Two Women : Real and Imagined

When I was much younger, my mother would tell me stories about princesses – princesses who were very often in trouble and needed saving. Eventually, the princesses became not-so-helpless and got themselves out of the trouble. In all these stories one particular one stood out to me – the story of a princess who caused trouble.

Her story was unique. Her motives were her own, her choices were own and her problems, too, were her own. Her name was Draupadi and her story was from an old Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata. It was a story of vengeance, duty and injustice. Through the ages she had been painted as the harbinger of war and death. She was the cause for the total destruction of a family, a dynasty and a kingdom. And yet, the story of Draupadi appealed to me as a girl – and appeals to me even now as a young woman. I began to ask myself a question – would her actions have been acceptable had she been a man?  And slowly, in a world where the brothers and fathers were put on a pedestal, the fierce Draupadi began to seem more and more like a hero to me, rather than the villain I had been told she was.

This was all a myth of course. Draupadi’s story took place in a land and time far away from my reality. It seemed to me that the women I saw around me were no Draupadis. They were neither fully in control of their decisions nor did they dare to radically challenge the status quo. That is till I met my high school history teacher. She had a severe reputation in the school and she definitely lived up to it – or so I thought. As I became more and more interested in the subject, I got closer to her. Eventually I realized that she was in no way the strict person I had originally thought her to be – although she definitely intended students to believe the rumors about her. She was a passionate, dedicated and focused woman intent on giving her very best to her job and her students. She had – indeed has – been teaching tirelessly for more than thirty years straight and never once did her passion for teaching falter. It was in this single-mindedness that I unexpectedly found a flicker of what I had been searching for. I realized the sacrifices my teacher had made for what she believed was the right thing. I realized her innate strength that allowed her to put others’ well-being before her own. Most of all, I realized how underappreciated this strength of character and purpose was.

Once I came to this conclusion, I began to see strong women all around me. Each and every one was fighting her own battle in her own way. However, not everyone knew this – or appreciated it. We are so immersed in our own lives that we forget to take a moment to appreciate the struggles of the people around us. Essentially, here is what I have realized: there is a flicker of Draupadi within all of us. We simply need to recognize this strength and have faith in ourselves.