When other girls of my age would play with Barbie dolls, I would imitate summersaults and stunts shown in Jackie Chan's movies. Seeing this, my mother, despite living in a conservative and male-dominated society, took a courageous step and put me in a nearby Karate class. I used to love it there. Often, I would visualize myself fighting with criminals and being a super hero (heroine, actually.) As aptly put by Rhonda Byrne in her book-'The Secret', "Thoughts become things!", or an event for that matter.
On 10th April, 2002, I boarded a ladies' compartment of a Mumbai local train along with my mother and younger brother, Chinmay. As there were only about a dozen women in the compartment, Chinmay and I didn't have to fight for the window seat. Four stations later, as the train was pulling out of Mumbai Central, two men suddenly leapt in. One of them immediately made for a group of women at one end of the compartment," Maal Nikaal, (hand over your money)", he snarled.
The other thug, a bearded man, with a knife strapped to his upper arm, darted towards my mother. He grabbed the strap of her hand bag and tried to yank it off her shoulder. In that fraction of a second, several thoughts struck me with a velocity greater than that of light. This was the moment when I realized the difference between fantasy and reality. To be honest, I was scared for a moment. After all, I was a ten year old kid and that man, with a strong built, looked like the villain of a movie. But how could I not protest? I would very soon come to know if I were brave and courageous and could be a global leader in future and fulfill my dreams and aspirations or I were a coward and would be a mere follower. My response in the next few minutes would make or break my image in my own eyes. At last, I screamed and lunged for the bag. In the tug-of-war, he scratched my face and pulled my hair, but I did not let go of the bag. My mother kept yelling," Let him take it away."
Exasperated, the thug grabbed me and pushed me towards the doorway of the speeding train. I would have fallen out had it not been for the pole in the centre of the doorway. I was hanging half down the train. Although bruised, I managed to grab the pole and pull myself back in the compartment. Just as I climbed up the train, another train sped by on the adjacent track. A mere delay of a second could have ended my life. This was the closest I had been to death. Recalling it gives me goosebumps every time! While I still stood in shock, the thug was approaching me with a knife in his hand. My 6 years old brother, concerned about my safety, came running from behind and bit hard on the thug's fist. Howling with pain, the man dropped his knife, and quick as a flash, Chinmay kicked it out of the train. Presence of mind, indeed! Furious, the thief grabbed him and flung him towards some empty seats. My poor brother landed with a thud, injuring his head and scraping his knees. This infuriated me and I could suddenly feel a superpower in me. (Though, it was all psychological.) I screamed real loud and attacked him. I locked myself around his neck and shoulders. By the time, my brother got up and entered the fray. Soon, the other thug, too, got involved.
In the tussle, one of the thieves' lungi (cloth wrapped around waist and legs) came off. Forgetting all his pain, my little angel- my naïve brother- burst into laughter. As the thug tried to wrap it, he dropped the hand bag, and taking the hint from me, my brother quickly pounced on it.
By now, the train had slowed down, as it was approaching a station. One of the thieves jumped out. When the other one saw his partner disappear, he too rushed towards the doorway. We and the other women-who until now, had offered no resistance-tried to stop him, but he managed to get away.
For our courage, Chinmay and I were honored by National Bravery Award and President's Medal for Gallantry on republic Day. We became celebrities overnight and it was published in international publications such as Readers' Digest and New York Times and was published as a chapter in 9th grade's English text book. Also, after this incident, the Government passed a law, according to which, every ladies' compartment in the local trains started having women cops.
Some people opine that my reaction was a stupid one for a meager amount of $4. But it was not at all about money. It was about fighting against injustice. It was about taking the right action at the right time. It was about attitude. It was about testing myself and my limits and knowing the person I am.
Although, I obviously didn't use Karate stunts that day-it was just like a street fight- all that happened was because of the confidence my Karate lessons had imbibed in me. Knowing how to defend oneself and loved ones in a potentially dangerous situation is an asset in today's world. In fact, this incident boosted my interest in Martial Arts. Today, I hold Black-Belts in both, Karate and Taekwondo. Martial Arts has made me physically and more so, mentally strong. After this incident, everybody at home, school and in society started looking up to me. My desire to excel in all my pursuits and to contribute to the society grew stronger. My leadership abilities got enhanced. I became a more responsible citizen. In short, this incident has helped me mature, over the years.
With time, I have realized the power of mental strength, and I plan to start programs for others, especially the women and the weaker sections of the society, by imparting education, counseling, self-defense training and making them skillful in various professions, to help them become self-sufficient, independent, confident and in turn, physically, socially and mentally stronger individuals, and thus, productive and responsible citizens of society.
To conclude, though the thugs could not take a single penny out of the compartment, they left fading scars on my hands and an eternal impact on my mind.