A flicker of hope: A story by Sanjukta Ghoshal

The darkness of the night hung heavy in the air. The silence was broken by the occasional howls of the foxes, the usual chirping of crickets, and the unusual tinkle of many anklets, scurrying in unison. Asha lay still on her bed, listening, undecided.


It was another inconspicuous late morning when the honks of an Ambassador had broken the calm of this quiet little village. A politician? Was an election round the corner? No, a woman alighted from the car. A man followed, holding an umbrella over her head. She wore boots and a simple saree. Her uptight bun and sunglasses befitted a movie-star. Another Scorpio halted. Chand, the village-head and a crew of men alighted.

“Is the road supposed to be this muddy?” She suddenly thundered.

No one answered. The men hung their heads.

She kept walking, suddenly stopping in front of Asha.

“How old are you?”

Asha didn’t know, she kept quiet.

“Do you know how to write your name?”

Chand stifled a snort, “Madam, these women don’t know how to read or write. Years back, we’d opened two night-schools, for men and women. The women couldn’t come. They had households to run. We had to close that one down. But all our men can now read, they can sign….”

The woman glared. Chand stopped.

“The night-school for women reopens from tomorrow,” She turned towards the men, “Biren, I want their details by tonight. I’ll check the attendance myself, Chand-ji, you’ll report to me.”

“Yes madam,” the men said in unison.


The men raised a furore at the salishi-sabha that evening at Chand’s home. There were no women at the meeting about women. But Asha heard it all from the kitchen.

“Who does she think she is?”

“We can’t be bossed around by a woman!”

Chand roared, “There’s no need for our women to go. DM-madam will only check the attendance, I’ll report that everyone turned up.”

Next morning, as the men left for work, the women huddled for gossip.

“I’m not going, my husband said not to.”

“How long will you keep listening to your good-for-nothing husband?”

“My husband works as Biren Babu’s driver. He’d overheard, the DM herself will come and take classes.”

“I’ll go then.”

“What’s the point?”

“What about you Asha? Chand will skin you alive if you go.”



Asha checked her bruises in front of the mirror – wounds of love, Chand had given every time she’d disobeyed him. She recalled how he returned home drunk every night, unleashing his inner demons on his young wife. Enough, she’d decided. She didn’t know how education would help, but she’d seen the divine apparition of Devi Durga in their DM-sahiba that day, a sting of pride, a flicker of hope in the dark, when the men had cowered before her. Without glancing at her passed-out husband, she slipped out in the dark, the sounds of her anklet getting lost in the jingles made by others like her, trying to hold on to their ray of hope.


Glossary :

1. Saree : Indian attire, generally a drape of six yards or more

2. Salishi-sabha : Kangaroo court organized by village representatives in India to resolve disputes and conflicts, but the decisions actually hold no legal sanctity

3. DM : District Magistrate, administrative head of a district under Indian Administrative Service

4. Babu : A form of address for a respectable man

5. Devi Durga : Goddess Durga, worshipped by the Hindus. She’s symbolic of divine feminine energy that triumphs over evil.

6. Sahiba : Madam