I could say that each day was the same since that fateful day, and that nothing had changed in the grand scale of things, but that just isn't true. Everything changed, sometimes faster than I thought I could cope with, but I got through it, for better or for worse, and here I am.
I was six years old the day the course of my life was altered drastically. I had been a sheltered, innocent child, shrouded in the privilege of being born to highly educated and devoted parents. The worst I was forced to do was practice music every single day, and the most bitter feeling I had ever experienced was that of being a show pony of sorts; the perfect child. My high-achieving parents loved me unconditionally, albeit in a manner that involved structuring my life to the last minute. Even at that age, I knew that I was expected to get into a prestigious college someday, but there was no pressure, possibly because of my age, and I spent happy afternoons playing with the other children in the colony, evenings completing the little homework I had been assigned, practicing music and spending time with my parents. Time, that I later realized, was more precious than I could have ever imagined.
My mother read me bedtime stories at night, and my father came in said goodnight before I was tucked in. I enjoyed school, partly because it was an opportunity to play with friends and partly because I found schoolwork easy. My life was wonderful, and I took it for granted. I don't find it surprising in the least that I did, because it is human tendency to take things for granted. If we spent each moment fearing the loss of something we hold close to our hearts, we wouldn't really be living life at all. Regardless, it came as a rude shock the day I was snatched away from my comfortable life and thrown into an industry that recruits more children than even the firecracker industry, that of begging.
It was like every stereotypical kidnapping that people are warned against, but it was so much more than that to me, a six-year-old who was used to three meals a day, birthday presents and adults who held me and comforted me when I was scared. My childhood and innocence were ripped away from me, not in a single and defining moment, but in bits and pieces that stand out more vividly than the others. The day I was taken was the beginning, but it wasn't the worst.
I was in a park with a cousin when I wandered farther than I should have. My cousin, an enthusiastic boy of twelve, was distracted by his own shenanigans of climbing the banyan tree in the corner of the park, and didn't notice me slip away. I had been warned against strangers, but it wasn't a person that caught my attention: it was a large and broken-down play structure that was outside the premises of the park. I climbed up the structure with a little difficulty, and reached the top slightly winded. Other than a few discarded bottles, the place was empty. I was standing at the top and attempting to reach a tree branch when I heard footsteps behind me and turned around, expecting to see my cousin. A young man stood there instead, and before I could register anything else about him, he clamped his hand on my mouth and lead me down the structure. An auto stood waiting nearby, and with that arbitrary combination of the misfortune of curiosity and the coincidence of stumbling upon a professional kidnapper, I was whisked away.
When I awoke, I was still in an auto, and with the same man who had taken me. "Who are you? Where are we going? Why did you bring me?" I asked a series of questions, unperturbed by the fact that I had been kidnapped. He turned to me, seeming somewhat amused that I was talkative instead of afraid. He told me later that day, as he did several other days, that I was different, and unlike anyone else he had kidnapped. I persisted, and his laughter turned into irritation.
While some fears are primal, other fears, such as the fear of violence and cruelty are learned behaviors. Until that moment, I had never had anything to truly fear. Tarun anna, as I later learnt to call him, changed that.