Mewa Gul is head of the poorest family in the village. Despite being both illiterate and a peasant, Mewa Gul loves the land he works, loves to farm and loves the simple pleasures of his outdoor life: in his humble way, he has poetry in his soul, although he would be amazed if you told him that.
A religious man, he is on the one hand proud of his son, Taza Gul’s madrassah education and on the other certain that his time would be better spent helping more in the fields. A thorn in his side is his landlord, Akbar Khan. He must tread carefully, making sure he does not annoy the Khan family,which could mean he would lose everything.
Despite his respect for both religion and the scholar Mullah Sahib, his great poverty means it is hard for Mewa Gul not to feel greedy sometimes. He accepted a huge walwar, or dowry, for his lovely daughter Zarlakhta from the family of Shireen and now seems determined to ensure she goes through with the marriage, no matter what. The engagement of Zarlakhta and Shireen eventually turns into a moral dilemma for Mewa Gul – his need for money against his need to protect his daughter.
Bakhtawara is the wife of Mewa Gul. She is a proud woman and accepts no one’s pity but the truth is that her life is extremely hard, with so little money and so much to do both out in the fields and inside the house. Under the circumstances, it is all too easy for her to snap at her husband, and for him to snap back. In fact, the pair quarrel constantly, but they love each other and if anything happened to Mewa Gul, she would be devastated.
Being illiterate herself, she wants her son, Taza Gul to be successful in his studies. It’s another reason to quarrel with her husband, who is always moaning that their son should be in the fields more often. She is also pleased that her daughter is engaged to her nephew Shireen: this means good relations will be maintained with her brother and relatives. She therefore suffers none of the moral dilemmas of her husband when the match proves to be unsuitable. For Bakhtawara, poverty overrides those dilemmas.
Zarlakhta, Mewa Gul’s daughter, has a strong desire to be educated. She enjoyed learning from Shah Bibi when she worked in the Akbar Khan household and now she wishes to continue her studies in the local madrassah, but her life is outside her control. She is ruled by local customs and thinking and for many, this does not include the education of women. Happily she has a brother who is willing to help her.
She has been pleased to work in Akbar Khan’s home, earning money to help support her family. But now she is getting older, working in a home where there are young men is no longer appropriate. She was broken hearted when her father and brother insisted that, as a matter of family honour, she must come home. Her mother is happy to have the extra help – and sorry to lose the money.
Worst of all, leaving Akbar Khan’s home means she will no longer see Wisal. Instead she is betrothed to Shireen, a cousin who is rumoured to behave badly. A natural optimist, even Zarlkahta begins to feel hope for her own future fading.
Eighteen year old Taza Gul is a student at the village madrassah, where he works hard and excels in his studies. He would like to pursue his education further but is under pressure to get out on the farm. He believes that if he works hard enough he can do both – he even evolves a plan to collect scrap metal to sell for extra money.
He is a religious young man and progressive enough to believe in women’s education, expressing his views in the village. He also holds the family’s honour dear. He frequently acts as the peacemaker between his bickering parents, sometimes seeming more mature than they are. He greatly cares about his sister, supports her in her aim to continue her studies rather than marry the unsavoury Shireen, and even teaches her at home when he can.