Bharat Award 2017 Winner

   

   

Draupadi, the Virgin

By Sahana Lokesh, Bangalore, India



Award winning story of 3rd Bharat Award - 2017 - International Contest for Short Story



Draupadi, the Virgin


‘Why is Draupadi one of the Panchkanyas? Draupadi, a virgin?’

I could not hide the shock and bewilderment in my voice. Devayani, my enigmatic grandmother gave me a patronizing smile and affectionately caressed my hair. The damp wavy tresses of my hair fell below my voluptuous bosom.

‘Ahalya, Draupadi, Kunti, Tara and Mandodari are the Panchkanyas in Hindu mythology. You may not know much about the others as compared to Draupadi. In fact, all these women have had intimate relationships with more than one man,’ she said with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes. My jaw dropped in awe hearing her words.

‘In her previous birth, Draupadi was granted a boon or rather a curse of marrying five men. Later she practised severe penance to please Shiva and obtained a boon of regaining her virginity after being with each husband.’

‘But that does not nullify the fact that she had sexual intercourse with more than one man. Despite that, how can you call her a virgin? Would it not be more acceptable if you called Sita as a Panchkanya? She fits perfectly into the mould of being a faithful and ideal woman. Doesn’t our society prefer Sita to Draupadi?’

I regretted my words the moment they left my lips. The enigmatic smile was replaced with a glowing intensity in her eyes.

‘Savyasachi, the panchakanyas are worshipped not just for their sexual purity. They defied rules and made new ones which changed the course of history. These women stood strong in the face of adversity and asserted their existence. Draupadi rightfully avenged the disgrace she faced at the hands of the Kauravas. She did not jump into fire like Sita! Draupadi empowered women. For generations, we have been the Sitas and Satis who jumped into fire. You should be Draupadi.’

Her words rang loud and clear on that sultry afternoon in the living room. I was stunned. That was something nobody would dare tell a woman, that too one’s own grand-daughter. Yet she did not even flinch uttering those words.

You should be Draupadi…

***
It was a small walk of half mile from the bus stop to my home. That night I had to take a circuitous route of two miles to reach home. All thanks to the over-flowing drain and the road repair work. I could have called my father and told him to pick me up, but I chose not to trouble him. So I began walking on the somewhat unfamiliar street.

9.37 pm.
Two streetlights were dysfunctional and that made the deserted street look darker. I swallowed hard. No amount of encouragement from my conscience sufficed. Eager to reach home soon, I walked fast without lifting up my head. A car zoomed past me. I felt nothing until I heard it come to a screeching halt. For a moment, I was tempted to flee the place. Briefly I glanced at the car, nothing happened. With a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach I hurried past the black sedan. A second later, I heard the doors of the car open. I quickened my pace and suddenly my breathing was erratic. I did not dare to look back even for a millisecond. There were footsteps approaching me. Fear crippled me and I broke out into a cold sweat. Suddenly I felt a pair of rough hands grab me by my waist. I should have screamed, but I was paralysed with fear and my voice failed me. By the time I recovered from the shock and screamed for my life, a ruffian stood in front of me. What provoked him, I knew not, but he slapped me hard. Really hard! Blood rushed to my face and a ringing noise filled my ears. The next moment, he clapped his palm to my face and they both carried me to the car. I kicked my feet and feverishly moved my arms with no success. Two bikes and a car passed us, but made no attempt to stop. I shut my eyes and prayed to God. For the first time in life, I prayed with all my heart and hoped for a miracle. It was beyond my capability to fight back two strong men. God had to save me! If He didn’t, who else would?

Once inside the car, the driver revved up the engine and drove into the darkness. One of my abductors, held my arms while the other snatched my dupatta and tied it around my mouth. I was still kicking my legs when he pulled hard at my soft hair. I shrieked with pain, but the noise was muffled. My prayers did not stop, yet my hope quickly vanished. Suddenly it dawned on me that nobody was going to come to my rescue. I was left helpless! Nobody was fighting for me, except myself. But I was losing the battle… He undid my salwar with a vicious grin and tears stung my eyes. The men were enjoying every bit of my struggle. The car was moving around the streets of the same city which had been my home since birth. I could no longer keep my eyes open when his cruel hands groped me in the dark. He pounced on me and wildly ravaged my virginity. Pain shot through my body! I stopped praying. The image that filled my eyes before I passed out was that of Krishna saving Draupadi’s honor…
***
Was it his touch? His lone tear? Or his kiss on my forehead?

I could not recall what woke me up, but Mohnish was there when I opened my eyes. He was standing beside me in that hospital ward, but he looked distant. His face was blank.

Was the touch, tear and kiss only my imagination? An unfulfilled dream?

His eyes did not meet mine and I turned away. The tears were already at the doorstep of my eyelids.

‘Please leave me… I want to be alone,’ I begged him. I expected him to walk away but what he did next left me stunned. Wordlessly, he sat down before me and looked into my eyes. Holding my face, he gently kissed my forehead and each of my closed eyelids. Tears slipped down my cheeks. He did not wipe them but wrapped his long arms around me securely.

‘Cry,’ he murmured. All the agony and distress buried in my heart, broke into uncontrolled sobs. I held him tight and drenched his shirt with my tears.

‘You should leave me. I no longer deserve you…’

Mohnish released me from his embrace and let me lean back on the pillow. His eyes were burning passionately.

‘Why?’

‘I lost my virginity. I am no longer pure.’

As I said those words, I was reminded of Shiva’s boon to Draupadi. She was a virgin forever. I envied her with an unfathomable yearning.

‘You have disappointed me Savya! I love you for who you are at heart. I fell in love with Savyasachi, the woman, not the virgin!’

I had nothing to say and more tears streamed down. He wiped my tears and caressed my cheeks.

‘The police need your statement to nab those beasts. You are going to tell them everything you remember about last night,’ he said firmly. Impulsively, I held his hand and shook my head in denial.

‘No! I can’t do that! It is too painful to go through all those trials. I cannot take anymore shame and pain.’

I dug my nails into his skin. He held my face in his hands and forced me to look up.

‘Do you think you can escape pain and shame if you keep quiet? If you don’t fight for yourself, you will be ashamed to look at your own reflection in the mirror! You have to punish them, Savya. Only if you stand up for yourself, your wounds will heal. Otherwise you are stained for life and you will always have blood on your hands. The blood of slaughtered womanhood!’
I was dumbfounded. Once again I questioned myself if I could really handle the long battle for justice. I gazed into his intense eyes.

Can I do this?

‘I am with you. Nothing can change my love for you.’

Mohnish’s words resonated through the quiet hospital ward. The love and respect in his eyes wrapped around me like a tenacious cloak. Slowly he leaned forward and kissed my lips.
‘Will you fight for yourself?’ he asked in his deep voice.

‘Yes.’

We kissed and I was born again.

Every time I look into his eyes, I am me.

He was not Arjuna. Neither did he abandon me when I needed him the most nor did he rescue me. Mohnish taught me to fight for myself. Draupadi fought this world not just to avenge her disgrace at the Kaurava court. She stood up for every single woman who were violated by the beasts of this society.

You should be Draupadi…

Copyright Sahana Lokesh
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Jury Remarks

The Winning entry Draupadi, the Virgin, was a very emotionally deep yet uplifting story that brought the reader into a world they would never think to live in. I found the story could have been written about any woman, a sister, mother, cousin, daughter, friend; it had the power to see far more of the main character in every woman not only in India but the world. The power of each character was beautifully written, from a place where you would not expect such courage and love given the circumstances. I found it such an insightful, brave piece of writing and would personally like to thank the writer for giving me a wonderful feeling of insight and inspiration in her writing.
- Robert French – Jury - Australia
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The short story 'Draupadi- the virgin', encapsulates the primary essence of humanity and humane feelings. Draupadi , the mythical woman, had always been revered as the woman of essence and in the story Draupadi appears as a metaphor for real courage associated with womanhood. Draupadi, as per the epic Mahabharata, had been married to five men and yet she had been considered the 'sati' or the virgin because of her courage, benevolence and power of discernment. In the story, the rape victim turns out to be just like another Draupadi when she realises that a mere loss of virginity by dint of sexual assault can never take away her real essence of being a strong woman. The way the story upholds the beauty of womanhood and feminine qualities is something that is unmistakably brilliant and the basic storyline or the plot also acts as an eye opener. The language which is taut, to the mark and bereft of any ornamentation does justice to the theme of such an 'unconventional' story which bears strong message of kindness and solidarity. The story celebrates womanhood beyond the periphery of physical beauty or adornment, without being overtly 'feministic'. Though the story is short, its reach is far and the treatment of the theme is overwhelmingly beautiful.
- Moinak Dutta – Jury – India
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This is an inspirational story with an important theme, written in a beautiful and unique way. The vocabulary and language is very fluent. One can easily feel the story. A very special truth is there in this story which you will carry within after reading it. The beginning of the story is very beautiful, as it is in the form of a conversation between grandmother and granddaughter. This gives the theme of the story a unique depth and strength. The theme, Grandmother’s story, The Hindu Epic, all directly points to the life and its realities! The story is plotted with a fine blend of the old Epic links and the life experiences of a modern day girl. This story gives every reader an opportunity to ask themselves some important questions about womanhood, what society expect from a woman and how she should live in an ideal way...
Such same questions are asked in the past (Indian Epic) as well as in our modern day life...The story is very connecting and the last sentence... ‘Draupadi you should be’ is the one; I wish to tell all women out there!
- Lily Asa Elizabeth Andersson, Sweden _________________________________________________________
The importance of deriving inspiration from all around and to lead a life facing the odds in a practical way with courage is the prime highlight of the story. Isn’t it true that stories are thus ever loved by all and existed since the beginning of human civilization? We all know Indian Epics are powerful in its psycho-sociological-spiritual dimensional aspects reflecting the social life and its complexities in a telling manner. Every character of such epics carries various strata of meaning and carries many philosophical aspects of social life.

Here the author relates our modern life scene with the powerful heroine of the epic
Mahabharat. How true it would be when we go with the story that we are all a part in creating more Kauravas and Draupadi’s than ‘Ram and Sita’s’ in this world. Here, the writer has shown us how to break the shells of various misconceptions and be brave to face the life in a positive manner; as such incidents can happen to anyone in life. To become Draupadi or Sita or any other powerful character that we design for our own life is a personal choice depending on various experiences it offers. Above everything, this story offers a life giving solace and inspiration for many sisters all over the world who all are in one way or the other suffered for being born as a female. In this sense this story has universal impact and wide reach.

I thank all three juries for their marvelous choice. I admire Sahana Lokesh for kindling such a spark of inspiration with her brave storytelling talent. I appreciate her for taking this epic to a new practical level and possibility that can be used to derive inspiration of various kind to face many present life situations
- Gopakumar Radhakrishnan - Founder – Bharat Award