Against the scintillating backdrop of the sunset, the sky ablaze with a melange of different colours ranging from pink to blue to orange, Mala made her way through the dense foliage of the forest. Her village stood nearby in a clearing, which she was hurrying to reach. Across her shoulders was slung a sturdy cloth in which rested the apple of her eye. Her son, barely half a year old, rested there, sucking an orange peel. For Mala, her son was akin to life itself, more important to her than any treasure.
But all was not milk and honey for Mala. She was a social outcast, an ostracized part of her village’s society. Her village, being in the most interior part of her country, followed rigid superstitions. According to those, she was not supposed to be living at all. In her village, the norm was such that when a man died, his wife was supposed to sacrifice herself at the funeral pyre of her husband. But Mala had stubbornly refused to do that when her drunkard husband had died, all for the sake of her infant. For this act of defiance to age-old tradition, the other villagers considered her to be scum and totally beneath them. But Mala was a strong, brave woman. She refused to bow down to these orthodox people or live her life in penury. Day after day, she survived by foraging the nearby forests for food for her home and wood for her hearth. She did this work usually done by the men so that she could feed her child.
Mala swiftly walked across the forest floor littered with leaves and twigs, the warm weather making her sweat. Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks and cocked her ears. Her sharp hearing had picked up a slight change in the sounds of the jungle. A monkey hollered nearby and she heard the feet of a deer scampering across urgently. The footsteps suddenly stopped. She quickened her pace for she suspected the worse. The dense forest abounded in many carnivores, many of which had a taste for human flesh. She used her wooden stick to cut through the low-hanging vines and weeds. She was almost at the edge of the clearing where her village stood when she caught a flash of orange and black, and a majestic Bengal tiger leapt into her view. She quickly ran towards her village and then turned to face the ferocious beast. She was prepared to fight till death to protect her loved one.
The tiger slowly circled around Mala, its eyes fixed on the striking figure of the tall woman armed only with a stick in her hand and courage in her heart. The tiger inched forward, but Mala held her ground, aiming the stick in front of her torso and whispering sweet nothings to her son to reassure and calm him. A low growl emanated from the throat of the man-eater, and it jumped forward to attack. Mala, with a primal yell, ran forward to meet the tiger, the splitting image of pure rage and motherly love. By this time, the entire village had come out to view this amazing spectacle, but no one came forward to help her. Superstition came before human nature for them.
A deadly fight ensued, where the tiger ripped at Mala’s body, injuring her, but never getting a clean shot because of her agility and quickness. Mala, on the other hand beat the tiger again and again, adrenaline coursing through her blood. She kept beating it until it collapsed on the ground in a bloody mess, never to terrorize another being ever again. Mala let out a shriek of joy, uncaring of her wounds, having eyes only eyes for her son, whom she clapped to her chest and smothered with kisses.
But the villagers only shook their heads, spat on the ground in contempt, and walked back into their huts.