Friday, February 24, 2017

Chapter 2. Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

As spring blossomed, the Flower House was awash with a rainbow of colorful flowers. All the leaves and flowers seemed to smile like innocent and foolish children. After playing baraf pani (a Pakistani freeze tag game) in the Flower House, all of the children returned to their homes. I sat on a low divan in the kitchen with my mom who was cooking a cauliflower curry. It was starting to brown, and a delicious aroma began to fill the air. “Now you’re old enough to be circumcised. And this is the best season; you will heal soon,” my mother said while stirring the pot.

“No, I don’t want to be circumcised. I am fine as I am,” I said, picking up a cauliflower stem.

“The longer you leave it, the more it will hurt. Your skin will get hard, so it will be very painful. I will talk to Jamil and Papoo about it,” she said while tasting the saltiness of the vegetable gingerly. Jamil and Papoo were my brothers. Papoo was older than Shahnaz, and Jamil was older than him. Jamil became the head of the house when my father died. My mother says I was very young, so that’s why I don’t remember him, or even what he looked like. They both ran a general store, as well as a huge buffalo farm. Jamil was an educated man, and he had flair for learning math, science, and religious studies. Though Papoo had a college degree, he did not appreciate education much. He liked to look after buffaloes.

“Why don’t girls get circumcised, too? I mean if I have to, why not Seemi?” I asked my mother while carefully putting the sticks into the brick stove.

“Foolish boy. It’s only for boys. Go wash your hands and feet while I cook the meal. It’s almost ready.”

The next day, I told Seemi about the circumcision talk I had with mom. “My mother says I have to go through with this.”

“You are a brave boy. I am sure you will get through it easily.”

“Easier said than done!” I whispered in a low tone.

A few days later, the preparations began at home for the circumcision ceremony. Jamil purchased new dresses and two sacks of sugar. The dresses would be given to women in our family. Sugar would be packed into small, clear bags to be distributed among the women invited at the bukki. A bukki is a kind of gathering for women in Sindhi culture. In marriages and circumcision ceremonies, the family goes and spreads the word throughout the village, and invites the village women to come at a specific date and time. This type of gathering usually takes place in the evening. On the day of the bukki, the women first have to go to the landlady of the village to show her what dresses and other things they have purchased for the ceremony. They go to her in the morning.

The date of the circumcision was decided and relatives were invited. On a sunny Sunday in February, 2000, relatives started arriving in the morning. Everybody was happy. I was both scared and happy, as I would be the center of their attention. “Ladies, it is time to go to the landlady,” my mother said to all the women. They all put on their burkas and left for the landlady’s bungalow. Some girls had parcels of the new dresses on their heads; others had boxes of shoes. All the women were joking and laughing as they walked. I walked beside my mother.

As we reached the landlady’s bungalow, all the women became busy with showing her the beautifully designed dresses and sandals. I plucked beautiful flowers from the garden. When we were all on our way back, a girl who looked very innocent, one of my distant relatives, said to me with a soft smile, “Will you give me some flowers?” I did not say a word. I just looked at her innocent face and gave her all the flowers that I’d picked.

That afternoon, my brother called my mom and said, “The hajam has come. Get Rizwan ready for the circumcision.” The hajam is a traditional doctor who does circumcisions with his traditional tools; one of the them looks like a knife!

My mother made me take a bath, then she asked me to stand on the cot. She opened a new cotton tank top and took my arm to put it in. “Let me dress myself.”

“On this day, it is the mother that gets her son ready. You’ll be dressing yourself all your life,” my mother said as she put some Fair & Lovely cream on my cheeks, nose, chin, and forehead. She forced me to put on a red dhoti instead of salwar. She knotted it. I hated the loose red piece of clothing around my legs.

Once I was ready, my brother took me out to Hakeem Ali Nawaz’s otaq where the hajam was waiting for me. The otaq was just opposite my house. All the neighborhood children waited for us. I felt afraid. My brother made me sit on a steel pot. The hajam came and sat down before me like he was Azrael, an angel who takes your breath away. “Look at the sky, boy, there is an airplane,” he said as he opened his toolbox.

I felt like I was going to die. “Look at that airplane!” my uncle shouted. They made me look at the sky, and they kept saying, “Look at that airplane.” My uncle kept putting rock sugar lumps into my mouth. I was dying, and he was adding more and more rock sugar into my mouth. All of a sudden, I felt severe pain, and screamed, “Ae li, Oh my God!”

“Relax, you will feel no more pain,” said the hajam. “Congratulations!” he said to my brother.

My sister’s husband wrapped me in his arms and brought me home. “Congratulations,” he said to my mother. All of the women congratulated my mother. Seemi came to me, “Congratulations! Does it hurt?”

“Yes, it hurts terribly. Your father is a liar. I was dying, and he kept telling me to look at the airplane in the sky. There wasn’t any airplane!” Seemi laughed at me, then comforted me by saying, “You will be all right.”

Some of the women brought water in buckets and other pots, and started pouring it on the other women. It is a traditional prank during circumcision ceremonies in Sindh. I forgot my pain for a while. I was looking all around to find the girl who’d asked me for flowers. She was nowhere to be seen. I thought the best part of this ceremony was seeing such a nice girl with dimples. I didn’t know my first childhood crush would be on my mind, and in my heart for many years. That day I learned that this world has a system and its own set of rules. We have to go through certain situations which we might not like at all. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Chapter 1. Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

It drizzled on and off all night. The lightning flashed and thunder roared. I always asked my sister Shahnaz the same question when it rained, “Where do clouds come from?”

She would say, “An angel named Michael brings them at God’s command.”

It was February 12th, 1996. I was waiting for dawn so that my cousin Seemi and I could gather berries from the “flower house”. The “flower house” was huge with many different fruit trees and flowering plants in its gardens. It was on the same street where I lived. It belonged to Hakeem Ali Nawaz, a physician who treated villagers at his little clinic. He was kind and allowed all the neighborhood children to take fruit from his garden.

A constant, cool wind was blowing, and the slender tree branches were swaying gracefully. The roses danced wildly in the wind. The irrigation canal that flowed past the flower house was overflowing. A raft of ducks continually quacked as they swam smoothly across the canal towards the reeds on the other side. The salubrious wind heralded that spring was near. We collected a lot of fallen berries that were strewn all over the ground. When our pockets were full of berries, we put some in our wicker basket. Then we went and sat on the edge of the irrigation canal, put our feet into the water, and began eating our berries.

“Rizwan, the old man at the shop has gone senile,” said Seemi. “He is so old that he cannot count properly. Yet, he still runs the shop.”

“He is quite old, but I think he can run the shop.”

“His eyesight is weak too,” she said.

“But why are you telling me this?”

“We can trick him for fun!”

“Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea.”

At twilight, we decided to execute our plan. I went to the old shopkeeper with a fake five-rupee note. “What do you need, boy?” he asked.

“Biscuits,” I said. “Please take the money.”

He just put the note in the drawer without looking at it properly. Just as I was leaving the shop, Seemi approached the counter. “Do you have candies?” she asked as she handed him a two-rupee coin.

“What kind of candies?”

“The lemon candies.”

“Yes. How many?”

“Just four, please.”

“But you gave me only two rupees.”

“I gave you a five-rupee coin, Grandpa.”

The old man looked at her and gave her four candies and a one-rupee coin back. We jumped into the street laughing. We did feel a little bad, but we thought it was funny. The darkness started to deepen, so Seemi went to her home, and I returned to mine. At night, my sister talked about the stars and their constellations. She always tried to make me see the patterns that looked like a triangle, a boat, and a scorpion. I could never make them out, but I liked our discussions about the stars all the same. She told me, “All these stars are the good deeds of Hazrat Umer.”

The next day, when I got home from school, there were a lot of relatives and neighbors at our house. Everyone was beautifully dressed. I went to our bedroom. There were a lot of women. I asked my mother, “Where is Shehni?”

“She is sitting in the corner. She is going to be betrothed today.”

I did not pay attention to what she was telling me. “Okay, but ask her to give me lunch first.”

“She cannot. Wait. I am going to bring it.”

My sister was not looking at anybody. Her head was down, looking at the ground. Seemi arrived in a beautiful dress. She had not gone to school that day. “Come. let’s eat some chips,” she said, while tossing her purse into the air, suggesting she had a lot of money. She tricked the old shopkeeper every time she went to the shop.

At night, I said to my sister, “You did not even look at me today.”

“I was supposed to be silent.”

I took her hands in mine and saw that she had henna designs on her palms. “You will always be with me, right?”

“Of course. Forever,” she said.

Our mother looked at us and sighed. “Come here, Rizwan,” my mother beckoned.

“Girls have to go to their real homes one day,” she said.

“But this is her real home, Mom.”

“Yes, but not her true home.”

“Don’t boys have to go to their real homes? Where is my real home?” I asked my mother.

My sister and mother laughed at me. “You will understand when you are older,” my mother added.

The days kept on going by, and winter set in. My sister, my elder brother and I used to sleep in the same bedroom. Our mother slept on her cot in the veranda. In winter, the barking of the dogs from the flower house could be heard clearly, even with the door to our room shut. Those sounds terrified me. One night, I woke up at midnight, lit a candle, and put it on the window beside the cot I was sleeping on. I did not know that what I was doing could be dangerous. I fell asleep, and the candle toppled over onto my pillow. It started to make a lot of smoke. The smoke made me feel like I was suffocating, and I started to cough. I suddenly woke up, and realized that something was wrong. When I saw my pillow burning, I shouted, “Wake up, everyone! Wake up! Someone has set our room on fire! Wake up!”

“Stop shouting!” my sister said, as she quickly woke up and silenced me. “Don’t wake the others.” She brought a bucket of water and doused the burning pillow. “Relax, everything is all right. I know it must have been you. We will discuss it in the morning. Sleep now,” she said, patting me on my back.

I grew worried. I thought she would tell mother, and mother would scold me. I thought I should do something with the burnt pillow and quilt. I woke up early at the Fajr Azan time—at the time of morning prayer—and took a pair of scissors. I tried to mend the burnt side of the quilt. I tried to sew it, but I couldn’t. I hid the burnt pillow in a space under the stairs.

“What were you doing last night?” my sister asked as she gave me a cup of tea and some bread.

“I don’t know. I just lit a candle. I think someone dropped it on my pillow!”

“It must have fallen on its own. Well, do not mention it to Mom. She will get very angry with you. It was a new quilt she made only recently,” my sister told me.

After a few days, when I got home from school, the house was full of women again. They were dressed even more ornately than the first time. They were all eating spicy foods that our relatives had brought. The women kept my sister away from me. At night, my mother made me sleep on a cot.

The next day, when I woke up, all the women had left. There was silence in the house. My mother was making tea, and there were tears in her eyes. “Where is Shehni?” I asked.

“She went to her real home,” my mother replied.

I was sad, and the morning tea did not have its usual charm. My mother got me ready for school. I met Seemi in school and said, “My sister went to her real home last night. My mother says all girls have to go to their real homes. Will you go to your real home, too?”

“I don’t know. I just want to live where I live. I want to play Wanjhawati and Kuhre with you and the children in our neighborhood. I don’t want to go anywhere.”

I thought she did not know. I knew, from that day, that someday she would go to her real home, too. Life without my sister was lonely and dull. I wished that she could be with me forever. That day I learned that people won’t be with you forever. Seemi and I stopped tricking the old man at the shop. However, we often went to the flower house, put our feet in the irrigation canal, made paper boats, and let them drift on the flowing water.

All Rights Reserved
No part of this story should be printed. Photocopying is strictly prohibited.

For more stories, purchase Rizwan’s book The Reflections.

The book is available at the local book stores in Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan.

The book can be sent via courier service throughout Pakistan. For more details, contact Rizwan.

Mobile: 03433846385

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday, February 2, 2017

An Early School Dismissal

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

Shouting and screaming, everybody ran out of their classes. The bell had rung earlier than usual. My heart was beating a little fast because I would have a chance to go to the tube well along with my brother and nephew. Abbas, a boy who sat next to me in the class, said with a hostile frown, “Have a good day, Camel Jockey!” He was always jealous of me. Moreover, he and his cohorts kept picking on me because of my tall height. I did not pay attention to him and happily ran home.

As the burning sun beat down on my face, I took a book out of my bag and used it as an umbrella. By the time I reached home, my kameez was drenched with sweat. “Will you take a shower or shall I bring your lunch?” asked my sister, Shehnaz.

“I would rather have lunch 'cuz I am gonna go to the tube well,” I replied with falling and rising intonation. Raising her eyebrows, my sister beamed with joy. I went to my brother, Saeed, after eating a meal of cooked rice flour with spicy lady fingers. “You must have run away from school,” he said doubtfully. At my school, students often went home after recess. They either gave their books to their friends or they took their books from them through the window of the classroom, and they ran via the back side of the classrooms. They were so truant that they sometimes even crossed over the walls. School was like a prison to the village boys.

“I love school. Don’t you trust me? We got leave early,” I replied. “So now are you taking us to the tube well or shall we go on our own?”

“Swimming in the tube well is not safe. You know that. I will punish you if you ever go alone,” he warned me. I never went alone. My threat of going alone always helped me to persuade him, though. The tube well was near my home. Dani, my nephew, joined us, and we went through the olive gardens. My village was famous for its olive trees. As soon as we reached the tube well, Dani and I jumped into the cold, fresh water. When our body temperature went down, we went to pluck the fruit from the trees around the tube well. All the villagers could eat fruit from the gardens for free. We plucked the purplish berries from the jamun tree and some raw mangoes from the mango tree. We enjoyed the afternoon and went home in the evening. I did not know I would have to pay for a mistake that wasn’t even mine at school the next day.

I reached the school on time, just before the morning assembly started. Once the national anthem was over, the headmaster ordered the students to wait. “Who rang the bell yesterday?” he shouted looking at all the rows of the students. He repeated the same question over and over while walking to different class lines. As he approached my class line, Abbas confidently remarked in a smooth tone, “Rizwan, sir. It was Rizwan who rang the bell.” No sooner did he finish saying this, the headmaster appeared before me like Zakoota in Anak Wala Jinn, a drama on PTV.

“So, you innocent looking boy. What do you think you were doing when you rang the bell?”

“Sss Sir, I, I was, I, I did not,” I hardly finished my sentence when he slapped me hard on my right cheek and without giving me time to bear the first one, he slapped me again on the left. My cheeks went red, and tears started flowing like the water from the tube well. All I could see were blurred lines of the students as if I had dived into the bluish water of the tube well with my eyes open.  I wasn’t crying outloud because I knew many of the boys would pick on me making all those voices like a baby crying. The headmaster ordered the students to go to their classes.

I just sat at my desk while all of my classmates were looking at me. I wanted the class teacher to come quickly so that they would not have a chance to tease me. I peeped out through a window beside my desk to see if any teacher was coming. I saw our class teacher was scurrying towards our class. Abbas approached my desk, and whispered into my ear, “It was me who rang the bell.” No sooner did he say that, our teacher entered the class, and all the students immediately returned to their desks. Silence prevailed.

“I never knew you could do something like this,” Mr. Nasrullah, the teacher, said to me looking at me so angrily. “Stand up!”

“No, not, not me,” I was trying to tell him the truth, but I could not complete my sentences.

“Oh come on! Stop lying,” he shouted coming towards my desk. I knew that I had to tell him the truth before he slapped me like the idiotic headmaster did during the assembly.

“Sir, Abbas rang the bell; ask him to tell you the truth.” Abbas looked at Mr. Nasrullah and the students pretending that he had done nothing.

“Stop! Stop blaming others,” he roared. “I will get you rusticated if you do anything like this again.” He made me sit and started reading the lesson on page 34. On that day, I wished I had lived my life without going to school. I wished there were no schools; instead there were tube wells for youngsters. And that I had one of my own, where no people like the headmaster or Abbas were found. My cheeks were red and my eyes were watery all day. I had been punished for what I had not done. And nobody was willing to listen to me.

“What happened to your cheeks?” my sister inquired sympathetically. I looked at her silently and the tears rolled from my eyes. At night, I told her everything. She advised me to defend myself, develop confidence, and speak up to Abbas if he ever bullied me again.

The next day, it was 1:00 p.m. The last class was still there, but the teacher was absent and no one came to engage the class. Abbas started to call me names. He drew a cartoon on the board and wrote my name beside it. “Look at yourself on the board,” he said in pride. I went to him, near the board, and slapped him so hard as if I were King Kong.

He got so angry and called out his friends, “Aasu! Aabu! Anu!”

All of a sudden a teacher came into the class. I thanked God. I put my books in the bag and waited for the bell to ring. “Tin tin tin,” the bell rang. I flew out of the class like Superman. Abbas and his friends ran after me with stones in their hands, but I was as fast as an ostrich. My tall legs helped me, and I reached home safely. That day, I learned that in life many people won’t understand you. Many will make fun of you. Many won’t trust you. However, people like me through their positivity do change things. Today after 15 years, they all understand me, trust me, and respect me.

All Rights Reserved

No part of this story should be printed. Photocopying is strongly prohibited.

If you like this story, you will love Rizwan Ahmed Memon's book THE REFLECTIONS. Contact Rizwan Ahmed Memon to order the book. The book can be sent via courier throughout Pakistan.