Islamic Heritage of South Asia

A Milkmaid says No to a Prince

A story from Southern India

Professor Nazeer Ahmed

There lived a milkmaid, Akka, in a remote village tucked away in the hilly tracts of Southern India. She was young, ambitious and pretty, her beautiful face blackened by the hot tropical Indian sun. Akka lived in a thatched adobe hut in a single room. In one corner of the hut was a brick oven plastered over with red clay. A mattress and a straw pillow, a cotton saree and a few pieces of clothes lay neatly piled up in another corner. Tethered outside to a peg was a water buffalo. This was her wealth. Indeed, it was her universe in which her neighbors who lived in clusters of thatched mud huts were the constellations.

Akka was up every morning as soon as the first rooster heralded the imminent onset of another dawn. Soon, the sparrows came, in droves of hundreds, as well as the cuckoo and the myna; the air was filled with a symphony of a hundred bird songs. She carefully washed her hands and face in cold water, chilled overnight in an unbaked clay jug molded in the skillful hands of the village potter.

Her routine was the same every morning: she milked the buffalo, carried the milk in a matki (large clay pot) to the nearby town, sold the milk for one rupee and brought back some rice, ragi, onions and lentils for food.

That morning, as she approached the buffalo, Akka found that its udders were swollen with milk. She squeezed each udder with care and love until the matki was filled to the brim.

Akka curled up a piece of cloth into a rope, made it into a ring (a chambel) and placed the chambel on her head. She stood up, lifted the mutki and carefully positioned it on her head so that the weight of the filled clay pot was distributed around the rim of her chambel.

Akka started to walk towards the town, a distance of three miles, through the mango orchards and past the tall, slender aracanut trees that reached up to the sky and were waving gently in the morning breeze. Soon, the sun rose from the hills, its balmy rays reflecting off the morning dew on the grass in the open fields.

“Today, will be a good day for me”, Akka thought. “My mutki is full of milk. It will easily sell for two rupees”. Now, her mind started to race ahead. “I will save the extra rupee. Tomorrow, I will save another rupee. Soon I will have enough money to buy a second buffalo. My profits will double. In time I will have a large herd of buffalos so that I can supply milk to the entire town. With the money, I will build a mansion with a large garden, mango groves and aracanut trees. I will hire servants and buy troves of sarees of silk and jewelry made of pure gold.

“My fame will spread far and wide”, Akka continued to day-dream even as the pace of her walk picked up until she was practically jogging.  Her slender black frame moved forward in mighty strides as she hurried towards the town. “The news about my wealth will finally reach the prince”, she thought. The prince will inquire: Who is that wealthy young lady that everyone speaks of?”

“Then, the prince will appear before my mansion in a chariot, accompanied by his companions. He will ring the silver bell at my beautiful mahogany door. My maid servants will open door and I will appear before the prince, bedecked with my beautiful jewelry and an embroidered, red silk sari. So dazzled will the prince be with my beauty that he will kneel and ask me: Will you marry me?”

Akka’s mind paused for a moment. “How will I respond to the prince?” she asked herself. Pride took over her inner self and she decided she would reject the prince’s proposal.

“I will firmly say ‘No’ to the prince”. As if to emphasize her rejection, Akka shook her head with a sudden jerk. The mutki tumbled from her head and fell. It broke into pieces and all the milk spilled onto the ground, shattering her dreams and hurling her back into the world of reality.

The story-teller concluded: “The milkmaid reminds you of your Nafs (ego). Dream but be thankful for the pot of milk that God has already given you.”