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Asif's World View: Memories Of India

Popularity 3Viewed 5654 times 2014-1-6 09:13 |Personal category:StoryTeller|System category:Life| Asif, World, View, Child

Asif’s World View
I first met Asif staring at me and my one year old son, from the other side of the high metal gate at the head of the driveway of my newly rented house, in Hyderabad. He stood still, with his face between two bars. He looked the odd kid out of the pack, I realised his bones were all funny, he had a very pronounced pigeon chest, his hands were not quite right, his hips and legs were all somehow warped, yet he walked slowly and seemed to have been crushed or compacted. If normally stretched out he would have been one of the tallest kids, yet he was the shortest. He was surrounded by a noisier bunch of physically more normal kids who were running around, some climbing onto the gate, calling out to us. They all looked dirty, grimy, ill-dressed and every bit street urchins. All of them had a cheerful, cheeky disposition, speaking in Hyderabadi Hindi, which is a quite unique brand. I was struggling to keep up understanding what they said, having been away for a decade. They somehow knew we were returning to India from ‘America’ – they had seen our household stuff arrive on a container on a huge truck and word gets around the neighbourhood in India just a bit faster than wildfire. My landlord lived in the same building a level above me. He was trying to make my family feel welcome and settled in.
My landlord, his wife and household helpers tried to shoo away the kids. They had been a bit of a nuisance, begging for things, hanging outside their house, gawking at visitors, commenting loudly and generally making people feel uncomfortable by their unkempt appearance as well. They had gotten into a stoush with the house owner’s dog which was barking at them to guard the house. One kid had even thrown a rock at the dog and was definitely not welcome. It was getting a bit tense, the kids would move back a few feet and as soon as the landlord went back in, they would come close to the gate again. They did not heed the threats of being reported to their parents or the dog being released. Probably, they knew that the house owner’s dog was not trained to return on command. If the dog came out, it was likely to just run around, bark, play, get into trouble and it would be a chore trying to get it back into the house. I tried to figure a way out, for the long term. I did not want these kids to be ‘enemies’ but friends.
My little son was always in a mood to go for a ‘little walk’, where I carried him, either on my side or my shoulder and pointed out the sights of this fascinating new place. He liked to look at the kids, see what they did, played and generally was curious and social. He saw no distinction between these kids and the son of my landlord, who was well groomed and just a bit older.
I decided to take my son and go out for a walk beyond the gate. I wanted us to make new friends in this new place. I picked up a pocketful of lollies and walked out through the gate. Asif and others moved to let me out. I looked at them and said “Hello”, and signalled them to follow me. Right next door was a police station, a little old building from the British era, with an open yard in front, within the grounds of a huge mansion painted in various shades of green– obviously a ‘Muslim’ house. The police station was staffed by potbellied, moustachioed, lazy but cheerful policemen who were very friendly to me. They too had known a bit of my past and wanted to chat about distant lands with me. My house was painted shades of brick red, yellow and ochre, with the decorative ‘Rangoli’ (colourful floor art at the doorstep) a give-away that this house had a Hindu resident.
Anyway, I had this pack of kids following me. I asked my son to hand out the lollies. They had an immediate effect of sweetening our relationship. I found out that Asif lived in a small room and kitchen tucked at the back of the police station. His parents worked for the owner of the green painted mansion. He had an older and two younger brothers, he was smaller than all but his youngest brother because of his physical condition. His older brother lived and worked away as an apprentice and helper to some mechanic somewhere else. His parents were hard pressed supporting their kids. They were not educated and neither were the kids. Asif had tried to go to school, but it had been too difficult. His other brothers and other kids attended school sporadically, not particularly interested. Their parents worked as maids, helpers and construction workers around the area.
Asif talked big. When he was upset or disagreed with any of his mates he would threaten to bash up, crush or toss them a mile away, all in a confident voice that was starting to turn deep. Everyone knew he could not anything of the sort and just took it as an expression of his feelings, not even smiling or laughing at his threats. They had that much consideration for his feelings. He could only throw little rocks a short distance. Among the energetic and noisy bunch, Asif always stood slightly apart, at the edge or rear of the group, but always part of it. He did the tasks he could – umpiring for street cricket, referee for football, commentator for everything. He had a great memory for past events and took on the role of the interpreter, storyteller and group spokesman with me. I could not but help be charmed by his cheek and stoic attitude. He would ask me all sorts of questions about America, where I had been, where I had grown up. He was Muslim and as an intended compliment assumed I was too, but accepted me as a friend despite my Hindu background and a chequered route to faith through atheism, agnostic spiritualism. He was thrilled to discuss what he had seen of other countries in movies, television, pictures in magazines and heard from various people. He had such fantastic myths about other parts of the world and would defer to my knowledge as the expert traveller in the group, over time. I used to take my son on walks and start to play with these kids regularly. We invited them home, had a party, dance etc. Slowly, they would take our suggestions on board to come to a gathering for fun and food, after taking a bath, dressing in their best. Their parents started to hear about us and meet and talk to us. They appreciated their children being treated well. Even my landlord relented and in a great spirit of generosity invited all the kids over for his son’s birthday bash.
We started to have a feeling that these were ‘our’ kids. They did not seem to have much opportunity in education – most of them had dropped out of school for various reasons. It used to worry us what they would do as they grew up and went beyond their teens. Some older ones would go away as helpers in some house either around the city or a distant town or with relations who were better off.
I then used to work in a multinational corporation on the top floors of a new building that was a pride of the city. It was a bit far away from my house. I used to work long hours. It was a flexible, friendly atmosphere at the work and many would bring along their family and friends to show around our workplace and sometimes go to the roof of the building for a spectacular view of the surrounding rocky hills of Madhapur. Newer buildings and offices of other multinationals were cropping up and growing faster than any vegetation could.
I would drive off in my new little ‘Maruti’ Indian made car, driving stick shift to and from work. Often I would have to back out of my driveway, being careful not to run over the pack of kids. They all became used to guiding me out like an aircraft at a terminal, waving their hands around so that I could see them from my mirrors. They were very good at stopping traffic so that I could get out and in safely!! I started to offer them little rides on my way to and from work or as I went out on holidays. It is good that one can offer a ride to half a dozen kids, a short distance, safely in India without any seatbelts in the car. They all tried to behave well, competing and then taking turns at the window seats.
One weekend, on the spur of the moment, as I was heading off to work (note I worked any day of the week, the company tracked the work, not the work hours and there was always plenty to do), I thought, asked the kids if they would like to come and visit my work place. I wanted them to get permission from their parents, change into clothes that were decent and clean (they all had a set or two of these always ready for an occasion). I asked them all to the use the bathroom before we headed out. I gave them 15 minutes and they were all ready. The car was packed, we had the radio blaring, the air-conditioner on and we set off. Most of the kids had seen my office building in the news, on TV and newspapers, but had never seen it directly.
We pulled in past curious, amused but polite security guards who let me in without demur. The kids were astounded at the polished floor and the rising tower of the building. As we stood near the elevator and looked up side all the way to the top, the passing clouds against the blue sky made it look like the top of the building was moving and about to fall over. It shocked some of the kids. They were all quiet, jaws open and the elevators were even better with a glass wall on one side they could see as we left each floor, they could even catch sight of the empty space (atrium) in the building that rose all the way to the top. As we climbed higher they could see the ground falling and some had the strange feeling of ears popping, and feet feeling funny for the first time. One or two of the group had been in an elevator sometime in the city and at most to the height of 4 floors. For the rest, it was like nothing they had known. Asif was looking around with a focussed, yet slightly dazed expression. He was very quiet.
We went up to my office, I showed them my work place, the computers and none had any clue to what they did. They had heard about them. They were fascinated by the screen savers on the computer screen, they tried chasing the moving patterns with their fingers. They were impressed with the rows of such machines in our test lab. Most spent a lot of time at the window looking to the highway below.
I led the tour to the office kitchen – we usually had tea, coffee, soft-drinks free for employees and their guests. These kids were all polite and trying to be well mannered. They had to have fizzy drinks with me helping get the tabs off the cans. They were initially embarrassed at the leaking, exploding fizz and foam, but soon got to enjoy it. I had brought along some biscuits to go with these from my personal stash in my office.
Finally, as the highlight of the tour, I told them I was going to take them all the way to the top, the roof of the building, a couple more floors up. They were all excited. We went up the elevator and then out the door and onto the roof. It was windy and view was great on that clear day from the edge, away from the water tanks and cooling towers on the top. One could see miles away to houses and other buildings far away.
As the others were all looking around, quietly at first and then exclaiming, Asif came up to me and looked questioningly.
“Yes, Asif! What do you think? What do you see?” I asked.
“Sir, I have a question,” he asked timidly.
“Sure, what is it?” I encouraged, helping him up on to a rise so he could see better.
“I suppose we can see the whole world from here. Where is America? Can you point it out to me?” asked Asif, his eyes full of wonder.
Something registered in me and struck me full force about this boy, who almost all his life had lived and seen things at street level and had never had the opportunity to physically rise above 4 floors. But like any child, his imagination had soared. I remembered my own childhood, looking up at planes, never daring to imagine that I would ride in them one day and look down at the magnificent views of this big world.
I was humbled. It took me a while and a bit of a struggle to tell him that the world was so much bigger that we could not see all of it from here. Asif just quietly accepted what I said.
“I suppose planes fly this high,” he said.
“They fly higher than this,” another kid said authoritatively.
I was glad Asif had seen this and enjoyed a view of this big world in his lifetime. He is no more. A few years after this incident, I saw him confined to his bed until his last days – he had a growth spurt as a teenager that was fatal for him in his condition. He could not even get up and move in the last days, lying in bed in a darkened room. He passed away, a boy very much loved by his family and friends. His body lies buried in a little grave, but his spirit now soars way above, higher than I have been in jet planes.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Comment Comment (5 comments)

Reply Report voice_cd 2014-1-6 13:10
Your blog has been recommended to the homepage of the blog and the opinion zone of this website.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-1-6 13:12
voice_cd: Your blog has been recommended to the homepage of the blog and the opinion zone of this website.
thank you very much!
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2014-1-6 13:42
Great story with genuine humane touch!  Wondering if you write for a living.
Reply Report KIyer 2014-1-6 13:46
Dr.Bill.Shen: Great story with genuine humane touch!  Wondering if you write for living.
Thank you for your kind words. No, I don't write for a living now. However, I would not mind doing so, to make a living since I dont have a job now! Let me know if there is an opportunity somewhere!
Reply Report snowipine 2014-1-6 22:16
KIyer: Thank you for your kind words. No, I don't write for a living now. However, I would not mind doing so, to make a living since I dont have a job now! L ...
Migrant workers are everywhere.
Migrant worker contributed their due contributions to the modernization of the modern metropolis.
Prepare for the romance life as a migrant worker !

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