Thee midsummer sun is on its way towards the horizon. Manuraj Konde was hurrying back home, after a long day at his farm. The roads were mostly empty; the cowherds are yet to comeback with their cattle. Manuraj takes the turn at the edge of the mango grove towards his house, and he hears the commotion. The village kids were most probably fighting for the mangoes. Manuraj was about to ignore the lot with a smile, when the sight made him stop in his track. It was not a usual fight between the boys. It was fight between two sari wearing girls fighting against six boys; some seemed even elder than the two. He recognized one as Tara, who was shielding the mango loot, pushing and biting whosoever tried coming near her. But she was hardly facing any trouble, as the boys were finding the other girl quite handful. The other girl, about five or six in age, with her untied mane flaying, was fighting the boys’ singlehandedly. With her sari tied in the traditional Marathi style, her legs were free to issue the deadly kicks; while holding one of the boys by his neck around her left arm, she was punching and slapping furiously at the rest. Soon the boys gave up; one of them lifted a pebble, planning to throw at the girls. Tara’s shout alerts the other girl, who stared back at the boy to dare him throw. The boy got the message and fled. With victory confirmed, the girl, deftly tied her hair into a bun and turned towards Tara. Manuraj was stunned to see her daughter Ilaa.
Manuraj, decided not to confront her rebellious daughter in front of the village, and took a detour to his home. Like every day, Sharadabai ensured that the water was ready for Manuraj to take a wash before he rested in the porch, leaning against the mud wall beside the main door to the hutment. He stopped after drinking half of his glassful of buttermilk and called his wife,
“Sharadabai, are you sure you gave birth to a girl?”
“What kind of question is this? We got Ilaa after so much prayer. I know, both of us wanted a boy, but by the blessing of Mitra, our sun god, we had Ilaa. And after five years of her birth you are still unsure about her?”
“Well what I saw today gave me the doubt, if she is really what we think she is.”
“Now what did she do? I am tired of all the complaint I get from the neighbours,” Sharadabai could not suppress a touch of tiredness in her tone.
“Nothing serious, she just fought off five or six village boys singlehandedly, while her friend Tara defended their loot”
“I would say, those boys deserves thrashing, if they can’t handle two little girls,” responds Sharadabai, this time with a smile in her face and satisfaction in her tone.
“But Sharada, she is getting older now; soon we need to tell her not to roam so freely with the boys. Tell her to start helping you around the house.”
“Can’t we send her to Rahuji’s ashram?”
“Are you mad Sharada? Sending a girl to ashram? We will be ostracized by the entire village. Not a single girl from Sauviragram has ever gone to ashram.”
Sharadabai remained silent for a while, lost in her thought. When she saw Manuraj, keeping down the empty glass, she hurried to take it from her hand; looking down, she pleaded her husband –
“If you promise not to be angry, can I share something with you?”
“Now what is in your mind?”
“I took the liberty to show Ilaa’s birth chart to Guruma, in the Ashram. You know unlike rest of the females at Sauvira, she is not only literate, but more learned than many males. She has deep knowledge of astrology, and do you know what she predicated for Ilaa?”
Manuraj was already stunned. Though villagers do talk about Guruma Durga being literate, her being an expert proponent of astronomy was beyond his imagination. Awestruck Manuraj managed to ask his wife for the details, and Sharada started-
“Guru-ma predicted that our Ilaa has stars’ support to change the history of Maharashtra and Marathas. With the blessing of Vishnu, she will guide the nation against the oppression. That’s why I was wondering if we can somehow help her with knowledge.”
“Even if you manage to coax Guru-ma, how do you plan to convince Rahuji Somnath? He is lord Shiva incarnate. Have you not heard tales of his temper? By the grace of Lord Parshuram, he is like his lord, a Brahmin whom even the kings fear to face in battle.”
“That’s also why I want Ilaa to attend ashram. While working there, I have seen guruji has special class for his favourite disciples. He not only teaches Veda and Vedanta, but also how to wield a staff and swords.”
“I know, but don’t talk around about it. It’s on special request of Shivaji maharaj. But that still doesn’t answer my question – how do you convince guruji to take Ilaa as his disciple?”
“We won’t tell him. I will take him dressed as boy. There is anyway very less difference between a boy and our Ilaa, which you have seen today. But of course I will tell Guruma. And I think she will be happy to see her prediction coming to life in front of her eyes.”
“Are you sure Sharada that this would work? She is our only child. She hardly keeps her hair tied, and you want her to hid is under a headgear, pretending to be a boy?”
“Just tell her once that she could beat a boy, and she will be ready to do anything you tell her.”
“She really hates boys that much?”
“It’s not boys, neither is it hatred. She is just tired of being a girl tied down by our society; she want to break free.”
“May be this is what Vidhata has written for her,” conceded Manuraj. Though fear of risking the life of his only child, putting her against all societal norms, sent a chill down his spine.