Rani is engaged to be married to a boy her parents have chosen—she's seen only his photograph. What if her husband wants her to stop the work she's doing? Rani straightens up. "I will use my persuasion and my love! I will inform him of the good work I am doing, and he will understand." Rani would like to have two children, one boy, one girl. But what if she ends up with two girls? Rani's mother, Manorama, peers at her. "Rani," she says, "daughters are much better than sons! Two girls is good!" Delighted by the mother's boldness, Ryan laughs and claps her hands, and suddenly the lights flicker on and the starkness of the room is fully revealed. On a cracked lettuce green wall hangs a clouded mirror, two photos of elderly ancestors, and a cheap electric clock. The blankets on the neatly made beds are threadbare. There's a small refrigerator in a corner and a battered TV and a vase of plastic roses on a dresser. The room is spare but spotless.

We walk down the alley to the community youth center, one of the few places in Jehangirpuri that girls may visit without a chaperone. Here we meet a group of barefoot teenage girls. Among them is Lakshmi, a fiery, high-voiced 18-year-old in a jean jacket. A born performer with dancing hands, Lakshmi shows us her book recording the reactions of the girls and boys she has spoken to about sex and disease. Before this program, she tells us, girls were easily influenced by pressure from boys. "But now they learn to say no, to trust themselves and make their own decisions."

Ryan asks Lakshmi what she hopes for her future. Lakshmi cracks her knuckles, then slowly waves her palms at us, as if wiping mist from a windowpane. "I want to be completely free," she pipes. "Freedom is a big responsibility, but I want it. I don't want even my husband to stop me later in life. I want to use my skills to make a career." Later, as we're leaving the community center, Ryan snaps a few photographs of the girls and says, "Oh, what that little girl who wants total freedom can do!"


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