December 4, 2020

Soorbir

(c) J. Singh, 2016

The old warrior-saint, Ude, stroked his silvery white beard thoughtfully as he read the morning newspaper. There were reports of unrest in the capital. Just four days ago, a twenty three year old woman had been brutally raped and left to die in the middle of the road. The perpetrators of the crime had been arrested, and the six young men – one of them a teenager – were being held in jail awaiting arraignment. Meanwhile, protests had erupted throughout the nation. Young adults, particularly women, were becoming more and more vocal about the continued injustice towards females, and the Government's apparent lack of empathy and lack of desire to even attempt to remedy the situation.

Morning was dawning, and Ude arose from the scenic spot atop the hillside where he had been sitting in contemplation, and made his way down into the small town below. The market was already bustling with activity when he arrived, and the vendors had finished setting up their stalls and were already making sales. Customers thronged to the stalls to purchase vegetable produce, clothing, household items, and handicrafts. Off to the side some musicians played folk songs, and farther down the road, beggars appealed to anyone who crossed their path.

As he approached the town, Ude passed a small group of women who had gathered by the marketplace.

"Oh, it is just so horrible," an obese woman laden with jewelry and gaudy clothing was lamenting to the group, "that poor poor girl!  Why don't they do something about all these crimes?  They really should do something!  It's just not safe for girls anymore, anywhere!"

The other women nodded in solemn agreement.

Ude made his way to the far end of the market, where there was a small stall with no visitors. The stall-keeper sat in his chair, reclining and apparently asleep. His daughter squatted in the corner playing quietly with a doll. She looked up as Ude drew near, got up and tugged at her father's sleeve, pointing to the new customer.

"Good morning Babaji," the stall-keeper sprang to his feet, smiling widely and completely alert. "What would you be interested in purchasing today?"

Ude pointed to a wooden walking-stick. "How much for that?"

"Oh, that old thing?" the stall-keeper seemed a little disappointed. "Is that all you want?"

"Can you make them?"

"Yes, I can make them. I have a shop not far from town."

"Great! I want you to make a hundred of those for me. I will be back in three days."

"A hundred? What for? You only need one, Babaji!"  

Ude smiled enigmatically.

"Remember! One hundred walking-sticks! Three days!" he said as he walked away.

It was much later in the day when Ude found himself in the center of the small town, by the bus depot. The air was stifling hot, and permeated with the diesel fumes from the buses. Passengers scrambled to locate and board the correct bus, and conductors shouted from the buses, leaning out from the doors as the buses slowly started to amble off towards their destinations. Last-minute passengers came running up and the conductors gave them a hand to jump onto the bus.

Two men from a neighboring town, were wandering around apparently quite lost.  One tall and thin, one short and pudgy and quite bald.  The bald one glanced at the old warrior-saint sitting underneath the shade of the tree, and quickly made his way towards him.

"Oh, sir!" he gasped for breath as his companion caught up with him, "we are from Antok.  We need some help.  We need to get to the capital, I just don't know which bus to look for. This is so confusing, we're lost and you can help us, surely. Please, which bus should we get on?"

Ude smiled and pointed to a large bus painted in bright red and green that was parked on the far side.

"There's nobody in there!" the bald man exclaimed. "Are they not going today?"

"They're going," replied Ude, "in one hour. You are early."

The bald man breathed a sigh of relief.  Both he and his companion sat down next to Ude.

"We have some time then, thank the gods. We – my brother and I – we're going to the capital to visit our sister. She moved with her family last year. We have never traveled that far. It is a new journey for us. Although, maybe not the best time to be traveling, with all the protests going on."

"Perhaps not," replied Ude.

"It was such a tragedy," the bald man and his brother both shook their heads in unison, "That kind of crime should not happen in our great nation. It really has gotten bad, hasn't it? I mean, what was that girl doing out in the city at such a late hour?"

"I heard she was out after midnight," the brother interjected.

"And what was she wearing?  Some very revealing clothes, I think. It was a mistake – she should have dressed more conservatively. She should have stayed home, indoors. She couldn't have expected to dress in that way and not have unwanted attention or problems. What do you say, sir?"

Ude replied, "Perhaps she was just waiting for a bus and didn't know which one to take."

After the bald man and his brother had boarded their bus and departed, Ude walked towards the local College. The College campus was abuzz with discussion and debate. It seemed as if all the students had decided to skip class and were standing outside in small groups in the main quadrangle for heated debate about the issues of the day.

"Punish the criminals!" one of the students was vehemently demanding. "Examples should be made of them, and all rapists! Castrate them and hang them at the city limits! They are not human! What they did was horrific! Castrate the bastards!"

The crowd of students seemed to be gathering and organizing for a protest. Signs went up, the crowd thickened, and the entire mass of people began slowly moving off campus and into the main streets. Someone started shouting slogans, and soon they were blocking the traffic.

Ude walked away from the noisy crowds and towards the residential slum areas. He turned into one of the side streets and as he walked down the street, he observed the children at play outside their homes. These poor children knew nothing of the luxuries of life. Their clothing was tattered and so dirty that one could not tell the original color. Now it was just dark brown. Their faces and hair were caked with grime, and they had no shoes. A group of them played with one marble and several stones by an open sewer. They looked up as Ude walked by them, staring in awe at his blue turban and the glistening weapons he carried. He smiled at them.

Farther in, towards the end of the street, there was a small gathering of sorts. Men were huddled together in a small group and were talking in hushed voices. One of them looked around to see Ude approaching.

"What are you doing here?" he asked curtly.

"Just out for a walk," replied Ude amiably.

"Providence has brought you here for a reason. You are a seasoned warrior! Are you not sworn to fight for justice?"

"I am," replied Ude truthfully.

"Then you might be interested in speaking with us."

The rest of the group were deeply engaged in discussion.

"The Government does nothing," one young man was speaking, "our sisters and daughters are being raped, and the Police, instead of protecting them, is helping the criminals!"

"Yes," another man said, "and these protests, the Government is not taking any of them seriously. They are just trying to appease the crowds so they don't have civil unrest. But nothing is going to change! This has been going on for decades. I can remember as a kid growing up and my parents always telling me to escort my sister to school, or wherever she needed to go. It is just not safe!"

"The Government pays lip-service to safety for women, but it doesn't really care about our women!"

"That poor girl was lying naked and bleeding on the street for almost an hour before she got any help. People just ignored her cries and pleading for help."

The last statement brought a solemn quiet to the group as the realization sank in.  Eventually, one of the men spoke up again.

"We must organize! If the Police have failed us, and the Government is not helping us, then we must send a message to the Government, something that they can't ignore!"

All the men in the group agreed. They turned to look at Ude expectantly. But he shook his head and replied, "I have a different path."

After taking leave of the group, he walked to the outskirts of the town, and found a quiet field where he sat under the shade of a tree and meditated.

Three days later, as he had promised, Ude returned to the town marketplace and the stall with the walking-sticks.

"Do you have what I ordered?" he asked the stall-keeper.

"Ye-es," answered the stall-keeper, eyeing the old warrior-saint askance. "Are you sure you want a hundred walking-sticks, Babaji?"

"Most definitely!" Ude cheerfully paid the stall-keeper. "Load them up on that cart over there.  They'll deliver them to my school."

"School!?  You teach, Babaji?"

"Indeed I do.  Where is your daughter?"

"Oh, I am having her stay home with her mother these days. Usually she helps me at the stall, but there were some new reports of girls being attacked, and with the case in the capital city, I just don't feel it is safe for her now." He sighed, "It's a pity. I really could use her help around here."

"Bring her to my school," Ude smiled broadly. "Tomorrow morning, here is the address."

He wrote down the location on a piece of paper and handed it to the stall-keeper.

"Thank you Babaji, but I'm just a stall-keeper, I'm not sure if I could afford--"

"There is no fee," said Ude.

The next morning, the stall-keeper and his daughter walked into the building that was the warrior-saint's school, and his jaw dropped open at the sight he saw. One hundred girls and young women, standing in formation, each of them holding one of his walking-sticks. At the front of the group was the old warrior-saint, except that he didn't look so old now. There was a gleam in his eye, his stance was strong and sure, his moves were swift and determined. He was holding one of the walking-sticks and moving through an exercise, swinging the stick up, bringing it forward, jabbing, thrusting, and sweeping. The air whistled as the girls followed suit with their walking-sticks.

After a few minutes of the exercise, the class paused for a break.

Ude saw the stall-keeper and his daughter and walked over to them.

"I am glad that you were able to come," he said, smiling.

"You are teaching a school for self-defense?" the stall-keeper asked, astonished.

"Yes. When everybody has failed you, when the Government has been corrupted and sees only its own benefit and lets the people suffer, when the Police force has abandoned its duty and instead preys upon those it is supposed to protect, when your own fellow man will not stop to give you aid when you are in need, then there is only one other option.  You must protect yourself. And I will teach these girls how to protect themselves."

"But you are a warrior! How will you teach them your martial art? They are housewives and children and students.  They know nothing of swords and weapons of warfare."

"They need not.  All that they need, they already have.  I will teach them how to be free from fear.  And then anything, even a simple walking-stick, can be their tool for self-defense."

\\