Surat Diary – Asmita Makwana, the Bandit Queen
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Kudi Gujarat ki.
[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
She is known as Surat’s Phoolan Devi, that gutsy bandit queen who carried guns in her hands and gaalis in her mouth in the jungles of central India during the 80s.
Ms Asmita Dinesh Bhai Makwana deserves that kind of reputation. Her back is straight, her head unbowed, her eyes fiery. In a conservative town like Surat where most women sport bangles and managalsutras, her accessories include a long, sharp butcher’s knife.
Ms Makwana is no Surati shareef-zaadi. She beats people, swear cursewords and when not being an ‘anti-social element’, she drives a rickshaw, not the sissy scooty.
By the way, Ms Makwana looks beautiful and has tattoos on arms. There’s no one like her in Delhi.
Although her parents live in Kapodra, a city neighbourhood, Ms Makwana haven’t met them since she left home at 12. She is now 20.
“It all started when I fell in love with Ritesh, a diamond polisher, who lived in our apartment society,” Ms Makwana told me one afternoon at the backside of a garage near Valachha, the city’s diamond hub. “But after going around for a few months, Ritesh refused to marry me.”
That was difficult. Like many jilted lovers of her impressionable age-group, Ms Makwana lost faith in the idea of romance. She decided she would never fall in love again. She began to hate everyone, including her family, and soon left home.
The runaway girl then took up a room in Valachha. This locality is India’s diamond center, all right, but it’s rundown and usually not visited by upper-class Surati women. That didn’t bother Ms Makwana. She would hang out with a gang of rowdy boys. “Whiskey and friends were my only refuge in life,” said Ms Makwana. She took to driving a rickshaw to pay for the booze and the room.
Not surprisingly, Ms Makwana’s parents broke off all contacts with her. It hardly mattered to the daughter, though. She moved on, with a little help from McDowell’s.
Like Phoolan Devi, Ms Makwana is today living a life that is contemptuous of the conventional moralities of our times. This is especially unique since the world still continue to confine people of her sex within prescribed rules. Perhaps it would have been ok if Ms Makwana roamed around with men, drank whiskey and ruined herself. But despite losing the good opinion of her parents and by their society, this girl is quite happy. She is respected in the circle she moves. Worse, she doesn’t think twice before bowing to the dictates of her heart. That’s not done.
Anyway, after five years of being ditched by that diamond polisher, the inevitable happened. Ms Makwana fell in love again. This time with Piyush, a bootlegger who would make money by smuggling alcohol from Daman, a coastal resort that lies outside Gujarat and is around 2-hours away from Surat. (Gujarat is officially ‘dry’, the sale and consumption of liquor is forbidden.)
However, Ms Makwana was again betrayed. Late in 2008, Piyush refused to marry her. So, like a weepy drama queen of an old-time Bollywood flick, Ms Makwana consumed some random pills to die a romantic death. Nothing happened. She didn’t die.
Ms Makwana then went after Piyush.
One evening she followed him to a bazaar, took out her knife and stabbed him on his beer belly. The commitment-phobic lover was seriously injured. “I was in the lockup for four days and Piyush was in the hospital for 10 days,” said a gleeful Ms Makwana. “But the moment I was released, I immediately went to the hospital to nurse Piyush.” The lovers then reconciled.
“Will Piyush now marry you,” I asked Ms Makwana.
“Even his father will have to marry me if I so want,” she replied.