[ultimate_heading main_heading=”Short Story by Prateek Deswal – Issue.XXIV : January 2017″ main_heading_color=”#1e73be” sub_heading_color=”#8224e3″ spacer=”line_with_icon” spacer_position=”bottom” line_style=”dotted” line_height=”1″ line_color=”#1e73be” icon_type=”custom” icon_img=”id^48|url^http://ashvamegh.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Ashvamegh-ICO.jpg|caption^null|alt^Ashvamegh Journal Icon|title^Ashvamegh ICO|description^null” img_width=”48″ main_heading_style=”font-weight:bold;” main_heading_font_size=”desktop:34px;” line_width=”3″][/ultimate_heading]

The Way Forward

About the Author: 

Prateek Deswal is currently pursuing PhD in English Literature from Central University of Himachal Pradesh. He is rather new to the field of creative writing.

The Curtain Rises

The stage opens. A small girl is playing sippi with a stone. Just then a voice comes from the background-


“Yes, Mama” she replies.

“Come quickly, have your milk and then complete your homework.”

She picks up her flat stone reluctantly, surveys her field and leaves with a spring in her step.

A little later, smoke rises and the ghost of Indira Gandhi enters the stage and remarks-

“Ah! What a peaceful area, lovely. I think I would ensconce here for a while.”

As she seems to contemplate something, just then another ghost with a sword and shield enters the stage. The lady is in the outfit of a warrior and looking powerful willed. Indira Gandhi immediately gets up and says-

“Welcome, Lakshmi Bai, welcome. How lovely is it to witness one of my childhood role models.”

They embrace each other and Lakshmi Bai remarks-

“The hope and vision of future India with which I fought the British seemed fulfilled when you became the Prime Minister of our nation.” said Lakshmi Bai. “I was thrilled in heaven.”

“It’s the path that you had bestowed upon me. Your historical presence gave me courage and conviction, but it seems a pity that only a few women like us can be role models for future generations. We can count them on our fingers. I hope we could meet a few more.”

“Well, there were women before me, who encouraged me to fight and struggle. Whose memory filled my heart with courage and every ounce of fear of death fled from me. That is why, I was able to take on the British and answer Dalhousie’s conspiracy against me so strongly.”

“Who are you referring to, O Lakshmi Bai.” Asked Indira Gandhi.

“Well, who else but Draupadi and Sita.”

“But they are fictional figures and possibly did not exist like you and me……..”

Just then her sentence is cut short as the ghost of Draupadi in a richly embroidered sari and Sita in simple, but attractive attire came to stage.

“Oh.”  Exclaimed Indira Gandhi “welcome, both of you.”

“We thought somebody was remembering us, so we came.” replied Draupadi.

“Your presence is so over-whelming, I, thank you for gracing us with it. Please join us.”

“What a lovely meeting” remarked Indira Gandhi” but as we were discussing that it is a pity that women in India have such limited number of role models in history.”

“The weak require role models, my dear Prime Minister” observed Draupadi. The powerful-willed become one. Our presence is not going to make any difference to the women of the present age. It is their will which is going to.”

“Very true” agreed Indira Gandhi, “but history does serve as a guide to the future. The mistakes of the past can serve as a panacea for the sufferings of future.”

“It depends on the way one interprets history. The guide can lead to both greatness and devastation. You see, history itself stands proof of the co-existence of splendor and squalor like an inseparable pair. I don’t think it was much different in your regime too.”

Indira Gandhi looked sternly back at her and replied, “During my tenure as Prime Minister I was surrounded by enemies both inside as well as outside my party. But I fought and defeated them and worked for the poor people of India, its masses. Green revolution, white revolution, victory against Pakistan, Pokhran nuclear experiment is the legacy of my regime. India would have been in a severe state had I not taken over as the Prime Minister if India after the sad demise of Lal Bahadur Shastriji. And all this was possible because I had complete power. I showed what an Indian woman can accomplish if she has power in her hands. If the women of present generation have to progress, then grabbing power in their hands is the only way ahead. It empowers you with the authority to take decisions.”

“Yes but some of your decisions are not as fondly remembered as others.” remarked Lakshmi Bai.

Indira Gandhi gave her a long look and replied-“I know what you are referring to, O, great Lakshmi Bai. But please do not forget that the people of India voted me back with full majority. They still had faith in me and apart from that if one has the capacity to take decisions, they might also go wrong. The important thing is to have that power to decide, which I did.”

“Do you believe it was the women of your generation, who decided to undergo forced sterilization or was it you” asked Lakshmi Bai sarcastically “You talk of power as forcing a solution. But tell me, my Prime Minister, if somebody has power, whether political or social, how he or she can be oppressed anymore. The solution has already been reached. The path to the solution is defined by struggle. Only through continuous struggle can they gain power and force decisions to emancipate Indian women from the clutches of patriarchy.”

“But struggle against whom, against men” asked Sita “What good will a struggle against those will serve any purpose, with whom we have to spend our entire life.”

“No, O respected Sitaji, not against men, but against oppression, injustice, discrimation, whether it exists in the form of men or convention or law. To struggle to emancipation. There is no other way.”

Draupadi now entered the conversation and remarked to Lakshmi Bai “You fought and struggled against the British. It was the hallmark of the revolt of 1857. Future generations have remembered you with admiration, but, little else. Your fight back only proved that we can struggle, the women of this nation can fight back, but what good is a struggle if it doesn’t reach its culmination. If its objective remains unfulfilled, then it only reinforces that it cannot be achieved.”

“But we did achieve Independence in the end” answered Lakhsmi     Bai.

“And how many years did it take you to achieve it. Ninety long years. You and other great leaders of this nation were not incapable of achieving independence in 1857 itself, but your focus was solely on struggle and not in achieving the final goal. You wanted only to fight and not to win. But that doesn’t give solutions, but only reinforces that it is unachievable. There have been too many strugglers in history but winners are the ones who make differences.”

Lakshmi Bai looked down, thought for a while, then raised her head and answered with a smile “How do you think winners achieve victory, O Panchali. Is it a walk through the park for them? I don’t think so. It takes the sacrifices of many for the achievements of a few. What my rebellion has signified was the beginning of a struggle, with a hope of independence and hope is a very powerful weapon but only struggle can ignite it. Instead of reinforcing that the final goal, whether emancipation or independence, is beyond our reach, it points out the way it can be and ultimately will be achieved. It gives hope to the enslaved, oppressed and marginalized. I agree it took time. It took ninety years to end the domination that went back to almost four centuries. However patriarchy has its clutches even more firmly grasped. We have even forgotten the exact time when it first penetrated our society, our culture, corrupting our minds. Maybe it was perennially existent. Just imagine how much time it would take to eradicate it. But I am happy that the struggle has at last begun, the beacon of hope has been lit and if my rebellion has played a part in igniting it, I would consider the objective of my life fulfilled.”

“I must concede that there is little to argue with it.” Agreed Draupadi “Only initiation of struggle can lead to final victory.”

“Yes and through this struggle only education can lead the Indian women forward.” Said the ghost of Kalpana Chawla while entering the stage. Everybody is visibly surprised and Sita exclaims “Welcome, welcome. At last someone is here to represent the new generation.”

“I couldn’t keep myself away from such an exciting and serious discussion.” She replied.

Sita continued “Your presence further enriches our debate and I do agree that only an educated woman has the ability to envision and establish a discrimation free society.”

“Yes” replied Kalpana and observed further “That is why I believe that the trend to devoid young girls of education in Indian families has been a scrupulous tool of patriarchy. To disallow them the benefits of education, limits any possibility of emancipation. A veil is thrown over her imagination, abilities and capabilities and they are forced to limit themselves to the four walls of kitchen and their house. Any woman who dares to venture out is characterless. Their life is limited to serve their families and not to take care of them. To be born and die for service alone. And only education can allow them to transcend ethical limitations, to establish a discrimination free society and to visualize a better future.”

“But what if the vision is limited by education alone” observed Lakhsmi Bai “The colonizer did it so very well on nations like ours. Subdued us into hegemony and the patriarchal minded intellectuals have been doing it for ages before them.”

“I really don’t understand your point Lakshmiji, will you please elaborate.” asked Kalpana Chawla.

“Education can be a double edged sword, my dear, what if you are educated into your own submission. Into believing in your inferiority. Are the educated families free of patriarchal mindset, are all educated women self-reliant and free.  Haven’t the most educated and learned men, whether of the east or the west, the ones who laid down the basis of our society, been so cynical towards women. The very concept of Brahamcharya, so inherent in the Indian culture, sidelined Indian women to the periphery and made them a thing which sucks man’s abilities and strength. The education which you glorify has been used time and again only to hegemonize the women. Instead of being a tool of emancipation, it is the root cause of evil.”

“That’s an interesting point of view.” Answered Kalpana Chawla and continued “But I would implore you to please differentiate between education and knowledge. Streams of knowledge have been misused or rather abused by patriarchal minded people to subdue women. But education would empower them to employ the same knowledge to present and sustain a counter discourse and will also enable them to empower themselves and other women. Education opens up the horizon and allows you to see the whole pattern of discrimination and partiality. It opens up the whole history of oppression and empowers the women to counter and ultimately end it.”

“You mean to say, to employ education with intellect can empower women of this nation” asked Draupadi.

“Precisely” she replied.

“Well, that will require a lot of courage on part of the women. To possess intellect and knowledge is one thing, but to employ them to digress from social norms and traditions is an ability not in possession of everyone. I can confirm from my own experiences that its execution is the most difficult part and requires a lot of courage.”

“I don’t know how you came to such a conclusion O panchali” asked Lakshmi Bai and continued “It means you don’t have confidence in the intellect and courage of Indian women and the presence of us all refutes any such notion. And apart from that I don’t know how you can conclude that from your experiences, as you are probably the Woman who was humiliated the most in Indian history. Courage seems to be the one quality you are bereft of.”

Draupadi gave her an observing look and asked “How can you come to such a conclusion, please elaborate.”

“Well” said Lakshmi Bai “Your very birth took place in a yajna being performed by your father for a son who could take revenge from Drona. You were not required from the very onset of your life. Later, you were put up like a trophy in a swayamvar to be won by the strongest and forced to marry five men instead of the one you loved the most and then ridiculed so shamefully in the Kaurav sabha and forced to plead to Lord Krishna. Even during Mahabharata you were used as a tool to appease Karna to the side of Pandavas and also compelled to live in exile for thirteen years. Suffering seems to be the one quality glorified by your life, instead of courage.”

“I must say that I am flattered by your in-depth knowledge of my life history.” Replied a smiling Draupadi “but I would like to confirm that these very sufferings filled me with courage and conviction.”

“Agreed” said Lakshmi Bai “but did you exhibit it in your life.”

“I will allow you to be the judge of that.” Draupadi waited a while and carried on “I was wronged, I was humiliated, I was forced, but during all this I never ceased to have my own independent voice, never heard before in any era of Indian history. You may compare me with a trophy put up in swayamvar, but please remember it was I who decided not to marry Karna. In order to keep the honor of my mother-in-law, I decided to marry all the five pandavas. Even in the Kaurav sabha, in which I was subjected to unprecedented humiliation, I went on to question my husband’s right to put me as a bait in the game. I confronted Duryodhan and the mute elders but none was able to reply to my objections. My voice allowed the women to claim their right. For the first time a woman demanded her independence, claimed her own position in a society dominated by men. My humiliation became the weapon of emancipation for so many. I was not a mute spectator, a miniature figure, but a decisive voice, unheard but powerful and this voice became a discourse in itself- discourse of feminism as they call it today. The whole of Aryavarta burned for the honor of Draupadi.”

“You bravery is beyond any doubt any doubt O Panchali” remarked Indira Gandhi “Indeed had it not been for your courageous endeavors, how could the rest of us drawn courage for our own battles, But the question still remains, as to how to empower womanhood as a whole.”

“By bringing about a change through our purity and will power. By transforming the society from being suppressive to sensitive towards women.” Answered Sita.

“And how do you intend to achieve this objective.” Asked Kalpana Chawla.

“Through the goodness of character, self-suffering and sacrifice. To bring about a change by purifying ourselves, our thoughts and above all our actions.”

“Haven’t we suffered enough already” asked Indira Gandhi “Hasn’t this nation with its ignoble and pathetic traditions provided the Indian women enough to suffer right from your days till today. Just look at the number of rapes, molestations, physical and mental abuse, female foeticide cases that are reported and are increasing day by day. Not even a single girl might be left in the whole nation who has not been teased or abused or suppressed in one way or the other. A nation in which the birth of a girl, in a very large number of families is considered as a sign of mourning, haven’t they suffered enough. How much more suffering will self-purify us and our society? Is there a single man in the nation who was compelled undergo agni-pariksha like you did and for what- to prove your purity. Why should any of us have to prove it to anyone in first place?”

“Agni-Pariksha” said Sita in a long breath “the test of fire. Fire cannot burn the one who has reached the zenith of purity. And I underwent this ordeal not to prove my purity but to prove my valor. Tell me; how the posterity would have remembered me had I not undertaken the test. They would have said, somebody raised a suspicion on Sita and she backed off. Sita, the coward. The Agni-Pariksha did not raise a question on my purity but challenged my bravery, and I was not the one to back off. I showed that when a challenge is thrown to us, the Indian women, we don’t back off, we accept and complete it. It is not our legacy to submit.”

“But how can suffering bring about a change in our society” asked Lakshmi Bai “how can self-purification of women lead to their emancipation, Sita Ma.”

“Well, there is no iota of doubt that Indian women have suffered enough, probably more than enough. But they have suffered more because of their own inadequacies and weaknesses instead of traditional patriarchy. When she has forgotten to stand for herself then who else will fight her battle. She is herself the culprit as well as her own victim.”

“But how is it possible that woman herself is the cause to her own suffering” asked Kalpana.


‘Not completely” replied Sita “but to some extent, she definitely is. Haven’t we accepted our subordination as our natural destiny? Haven’t we accepted and sustained the very traditions that oppress and discriminate Indian women. Is not a mother as guilty as her father when she mourns the birth of a girl or when she commits female foeticide or keeps her daughter illiterate? We have to purify ourselves in order to bring about a change. The Indian woman is more a victim of lethargic submission than exploitative traditions.”

“So, it seems we have submitted to discrimination” observed Indira Gandhi “and need to bounce back.”

“Yes, but after all this discussion ladies” asked Draupadi “what is the way forward.”

The five ladies fell into serious contemplation.




A little later the small child Ammu peeps in through the side door. Indira Gandhi looks at her and says-

“Come, my dear, come.” The girl approaches her. “What are you doing here?” She enquires.

“I came here to play. You are on my playing field.” She replies innocently.

“Oh! We are so sorry” replied Indira Gandhi “We will vacate it immediately. But before we leave, please tell us, if you have planned anything for your future. What would you like to be when you grow up?”

Ammu thinks a while and replies “Umm, I don’t know. Sometimes, I feel like becoming a cook, because I like to eat a lot but then sometimes I want to be a pilot. And then sometimes I just like to play all my life.”

“Lovely, but which path will you choose to achieve your dreams. Would you like to gain power through struggle or you would like to be educated or remain a pure little girl with intellect and courage.”

The girl thought a bit and replied-“I would like to follow the path which I feel is the best for me. All I wish is that I be allowed the freedom to do so.”

The five ladies looked at each other and smiled.

“Maybe we under estimated you a little, dear one. We will leave you to your games and may you achieve in your life what we couldn’t.”


The curtain falls.