“The answers we seek are around us. You only have to look.”Ruchira Gupta
I started writing this story when a fourteen-year-old girl just like Heera won a gold medal in a karate competition in Forbesganj. That girl also grew up in a lane just like Girls Bazar. Such lanes exist all over the world including here in the United States.The truth is that there is not one, but many Heeras, and they are the inspiration for this book.
Most of the events in this book are inspired by real people, places and events that I witnessed or heard from survivors of human trafficking. Some of the incidents happened to girls, boys and women in my NGO, Apne Aap in India. Others happened to friends in other NGOs here in Queens, New York. Traffickers did try to jump over our NGO’s hostel wall to kidnap the girls. The girls did and do win gold medals in martial arts. Some people like Gainul and Ravi Lala do exist but also some people like Rini Di, Mai, Meeri Di and Salman do exist.
I wish I was. But I do love martial arts and it is part of the activities of my NGO, Apne Aap.
Yes. My childhood summer home is in Forbesganj, Bihar where Heera grew up. You can see some of my paintings of it in the artist section. Growing up, I never knew that a place like Girls Bazar existed. I only found out what was in my own backyard by following the trail of missing girls in Nepal. I was hiking in the hills there when I came across rows of villages with no girls, and that led to the documentary, and that led to my NGO, Apne Aap.
I spent considerable time in the red-light district of Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, where my NGO works. Survivor leaders in Queens, New York guided me through the nightclubs, strip bars and massage parlors, some of which serve as fronts for sex-trafficking .
I found that the global sex-industry stretches all the way from Nepal to New York and everywhere in between.
Later I joined the United Nations and traveled to Thailand, Kosovo, Iran, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka to help develop National Plans of Action against trafficking.
Yes, he does! But that’s another story.
Yes. Ever since I can remember. I read all the time, anything that I could lay my hands on, and then made up my own stories and wrote them. I had nine younger cousins and when we got together for holidays, I would terrify them with ghost stories I made up. Later I started writing professionally for newspapers.
Writing a book took much longer. I had become an activist against sex-trafficking after a reporting assignment in Nepal, where I stumbled upon rows of villages with missing girls. I made a documentary and won an Emmy, but I did not feel like that was enough. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of girls from red-light areas. I started an NGO, called Apne Aap, and that literally took up all my time. I had to deal with the very same situations and incidents that you read about in I Kick and I Fly, with many girls like Heera and many traffickers like Ravi Lala, everyday across India. I had so many stories to tell but no time to write them until the lockdown. And then, I couldn’t stop writing.
I had no magic wand, no experience or knowledge on how to stop the kidnapping of girls or put traffickers in jail. I was an English literature student who became a journalist. I did not know how to start an NGO, let alone run one. But I resolved to do something, invented ways, and moved forward.
I listened to the women and girls. I chatted with them, sat in circles with them, went into their mud huts and got to know them. Apne Aap’s business plan was based on four dreams the women had:
a) School for their children; b) a home of their own; c) a job in an office; d) punishment of their perpetrators.
I made mistakes individually and together. But we succeeeded more than we failed-girl by girl, law by law…
I Kick and I Fly is based on the stories of our successes and failures AND the dreams I have.
Many young people have inspired me, with their courage, curiosity, idealism and rebellion. I want to share stories about what happens to young people with people their own age.
And because you will read them and find some answers, laughter, love, courage and friends.
This is a tough a question to a bookworm. I did loved Jo in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. I used to follow the adventures of Tintin assiduously and longed for Tintin to be a girl. I love Atticus in To Kill a Mocking Bird. My favorite Indian writer is Rabindranath Tagore. You can watch a Netflix series called Stories from Tagore to see some of the stories on your screen.