Shamli found a father in Ramlal

The Story of Shamli & Maili

From Magazine


At 11, she knew she was the prettiest. Her milky complexion, her big eyes and her pink mouth were already an object of envy amongst her friends while the boys yearned for her. She was aware of the way men looked at her. How long would Shamli be able to protect herself? What if the train had hit her too? She shuddered and sighed. Cool hand closed on her forehead. She looked up to see an elderly man looking down at her. The sympathy and love in his eyes was unmistakable. That was Ramlal, her master. He had cradled her head that day as she cried. In those few minutes, Shamli knew that she had found a father in him. Ramlal took her home, introduced her to his family and there was no looking back since then. He was a wealthy man and took good care of her. She grew and blossomed under the malkin’s care and repaid them by toiling hard in his fields.

She finally met her match in Nathu, a local boy who was besotted with her since he had first seen her. But her happiness was short-lived. He disappeared one night. The patches of blood in the cow shed where he spent the night, the bloody rope that he kept with him and the paw marks of a leopard were enough to let everyone guess what had happened. His body was never found. Shamli was numb with pain. The days passed in agony. She worked hard in the field, lay awake for nights till the first wave of nausea hit her. She realised within a few days that Nathu was now alive within her. Shamli bounced back with a fresh lease of life. A few months later a baby was born to her, a daughter she would cherish for all the years to come. The baby was dark and resembled her father. Everyone thought she was the ugliest baby in the village. But she was the prettiest to her mother. The villagers called her Maili. Shamli called her Maii, ‘my mother’.

Maili was now seven years old and growing up fast under the care of Shamli and malkin. Ramlal was too old and his health was gradually failing him. His sons had left the village many years back. Badelal arrived home every two months to claim his share in the field. But the never offered a helping hand to his old father, nor gave him money when his father mortgaged malkin’s jewellery. Chotelal was never seen again.

This year was an extremely difficult one. The monsoons were late. They arrived when the crop was lush and ruined everything. Then a fire at the godown destroyed last year’s harvest which had been carefully stored. There was no buffer left for next year. Payment to the labourers was pending. Ramlal had nothing left, except for the few barren tracts of land. He had never felt so forlorn.

Shamli took each day as it came. Food was getting scarce. The malkin always kept some food away for Maili before serving anyone else. But the rations wouldn’t last long. She knew Ramlal had no option but sell the land to the mill owners who have been after him for quite some time. The day came sooner than she had expected. Raghuvir, the man behind the rice mills, arrived one morning. After a heated exchange, the price was negotiated, the deed signed and payment made to Ramlal. Next morning Badelal arrived and demanded a share of the money. The land could have been his future, is what he told his old father. Hence the sons should have their rightful share. The money was divided into three and Badelal left with both the shares and after a proper lunch.

Shamli and Maili usually slept near the cowshed. As it grew dark, the stifling heat gave way to a cool breeze. The night progressed and it gradually grew colder. Maili would snuggle up to her mother for warmth. This was bliss to her. This village, her friends, the house, malkin, everyone was so dear to her. She would never leave this place, is what she promised herself. #comebacktomorrow

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