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March 29, 2013
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It feels like I am stuck inside a well, holding onto a ladder which would either take me above to the sunshine and the sweet smelling grass or down into the slimy black water. In my life I have two choices, the easy way falling into the gaping darkness below, or the hard way grabbing hold of the ladder and using all my strength to get to the light. The bottom of the well is what everyone would go for, which is learning how to cook, being a good wife and a mother. It’s the life of a robot and a life which you have no say in. The hard way is climbing to the top facing many challenges on the way. It is demanding but in the end it is following your heart.

Following my heart is playing hockey in a free open ground with crowds screaming out my name “Abhaya …. Abhaya” their every bit of confidence wrapped around me like a warm blanket. I want freedom to play the sport I love. I’m tired off sneaking out every morning to play hockey with the mere light of a small oil lamp. Why do I sneak out to play hockey you ask? In “Chogwan” a village in Amritsar, women are trained to become home makers and dedicate their lives to their husbands. Take my mother for example her world revolves within the four walls of our home.

One evening while my mother and I were milking cows in our backyard, I asked her how she felt about being a house wife and to this she said “Abhaya a woman must be a house wife whether she likes it or not”. I not being able to grasp this exclaimed “Don’t you have dreams to pursue, things which you’ve wanted to do?” She took a while to reply, but when she did I was surprised “Sometimes you don’t have a choice and have to go along with what is best for you” was what she said. Back then I didn’t comment, but now I want to ask her how she knew what was best for her.

Two days ago, the blissful news which would lead me to the top of the well came from my best friend Sanjay. Sanjay was the mayor’s son, and though the mayor wasn’t in favor of women’s rights, Sanjay believed differently. The mayor disapproved of our friendship as we were different ranks in the society, but Sanjay didn’t care.

This is how the news came to me. I was packing my lunch in a banana leaf for school when the door was nearly run down with a bulldozer. “Answer the door Abhaya” my mom called out to me. I frantically ran towards the door and swung it open. Surprisingly I saw Sanjay out of breath, holding his chest; it looked like a panic attack. Just as I was about to call my mother he screamed “Balbir Singh is in town and he is looking for some hockey players”. I froze in my tracks. Balbir Singh was one of the best hockey players and had three gold medals! Though he was retired now, there were rumors that he was choosing players from the rural parts of India for the Indian hockey team!

Before I could get excited over this news my mother came in, “What’s all that racket it? I thought-…” She stopped abruptly when she saw Sanjay, giving him the evil eye. She didn’t like Sanjay, because he was my boy “friend”. Her disapproving look was enough for me to hastily say good-bye to her and drag Sanjay onto the street. “It’s true right”? I asked my voice all high from the adrenaline. Sanjay looked at me like he thought I was mad “Does it look like I’m making this up” he exclaimed. “No but i….” before I finished he took hold of my hand and steered me towards the direction of the ground. “What about school” I asked him sounding worried. He looked at me sheepishly “Ha-ha I’ve taken care of that, our parents won’t know.” Wow talk about being the mayor’s son.

When we reached the ground, in the midst of a crowd stood a distinguished looking man. “That’s Balbir Singh” Sanjay said grinning at me. Before I could comment a loud booming voice filled the ground “For one week you will be assigned to teams which consist of both boys and girls. Every day you will play one match. At the end of the week I will chose the best players for the Indian national hockey team.” We had apparently missed the introduction. There were a few gasps from the crowd but he pretended not to notice. “Enough chit chat come stand in line” he said sounding fierce. He was a man who didn’t waste time.

Sanjay and I got put in different teams, and had to play against each other. The fact that a majority of the players were boys didn’t help my beat-up body. The whole week all we did was play more games, and get injured. Although I did score an occasional goal, I never got complimented.

At the end of the week Balbir Singh read out a list of people who made it in the team. To my utter surprise my name wasn’t there, however Sanjay’s name was. I was happy for him but secretly envied him. How could he have made the team when I didn’t? I quickly said good-bye to him giving him my best encouraging smile. As I walked home my heartfelt heavy and there were dark swirling emotions inside me. As soon as I set foot in the threshold of our house I heard a voice say “Abhaya how are you so dirty and bruised?” I looked up to see my mother. “I’m not” I said ignoring her and stomping off to my room. She was shocked by my rudeness and so was I. She followed me to my room and sat beside me. “What’s wrong” she asked sounding worried. “Nothing” I replied. She didn’t leave, “Look I am so tired off this stupid tradition where women aren’t allowed to play sports. Because of my lack of practice I haven’t made it in the team! Are you happy now?” I shouted breathing heavily. My mother was shocked. “Can you explain it to me?” she asked her voice calm. Surprisingly I did tell her, and it felt good to shift my troubles off me. After I finished all she said was “Go talk to the Mayor.” I was not so keen on this. “Are you sure?” I asked. She looked straight into my eyes and said “Because of these traditions I have lost what I wanted to do, and I don’t want the same thing to happen to you!” I was shocked “What did you want to do, play hockey?” I asked at her my mouth hanging open. “Well now that’s a secret which you will never find out” she replied smiling.

I ran all the way to the mayor’s house, not stopping anywhere to catch my breath. The minute the door opened I saw the mayor and yelled “You should give women their rights; I lost everything because of you!” He seemed confused. “You…” before I could say anything Sanjay came from behind me along with Balbir Singh. I looked shocked, what was happening? Sanjay looked at me and said “When I saw your face after Balbir read out the list the whole world came crashing down. I couldn’t let you lose something you love”. Wow! This was a lot to take in. Unable to resist I hugged him. Maybe there was more to our relationship than I had thought. When I let go off my embrace I found the mayor staring at us but Balbir Singh simply stepped forward and spoke to the mayor. “Because of the traditions this girl couldn’t practice well and couldn’t make it. Next year I want to see more girls taking part, or else I would have to deal with you differently” he said voice calm. The mayor looked surprised; no one had confronted him before. “Sure sir, as you like sir” he said shaking. To me Balbir whispered “You need to practice every day, get ready for next year” and walked off.

Before leaving I looked at the mayor “Women are equal to men, though I have lost my chance of getting to the light, I have succeeded in bringing about a change and that’s what matters.” I knew he didn’t understand but he didn’t need to. I hastily shut the door and walked with Sanjay, our hands intertwined.

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