The villagers of Kugaon village in North India were divided over cast. There were a large segment of upper cast and a smaller section of lower caste living on the opposites sides of the village, having their own independent farms, wells, schools, etc. However, there was a common hill not too far from the village which was a gateway to another state.
An eight year old girl called Sita belonging to another village came to live with her uncle for a few years, because her father had gone to the city in search of better financial prospects. Her uncle was one of the members of the village panchayat and by default belonging to upper caste. She loved exploring the countryside. She was strictly warned from venturing into the other side by her uncle.
Sita, once went to play with a few neighboring kids on the hill, after some time, all the children left and Sita remained on the hill playing on a large tree. She was unaware that her friends had abandoned her and she waited for someone to catch her, while they played hide and seek. It was a long time and Sita grew worried, suddenly she heard a sound and saw a girl, whom she had never met before carrying a bundle of wild twigs, who rested below the very tree Sita was hiding.
Sita climbed down and the young girl in tattered clothes was startled. The strange girl’s first instinct was to run but her body failed to obey the command and she was rooted on the spot to see Sita coming towards her.
“Who are you?” asked Sita
“I am Lali”, spoke the poor girl who was a little short of Sita. “Who are you?”
“I am Sita and new in the village. My baba has gone to the big town for work and I am living with my uncle,” spoke the ever talkative Sita.
“Then what are you doing here?” asked Lali
“I am playing with my friends but now I can’t find them?” looking sad and lost.
“Your friends have long gone, I saw them running away laughing. Now I know what made them laugh so much, they have abandoned you and run away.”
“Have they”, spoke Sita, getting angrier by the minute, “I shall see to them. But what are you doing here and how is that I’ve never seen you before?”
“I live on the other side,” pointed Lali. “They must not see us talking or else I shall be scolded.”
“You are from the upper caste and I belong to a lower caste.”
“What rubbish, I think I like you…you are honest. How old are you? I am eight.”
“I am seven…”
Soon Sita and Lali started talking like long lost friends. They would meet every afternoon and talk and play for hours. Lali showed all her hiding places and wonderful things on the hill. Sita would enthrall her about the city life that she had experienced briefly.
Many moons later one of Sita’s neighboring girls saw them together and went and spoke to her mother. She in turn spoke to Sita’s aunt and the gossip reached the ears of Sita’s uncle and others. There was a big commotion and Sita was packed off to the city to be with her father. Sita never found out as to what had happened to Lali. She was dreadfully sad that she was not able to even say goodbye to her and thank her for the wonderful time.
What had happened to Lali? Her parents and she were tortured for even speaking to Sita. Lali’s family left the village and became nomads, seeking work in different places to just survive. Lali had several older siblings who grew up, left the household and were either married off or settled to live in slums in the big cities. Lali could never forget the days spent with Sita and cherished the memories and struggled through her miseries with the sweet memories. Till she died in an accident on the constructing site, where she was helping her mother build roads to connect the city to the villages. Lali was only 15 years old then.