It was a vacation morning and like any other youngster, Rehan lay upon his comfy bed enjoying the holiday!
“Nikhaar… Nikhaar!” a loud cry from the verandah woke him up from his sleeping porch. Out of every voice in the world, his mother’s was the one which always rung like an alarm in his ears. Rubbing off the glimmering dust-bowl from his eyes he snatched a lethargic look at the clock ticking away, above his study table- it was 6:30!
Just then he heard another shrill cry – “Nikhaaaar…where the hell are you? … get up you lazy kid…we have to prepare a lot of things for tomorrow. And wake up your lil’ brother as well.” Listening to that Rehan recalled that it was Eid ! And like every year, his work was to accompany his Abbu to the grocer’s and help him carry back the things they’d buy for preparing the dishes.
With a towel in one hand and bucket in another, Rehan headed towards the washroom. Someone was already inside. As he knocked, a shrill sound of someone cleaning his throat came from within. It was his father’s. Keeping aside his belongings, he took out his brush which he usually kept in his towel and decided to finish the first step of cleanliness until his father came out.
He opened the tap, and putting the brush underneath the running water, gave it a gentle rub to make the bristle little wet. He then took a long curvy paste strip upon the bristles. No matter how hard he tried, he never could make one like the way they did in the commercials. He again opened the tap to make it wetter. But the flow of water took with it, the paste itself. Rehan was little angry upon himself, for this acute misfortune happened almost every time. He eventually had to do this process all over again.
Just then his Abbu came out and in surprise, exclaimed – “Well, well. Look who has got up so early today! Han?”
Rehan blurted out a little froth and in a mumbled voice, greeted – “Morning Abbu“.
His father said-” Good lad…get ready quick, we gotta go to market in half an hour or your mother is going to scold us both.”
“Kya Karim bhai? You give me 1 kg cashews when I asked for 2! What’s wrong Karim miyan…did khaala jaan forget to feed you almonds today! Haha!”
Rehan’s father’s little remark made everyone snort with laughter. Rehan didn’t understand the joke clearly, yet rather than standing there, in the pretension of understanding it, he gave a skittish smile. He had learned from the experience of his years of growing up; this tact behind fitting in the adult world whose prate he sometimes found totally stupid.
He pondered on how almonds were related to someone forgetting something. But like always he put his query aside in the question bank at the back of his brain (which was going to blurt out in a continuous flow either on his father or his teacher, later) and he sat there smiling like a little clown to observe further proceedings.
“One thousand four hundred and ninety-seven Farukh miyan…that would be all or anything else?” asked Karim.
“No…that’s all Karim bhai.” Rehan’s Abbu took out a pink and a yellow note from his wallet and handed them to the shopkeeper.
“Kya Miyan!” complained Karim, spitting betel juice out of his mouth and upholding his tribute, “this is little torn from the side…!”
“Arey Karim bhai. I am sure you can fit it in someone else’s bundle, rakhlijiye na.” Farukh requested.
And with an unsatisfactory smile Karim opened his drawer for change. There lay a lonely 1₹ coin all ready to be given away. Karim had to return 3₹ as change, so adding two Alpenliebes with that coin, Karim gave it to Farukh. Rehan found the exchange a little over the top– why would Karim Chacha return candy instead of money? Farukh, as he was supposed to, gave those toffees and one of the carry-bags to Rehan and commanded him to take it straight home as his mother was eagerly awaiting for those ingredients, to prepare the ceremonial delicacies for the day to come. His father had some other errands to run, so Rehan did exactly what his father had asked him to do.
“Haanu beta get up its eight already…don’t you wanna go with your brothers to the field to fly kites?” Rehan woke up and saw his mother sitting beside his bed and patting him on the head. Hannu, as obvious was his pet name which was exclusive to the family members. Though among his friends it was a joke and this Haanu became Hanuman. But Rehan was used to such reference now for he had made his peace with it. He dressed up and came out of his room just to find all his brothers already gone. He didn’t know how to fly a kite but always got excited to see someone flying them. He put on his white PT shoes and washed his hands and was about to dash out of the door when his mother said- “atleast take this rolled chapati with you…aren’t you hungry? See I’ve put jam in it.” He said- “Ammi I’ll eat later. The breeze is on right now, it might go away soon, and the chapati isn’t going anywhere.” And with these words Rehan took his Avon from the porch and paddled away towards the field. Quite often when we are away from our home, we realise how much we miss that rolled piece of bread! But Rehan, just 8 now, had to travel a long road before arriving at such a realization!
“Oye Abdul… sai se kanni de” Rehan’s elder brother, Rehman bawled with disapproval at his mate who held the kite’s both ends high above his chest. Seeing his little brother approaching, Rehman said -“Abdul you leave it. Haanu my lucky charm come here, and grab the kite.” It was Rehan’s annual task to uphold these paper birds before they were made to soar in the air. He never actually got the chance to get a hold of the string. And being the youngest, he never even had the leisure to complain about it.
“Ye kaati! Haha…fellas, one down of the Golu gang!” said Rehman with excitement. Golu was the ringleader of a neighborhood village and his group often had such matches of cricket, football or a kite fight with the resident gang! The bet was, at its utmost, 50₹ and that money was generated by contribution from the teammates. Rehan hardly ever bet any money…he never got the chance to play. He came handy when either of the teams had one player short and in such cases he was made the common player, or as said by the local folk –‘beech ka bicchu’(scorpion in the middle). No one, in fact knew from where such a term came about but it was a dialectical tradition handed down for generations by their seniors and before that their preceding seniors since times immemorial.
“Maanu bhai, one of our kites was cut off and it fell in the mango orchard,” said Hameed, one of the members of Rehman’s gang, running toward him. The Mango orchard was a neutral zone. If any kite fell there, it was an arranged protocol that whosoever got to it first, owned it. Finder’s keeper, loser’s weeper! Rehman passed the string of his kite to Rehan’s hand and said, “Just hold it and do nothing else until I get back. Don’t let it down. Understand?” As Rehan nodded in affirmation, Rehman and two other kids left for the hunt.
It was his first time when he had full control of a flying kite. Rehan could actually feel the tension between the breeze and the kite in his palms. For him it was nothing less than a majestic experience. Inch by inch as he released the string, the kite went higher and higher into the sky. In between he tugged it down in style, a little as he had seen his brother do often. He was experiencing the paragon of excitement at that moment. But alas! The adventure didn’t last too long as then the breeze died down. Rehan was in a fix as he didn’t know what to do in those circumstances. He thought that since there was no breeze, the kite would eventually fall down and tear into two; so he started pulling it toward him. He thought that way he could catch it before it reached the ground. Unfortunately, little did he know that the kite would have fallen safely without any complication, had he pulled it in the open.
But as the novice that he was, Rehan still kept on pulling it toward him and at last the dreaded happened. It was dashed down to the ground and with Rehan pursuing his experiment vigorously, it tore into two pieces. He knew exactly in what kind of trouble he was then. So he wisely thought of the better escape to the headquarters – his home. Wasting not a second, Rehan took his cycle and bolted straight towards home to the paradise of his hidey-hole.
“Haanu….!” a loud scream made its way to the kitchen where Ammi was busy preparing the Sewai.
“Whats wrong with you, Maanu? Why are you shouting like this?”, asked his mother.
“Ammijan, Haanu tore my Panchi today…where the hell he is hiding?” replied Rehman.
“Panchi? What’s a Panchi?” questioned his mother.
“It’s my kite’s name, my favorite one’s. Don’t ask me vague questions; just tell me where the hell he is hiding right now?”
Unable to understand the sentiment of attachment and possession a boy had for his beloved kite, his mother reasoned in accordance to the laws of elderly redundancy – “It’s just a kite Maanu, don’t lose your temper for such a silly reason.”
Thumping his feet hard on the floor, Rehman thought it was better to do the search himself rather than waste his time in listening to his mother’s sermons, so he ventured into Rehan’s room.
Rehan wasn’t one of the great hiders. Well it’s not every kid’s piece of chocolate to be apt in selecting an effective hideaway. When he was born, his mother thought of giving their relatives a surprise by calling a conglomeration and announcing his birth there, but as soon as his mother was about to say- “we have good news to share”, he started wailing from his nursery. When he was five, he learnt a new essay in class about his age, parents’ name and occupation and similar interests. So one day while he and his Ammi were traveling to their Grandmother’s house by bus, the conductor came and asked his age. His mother replied that he was 4 years old (so that the conductor won’t charge his ticket). Just then Rehan said with unparalleled enthusiasm -“Haww… Ammi don’t you know that I am 5 years old?”. And with many other such instances in action, it was quite well known to everyone that hiding wasn’t Rehan’s forte.
No sooner Rehman entered the room, than he saw Rehan hiding below his bed. Rehman flew into a towering rage. He went close to the bed and kicked him hard on his round equal shaped posteriors. Rehan, with one hand on his buttocks endeavored to stand but in vain for he unknowingly slammed his head against lower side of the bed. Rehman pulling him down and with one foot over his tummy and the other over his left arm, and getting a good hold of him, jabbed an angry finger at his face-“Gimme 5₹ for my kite that you tore off today.”
“Bhaijaan it’s not my fault, the wind suddenly, stopped and it fell down. What could have I done?”
“You idiot! The kite would have come down without any scratch but why would you have let that happen? You wanted to use too much of your brains like always. Give me my 5₹. I don’t wanna hear anything else.”
“Believe me I don’t have that much money bhaijaan. I just have 3 rupees in my pencil box.”
Rehman stood up and opened the pencil box. There lay a couple and a 1₹ coin. Putting them in his pocket Rehman left but with a deadline that Rehan must return the leftover money by that night. Rehan became scared and anxious about the prospect of bringing another couple of bucks from nowhere – so he went to his mother.
“Ammi… Ammi…!” Rehan wailed hesitantly. But his mother was way too busy with work and after such a harsh reaction from Rehman, she was already pissed off. So Rehan with a sullen expression went to his father. When he reached the room, he found that his father wasn’t there. Just then something in the room caught his fleeting desperate eye. It was his father’s wallet. A brown greased old piece of leather full of notes!
There is a very peculiar relation between a man and his wallet. The thing about the wallet is that no matter how rich or poor the person is or no matter how old he becomes, he may change everything from curtain to wife, but never his wallet. He uses it as long as he could till either his or the wallet’s last thread strands out…
So moving on with the story, Rehan opened it and found a few coins in the left pocket. He thought about the negligence difference a vanishing 2₹ would make to his father’s wallet and thus, without any permission took out the coin and put the wallet back in place. He then went to the porch, where Rehman was sitting with glue and a piece of broken glass in his hand. He was gluing glass pieces to his Maanja. With glass pieces in a thread it becomes quite easy to cut other kite-strings in matches. Rehan came and put the two ₹ coin beside him and before Rehman could say anything to him, he ran inside.
“Haanu….Maanu….Nikhaar…Insha! Everyone…come here.” Farukh called in a furious tone.
“What’s wrong with this household today…why are you shouting at the kids Rehan’s Abbu?” said Rukhsaar (Rehan’s mother) in surprise.
“Begum you too come here…it’s a matter of concern.” said Farukh.
“Hae Allah! What on Earth happened now?”
Everyone came to the verandah and stood there like accused criminals. Rehan already knew what the fuss was all about. He was shaking with fear from inside. He was pretty sure that he was going to get a harsh beating from his father. He knew his father’s anger was that sinister!
“Who stole money from my wallet? Tell me now and I’ll spare that person. But I want nothing but the truth”, conditioned Farukh.
“Stole money from your wallet! Who? How much?” asked Rukhsaar in bewilderment.
“Someone out of these four took 2₹ from my wallet in my absence, without asking me. No one else comes to my room except you, me and these four. Now tell me who did it?”
“Two ₹? Uff ho… I thought someone took a huge amount off your wallet. You must have lost it somewhere around the house. Just leave all this and come help me in the kitchen.”
“Begum I count my money every time before leaving. But this isn’t about money Rukhsaar. It’s about stealing, which is a heinous thing to do. Is that what we are teaching to our kids? Now you four…who took that money tell me.”
None of those four said anything. They stood there like Easter Island heads. Rehan knew that though his father promised he wouldn’t take any action against the convicted, but if he confessed his guilt, he would go back on his word and scold him. Thus, he kept his tainted silence.
“Alright…I am saying this for the last time… If you are too scared to speak in front of me, then by tonight put that 2₹ back to its place. And let this be a lesson. I don’t want any such activity in the future. You all heard me? Now be on your way.” and with these words, Farukh departed for the kitchen.
Rehan was regretful that he had lied to his father. But the fear of punishment took the better of him. A chill ran down his spine from the neck. He felt like crying but controlled his tears. He attempted to go back to Rehman and ask him to return the money, promising that he’d give him the due back later. But Rehman had already bought a new kite with the money so his last chance of retrieving the money went down the drain. In his mind’s eye, Rehan pictured his Abbu’s disappointment at the moment. He had been a disgrace to him. He came back to his room and sat there thinking with both hands on his cheeks about a possible solution to the wrong he did. And just then he saw the ‘God-send’ answer on his table – a couple! Lying together and shining brightly. And a smile flittered from the shadows of his gloom into his redeemed face.
Farukh came home late that night. Rukhsaar was still busy washing the dishes. The children were abed, tucked in with the jocund frenzy of the moon carnival. Farukh straight away went to his room. In his laborious prosaic, he had completely forgotten about the incident that happened earlier in the day. Yet he spotted a paper on his table – held in place by two Alpenliebes – and manuscripted in a childish font – “Sorry Abbu. That’s all the change I’ve left!”