“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”
― Nora Ephron
When we least expect it, life sends our way the most challenging obstacles. At age 17, Nisha was anything but ready for what was coming her way. This is her story.
Nisha is a resident of Rathora village in Uttar Pradesh, India. She is the third amongst five siblings. One afternoon when Nisha was in her senior year at school, she was faced with the sudden death of her father, the sole bread earner of the family. In a matter of days, Nisha’s shattered family was driven to the streets. At this trying time of her life, Nisha found herself deserted by relatives and extended family.
Nisha realized she had to take charge of the situation. She could not bear to see her younger siblings forced out of school, and readily gave up her own schooling to earn enough to afford them an education.
Before his demise, Nisha’s father was running a small tea stall outside the police station (chowki) at Chaprolli village. Nisha now resolved to take over this stall. But this was not an easy task. No girl had run a shop around the village before, and she faced stiff opposition from relatives and fellow villagers. In their opinion, a woman’s place was in the home, and the most she could to outside the four walls of the house was attend to the fields. As a result, Nisha was subject to boycott, and whoever she asked refused to grant her the loan she required to reopen the tea stall. Fortunately, an old acquaintance of her father agreed to lend her the 2000 rupees she so desperately required. With this money, Nisha was finally able to start business.
However one problem still lingered – nobody would buy from a stall run by a girl. But Nisha was not one to back down. The solution in her mind was simple: if the villagers wanted a boy to run the stall, they would get one. She cut her hair short and styled it like a man’s. She then borrowed a few of her brother’s clothes. In a matter of hours, Nisha had transformed herself into a rugged young man.
Nisha began running her stall in her newly acquired disguise. Though it didn’t take long for the villagers to recognize her, Nisha had already acquired a reasonable clientele by the time they did. Besides, the villagers gradually began to accept her and were quite impressed by her pursuit. There were instances when she was threatened and harassed by men, but she boldly persisted. Soon enough Nisha could afford to educate her siblings and get her elder sister married into a respectable family. A while later, she even bought herself a motorbike to facilitate the commute from the stall to her home.
Today, Nisha is not only successfully running her little stall, but is also running a parallel business of dealing in gas cylinders. She is a role model to the girls of her village, who aspire to be like her. Her family insists she gets married soon, but she has no such plans.
Nisha’s story is one of admirable bravery and of determinedly seeking solutions. It is not easy to to challenge deep-rooted social conditioning and cultural taboos . Moreover, to sacrifice one’s own dreams so that others can live theirs is a choice of compassion. Nisha is a living example of what one can do with just a little courage, by rising to the occasion and being a man – literally!