Why this young lady is not only a seller of fish
Dear Hanan Hamid, In the name of 35 million Malayalis, I offer you my sincerest apologies and hang my head in shame. Hanan, while you are recuperating in hospital from the trauma of virtual mauling by a pack of ferocious social media bulldogs, I am unable to promise this wouldn’t happen to another daughter of Kerala. Because we live in a dark, dark digital age where some believe they can make or break this world if they have a smartphone with WiFi. Where an army of radicals is on the prowl looking to prey on unsuspecting people in the name of God. Where social media has blurred the line between real news and fake news. Where communism, gender equality and women empowerment are debated in tea shops but never let into hearts.
Hanan, your are the Malala Yousafzai of India whose story could inspire the whole world. Malala grew up in the shadows of terrorism. You grew up in the shadows of abandonment and destitution. The path of dreams has been painful for both of you. Hanan, you are the poster girl of hard work who can light up the lives of millions of woebegone young girls. You are a bedtime story every Indian mother should read to her daughters. Hanan, you are the modern folklore.
A fish seller after college hours.
A tuition teacher in school days. An ornaments maker at the age of 13. An itinerant food vendor at local fairs. A snack supplier for colleges and restaurants.
A call centre worker.
A junior artiste in numerous films. A dubbing artiste.
A stage actor.
A singer who has cut albums.
A flower girl.
At the age of 19, Hanan’s CV is mind-boggling. The diminutive, effervescent teenager did all these to eke out a living for her family. She had no choice, having been left to fend for herself by an alcoholic father.
Life has been a maelstrom of uncertainties ever since her father, Hamid, a pickle maker, met with an accident and was bedridden for a year. The family was rendered homeless by the time Hamid was back on his feet. Life began to look up again when they started to make pearl ornaments at their rented home and sold in local markets.
When the business prospered, a contract Hamid got at a local pub proved to be their nemesis. The work opened the alcoholic floodgates which Hamid was unable to close. “Alcohol made him an abusive husband who pounded my mother with all that he could lift in the house. We were thrown out of rented homes one after another on account of the high-decibel fights. My mother lost her job as my father took the battle to her office. Soon she lost her mental balance.” Hanan was loquacious when she narrated her predicament to scores of media that besieged her at the market place.
She carries no ill-feelings towards her father though she tells me his alcoholism destroyed their lives. “I fondly call my father Elavu. I still love him more than myself. My request to all fathers out there is, please do not abandon your daughters like this.”
The separation brought more misery. “There was no money to pay school fees. We were harassed by teachers so that we would leave on our own. I lived with my friend Athira for a year till I finished my high school. My mother split between Athira’s place and a relative’s home.”
With resources drying up, she moved from Thrissur to the bigger city of Kochi hoping to find a steady job. While she lived in a rented room, her mother was put up in a hostel where a mentally ill lady would soon create trouble. After over a dozen hostels were tried out, she was sent back to a relative’s place.
Hanan tried out many jobs to fund her education. She had to give up a call centre job because of her worsening ear problem. But Hanan wouldn’t give up so easily. Her dream to become a doctor beckoned her.
“Actor Kalabhavan Mani was my inspiration. He offered me stage programmes and introduced me to the cine world as a junior artiste,” Hanan tells me.
How did she meet Mani? “I am an instant lyricist. When Mani (elder brother) came to know about it, he roped me in to write folk songs for his shows.”
But Mani’s untimely death devastated her. As a medical seat was just a dream given her marks, she was enrolled for BSc chemistry at Al Asar college in Thodupuzha, where she supplied snacks to the college canteen and nearby bakeries. That wasn’t enough, so she turned to selling fish.
Hanan would wake up at 3am, study for an hour, cycle 20km to the wholesale market to buy fish, travel 60km to college, and rush back to sell her goods till late in the evening.
Her story in the daily, went viral. When help began to pour in and she became an overnight sensation, internet ruffians lost their sleep. Self-styled Sherlock Holmes analysed her demeanour, clothes, ornaments, Dubsmash videos and selfies with celebrities, and decided Hanan doesn’t fit the image of a fisherwoman. They subjected her to an onslaught of abuse, alleging that she faked poverty to make some easy money. After director Arun Gopy offered Hanan a role in his upcoming film, some trollers said the whole story was a promotion for Gopy’s movie.
So, what exactly is Hanan’s mistake? Is it that she broke the stereotype of a fisherwoman by wearing jeans and gloves, sporting a ring, blow drying her hair, being vocal about her dreams and aspirations, and not wearing a hijab?
She never begged for money and mercy. She has been a fighter all through her adversity. The ring she wears is the proud symbol of the sweat she broke working as an event management girl across Kerala and outside the state.
Hanan wouldn’t cow down. She would defy the class-conscious elite’s diktat that the poor must look poor and forfeit her dreams. “One day I will become a doctor,” she tells me. And her college has promised they would make her one if she wishes so. In the meantime, Hanan will continue to sell fish, despite the advance money she has received for three movies.
Despite the nightmare, Hanan still believes the world is full of good people. “Bad experiences are commonplace for a girl. But it’s important to stay positive and strong and face them bravely.”
Her message to girls in distress is, please don’t run away from life. “Believe in God and confront your issues. You will find positive results.”
Talking about her tormentors, Hanan says, “In this world, some are cruel, some are benevolent. It isn’t easy to change the asymmetry, but it’s easy to change myself by staying positive. I feel secure and proud after the government came forward to take care of me.”
Hanan’s story has only begun. She will go a long way. She is my daughter, my wife’s daughter, our neighbour’s daughter, indeed, she is everyone’s daughter.
What is Hanan’s mistake? That she broke a stereotype of a fisherwoman by wearing jeans, sporting a ring, blow drying her hair, and being vocal about her dreams?