If you ever want a reminder of how to dream, talk to a child. They dream big, don’t they? Give them a few years and the dreams are a lot more tamed. Fantasies of going to Mars come down to the desires of holidaying in Europe. Some more years and they start getting realistic; crowds running after respectable academia and job security. I do take some pride in realising my childhood dream of becoming a doctor, but the respect and financial independence that came with the title were inseparable from my drive behind becoming one. I still wanted to help those in need and make the best use of my skills, but there was also a growing need to be recognised for what I did and work amongst the most skilled in my profession. And I was getting there, practising in a renowned hospital in Mumbai until it all changed.

A short visit to Pratappur that was not supposed to last more than a few days flipped my idea of success on its head. The village that I had grown up in was suffocating under the weight of regressive norms, and its inhabitants were simply holding their breaths and going with it. When people learn to live with a rotten system, they start starving. Pratappur was deprived of everything that could give it a better life; education, equality, awareness, and honest officials. So the town naturally fed on the alternatives; ignorance and toxic patriarchy that oppressed its women in every manner possible.

I couldn’t breathe when my home was suffocating. Ideas of success changed from acclaim and earning well, to working against the evils prevailing in society. I couldn’t stick to the comfortable security of a well-paying job when I knew I had the ability to bring change in a society that was forgetting to respect its women.  The taboos and stigmas were keeping people in the dark and outright denying them their right to imagine and dream.

Pratappur’s children were being denied their right to dream and I had to change my story, to change theirs. It would not be an exaggeration to call the journey so far a rollercoaster. It began with a broken engagement and a disappointed family because I chose to put my moral duties before anything else. It saw conflicts and arguments, but it also saw understanding. It has seen several trials and tribulations — from nights in jail cells to attempts at defamation. But me with my family by my side saw light through it all. I am sure the road ahead has a lot more potholes and bumps to throw my way; but so far, it has earned me an unparalleled sense of peace and satisfaction that I wouldn’t trade for the world.