Your Body Belongs to You, guest post by Ruchira Gupta
Well, the curtain is about to go up on my debut novel, I Kick and I Fly. And though in real life I can take on criminals and stand up to human traffickers in locked rooms, I still have first night frights.
I don’t know how you will feel about Heera, my 14-year-old protagonist, a fierce impulsive girl. I take you into her world of criminal overlords and international human trafficking rings. I describe Heera’s life of hunger, homelessness, class bullies and body shaming.
There are absolutely terrifying cliff-hangers as Heera seeks to overcome her destiny. There are family quarrels, kidnappings, fights, broken hearts, love, hope and reconciliation. But Heera is a fighter who turns a crisis into an opportunity.
She is about to be sold into prostitution, when a women’s rights advocate enrolls her in a Kung Fu program. Through the practice of Kung Fu, Heera discovers the power of her body and learns that her body is not an object to be preyed upon but a vessel to take control of her life.
I began writing this story when a girl, just like Heera, won a gold medal in Karate. She is based on real girls in my NGO, Apne Aap, that works in the red-light areas of India. It took me six years to finish writing the story.
The truth is there are many Heeras out there, including right here in New York. I began to work globally for them and I simply had no time to finish writing the story. And then all of a sudden, during the lockdown, Heera surfaced in my head. She dictated the story to me in her typical insistent way.
I could see her as she ran along the railway tracks to school, I could hear her as she chatted with her brother, Salman, on the railway platform. I could even smell her fear when she was kidnapped. I could also taste her triumph when she won a gold medal and feel her joy when she….
I won’t end that sentence because I want you to read the book to find out. Suffice it to say, I wrote fast and furiously. I sometimes woke up at four in the morning to write what she had dictated to me while I was sleeping. The book became a very fast-paced adventure. I did not want to waste time describing the scene. I just wanted Heera to act.
But then when I finished the book, and shared it with my 12-year-old nephew, he wanted me to describe the house, her clothes, her friends, her neighborhood, the sounds of the fair…her feelings.
I had to wind down and give spaces to Heera’s story, just like we have to in real life. I had to imagine what it felt like to be hungry and expelled from school. I had to put myself not just in her shoes, but the shoes of her mother, her father, her brother, cousin, friends and her mentor Rini.
Writing that first paragraph was easy. But the middle, where I wanted Heera’s father to take a different arc, was harder. Her father was not just a bad man. He had love somewhere in his heart. I did not quite know how to write this. I would put it off for weeks, procrastinate with every conceivable excuse – a book, a friend, the weather, exercise, doodling, laundry…
Why was it so difficult? I was never sure if my characters were true to the way I had known them in their complexities. I was terrified that I would compromise the truth for the sake of the plot. I would remind myself that: “I have to stay true; I have to stay true”.
And then one day, it all came together. It was fun again. I had an epiphany that my characters also reflected me, my thoughts, feelings, desires, dreams and hopes. So, while the hope in this story is based on truth, it is also based on what I hope for all of you. I want Heera to enter your hearts as much as your minds.
I want you to find a friend in Heera, who will give you some clues to challenge the injustices in your life. I have seen many young people lose their confidence because of body shaming, racism and sexual violence.
Your body belongs to you and no one else. Nobody has the right to invade it or even comment upon it. That is why Heera’s journey as she becomes a Kung Fu champion will be useful for you.
I hope you like her as much as I do.
Meet the author
Ruchira Gupta is an Emmy-winning journalist, an anti-trafficking activist and founder of the NGO, Apne Aap, that works to get children from red-light areas into school. She advises the United Nations and other international foundations on survivor-friendly anti-trafficking laws and policies and has testified to the US Senate for the passage of the first US law on trafficking-the Trafficking Victims protection Action. She teaches a course on human trafficking at the New York University and lives between New York and Forbesganj, a small Indian town in the foothills of the Himalayas. She dreams of a world in which no human being is bought or sold.
I Kick and I Fly is her debut novel.
Link to website: www.RuchiraGupta.com
Link to order book: Order link for I Kick and I Fly
Link to Twitter: https://twitter.com/Ruchiragupta
Link to Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ruchiraagupta/
Praise for I Kick and I Fly
“An irresistible story.” –Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions
“Sure to further the cause of liberating girls.” –Alice Walker, The Color Purple
“Essential Reading.” –Ashley Judd, All That is Bitter and Sweet
“A page-turner of a read.” –Gayle Forman, If I Stay
“Stark and beautiful.” –StaceAnn Chin, The Other Side of Paradise
“Simply magnificent.” –Ayaan Mohamud, You Think You Know Me
“Empathetic and unflinching.” –Natalie C. Anderson, City of Saints and Thieves
“A powerful story.” –Rebekah Shoaf, Boogie Down Books
“Uplifting and hopeful story.” –Emily Autenrieth, A Seat at the Table Books
“Intense, important novel.” –Brandi Stewart, Changing Hands Bookstore
“A triumphant debut.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Searing tale” –Publisher’s Weekly
About I Kick and I Fly
“In I Kick and I Fly, Ruchira Gupta has given young readers an irresistible story, and also one that could save lives. This book is a gift.” — Gloria Steinem
A propulsive social justice adventure by renowned activist and award-winning documentarian Ruchira Gupta, I Kick and I Fly is an inspiring, hopeful story of triumph about a girl in Bihar, India, who escapes being sold into the sex trade when a local hostel owner helps her to understand the value of her body through kung fu.
On the outskirts of the Red Light District in Bihar, India, fourteen-year-old Heera is living on borrowed time until her father sells her into the sex trade to help feed their family and repay his loans. It is, as she’s been told, the fate of the women in her community to end up here. But watching her cousin, Mira Di, live this life day in and day out is hard enough. To live it feels like the worst fate imaginable. And after a run-in with a bully leads to her expulsion from school, it feels closer than ever.
But when a local hostel owner shows up at Heera’s home with the money to repay her family’s debt, Heera begins to learn that fate can change. Destiny can be disrupted. Heroics can be contagious.
It’s at the local hostel for at risk girls that Heera is given a transformative opportunity: learning kung fu with the other girls. Through the practice of martial arts, she starts to understand that her body isn’t a an object to be commodified and preyed upon, but a vessel through which she can protect herself and those around her. And when Heera discovers the whereabouts of her missing friend, Rosy, through a kung fu pen pal in the US, she makes the decision to embark on a daring rescue mission to New York in an attempt to save her.
A triumphant, shocking account inspired by Ruchira Gupta’s experience making the Emmy-award winning documentary, The Selling of Innocents, this is an unforgettable story of overcoming adversity by a life-long activist who has dedicated her life to creating a world where no child is bought or sold.
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 04/18/2023
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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