For the past 13 years, Geeta has been living in Pakistan, but she refuses to call it her home.
Clad in a regular shalwar kameez, this Indian girl, who can neither hear nor speak, does not look any different from the other girls staying at the Edhi Shelter Home in Karachi’s old city area of Sharafa Bazar. But for the past few days, she is carrying the swagger of a celebrity as the local media is flocking the shelter home to follow up on her story after the release of Salman Khan Starrer Bajrangi Bhaijan in Pakistan.
"She wants people to find her family in India," said Faisal Edhi, the head of Edhi Foundation. "She explains the address of her hometown to anybody who visits her, hoping that the more she explains, the better her chances of returning to her family."
Geeta was found wandering near the India border in Lahore in 2002 and was taken by soldiers of Pakistan Rangers. She was barely an 11-year-old child back then, they handed her over to the Lahore branch of Edhi Foundation — Pakistan’s largest social welfare organisation, founded by Faisal’s father Abdul Sattar Edhi. Later, she was shifted to Karachi.
Faisal has not watched the movie yet, but after hearing the story line from friends and journalists, he thought Geeta deserved some credit for the script. "It could only be her story," he said.
Geeta gets treated like a special inmate at the shelter. She has a private temple, her favorite space in the building – a spick and span room with posters of Hindu gods: Lord Krishna, Lord Rama and Sita, goddess Durga, Shiva and Parvati and a small statue of Lord Ganesha resting on a table, alongside with earthen lamps and incense. She likes to keep the doors of the temple locked and doesn't let other children enter the room.
Faisal’s mother Bilquees Edhi, who practically raised Geeta and gave her the name she is known by, insists that she should find a Hindu man of her choice and "settle down."
But Geeta won’t listen. "I want to fly back to India," Geeta gesticulates with her hands. "Only then will I dress up as a bride, with my father’s blessings."
Bilquees Edhi thinks of herself as Geeta's guardian. "Here in Pakistan, she is an amaanat of her parents with us," meaning that she is keeping her in trust for her parents as a custodian. "She wants to go back because she misses them. And we want her wish to come true. But it has been more than 10 years. She is 23 years old now. I don’t know how much more she has to wait."
When the media persons come to visit her, Geeta is all prepared. She greets them with a smile and leads them to her favourite room, unlocks the doors of the temple and eagerly shows them the sheafs of papers she has scribbled on, with what looks like Hindi letters.
Faisal said he took Geeta's writings to people fluent in Hindi, but they could not make any sense out of her scribbles. "Maybe she is writing in a regional language; or they are just words she learnt to copy as a child. We don’t know."
Faisal said that Geeta had also shared a phone number with the international Indian code, but it was short by a few digits. She claimed that she has four sisters and lost her way when she visited a religious melaa (fair) near the border with her father. "To be honest, everything we know about Geeta is what we gathered from her wordless 'explanations.' But this is all we know.”
Second time lucky?
This is the second time Geeta has come under media spotlight. Back in 2012, when her story broke in the Aman Ki Asha’s Pakistan pages, several national and international media outlets carried the story. "But as such things work, after a few months everybody forgot her," Faisal said.
The story received a lot of coverage and even came to the notice of officials from Indian embassy who paid Geeta a visit. "We were really excited," Faisal said. "We thought finally we would be able to locate her parents." But nothing happened.
“I could say from their attitude that they came on some official order," Faisal said. "They were not interested to look into her case," said Faisal. "They visited the Shelter Home as part of a formality."
He recalled one of the Indian officials as saying, "Is se achhaa ghar isko aur kya mile gaa [Would she find a better place than this]?"
But this time around, the Edhi foundation plans to take the matter to the internet. Faisal plans to capitalise on the renewed interest in Geeta’s story after the movie’s release.
He has plans for a Facebook page soon with a request to those in India to help connect Geeta with her family. "The idea is to develop a campaign and get some results. The social media has the powers to blur borders – let’s hope it helps Geeta find her family."
While efforts to find her family in India through the social media are underway, Geeta will watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan in the coming week. Faisal plans to take her for the special outing with his family.
"It’s her story after all."
Ammar Shahbaz is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He tweets @ammarshahbazi
This article was originally published on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.