Beautiful, But Ugly


Rameez spent the day teasing his sisters for being ‘shorties’. “In another few months I will overtake you” he sang in a mocking tone. The sisters could be mean when they wanted, and height, apparently was a touchy matter in their world, and now Rameez had had enough.

They got back at Rameez by telling him that “Of course you will grow tall, very tall, taller than Ammi and Abba” Rabia had a mischievous look in her eyes when she said this

When this puzzled Rameez, they withdrew into a serious tone and Razia added “You see Ammi and Abba always wanted to have a boy, but Ammi did not want to carry a heavy weight for one whole year, so they borrowed you from the lady who comes to sell vegetables”

“No!” said Rameez “That is a lie”

Rabia took over the tale “Can’t you see? She is taller than Abba even; that is why you are growing tall. Why else do you think she gives you an extra carrot every time she comes here”

“So that I can run fast!” Rameez claimed

“Yes, Yes, she loves you sooo much” they sang back to him this time.

They went on and on, giving him various reasons why he was not really part of the family. Finally Lubna, their Ammi, having heard the last part of the exchange stepped in and admonished the girls, telling them to go mind their own business.

The end of the episode saw Rameez retreat into one of his dark moods where he spoke to no one and spent time locked up in his room. When his mother pestered him to go out and play with the kids in the street, he took out his bicycle and screamed away in silence.

He pedaled hard, feet kicking with anger; he wasn’t sitting, but standing erect to get that extra thump into his cycling. He did not slow down to take the turn, but when he took it, he saw a pack of street dogs rise up from their slumber and look in his direction. Rameez increased his speed, pedaling like there was a life to save -or take- somewhere. He headed straight at the first dog he was about to encounter. The dogs took a couple of steps towards him, barking and making vile noises but they soon sensed the madness that was approaching them and retreated. Rameez was bent on running over the meanest looking canine on that road, but the dog leapt out of the way at the last moment – scrambling to safety. Once he had gone past the pack, the dogs began chasing him again, but Rameez was playing catch up with the wind and he raced away towards the end of the road, took another turn, skidded, and was gone.

Minutes later he had reached the tall water tank tower. It was a place he and his friends used to frequent a year ago, back when they first discovered it. Slowly it lost its sheen after the boys found other exciting places to visit. Once in a while Rameez still cycled down here, as the place made him feel comfortable for some strange reason. He climbed the spiral staircase inside the wide and circular pillar that supported the huge water tank. There were a lot of stairs and Rameez would usually be out of breath when he reached the top. Today, he ran up the staircase, his bicycle had not been locked to a gate like his father had taught him to do, but was lying on the ground where he had left it. He was running up the metal staircase that was making a barrage of clangy-mangy sounds at his behest.

When he reached the top he was out of breath alright, but upon opening the maintenance door the breeze hit his face ever so gently – just like his mother blowing on his forehead after she had prayed for him –  that a calm came over him. He sat down on the metal slab, let his feet hang down through the railing, and began surveying the world around him. He could see the street where his home was situated, behind the street the rectangular ground where they played cricket, further down the main road from where he took the school bus.

It was Saturday evening and the traffic was light, there were a few kids on terraces flying kites; the season was just beginning. Further away, towards the horizon, the famous Ayyapan temple rose up into the sky, its glorious goburam attracting birds of the peaceful kind. Closer to the main road the half constructed shopping complex stood like an abandoned fortress, its guardians having retreated for a weekend of fun and frolic. What struck Rameez was the ghastly scene atop the work-in-progress terrace of this lifeless market place.

For a few scary seconds, Rameez saw what he thought were body parts of dismembered men lying naked to the elements. Soon though, to his disappointment, he realized what they actually were. They were those same elegant looking bodies that stood proud in shops that sold clothing. He had seen them often enough, slim and sleek in their shapes and adorning the most tempting outfits and hairdos that a store had to offer. Standing unmoved all day at the gawking of the shoppers and the amazement of small kids who thought they were real people. Those very same mannequins now lay broken down into their most basic structural parts – a few limbs lying scattered on the floor – hands being introduced to legs, a headless torso leaning against a bamboo – wondering where the rest of it was, and a couple of heads paying knock-knock against each other – beautiful but ugly. Some of the heads were bald, and the torsos looked like they belonged to a misunderstood woman. In spite of its now apparent benign nature, the scene still had a sting of malignancy to it. It set in motion such wild and fantastic ideas in the fertile mind of Rameez that time flew by on top of the water tank.

Text by Hameed Uddin

Top Photo by Shivam Sinha