Nisha lives at the end of a row in the slums of Meethapur. Just beyond her house lie dusty fields interspersed with green pools of stagnant water, filled with rubbish. Dogs lie in the shade, trying to keep cool. We enter her home, and her mother brings over plastic chairs for us to sit on. As my eyes adjust to the shadows of the tiny room, the first thing I notice about Nisha, who is seated on the bed, is how thin she is. She is 18 years old, in the 12th class, but looks much younger. Originally from Buxar, in Bihar, she found out that she had TB when she was admitted to the hospital for a ruptured vein.
Her mother stands by throughout the interview. She has a regal quality that cannot be tempered by the harsh surroundings; I can tell that Nisha will inherit the same poise and elegance. It is clear that they have a close-knit family. When I ask how her family is with her TB, she says “they are great”. She considers herself lucky that her family is taking such good care of her. She knows of others who have left their children in orphanages and hospitals, or abandoned their parents in old-age homes when they develop TB. Her father, who works in a flower shop nearby in Kalkaji, does not earn much, but returns early every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to take her to the OpASHA center. At the beginning, he had to carry her because she was too weak to leave her bed.
Nisha has been on treatment since March, and has not attended school since it began. She is well-educated and knows that she must take her medications on time, that she must eat a balanced diet, and about the precautions she must take to prevent the spread of the disease. Even though her neighbors know about her TB, she has not yet told her friends. She says that she talks to them on the phone almost every day, but that since the school is far away, and because she is not currently attending, her friends do not need to know.
When I ask whether the treatment is difficult for her, she says “yes, it’s very hard”, and looks like she’s fighting back tears. She explains about the side effects she experiences as a result of the TB treatment: body spasms, locked joints, a burning sensation in her stomach when she takes her medications. But when I ask if she thinks it will improve, she nods and says it is getting better, and the tears disappear. She says she is becoming healthier, but does her best not to miss any doses so that she will be cured soon.
Once she gets better, Nisha tells me she wants to finish her schooling. When I ask if she wants to attend university, she immediately nods. She says that she would like to study English Honors. When I ask if she knows what kind of work she would like to do after university, she says she is unsure, but perhaps something with computers. I cannot help but agree with her choice: her English is superb, and it is obvious that she is a very bright young woman. As I leave, I thank her for telling me all of this, and tell her that she is very brave. And I mean it; she has a very bright future ahead of her, and it requires a lot of courage to fight the battle that she is faced with, but I fully believe that she, with her family’s support, can win.
Written by Hannah Wichmann, Photo by Prateek Ahuja