Saturday, March 18, 2017

Chapter 6. Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

From 6th to 9th grade, my life as a village boy remained monotonously the same. The hard, unremitting work of the dairy farm, the boredom of school, and the predictability of the general store seemed as though they would never end. I wasn’t learning what I really needed to. The real world experience of working at the shop and on the farm had forced me to grow up. I ruminated over many things while feeding the cattle. One day, I realized that my decisions would shape my future: sound decisions might secure a bright tomorrow, while unsound ones would likely lead to harsh consequences.

At 15, I decided that I would take a bold step to change my life. I realized that if I didn’t help myself, then nobody else would. I thought that my brothers could never make better decisions for me than I could make for myself.

Irfan was happy with working in the shop, but I felt it was not for me. I had a good understanding of how to persuade the customers and how to make deals with them. I knew there was nothing more for me to learn at the shop. It was time for me to study and learn. However, I was not able to say anything to my brothers. Unlike them, I didn’t want to be a shopkeeper all my life.

I thought a lot about my future, although I never shared my thoughts with anyone. “I need to educate myself. I’ll have to find my own way. If I remain on my current path, I’ll end up being an uneducated shopkeeper,” I said to myself while mixing the chaff in the buffaloes’ feeding trough.

I wasn’t satisfied with the mediocre education provided by the local government school. Regrettably, many teachers seemed lackluster and disengaged from teaching.

It wasn’t easy for me to leave the shop completely. I reached 9th grade, but nothing seemed to change. I wasn’t good at any subject. Even my English hadn’t improved since entering middle school.

In the 9th grade, a new boy from a nearby village—Masoo Hub—joined our class. His name was Rashid, and he was much smarter than the rest of us. I found out that he studied at a private institute in the city after school. I learned about the coaching centers in the city from him.

The next morning, I woke up with new ideas. The bright August sun threw down shining rays. A bird in the Neem tree behind my room was singing a revolutionary song. I felt that I was free to do whatever I wanted. I had forgotten my responsibilities for some moments. I woke up late and didn’t go to the farm. In the afternoon, when I came back from school, my both brothers were at the shop. “Where were you? You were supposed to be here at 12:00!” said Papoo, in a surly mood.

I didn’t reply him. Jamil looked at me silently. “I have to talk to you,” I said to Jamil with confidence. “I want to enroll in an English coaching center in the city.”

“Ah what? You won’t be an Englishman! The local school is enough for you. If you can read and write Sindhi that’s enough for you,” commented Papoo, making fun of me.

“Going to school here is nothing but a waste of time,” I replied him looking into his eyes.
“I don’t want to run the shop for the rest of my life! I don’t want to look after the buffaloes all my life! I want to attain a higher education.”

Jamil was astonished when he heard this. He stopped Papoo from remarking. He perhaps had seen my spirit. He went silent for a moment and then hesitantly said, “I don’t know... much about coaching centers.”

“I’ve already chosen an institute. It won’t cost much. You just have to go there with me once. It’ll only take an hour or two,” I explained, using a soft and persuasive tone.

Jamil was impressed that I had worked out how it could be done. With his support, I was admitted to the institute. A new routine began. I would go to school in the morning for one or two hours, then I return to the shop and deal with customers there until around 2:00. Afterwards, I would go to the coaching center, which was a good distance away. I would catch one of the village’s old riding vans to get to the city, but I had to cover some of the distance on foot. I found it a challenge to ride the vans and walk on foot, especially during the summer months, but I put up with all of the hardships and continued attending my classes.

My brothers couldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted; they couldn’t dissuade me from pursuing my dream of completing my studies. I believed that once a man decides to do something for himself, persistence makes his goals achievable.

After some months, I joined the computer center too. By that point, I had become confident enough to take further steps on my own. I now spent very little time working in the shop, only in the late evenings. After a year, when I started teaching the children in my neighborhood, I had no time for the shop at all.

Irfan started remonstrating with me because I was no longer sharing the burden of the shop with him. I couldn’t help thinking that if Irfan had followed my example, our older brothers Jamil and Papoo would have found a way to manage the shop themselves.

One day as I was going to the coaching center, I saw a boy of my age selling potato chips on a wheelbarrow. I had seen him selling chips at the gate of the school many times. After the class, when I was returning home, I saw the wheelbarrow boy again. I decided to stop and talk to him and ask him about his life.  

“My father runs a tractor,” he told me. “He didn’t allow me to go to school,” he added sadly, while chopping the potatoes. I listened quietly to his life story. It was clear that he would have liked to go to school. It occurred to me that while it was understandable that parents sent their children out to earn money when times were tough, it was nonetheless shortsighted of them. Educating their children might seem unaffordable to them now, but failing to give them a good education meant they were condemning their innocent children to a lifetime of poverty.

I was starting to run late. Before leaving, I shared with him the wisdom that I had acquired through my efforts to educate myself. “In life, you may not be given many opportunities to learn and grow,” I told him. “Nevertheless, you still have to make an effort to change things for yourself. After all, it is your life; you need to take care of it because no one else will. One day everyone has to make his or her own way. You have to carve your own path to reach your aspirations and achieve your dreams. Aim high and never lose the passion and desire to learn and explore new things. This will bring you success and will make you an inspiration to many.”

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Chapter 5 Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

I didn’t know my carefree and blissful days could transform into a life full of heavy responsibilities. When I finished my five years of primary school and entered middle school, there was no proper education. The teachers usually arrived late to class, and failed to teach even the basics. School was dismissed after being in session for just three hours. When Papoo saw me regularly returning early from school, he took Irfan and me to the shop where he and Jamil worked.  “From now on, they will learn how to run a shop,” he said to Jamil, feeling proud.

Jamil looked at us thoughtfully and replied, “That’s great. Instead of playing games and wandering the streets, they should learn how money is earned.” I dared not utter a word to my bossy brothers, who felt it was within their prerogative to decide young boys’ destinies.

While dealing with a customer, Papoo said, “Rizwan will also feed the buffaloes in the morning and evening since he has already completed his Quran lessons in the mosque.” They chose not to send us to any of the better schools in the city. Instead, they thought it was in our best interest to work, earn money, and develop a strong work ethic. I thought about my father and wondered if he were alive that day; would he have done the same thing, or would he have insisted that I attend a better school in the city?

I dealt with a wide variety of people in the store that day. The whole situation had left me confused, bewildered, and hesitant. Papoo sometimes used harsh words to get me to do the work right. I remember the instance a boy came and informed Papoo that the cattle had returned after grazing. He then ordered me to go with him to his farm. He bellowed in a gruff voice: “Fill all these buckets with water, and give them to the buffaloes.”

The rusty, old hand pump was hard to operate, requiring me to jump up and down to force the water to come out. Finally, after filling four buckets, I fearfully placed one before a huge, thirsty buffalo. In no time, she had lapped up the entire bucket. She looked at me with her sad, brown eyes seemingly begging for more. I gave her the second bucket, then the third, and finally she drank the fourth one too. There were four buffaloes and three young calves. I had hardly finished serving them water, when Papoo started the chaff-cutter machine. “Sprinkle some water on the hay and give me a handful of it. I will put it in the machine,” Papoo instructed.

I was deathly afraid of that noisy, menacing looking machine. Its huge, finely honed blades revolved around so quickly that I couldn’t see how many blades it had. After we finished cutting the hay with the chaff-cutter, he said, “Clean the buffaloes’ eating pots.” The large, square pots were made of cement and reeked of an awful stench. While the buffaloes ate, Papoo milked them. I kept feeding them until night fell. I was exhausted, every muscle ached. I went home as slow as a snail. I slept like a log.

At the time of Azan, the morning prayer time, Papoo woke me up from my deep sleep by vigorously shaking my arm. “Wake up, lazy head. Let’s go to the farm,” he said. Papoo took me there again, and we repeated all the back-breaking yesterday’s chores. I had to go to school though. I anxiously watched the clock on the wall. The time seemed to move slowly. Only half an hour remained before the school’s assembly time, and I was still feeding the cattle. The boy who took the cattle for grazing on the riverbank came and said, “It is time for the cattle to move out.” I thanked God. Papoo saw me as I ran to the door. I was very late for school.

I took a quick shower, threw on my uniform, and ran to school without eating my breakfast. The first class had already started when I entered the school. “May I come in, sir?” I asked the teacher.

“Come,” he replied. I went towards my desk.

“Here. Come here!” he said with a loud, booming voice, glaring at me. He taught us Sindhi. All the students feared him because of his angry nature. “You’re late.”

“Sorry, sir. I was feeding the cattle.” He hardly listened to me and started beating me with his long hard stick.

“Open your palms!”

I screamed as he hit me really hard. He was a merciless teacher. After beating me, he said to the class, “Do your work.” Then he abruptly left the room without teaching us anything.

Within three or four hours, the school day was finished. My hands were swollen. I went back home. The moment I started eating my lunch, Irfan came to me and said, “They’re calling for you at the shop.”

I held the last morsel in my hand and said to him, “I’m coming.”

I was tired and my hands were still swollen from the teacher’s fury. I was not in any condition to work at the shop, but I knew that I had to. I barely made it through the rest of the day.

At night, I looked towards the moonlit sky. The stars above my village were somehow dimmer. It was as if I was lost in those countless stars. In the morning, the storm clouds started to gather. The sky suddenly turned into an expanse of black ink. The rain drops started to patter loudly against the window. Papoo ordered me to hurry the buffaloes under the roof of the farm.


At night, an eerie silence was pervasive, not a sound could be heard. The cattle were huddled together on the ground. My clothes reflected the hard day and were full of dirt. With all the strength that I could muster, I walked home slowly, trying to ignore the pain throughout my body. Working at the shop and the farm had become my responsibilities. The smile on my face had disappeared. I didn’t go to the tube well anymore. These responsibilities made me realize why people say that life is a bed of thorns, not roses. 

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Monday, March 6, 2017

Chapter 4. Innocence and Foolishness

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. There were several tube wells in my village, but we went to the one in the orchards. Abbas, a boy who sat next to me in 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 I was tall. I did not pay attention to him and happily ran home.

The burning sun beat down on my face, so 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. “Are you going to take a shower or shall I bring your lunch?” asked my sister, Shehnaz. She had come to visit us for a few days.

“I would rather have lunch 'cuz I am gonna go to the tube well,” I replied with a 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 while looking at me. At my school, students often went home after recess. They either gave their books to their friends or they took with them through their classroom windows which were at the back of most classes. Some truants even scaled over the school walls. School was like a prison to most village boys.

“I love school. Don’t you trust me? We’ve got to 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 because I was afraid of snakes. My threat of going alone always helped me to persuade him, though. The tube well was at 20 minutes’ distance from my home. My nephew Dani joined us, and we went through an olive orchard. 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. After cooling off in the waters, we plucked some fruit from the trees around the tube well. All the villagers could eat fruit from that orchard for free. We plucked the purplish berries from a jamun tree and some raw mangoes from a 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 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 through different class lines. As he approached my class line, Abbas confidently remarked with 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 opened eyes.  I wasn’t crying outloud because I knew many of the boys would pick on me making all those sounds like a crying baby. The headmaster ordered the students to go to their classes.

I just sat at my desk while all of my classmates looked 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 approaching. 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 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. I wished that I had one of my own, where no people like the headmaster or Abbas were allowed. My cheeks were red and my eyes were watery all day. I had been punished for something 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. That 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. Feeling bored, 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 with pride. I went to him, near the board, and slapped him as hard as if I were King Kong.

He got became furious and called out his friends, “Aasu! Aabu! Anu!”

All of a sudden the teacher came into the class. I thanked God. Towards the end of the lesson, 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 many people won’t understand you. Many will make fun of you. Many won’t trust you.

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Purchase Rizwan's book The Reflections.
Available at:
1. Sagar Book Depot, GPO Road Larkana
2. Mumtaz Bookstore, Lahori Muhalla Larkano
3. Rehber Book Academy, Bunder Road Larkana
4. Afnan Super Mart, Galib Nagar Larkano
5. Abdullah Bookstore, Bunder Road Larkano
6. Rabel Kitaab Ghar, Station Road Larkana
7. Noorani Bookstore, Bunder Raod Larkan
8. National Book Store, Bunder Road Larkana

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Chapter 3. Innocence and Foolishness

Author: Rizwan Ahmed Memon

My childhood days were full of fun and learning. Each day passed smoothly, until one evening Seemi came to me. With a heavy heart she said, “My father told me . . . that we will be moving to the city.”

Feeling at a loss for words, I paused then asked, “Moving to the city? But why?”

My cousin Seemi looked at me, then proceeded to explain, “He told me that he’s purchased a big three-story house there. However, I don’t want to go there,” said Seemi with a frown.

Early the next morning, the rooster on the wall between Seemi’s house and mine began to crow: “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” Its incessant noise awakened me. I could see it was overcast outside. Yaseen, my uncle’s long-serving, faithful servant, was putting the over-sized luggage on the trailer of the tractor and the donkey cart. While all of Seemi’s family members dutifully sat on the trailer, Seemi held my hand tightly in her own. “I don’t want to go. Please let me stay here,” she cried to her mother.

Her mother Haseena looked at her with a mixture of love and scorn, “Foolish girl! We have bought a new house and that is that!” her mother replied, taking her wrist and dragging her to the tractor. I couldn’t even utter a word to her resolute father. He was unwavering in his commitment to move to the city. The driver started to move the tractor ever so slowly. Yaseen reluctantly sat on the donkey cart. My uncle ordered him to pick up the pace. I ran after the tractor until the last turn of the street, near the pond, but the tractor went so fast that I couldn’t keep up. All I could hear was Seemi’s promise to me: “I will come back one day.”

Tears filled my eyes, and I looked around. There was no one except a cow mooing near the pond, and some birds chirping in the nearby olive gardens. I went home sobbing. “What happened?” my mother asked.

“They took Seemi away. She will surely die without me.”

“She is going to be all right. It was your uncle’s wish. We can’t do anything about it.”

After Seemi left, my world changed drastically. It was not just me–that night, all the stars disappeared in sadness. The dark sky rumbled and the clouds wept. The torrent of rain seemed never ending, and that night I wasn’t looking forward to the dawn. I wasn’t thinking of going to the Flower House to gather berries. All I could do was stare out the window at the ripples created by the continuous raindrops in the puddles below. “Rizwan, it is time for tea. Go buy some biscuits,” my mother demanded.

I slowly went along the muddy, slippery street to the old man’s shop. The biscuits were lined up on wooden shelves, and the old man was standing behind the counter. He gazed at me carefully as I entered his shop, then inquired, “You look sad. Is everything all right?”

I couldn’t reply. Handing him the coins, I said, “Round biscuits, please.”

Just as I left the shop, my foot slipped in the mud. As I slipped, all I could see was the ground below me.

Snap!

The biscuits broke. I started to cry—not for the biscuits, but for Seemi. Having heard me cry, the old man came out and helped me to stand up. “Wait right here and I’ll bring out some more biscuits,” he said.

I didn’t wait. I went home and shut myself in my room. “What happened, Rizwan? Come on, open the door, please,” my mother pleaded. I didn’t open the door and didn’t go to school that day. For many days, my life stayed at a standstill. I stopped going to the Flower House and playing games. I was like a bird flying alone in the sky, seeking my companion who had gotten lost in the wind. One day, Papoo took us to the city to visit our uncle’s new house. We first visited his three shops on the main road. Behind the shops, there was an otaq–which is a kind of guest room where men sit and chat. My uncle’s family lived on the second story. We climbed the zigzagging stairs. Seemi was so happy to see me. Although her eyes shined with delight, she had become painfully withdrawn. She did not talk to me much–she just shook hands with me, and went into the kitchen to help her elder sister with the cooking. We returned home in the afternoon from our short but pleasant visit.

My mother saw a little change in me; she wanted me to live and be happy again. She asked my brother older Saeed, who lived separately with his family, to take me out in the hope that it might lighten my heart. He took me and his son Dani to the tube well, a small water reservoir. That day I swam and laughed with my nephew after many days of brooding over the departure of my dear friend. We ran after the shadows of clouds, listened to the song of a nightingale, and had lunch under a mango tree. On our way back, we stopped at a pond near the tube well and saw big fish eating minnows in the clear blue water. Many fish hid in the weeds when they thought humans or other predators were approaching.

After a few days, Jamil bought a black-and-white TV to watch the news. I watched cartoons and dramas on PTV (Pakistan Television Network) with my older brother, Irfan. I liked Popeye the Sailor, Tom and Jerry, and Ainak Wala Jin, a children’s drama show. Rafiq was my eldest brother, and he lived separately with his family on the same street where Saeed lived. He sent his daughters, Tally and Sabra, to live with us and to help my mother with the household chores. Both of my nieces helped me a lot–it was as if my sister had come back. My mother and nieces watched Natak Rang (A Sindhi drama series on PTV) every Sunday evening.

For the first time since Seemi had left, life for me seemed to return to normal. However, when I was in fourth grade, some terrible boys joined our class. Their snobbish appearance, rude attitudes, and nonstop rowdiness made my school life a little difficult, but I still managed somehow. It had been two years since Seemi left the village. I had grown taller. I did not know what she looked like anymore because she never came to visit. Somehow, I had forgotten her. If I ever thought of someone, it was the girl with captivating dimples. My separation from Seemi taught me that we might not always be able to stay with our loved ones in life. Also, if we would ever part, time would heal our wounds slowly but surely.