Jothy, in this picture, is 9 years old and she has the most sincere and suffered smile that someone ever gave to me.
Her story is the same story of thousands of female children that had the bad luck to be born in the wrong place: India, West Bengal, one of the numerous villages that surround Kolkata, one of the poorest city in the world.
2 square meters mud shed for 10 people, unpaved little roads, palm trees, animals and a simplicity imposed by the poverty that repeat itself every day, since centuries, and that waits just to be swallowed by the polluted chaos of the metropolis.
Jothy’s story starts in the same moment she was born: she is a female, a condition that in certain areas of the world is a condemnation. That’s because the centuries-old Indian tradition establishes that the dowry of the marriage has to be paid by the wife’s family. Translation: when Jothy will get married (and she has to, because for an Indian family the biggest humiliation is not to find an husband for the daughter), her family will be forced to give all the few things they have to the husband’s family. Translation: they will lose everything.
To this situation, it’s necessary to add a sexism which is not an Indian exclusive but that the ignorance and the misery of some areas of this country made terrible. The woman is nothing: she is just an uterus to make children (possibly males) and a pair of hands and legs to take care of the house. Full stop.
Jothy is 6 years old when one day her mother brings her to the railway that goes out from Kolkata to get lost in the enormous countryside. The mother doesn’t speak, not even a word. Everything happens in few seconds. The train approaches with high speed. Jothy feels the hands of the mother that grab her and throw her in the railways. Who knows if she had the time to realize what was going on, or maybe to see her mother running away.
Jothy remains in the railways in a blood puddle, screaming for the pain. The train cut off her legs just under the knees.
The passengers brought her in the only place in Kolkata where someone would take care of her: in the indoor clinic of I.I.M.C. ( institute for Indian mother and child http://www.iimcmissioncal.org/) in a district in Kolkata suburbs.
The first memory I have about Jothy is her smile appearing behind the blue door of the I.I.M.C.’s orphanage. When I got closer to say her hello, with a stupid red nose on my face, she blows a raspberry to me and run away smiling, incredibly stable on her prosthesis. We continued the whole afternoon. Me trying to catch her, she running and smiling.
I couldn’t believe the story that an orphanage’s teacher told me. I could never image that Jothy didn’t speak a word for 2 years after the “accident”, let alone a smile.
Even now, that I’m watching again, after 3 years, that smile I’m wondering how it’s possible; from where it comes out and how it can climb over the trauma that cancelled it from her face for such a long time.
This is India. This is Kolkata. This is what Dominique la Pierre called “the city of joy”.
I didn’t find the explanation of this smile yet, but in La Pierre’s words I found the best description of this picture: “ Her smile donated me a secret reason to not despair, a shiny light in the darkness.” (free translation from Italian because I didn’t find the quote in English).