I remember. In fragments.
I was a little kid at that time of which a narrative shall follow. It was the time when I when I went to school, all fresh with the lingering scent of talc, easily derivable from me. With my crisp white shirt, all tucked in my pants and the handsome knot of my tie, subtly touching my neck – that’s how it goes and that’s how I went to school but never came back home, with the very same appeal. For when I returned, my snow white shirt was as brown as a grizzly, the hairs on my head – an untidy lump, my tie was now hanging loose, with a shabby knot, as if a noose and I was all greased up with dirt. Good old school days, good old times. One such time, I remember, when I arrived as such, dressed up in untidiness – my dear Dad got all worked up and stressed up. He had, had enough and he warned me, with a silent tone which was more of a growl, ‘Look, boy, cease your mischief, at once!’. But what could I do, I was helpless, I was a child, I had just been mesmerized by the aspect of wrestling, with the new prospects of cable television, having just entered my life. What could I really do, when I was that very boy, who sat all attentive in the classroom whilst the teacher was teaching, but what could I do, when a particular class got over, and this little bully sent an invitation to me, crunching his fist, come fight. And there I went, or flew or probably threw myself upon him, hitting and rolling, till the very moment when someone came panting and shouting, informing us all – the teacher is coming. Huffing and puffing, we sat back on our seats, eying each other with hatred, imparting a vibe, that when this class gets over, I will pounce on you, as if you were my prey. My mother was quite angry, every other day, I was adding to her laundry, clothes that were dirty to the core and that messed up her entire schedule, for the entire day. The warning that my father gave me, was not a singular one in its entirety, but was more of a trigger, swept back on the barrel, waiting to fire, one of those days. When what shall come, then, that shall come. I was a stubborn kid, and now when I think of myself – what I was then, I believe that even I cannot handle a kid like that. And the trigger was set loose one day.
It was the day before Bakr-eid. The next day was a holiday and as of then, I didn’t have much knowledge to grasp what the festival was about, for, during those days, I didn’t possess the knowledge of anything in its entirety. I remember I was afraid as the bus rattled through the roads, approaching nearer and nearer to my home. I was afraid because I would witness the reflection of myself in the mirror, and though after my father’s red hot word of warnings, I had tried to cease my violent activities, that very day, that bully was asking for it and, I just couldn’t resist. So, that day, I was yet again, brown and bruised, all untidy as if I had kissed all the dust in the world. The pocket of my shirt was hanging loose and I really had no idea where my tie was. I wore brown shoes. In the morning, I had left for school, wearing black ones. The deed had been done and as I got down at the bus stop, making way towards my home in a lazy fashion, trying to accumulate as much time as I can, before I reach home, failing to realize, that facing my father was inevitable. After half an hour late more than usual, I reached my place and had it all.
I had it all. I even had plans made for the next day, but that afternoon, when I had it, my Dad pointed his big burly finger at my face and told me that he had flushed all my plans down in the drain. I really wanted to go to that Pizza joint you know, for when I was a kid and that was a long time ago, Pizza was a rare delicacy and a few pizza joints had just sprouted all over the town and although I had relished a homemade pizza that my mother had prepared in the oven, yet I dearly wanted to see what all those ‘cheese dripping down your chin’ advertisements were all about. And now, no pizza, no outing, even no television, nothing. I had looked at my mother for help, with a pleading appeal in my eyes, my your honor had had a lot of my mischief and she turned my appeal down. I was, as I believe, clearly doomed for eternity. And to make it worse the mother of my dear friend called my mother in the evening and complained of me, that it was I who enticed her son into a fight. I did argue it was he. But we are such big liars during our childhood that even when we are telling the truth, nobody cares. Hence, this part of my life is termed ‘the zone of no escape’ and you know what you do when you land in the zone of no escape? You start accepting.
Some days define your perception. I believe it was one of those days I believe. I woke up for someone was sweeping something from beneath my bed. I subconsciously hope that that very someone doesn’t come across my stash of comics that I had kept hidden under my bed, in order to relish during my hours of study. I jumped, springing alive from my slumber. It was the maid. She used to work at our place and was very old as in dearly old. We all were fond of us. She was soft-spoken and witty to the core and was a hard worker. The moment she was born, she was meant to celebrate that very day, but she was there, at our place, working and was on a leave, only in the evening. She liked working. It kept her mind occupied. Now since I have probably grown up and matured upstairs, I think I know, what she meant. Working kept her mind off things. So, there she was sweeping under my bed, when she realized the monkey within me, sat perching on the bed. On her face spread a toothless smile and it was her smile that always made me giggle. She mumbled something but I didn’t catch hold of her words, but I bet I heard something like ‘surprise’. But the deciphering of it didn’t matter much, for once sleep was pushed out of context, I rushed towards the sitting room, hoping to lay my hands on the remote control and relish some cartoons. My mother was in the kitchen preparing breakfast, and though I whiffed in order to gert the gist of what was being served that very morning, I came to the conclusion it was something very regular, something very ‘common’ in its essence. Nothing of the sort of holiday special. Trust me, if I had ears like that of a dog, they would have had dropped down at that very thought, but television was on my mind and I put the breakfast to rest, without giving it much thought. But my run was an attempt in futility. My father was already there, lounging on the sofa, watching the news and just a glance escaping the corner of his eyes was enough to send me swiftly running back in the opposite direction. I was back in my room even before I knew it. What a sad, sad day it was. And the only thing that transpired to put that day in a bit of jolly old mood was that I was paid a visit by my cousin. He was probably on two or three years older than me but was a bit of Mr. Smarty pants and went by the pride of being a dance, though he only was an ace expert in executing only a few steps of one particular dance, but since he was an expert in flames and wrestling, I tended to like him. A bit. So, with his arrival, we hit the terrace and witnessed hoards of goats being led by their owners to get slaughtered. ‘A grand feast awaits’, my cousin proclaimed as we both gazed from above. Since I had doubts that he was actually as smart as he pretends, hence I proceeded to ask him a few questions, the answers of which even I was not aware of. Firstly, I was not very well acquainted with the notion of the festival of Bakr-eid, hence I asked it, what it was about. In many religions, he proceeded to tell me, there are certain rituals that demand to please the Gods, and sometimes the crux of those rituals was a sacrifice of a being. Hence, during the festival of Eid – al -Adha, the sacrifice of a goat was required and thereby its granted. Okay, I got that, but the stupid in me was still curious. A whole goat. Isn’t it too much to relish, even during a lavish feast? He eyes me suspiciously, in order to determine whether I was really stupid enough or was just pretending to be. When he was not able to figure that out, he decided that it was better to proceed ahead and clarify my doubt. No, he told me, the entire sacrifice is not relished by the family alone because anyone is not glutton enough to embark on such a task and since a sacrifice is done in the context of piousness, it is very much understandable, that it is shared and savored. Shared and savored. How? Well, the sacrifice is divided into three parts. Now, they need not be equal. One portion of the sacrifice is donated to the poor, another portion is distributed amongst friends and family and the third part, which is generally the least in quantity, is consumed by the family itself. But I was not sure that I believed him, hence I approached my mother for a second opinion. Whatever she told me, somehow, seconded the words of my cousin. After he didn’t exaggerate as much I thought he did and this led me to believe that there was probably some truth in all what he had told me as of then.
I remember, yet again, in nothing more than fragments that, that entire day was short of any form of enticement, that might invite the interest of a child. While festivity was transpiring in the Muslim households, the congregation of which formed the crux of the old Lucknow society in which I resided with my family, the very thought, that my day was a spot on flat experience, curled up my gut, disappointing me in my entirety. My father was still angry at me with my mother siding him for she didn’t want to spoil me any longer, my sister was deriving pleasure from the aura of pity that I had conjured around myself, but still no form of kindness came and knocked on my door. Television was out of question, there was a stress on studies, with me spending the majority of the entire day, amidst crooked letters formed with the aid of a pencil, and looking forward to the evening, held no hope for me. I had crossed the line and punishment was inevitable. So, what I did, as the dusk closed in, I thought how my evening would transpire. I would study, eat dinner and sleep. No fun or frolic awaited me. There was a reason why I dived in such an imagination, because since childhood, I have experienced a phenomenon, that if I imagine whatever is going to transpire in the future, it never ever happens, for fate always has something planned up for me, that diverts its path from my vision of the future. That day, I envisioned the entire processions of the evening in my mind, conjuring up happenings that were regular to the core, believing that hours later I shall be greeted by situations that comprise the happenings of everyday life as their core, hoping somewhere within that, that doesn’t actually happen, rather waiting to be surprised by a delight, that would be the first of its kind, during that day – the day of Bakr-Eid.
As far as I can remember, the clock was ticking nine in the night, and my mother had already served the dinner that comprised of green vegetables and all, basically everything that a kid hates, and especially at the end of such a day, that had been drastic to the core, a kid tends to hate such a dinner all the more. My father glanced at me, signaling me to begin and I was on the verge of taking the very first bite, when the door bell rang, that ultimately led me to literally sprang from the chair and rush towards the door, as if the congregation of my actions comprised of being a reflex. I opened the door, only to discover my good old maid standing there, with the heavenly toothless smile fixated on her face, as if it had always been there forever and ever and ever. In her hands, were a few containers of the sort of lunch boxes and casseroles. Before I could say something, my mother approached me for behind and though surprised at the maid’s visit, invited her in. I too was surprised for it wasn’t the hour when she would generally pay us a visit, but I had already deciphered from the heavenly smell that had started to linger in the aura, that I was definitely in for a treat. I went inside my room, and even in there I could hear whispers of gratitude being granted to the maid from our parent’s side. My father called me outside in a while and I saw that the sight of the regular food had been wiped off clear from the dining table and holy Lord! – I was blessed by the delectable sight of Mutton Biryani, Mutton Korma, home prepared bread and a sweet delicacy prepared from Vermicelli, bearing a glorious saffron color, the sight of which is enough to flood one’s mouth. My father told me that all that food was prepared by our good old maid on the eve of Bakr-Eid and she has graced us with tokens of love and appreciation, for all she had anything close to a family, was us. I remembered what my cousin had told me in the afternoon, and I was enveloped with those very thoughts when I took my place on the table. Even with thoughts encircling my mind, I could hear my father telling me that she will join us for dinner and though she was hesitant at first, she obliged willingly and happily in the end. My father asked me to thank her, which I did and we began the feast. We all ate and talked and suddenly, it appealed to me, that the day had completely transformed itself – from being a bored and jaded one into a festive celebration. Visions seem to etch themselves in our minds as if photographs, and one imagery of that particular feast, the crux of which was our dear maid with her toothless smile, is still afresh in my mind, for those days comprised of the some of the last ones, for after a few months my father got transferred to another town and after a few years when we came back, we couldn’t meet her in person, for then, she was just a memory that we could cherish.