In olden days in Gujarat, people travelled from one place to another on foot. Sometimes they rode on camels or in carts drawn by bullocks or horses. Journeys took a long time as men and animals moved slowly through desert and plain. There were only a few small villages dotting the countryside. People travelled by day and when night fell they took shelter in some wayside inn. In case there was no inn on the way, they travelled right through the night, guided by the stars.
Journeys were not only wearisome but they were extremely perilous as well. Bands of robbers and outlaws roamed the countryside on fast horses. They waylaid travellers and took away their jewellery and other valuables. If a traveller offered resistance, a dagger plunged into him did the trick. No wonder common people were unwilling to travel. And when they did venture out of their homes, they took an escort. These escorts were brave and tough men whose profession it was to safeguard the lives and property of people travelling from one village to another. Every village had its own escorts and they were in great demand.
Gema was one such escort. He had made a name for himself as a man of courage and daring. In particular he wielded a sword with exceptional skill. Gema was so greatly feared that robbers ran away at the very mention of his name. They never came near a travelling group if Gema happened to be escorting them.
Gema was aware of the fact that he was famous. In time he also grew proud of it. The praise that he received as an escort went straight to his head. He would boast about it. He would often say that he is known all over. And so it happened that Gema slowly became a little less alert when escorting travellers.
In Gema's village there lived a young and pretty Rajput woman named Rupali Ba. She was newly married and lived with her in-laws. Once Gema was engaged to escort Rupali Ba to her father's place in another village. They had to travel through country that was completely deserted, with nothing but sand and a few bushes as far as the eye could see. It was a risky trip all right. To top it all, the custom of the times demanded that a new bride should be wearing a whole lot of gold and silver jewellery. And Rupali Ba was a new bride. Since she had married into a well-to-do family, she would also be carrying a bag of gold coins and some expensive clothes.
On the appointed day, two carts drawn by bullocks set out from the village. In the first sat Rupali Ba, with all her belongings. In the second came Gema, carrying his weapons and food and water for the journey.
They travelled all day, with but a short break when they sat in the shade of a rock and had their midday meal. Evening found them still travelling and still nowhere near an inn. As night came on, Gema fell asleep, forgetting all about his duties as an escort. The driver of the cart shook him several times and tried to wkae him up.
But Gema was too proud of himself to take note of the warning. Their words carried far on the silent desert air. Seated in the front cart, surrounded by a fine muslin curtain, Rupali Ba heard them. She called out to him and asked him not to sleep. But Gema did not care. He slept comfortably as the vehicles creaked on.
Suddenly the driver of the second cart gave Gema a push. He requested Gema to wake up as he could see lights at a distance. But the only reply he received was a sleepy one. Too proud of hid abilities Gema did not even care to pay attention to the warnings of the driver and others around him.
The lights kept coming nearer and nearer. The drivers were in a panic but what could they do! Suddenly a dozen men burst upon them. Armed to the teeth, and carrying flaming torches, they looked terrifying indeed. They surrounded the cart and pounced on the sleeping Gema. Before Gema was fully awake, his arms and legs were firmly tied with string. The robbers then passed a stick under his knees and tied him to it so he became like a ball. Gema was now completely helpless. The robbers gave him a hard push and he went rolling in the sand till he got stuck in a clump of thorny bushes.
Having got rid of Gema, the robbers turned their attention to Rupali Ba. The leader of the gang approached the first cart. They commanded her to hand over all her jewelleries. Those days it was a matter of honour even among thieves and robbers not to take away the ornaments that a woman was wearing. But these robbers had no sense of honour.
Rupali Ba did not lose her nerve. She quietly removed her ornaments and gave them to the robber. Then she informed him calmly that her anklets were made of solid silver. As a result they were strong and heavy and she could not possibly remove them. But if they wished they can take the anklets themselves. And Rupali Ba pushed out her two feet from under the muslin curtain. Two of the robbers immediately got down to work removing the anklets. While their attention was thus diverted, Rupali Ba groped around her for a weapon. At the back of the cart she found a pole. Gripping it with both hands, she brought the pole crashing down on the two heads bent over her feet. And that was the end of the two robbers.
Rupali Ba leapt out of her cart. She forgot that she was a woman and that the men before her were extremely tough and cruel. She now had a weapon and was determined to teach the robbers a lesson. Rupali Ba went for them, hitting right and left with the long pole, wielding it as though it were a slender bamboo stick. So fierce was her attack that nobody looking at her would have believed that she was only eighteen. Rupali Ba fought like a true Rajput woman, brave and utterly fearless.
The robbers were taken completely by surprise. Having got rid of Gema, they did not expect anyone to resist them so they had put away their swords. Rupali Ba made the most of this opportunity while she could. But soon the robbers snatched up their swords again and returned the attack. Time and again they hit Rupali Ba and blood flowed freely from her wounds. But she did not give up till at last the robber chief decided he had had enough. He turned and fled from the scene, followed by the five or six survivors of his gang.
In the meantime Gema had managed to untie his ropes. But he was so ashamed of himself that he disappeared into the desert and never showed his face again.
Rupali Ba did not climb back into her cart. She told the drivers to go on while she followed them on foot. In her right hand she carried a sword that one of the robbers had dropped as he fled. For the rest of the night no robber dared come near her for fear of being cut to pieces.
In time they arrived at a village belonging to Rupali Ba's uncle who loved her like his own daughter. He offered her some 'kasumbo' (a drink made from opium) to ease her pain. She took it and walked on to her father's village. But by the time Rupali Ba reached home her strength was completely shattered. She had lost a lot of blood and just about managed to say a few words to her parents. A few hours later she was dead.
To this day the villagers of Gujarat remember Rupali Ba. They love to retell the story of her fight with the robbers and to sing songs in praise of that brave young Rajput girl.
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