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. 
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