“When I grow up, there is no way I will live in the tekra,” Payal says firmly. Even though the 12-year old’s scope of the world beyond Ramapir no Tekro, the Ahmedabad slum in which she has been raised, is limited and obscure, she has already made up her mind.
Like his daughter, Payal’s father grew up in the tekro. He hopes Payal’s wish to one-day make a life outside the slum will be realized, though it never was for him. His childhood was spent in hard labor. After his parents passed away when he was in the 7th standard, he dropped out of school. Nowadays, Payal’s father earns about 200 rupees for the family each day by riding through the city and refilling gas bottles for restaurant kitchens and street vendors.
“It’s hard to take even one holiday,” he says. Both Payal’s parents sit tensely during a Saturday afternoon parent’s meeting for the EKATVA children, for which her father took the day off work. “Our household can barely survive if we lose a single day’s earnings.”
Payal does not complain that money is tight, or that space is lacking in their small, one-room home. But she boldly objects to the way boys and young men behave in her community. She describes the way they whistle at her and other young girls, staring and using crude language.
“I’m scared to leave the house by myself,” she says.
Luckily, Payal has not needed to face the harsh tekro on her own as she makes her way to and from EKATVA practices. She and the three other girls from Ramapir no Tekro who were selected for EKATVA have developed a solid friendship. Payal explains how her three friends pick her up from her home, so she does not have to walk past the foul-mouthed boys in her chali, or alley, on her own.
Although Payal is nearly inseparable from Bharti, Nikita, and Krishna, the other EKATVA girls from the tekra, this was not always the case.
Payal admits initially having a difficult time adjusting and mixing with the 15 other children in EKATVA.
“I was upset when my best friends from the tekra weren’t selected for the show,” she says. “I was lonely, and that made it hard to focus on dance practice.”
The other tekra girls would invite Payal to play with them, walk with them, and talk with them, but Payal felt out of place in their triangle. Instead of joining in their masti, or playfulness, Payal kept her distance. Slowly, however, her resistance to their invitations melted as she observed them.
“When they talked to each other and to older people, they spoke so politely” Payal says. “They didn’t use gal (bad words) like my friends in the tekra. As I was watching them, I decided these are the kind of girls I want to have as my friends.”
Payal explains that since joining EKATVA, she has stopped spending time with her old friends in her community, and therefore dropped certain bad habits.
“I don’t use foul language anymore and I don’t feel so much anger when people insult me,” she says.
She explains that her friends and mentors in EKATVA, teach her big and small lessons everyday, and that she has grown to respect and appreciate them like a family.
“They take care of me like sisters,” she says of Bharti, Nikita and Krishna. “We tell everyone we are sisters with different fathers.”