Shamli was clueless


From Magazine

That night, it was late. Shamli could see Ramlal sitting on the khatiya outside. He had refused dinner. Shamli knew he was thinking of all the good times that he had had. All of a sudden, Ramlal slumped to the ground. He was frothing at the mouth and was incoherent. The village kabiraj was called in. Medicines and herbs were administered. They kept a steady vigil the whole night. The sun rose the next morning, but Ramlal left his lifeless body behind.

The sons arrived. Ramlal’s last rites were performed. They decided to sell off the house and the adjoining land for more money and take their mother to the city. Despite malkin’s protests, everything was arranged and executed in haste. No one uttered a word about Shamli and Maili. Shamli decided it was time for her to leave the household. Taking leave of the malkin who held on to her, she gathered her belongings and directed a reluctant Maili to get ready.


He heard voices outside. One of them was Ranjhu, the village dalal. She wondered why Ranjhu was here after all these years. This was the same man who had tried to misbehave with her. Ramlal’s timely intervention had saved her that day. Since then the master had forbade the dalal from stepping into their courtyard. A strange foreboding filled her. She rushed to Maili and hid her.

Badelal and Ranjhu entered. Ranjhu, after all these years, had grown much older but had not lost the wicked gleam in his eyes. His eyes raked in Shamli and Maili for quite some time. Shamli could feel her little girl’s unease. “Sold,” was the only word that the lecherous man uttered before leaving the shed. Shamli knew what it meant. She pleaded with Badelal to spare Maili. But he repeated that he needed money.

With a resigned look on her face, Shamli and Maili gathered their bags and followed Ranjhu. They followed the same route which Shamli had once taken with her mother. She hoped that Maili would find a saviour to take her to a new home. They trudged miles, as the morning gave way to afternoon and then to evening. There was nothing to eat but a few drops of water to drink from a pitcher that Ranjhu slung from his shoulders.

As the sun set, they came upon a huge meadow. Shamli was surprised to find scores of women and men seated there. Each had a story of their own. Some were old and feeble, while many were young and energetic. And they all awaited their fate. Shamli learnt that their walk was over for the day. The next day they would begin their walk again. She further learnt that they would all congregate at a village near Anukul. An auction would be held for all of them.

Shamli was stupefied. She had heard such sordid tales before, but never thought that this would happen to her. She knew what would become of the young, luscious ones, but she was clueless as to why the old and haggard were being taken. Her questions had no answers. The old and senile were fast asleep. Some were barely conscious after the day’s walk and starvation.

Dinner had been sparse. Some corn and broth were all that they had been given. And the quantity was meagre. Shamli had given her share to Maili. She lay awake the whole night crooning songs to her little girl. Escape was ruled out as there were men guarding them. An escape would mean vicious torture for them. She hoped that her little girl would get a good man the next day

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