• Under the Raintree Festival

'How Elpis Was Born' by Ananya Dhananjaya

The sun shone bright over the orchard as Isabelle made her way to the towering apple tree in the distance, respectfully nickname Eve. The rosy glow from the setting sun lit up the apples, giving them the golden appearance of the fabled apples of the Hesperides. However, to Isabelle, things were anything but golden. "Bleak and grey describes it better." she thought scornfully, scowling at the hand gripping her arm, the only reason she was still moving down the winding road to Eve and not running away. The hand merely tightened in response, and her mother hissed in her ear, "You are going to pick an apple from Eve, Isabelle, fulfill your role as a girl in this society. I never want to catch you lurking near Adam again."


Isabelle rolled her eyes, and allowed herself one minute to dream desperately of what might have happened the previous day, if her mother had not caught her.

As was the culture in Nephilia, children came of age at 15 and as a rite of passage had to pick an apple from Adam or Eve. That apple was said to describe what one's role would be in the society in future. Isabelle had heard about how her mother had picked an apple from Eve and how one bite of it had decided her future. Her role in the society - Homemaker had rung through her mind, and at the same time the words had appeared on the bark of the apple tree. Similarly her father had been assigned the role of an engineer, and her brother a mechanic.


However, things were not as cheerful and perfect as they were showcased. The unspoken rule in Nephilia was that girls were allowed to pick an apple only from Eve and boys from Adam. Each tree contained its own set of gender based roles in society and any intermixing was completely forbidden. It was the way of the world and no exceptions were made, no questions asked.


And it was this unspoken rule that Isabelle had tried to break yesterday, the day she had turned 15. Isabelle had always been very fascinated with weapons. Their sharp edges and precise forging had always made her jump with joy. She had often spent her days reveling in the beautiful swords and graceful knives her uncle made for the army. And she knew that being a Weapons Master was a role set aside exclusively for men. So she had daringly tried to climb Adam and pluck the bright red apple that glistened invitingly at her, when her mother had pulled her off the tree.


Now, being forcibly marched down the path to Eve, set to pick out one of the dainty roles set for ladies, was the worst thing Isabelle had ever faced.


However, fate intervened, something that she would forever be grateful about.


The nearby river, which had been growing ever larger as the ice up in the mountain thawed, suddenly crashed out of its bed and raced towards the orchard. It swept by mercilessly, tirelessly beating against Adam and Eve until it finally brought them down.


The mystical trees that had stood for centuries and endured all that had been thrown at them, that represented the rite of passage for Nephilia stood upright no more and were washed away with the torrent of the river.

***


The sun shone bright over the orchard as Isabelle made her way to the towering apple tree in the distance. Again.


It was the second time she was making this journey, now at the age of 21. The people of Nephilia had decided to reestablish the rite of passage, but with a few modifications. And looking at the glinting apples in the distance, Isabelle was grateful of the change.


The flood, referred to as Allagi, the embodiment of change had obliterated most of the orchard but had left only one small sapling untouched. So the younger generation, took it upon themselves to nurture it. They called it Elpis, the spirit of hope, and filled it with all their thoughts of an alternate future, their dreams of a modified and glorious society. Under their care and guidance, Elpis grew rapidly until she stood big and beautiful, much larger than Adam and Eve had ever stood.

And best of all, Elpis possessed apples of ALL roles. There was no longer any demarcation based on gender, no longer any gender stereotypes. Elpis embodied all the children's roles in society, be it a boy or a girl.


So now, as Isabelle walked down the path towards Elpis, she could feel her heart burst with hope. Hope for a future of her own making, fulfilling a role of her choice. She picked the red apple that called out to her, like the apple on Adam that she had never had a chance to pick. The apple fit in her palm perfectly, as if it had been made for her, which, in a way, it had been. She took a bite and as the sweet juice exploded in her mouth, a voice rang, loud and clear in her mind as the words appeared on the bark of Elpis.

Weapons Master.

***


The story of Nephilia describes the journey over the years that our society has been through in terms of gender sensitization. The fixed gender stereotypes and roles, as represented by Adam and Eve were gradually weakened down until a flood of rebellion completely tore it apart and waves of change took root. Gender roles were removed, and now one has the right to choose who they want to be, what they want to do in this society.


Gender is no longer at work in deciding one's fate. Rather it is one's choices, their minds that decide who they want to be.


Footnote:

• Allagi is the Greek embodiment of change.

• Elpis is the Greek spirit of hope.

• Adam and Eve are names taken from Christian mythology.