The Edge

You’ve been to the edge of childhood, haven’t you? It’s a few streets from home, at the corner of Saturn and The Milky Way, where the stars become trinkets and shower down in a haze. There is a great big tree there; it bears a million leaves each year. Today if you were to climb up a branch and shake it lightly, little pearls might rain down still.


Your bicycle could have well been your stallion, for you were known to use your sheets as capes. There is a plastic cricket stump in your attic that has seen the blood of many a dragon. What about the Math teacher who wanted you to add things in your head, and the midgets who wouldn’t let you? If you had the foresight then, you’d have fed the midgets to the dragons and done well in math too. Your first math lesson wasn’t even math. The kid next door held up two hands and began counting backwards on his fingers “ten, nine, eight, seven, six and add the five from the other hand and it makes eleven” he said and ruined your entire week.
Remember the trusting toad you put in a box and carried to school for your science project? You let him live after all, and it is a story the frogs will never forget. Your name signed all over the neighborhood with the talented direction-control of piss; you had named it and claimed it and owned it. Those bumbling neighbors who spoke of your mom slyly would have known better if they had cared to smell their walls. Summer nights spent sneaking into the smuggler’s house down the road to check if he was storing gold biscuits in the garage.

Some little kid was run over by a truck and you had to play carom for weeks, no one cycled in the streets, you sang movie songs in the night and when someone mentioned the kid’s name there was silence all around. You saw him once or twice after that, always waking up in the middle of the night and seeing the tree make scary shadows on the window pane. You had to try many times to blow off all the candles lined up on the cake that year, and your cousin said it was bad luck.7460748090_e0787bdfd9_b

That year you also learnt that fathers sometimes leave and go away without even dying, that sometimes the lies people tell about your family have a way of coming true. Zeroes made their way into you report cards and somehow, inexplicably, at the same time teachers became friendlier. Dragons became scarcer; the shadows on the window became scarier. You punched a boy in the street because he said something about your parents. He got up and screamed something nastier, you rushed at him screaming and teeth barred. Tell me, when you went home that evening, were you consoled or punished? Tell me. You’ve been to the edge of childhood, haven’t you?

Hameed Uddin

The Goat

Summer 1990, Chennai

Each year for Bakrid they would go to their Mother’s town which was five hours away by train and would then partake in celebrations that included the sacrifice of an animal. The animal would usually be a buffalo, for whose purchase all of Lubna’s brothers and sisters would contribute equally. This time around, they decided to stay home and have their own celebration. Kareem was getting past middle age now, and his kids had reached double digits so it was time, he thought, he made his own tradition for his now sizable family. So this May morning he came home with a goat, got it down from the rickshaw that brought it and walked it into the house. The kids on the street, Rameez included, stopped their game of cricket and stood gaping at this most absurd of pets that the Abdullahs had resorted to. Rameez came in and immediately stood staring at the new guest his father was tying to the Guava tree. “Abba why do we have a goat?” he asked. “Because we are going to take care of it” his father said. “Ok” said Rameez and then turned around and shooed his friends who had gathered at the gate to get a peek.

The Goat, by Hameed Uddin With photo from Aditya

As Rabia returned from her tuition class, she became quite upset with the bleating creature tethered to their Guava tree. “Ammi I can’t even go near the tree now, where will I sit and study?” asked Rabia, who kicked her school shoes off and sat down with a thump at the door step. The day the girls entered tenth class about a month back, Kareem had strung up lights on the Guava tree by drawing wires from the house. He had also brought home a couple of extra chairs and a small work table that he set up under the tree. “Now you girls can sit and study here all night long if you want, and when one of you has to sleep you don’t have to fight about turning the lights out” he had announced. The girls would be attending special classes till the middle of May and had been quite hyperactive in the past weeks with regular tests and sudden flurry of over-studying that seemed to last till midnight. “It is for Bakrid Rabia, only till next month, and then we will sacrifice it, till then you can study on the terrace, Abba has said he will put a light bulb up there” said Lubna who brought her a cup of Complan. “Where is Razia?” she asked, handing Rabia the steaming beverage. “She has gone to Sanika’s place to study French with her, she said to tell that she will come by seven” said Rabia blowing into the hot cup. “Did you see the two of them leaving?” “Yes Ammi! They were standing at the school gate waiting for Uncle’s car”. ‘The girls are becoming increasingly impatient these days’ thought Lubna.

Two years back Razia had suddenly expressed an interest in shifting her second language from Hindi to French. Rabia had decided to stick with Hindi, partly because that was the option that Monil had stuck to. Lubna and Kareem had been quite startled to see this shift in interests, but then Lubna had told Kareem “They are twins, but that doesn’t mean they are not two separate people”. This French thing had made Razia friends with Sanika, who actually got along well with both sisters, and happily Sanika’s parents Sarita and Anil had also become friends with Lubna and Kareem. All in all if Razia was at Sarita’s place, then there was nothing really to worry about. Rabia too was a little caught up with the romantic notion of studying on the terrace under the summer sky and so she cut short her complaining and drank her Complan half-lost in dreams.

At dinner there was mutton korma with rice and papad. Mutton had always been Rameez’s favorite meat; he loved the soft rendering of the meat in the able ladle of his mother’s skill. Unlike the dry chicken meat that his sisters preferred, the tender mutton cooked in its own juices made Rameez’s mouth water with anticipation. “Stop being so happy Rameez, Ammi why could you not have made some vegetables also, I can’t eat this” said Razia taking only the gravy and giving up her share of the mutton meat into the curry bowl.

“You always say that Razia, just eat, its good food” said Kareem.

“But Abba think of the goat tied outside, how would it feel about us eating mutton here?” she argued back.

“It doesn’t feel anything about it, all animals have a purpose, you will know if you read the Koran. In a month’s time we will be eating the goat that is outside. That is all there is to it” said Kareem as he gamely dug his teeth into an inviting piece.

“I can’t believe we are being so cruel, Abba” said Razia. On the other hand, Rabia continued to eat the food; she was less the sort to complain about animal rights.

“There is nothing cruel Razia, one day the earth will eat us, everybody dies and has to become useful, either alive or dead” said Lubna putting back the mutton pieces on Razia’s plate. This further irritated Razia. After giving one look in the direction of Rabia, who didn’t seem interested in coming to her aid in this argument, she reluctantly grew quiet and began eating the meat, and ended up polishing off the lot.

“Abba are we really going to sacrifice the goat?” asked Rameez

“Yes, on Bakrid” said Kareem. After a bit of silent eating, Rameez spoke up again.

“Abba, what are we going to call the goat?”

“Well, call it anything, just for one month anyway”

“I want to call it ‘Rocky’” said Rameez

“That’s a dog’s name, idiot” said Rabia

“Well unless you have a better name, ‘Rocky’ it is” said Kareem

“I am not interested in naming a goat, call it what you want, Rocky, Jockey, even Rajiv Gandhi if you want” said Rabia who got up and took her finished plate to the sink. Kareem was not happy with this remark “We should not talk of our country’s leaders like that” he said, still chewing the juicy mutton piece. “Who is Rajiv Gandhi, Abba?” asked Rameez. Kareem was in no mood to elaborate, he’d have to start from the freedom struggle, to the Gandhi led Congress and  talk about a whole lot of things, “Lubna, give Rameez a bone piece to chew, I want to see how strong his teeth are” he said.

Hameed Uddin