old enough to be your father; I have a daughter your age. She resumes her attack on the greatly diminished pile of garbage. We make an unlikely pair and are subject to curious glances from people walking about on this busy street. At one point, the banana vendor across the street ventures over and speaks to Haseena in Marathi, asking her who I was; she tells him to mind his own business. Hurt, he returns back to his seat and stares at us sullenly.
Why are you not in school? I ask. She snorts in laughter, a sharp intake of air through the nose and barring of cracked, uneven teeth, it is a laugh without any warmth. Here is the story of Haseena as told to me over 2 meets. I must admit I paid her INR100 (about USD2) every time I met her, and she opened up to talk nicely. For a girl of only 12, she had the street smarts of a person most mature.
She is Haseena Sheikh, about 12 or 13 year old, she’s not too sure, living with her mom and step dad in a hovel across the sea from Andheri in Malaad. Her natural father abandons her and her mother the day Haseena is born. Her maternal grandfather dies a month later and her mother begins a career with garbage heaps soon after; she has to eat and there is enough money in garbage if one works hard. Her mother marries a close cousin, a divorced man, a haraami (a bastard, her words). Haseena spits at every mention of her step dad. Haseena is put to work at age 5; her step dad needs the money for tobacco pareeki and the local brew. She has to meet a daily quota so she has to work 3 garbage collection points; her step dad has paid the local mafia for the privilege to work these. You seem to hate your step dad a lot, why? I ask. Haseena spits once more, uncomfortably close to where I am seated, the blob accurately targeted towards sparse shrubs nearby. Haraami, kutta…he has eyes for me, for my jism (body); he tries to watch me when I bathe or go to the toilet. Haraami saala. Spit, spit.
What about your mother? I ask her. Beekar auraat (useless women), she replies and snorts in laughter at my shocked look. She married that kutta (dog) because she had the hots for him, now he eyes me and undresses me with his eyes and she does nothing. She is trapped, you see. She loves him, can’t leave him because my dad left us and she is afraid she’ll be alone if he were to leave as well. So she sacrifices me and lets him ogle and harass me. I feel so miserable at her bitterness and misfortune, I want to weep!
Haseena wakes up very early, fetches water from a public tap and prepares for dinner, chopping onions and vegetables that her mother will cook into curry that evening. She cleans up, not that there is a lot to clean and has breakfast of tea and pau baaji or leftover dinner from last night. Her first stop is here, where she will work for about 2 hours and then 2 more heaps in other parts of Andheri before heading home to misery and the eyes of her step dad following her every move. What does she do with the sorted garbage? A tempo (motorbike converted into a compact truck) comes by and hauls it away to where she knows not.
To be continued….tomorrow?