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Luna’s smile

Volunteering, even for a day, or a minute, can change lives. Not just for those who are served, but for the volunteer as well. 

I met Luna (name changed) on the very first day, when MukkaMaar was born. She didn’t look a day over seven-years-old. She had always been small and frail – a clear sign of malnourishment. To top it off, there were other features that made her distinctively stand out. She was noticeably quiet. In fact I don’t remember her speaking at all during her first year. There was a strange grit and determination in her though – she always stood right at the front during the self-defence classes, and she always practiced and learnt all the techniques religiously. She smiled infrequently during those initial months, but when she did she’d light up. It was an infectious smile too – everyone around vibed in sync with her. It might sound a little fantastical but even the beach and the waves joined in. The day she finally spoke I found out that she was in the sixth class. Clearly I had been wrong about her age. I wish I had been wrong about her malnourishment too. 

Over the years she opened up and became a mainstay of our programmes. When she learnt that we had partnered with her school for MukkaMaar’s school outreach programme, her joy knew no bounds! She was excited because she already knew the techniques she learnt at our classes on the beach. She may have been frail but her punches weren’t. Her confidence extended to her ability to outperform other girls from her class. She had changed, literally, over this time span. In fact so great was the change that she featured primarily in our video aired on MTV. Post the shoot she had begun getting chattier with the volunteers as well. 

 Luna walked in, one fine afternoon when I was sitting, conjuring plans for the Women’s Day event in the studio. It was a few weeks before the event and I was as usual, deeply engrossed in my plans with a few friends in tow. She came up from behind, clutching a notebook, and said, “Didi, likha speech. Practice karao.” (Didi, I have written my speech, now make me practice it.) 

My friend Kritika was also there. She is one of the few folks, I know, who had made it to the event every year. She was (and in many ways still is), one of the most die hard cheerleaders we have and has been an essential cog in the functioning of MukkaMaar. I wouldn’t be too wrong in saying that she was always available – be it the beach classes, helping keep tabs on the attendance, or just suggesting new ideas to take the organisation forward. Volunteers like her make MukkaMaar the organisation that it is. Seeing that I was busy, she volunteered to help Luna. 

I got busy with my work and so did they. A while later, Luna left excited – all prepared for her big day. As she walked away, Kritika’s cheerful demeanour changed and a noticeable look of concern and sadness replaced it. She was clearly shaken. She came and sat down next to me and narrated Luna’s story. She had read her speech (written in Hindi) with a wide smile to Kritika. 

It read: “I am Luna. I started MukkaMaar 4 years ago. Then Didi  came to my school. I have learnt to block, punch and kick; and I know squats, and crunches, and pushups. I am strong. I was not like this. When I was three-years-old, I was kidnapped, raped, and thrown in a ditch. Now nothing like that can happen.”

I’m going to leave you with this; the hope, the resilience and the light just a few steps can make…

-Ishita Sharma

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