When her parents died and all seemed lost, Shemi refused to give up hope. She clung to her books and her dreams and proved that anything is possible.
DUBAI // An inspirational book that tells of how a young street child staved off hunger pangs, worked odd jobs and attended school to realise her dream of being educated and escaping poverty has its happy ending in Dubai.
The Malayalam language Nadavazhiyile Nerukal (The Truth in my Path) is a semi-autobiographical novel by former Indian nurse Shemi, who uses a single name.
A teenage Shemi lived on the streets of southern India’s Kannur town for four years after her parents died until an orphanage took her in. The book recounts how she barely slept to stay safe from child predators and mafia gangs that kidnap street children but never gave up hope.
“The girl in my book does not want to remain a stray on the road and knows that only with education can she leave this life and start another,” says Shemi.
Books were her portal to a better life. “Even when I slept in a sack or on the bare pavement, I neatly wrapped the books safely in a newspaper,” she says.
“I kissed them every morning because I had faith they would not keep me in darkness forever.”
Her studies, at a government school and college, paid off and she became a nurse.
The book is such a hit that there are plans to print it in English – but it took a near-death experience for it to be written.
Marriage had brought Shemi to Dubai in 2005 but after the birth of her second daughter, in 2010, Shemi slipped into a coma. It took months to recover and regain her memory. Once she began remembering, says her husband, Fazlu Rahman, she would not stop writing.
“I told her to rest because her fingers were swollen,” he says. “But she didn’t want to in case she forgot again. This was her one chance to put everything down.”
The novel, using flashbacks and a first-person narrative, opens with the central character being taken to the Dubai Multi Speciality Hospital in an ambulance.
She goes on to recall her life as a child, living from meal to meal, dreading the weekend since the rice porridge and green gram curry served in government schools was her only guaranteed food.
In her quiet Dubai home, Shemi retells her novel as an adventure tale when reading to young daughters Ishaa and Eva.
“I didn’t want to make it a sad and desperate story,” she says. “I want them to feel anything is possible. I want people to know they can reach their dream. I wanted the book to give hope and not create despair.”
The book touched readers such as Dubai businessman Sujish Nair, who often could not read more than four pages at once. “It made me cry several times,” he says. “I felt like keeping the book aside to sit alone.
“Shemi proves nothing can stop you from reaching your aspirations.”