Basanti's story begins at the age of 17, the year her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was in class 10 at the time, and decided not to take her final exam so that she could help her mother through her illness. They were so poor that Basanti's mother would use the same sari she wore in the daytime to cover her children at night. Her father was unemployed and an alcoholic.
Basanti would accompany her mother to Tata Memorial Hospital, where they would paint diyas for a meager living of Rs 500 a month. There was a man named Rao who used to visit the hospital's printing press. Rao lived only a few houses away, and would often accompany Basanti and her mother both ways. He would listen to her mother's troubles and lend them money whenever they needed it.
One time, when Basanti's mother sent her to get some money from Rao, he insisted that she accept a flower from him. He said he had had a bet with his friends that he would make her take it. Basanti felt a little angry and a little excited. She did not know what to make of the incident, but remembers thinking that the money was more important than the flowers.
As her mother's illness progressed, Basanti took up more and more responsibility at home. Her concern, much like her mother's was to see that her three brothers - then between 9-12 years old - finished their class 10 exams. Her mother would tell her to marry Rao. Basanti always thought that she deserved better. "Mein shahar main reh chuki thi, woh to bikul hi gaon se aaya tha."(I have stayed in a city, he is from the village) Her mother would tell her, "I know you deserve better, but there is no money to get you married. Who would be willing to marry you? Rao is a nice boy…"
Basanti suspected that Rao was in love with her. He would ask her to marry him, but she'd say no because she did not like him. Then one day Rao drank a lot of poison – (Tik 20). Basanti says that she was to naïve to know whether he was seriously ill or putting on an act. She did not know whether to be flattered or impressed, and was concerned about what people would think if word got around. She was also very scared of her father who was prone to losing his temper when drunk. It seemed to her that he did not care that his wife would die of cancer within six months.
The upshot of the Tik 20 incident was that Basanti and Rao began to meet frequently. Basanti would tell Rao she would marry him, but later - she had her mother and their home to attend to first. After her mother's death, Basanti would both cook and clean for the whole family, and work to ensure that the money would keep coming in. Sometimes she would fight with her brothers and father, who would tell her to go off and get married. Basanti began to resent all that she had given up to look after them - she had studied in a good school, lived in a decent environment and thought, "I don't deserve this."
Basanti gradually began to think of Rao as an escape from her troubles. One day, Rao invited her to visit his sister who had come from the village for a ceremony, so they could fix a wedding date. Basanti went thinking that she would stay with the family, but found that after the ceremony, everyone but a few of Rao's friends remained. Then he made them leave too. That night Basanti slept with Rao. "Usne mere saath zabardasti ki,"(he forced me to have sex with him) she says. After that, Basanti continued to have sex with Rao off and on. She was not afraid of getting pregnant etc; she just did not want the world to think that she had put her own needs before those of her brothers. Basanti asked Rao to wait for three years, until her last brother finished school, to get married. His family, however, was pressurizing him, and one day he came by and showed Basanti an invitation to a wedding - his own. She told herself that if he couldn't wait for her, then he wasn't worth it!
Basanti left her job at Tata memorial Hospital so that Rao could not get in touch with her, and landed a new job earning Rs 2600 a month. Her life improved with the increase in her income. But within six months of his marriage, Rao started to phone and follow Basanti again. He told her his marriage was a mistake, and Basanti became involved with him again. She would not, however, live with him unless he married her. In the meantime, people had begun to accuse her of spoiling his marriage.
One day, he dragged her off in a rickshaw and got her to sign some papers. They were going to the court to get married. She did not want to live with him even then. In any case, he lived in a room with all his male friends, around whom she was invariably uncomfortable. Basanti started to spend more time with Rao all the same. She would get up in the morning and cook for him and his friends. On her way home, she would shop for vegetables and divide them into two portions - one for her father's house, and one for Rao.
Looking back, Basanti feels that she was not really happy doing this. She wanted to get married with a proper ceremony; she wanted Rao to take her from her father's house. She kept asking Rao when he would buy her a mangalsutra. He said he had to get through with his divorce first. Basanti hated the secrecy and the blame she got from society.
Then Rao fell ill, and the doctors said he had TB. Basanti had heard of HIV and AIDS, but the thought did not cross her mind then. She nursed him for almost a year, during which she attended a para-professional course for HIV counseling at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She knew Rao was not getting better and wrote to his father in the village to come and get him. After Rao left for the villiage, Basanti realized she was pregnant and had the baby aborted on her own - she was afraid that Rao would not return and marry her. What she did not know, however, was that Rao would die there. She was relieved that she had the foresight to abort the child.
Basanti had herself tested , and is HIV positive.