A short story
Once upon a time in a land far away, an orphan lived. She had torn clothes and shoes with so many holes that they didn’t keep her feet from touching the ground and she was very talkative. Her name was Bakht Begum. Bakht Begum always wandered around and played with anyone she liked. She was almost a boy in her attitude. Unlike other girls who spent most of their time learning how to sew, cook or wash, Bakht Begum liked sports very much and wished to become an athlete one day.
Bakht Begum sometimes looked at the stars and wondered how it would feel to be up high where no one could hurt you or insult you for not being what they wanted you to be. Besides her dream of being an athlete, she wanted to become the president of her country and improve everything. She had already prepared her speech and what she would do after becoming the president; she would climb the highest point of the mountain and thank God. The other girls thought that her idea was pretty stupid – why would anyone climb up there? But to Bakht Begum it was important.
One day Bakht Begum was walking and playing on the way to the football field when she saw a crowd of people gathering. She quickly went to see what was happening. There was a woman covered in blood and stones were being thrown at her every minute. Bakht Begum wanted to do something but she was just a girl and girls were not supposed to speak up whenever they wanted. But she couldn’t ignore the woman’s cries.
Bakht Begum shouted, “Stop it!”
Everyone stopped. She used that moment to act. She pleaded for a few of the women to take the stoned woman to someone’s house to keep her safe and see to her injuries. It surprised Bakht Begum that the women actually listened to her and did as she asked. Her boldness momentarily stunned the men but soon they began talking to each other of how shameless Bakht Begum had been and were thinking of a way to punish her.
They wanted to stone her to death too. Bakht Begum ran as fast as she could — away from the mob. She could hear their voices behind her saying to each other,
“That girl has no shame.”
“She was lucky this time.”
“Yes, but the next time we will not give her the chance to run away.”
Bakht Begum ran and ran as fast as she could. She was so afraid and so mad that she did not notice where she was running. Tears ran down her cheeks. She wondered how long the people of her village, of her country, would continue to live in darkness. She promised herself that one day she would teach them the value of women and girls.
Bakht Begum ran all the way to the top of the mountain. She was so tired that her resolve failed her and she thought she might never return to that stupid village in which no one understood anything – where they didn’t value girls.
One day while she was walking up the mountains to explore more, she found an old cabin. Spider webs were everywhere around it and it was covered with dust. Bakht Begum took the risk and went inside. She was surprised to see an old Chinese man practicing Kung Fu. The old man did not notice her right away. Bakht Begum sat down and watched him. When he finished, Bakht Begum clapped.
Bakht Begum was amazed at his respect for a girl and she liked him saying, “My daughter.”
She was sure that if this was a man from the village he would say, “You stupid girl, what are you doing?”
Bakht Begum said, “Well, I was walking up the mountains and saw this cabin and when I came inside I found you practicing Kung Fu so I watched you and I liked it. Can you please teach me?” The old man smiled and said, “First we must have a drink of tea then we will talk.”
The old man told her the story of his life, he said, “When I was little, my family was poor, I could not attend school, even though I loved learning very much. One day I was selling lemonade when an old man came and looked at me. He showed me a Kung Fu book he thought I should buy. Many great techniques were written there so I gave him all the money I had saved to buy myself a pair of shoes. But I didn’t care. That book made me forget about the cold weather and the hot. I practiced with bare feet which made me stronger. But just as my life improved from learning Kung Fu the Russians invaded China. Every single member of my family was killed but I managed to run away and come to this unknown land and live my life on this mountain. I have practiced Kung Fu. I have created new techniques and I am willing to teach that to only one person.”
Bakht Begum was amazed by his story, especially the part about the new techniques. She wanted more than anything to learn them, but then she thought to herself, “I am a girl, who would waste their time to teach a girl?”
But she couldn’t return to the village below the mountain so she asked the kind old man if she could live near him on the mountain and could she be the one person he would teach his Kung Fu techniques. The old man thought about how she had trusted him and drank his watery tea, so the old man said yes. Bakht Begum found a spot deep in the woods where there was plenty of fire wood and wild fruits and vegetables. There was also water nearby and she set about building a small house with a fireplace and a nice room in which to practice Kung Fu.
Years passed and Bakht Begum became bigger and stronger and was an exceptional student of Kung Fu. One day while she was practicing, the old man came and told her that he had heard there was to be a Kung Fu contest in the village with competitors from other countries and whoever won the contest would be made the leader of the land. Bakht Begum was shocked and asked when the contest was, the old man said that it was exactly one week later. Bakht Begum thought that was the best opportunity she had to become the president. One week later she went to the village to join the other Kung Fu fighters. As she waited in line to give her name, everyone stared at her as if she were an alien but she was allowed to compete.
As she entered the ring, everyone laughed and said that this must be some sort of joke, a girl was never able to fight with a man. Bakht Begum ignored them and fought as she had never done before. The competition went on for several days and each time Bakht Begum defeated an opponent, she was kind and courteous to her opponent and the people watching began to like her more and more. They could also see how strong she was and how good she was at Kung Fu. When she finally reached the final match, many in the audience were cheering for her. The man she fought was huge but her smaller size proved to be an advantage – and of course, she had Kung Fu techniques that he had never seen before and he was outsmarted and outfought. She won!
The person who announced the winner came and asked her to give a speech. People listening were surprised that Bakht Begum seemed to know what to say. They didn’t know she’d been practicing for this moment her whole life. She thought for a minute and said,
“My people, I think you now understand that girls are not as useless as you think nor should they be objects which you can buy and sell. Women are part of your society. Your society will improve more if you also try to understand that when a girl steps forward to say something, she is not saying whatever comes into her mind but, she says what is in her heart says. Women have tolerated pain and suffering for many years. But from now on, my people, when a girl makes a decision, don’t ever doubt her. Don’t try to change her mind or put obstacles in her way. Girls and women have hidden talents and they can shine and be successful just like me if you give them a chance. Women and girls can do anything. They can be as strong and smart as men and do the same jobs. They should be equal under the law.”
Everyone clapped and wiped away tears. Bakht Begum, however, changed her idea of becoming the president and became an athlete instead – competing in towns all across the land so that everyone could see how strong and successful a woman could be. She supported her teacher for the rest of his life with riches and always with a nice room just for practicing Kung Fu and other sports techniques. And that is how Bakht Begum revealed the talents of women!