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Thursday, 15 November 2012

And The Boy Was Slapped - a true story by Shahid Bhat

It is hard to remember the exact dates, but as far my memory goes, the little boy was in 5th class those days. His school was a couple of kilometres away from his home, and every day, along with his little younger sister, he used to go to school on foot but also sometimes in a tonga. [1] Those days, minibuses were not visible on those roads as they are today and tongas were the only means of transport for that area. His school was a leading one in the entire tehsil. [2] Instead of Sundays, they used to have a holiday on Fridays and their medium of instruction was Urdu.

He was very fond of watching TV from early childhood. He loved it to the extent that if left undisturbed, he could have spent the whole day staring at its screen without even blinking his eyes. Unfortunately, those days Doordarshan signal was too weak to feed most of the rural areas. People used to say that broadcasting signals of DD Kashmir channel are unable to cross the intervening mountain range. So the only channel available on his black & white ‘Crown’ television was Pakistan TV or PTV —  thanks to his Papa, who was very expert in developing various mechanical and electronic gadgets. Papa had assembled several instruments for him like the ever-singing never-stopping Kan’na Radio. [3] He had also developed some sort of receiver  — like today’s dish antennae — due to which their family was privileged in the entire village to watch CNN, BBC World and some other unintelligible channel (perhaps, Russian), in addition to PTV. In fact, theirs was the only TV in the entire village.

The child used to watch every programme very keenly, particularly ‘Ainak-wala Jinn’ in which Zakuta was his favourite Jinn character who used to yell frequently “Mujhe kaam bataav mein kya karoon, mein kisko khaoon?” [4] He also used to love other programmes like the animal stories (similar to today’s Animal Planet programmes), cartoon shows like that of Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, quiz programmes like ‘Neelaam Ghar’, serials like ‘Mariya’, and WWF, etc. He had memorised the azaan, the duwa recited after azaan, many surahs and ahadees from the TV.[5] In fact, much of the Quran and GK [6] he used to know was memorised from the TV. The Eid special programmes were favourite to all and he too used love the Eid packages and of PTV. So, TV used to have a great importance in his life. In fact, TV was his best friend and teacher.

One evening, as usual, while he was watching Neelaam Ghar (famous quiz programme those days) on PTV with family members, the picture of Tariq Aziz, the anchor of the show, started blurring and vibrating. Suddenly, whole screen was covered with dancing horizontal black & white strips. Only beeping sounds were audible from Neelaam Ghar, as if the entire audience of the show were suddenly replaced by the ducklings saying “Piin Piin”. No one was aware what had happened, but after that evening, they could never watch TV properly.

Few days later, they came to know that military from the nearby camp had brought some censoring device to block PTV broadcast in the area. I remember, people used to say, “Dohaiy shaamas chhi censor laagaan! TV ti chhi na divaan vuchhna, taavan zad!” [7] Sometimes, the censor used to start a bit late and the boy’s granny, lost in watching her favourite serial ‘Mariya’, used to yell suddenly as censor used to start in the middle of the serial: “Tratth peyakh khaanas! Logahas censor! Yiman athan chhukh shaayad doad karaan.” [8] Thereafter, the magic box ‘Crown TV’ became a useless “mandachhaavan box” (‘humiliation box’) because whenever some neighbour used to visit with them to watch any programme or news, the TV screen used to become stripped like the zebra crossing, the black and white vertical contrasting strips dancing like Michael Jackson and the ducklings used to start doing ‘taandav’ (wild dancing) inside the idiot box, upsetting both the host as well as the guest.

Smelling a rat in the air those days, his Papa also stopped making new amazing gadgets; instead, he dumped the old ones, including the boy's favourite Kan’na Radio, fearing the wrath of the security agencies. Now, neither his teacher-friend, the magic box, was there, nor his ever-singing Kan’na Radio to spend time with. These strange and sudden happenings around them left the boy alone. His friends Donald Duck, Zakuta of Ainak-wala Jinn, and his favourite wrestlers Owen Hart & Bret Hart were no longer available to give him company.

The boy was very fluent in Urdu and also used to write some good essays. Thanks to his medium of instruction, PTV and the military-wallas on the road side he used to talk to while commuting between home and school. It was routine those days that the person who was unable to communicate properly with the security people, used to get nice scolding or thrashing or both, depending on the mood of these men of uniform. Usually, the poor illiterate people, in particular the old farmers, used to be beaten and insulted due to this communication gap. It was because of this fear that more and more people, even illiterate old men and women, learned broken Urdu very fast. The boy was very sensitive and these insults to old men were making deep imprints in his mind. Whenever some elderly person used to feel difficulty in communicating with security men in front of him, he used to step in quickly and play a role of an uninvited interpreter, without any fear, as most of these security men were familiar with him. They used to see him every day with his school bag and lunch box, and accompanied by his little sister. He used to chat with them without any fear unlike others boys, may be because he could communicate with them more clearly than others, or may be, he really was very bold and courageous.

One fine Friday morning, the boy got up early and had a quick bath, dressed properly and was searching his cap, the pik, without asking anything of his mother. His mother understood that today, he has plans to go his maatamaal [9] for playing with his friends. His maatamaal was in neighbouring village, half a kilometre away from his home. She hurriedly gave him noona chai pyaala with a thani lavaasa [10] and told him to finish his homework first. The boy played twenty-twenty cricket match [11] with half of his homework and told his Mummy that the rest he will finish in the evening. But his Mummy, watching his cricket match, feigned a little anger and replied, “In the evening! In the evenings, you usually get stuck to that TV screen like a mosquito to an oily electric bulb because of that pahalvaan dab!” [12] The boy was quick to remind her that there will be no more pahalvaan dabs because of the evening censors. Finally, she agreed and the little boy rushed towards the main gate of their compound to go to maatamaal, a walking distance from his home.

Outside the main gate on the left side, he saw a big muchhad [13] military-walla with a long bamboo stick in his hand. On the main road, towards the right, people were in queue, showing identity cards to the frisking uniformed lot. Many of them who had beards were trembling and whispering something, may be reciting some protective holy verses. On the left side of the main road, one young man was being thrashed; perhaps, he had no identity card with him. He was yelling, loudly “Sir… sir… sir, I forgot… forgot… forgot… it… I forgot it at my home!” but they were kicking him, slapping him and abusing him. One Sikh military-walla, himself with a long curly rough beard, was pulling the young man’s comparatively straight and smooth beard. The poor young man was crying and requesting them but to no avail. The boy was sad to see this scene and couldn’t dare to move out of the gates; he remained there but kept watching all this helplessly.

Suddenly, the muchhad military-walla came forward and asked him, “What is your name?”

But without listening to his name, he told the boy to bring a glass of water from his home. The boy ran inside the house and brought a glass of fresh water, directly from the tap. The outer surface of the glass was wet, covered with condensed water droplets as the water inside was ice-cold, as if taken from fridge.

The military-walla asked him, “Have you taken it from refrigerator?”

The boy answered “Nahin, nal se. (No, from the tap).

The military-walla further asked him, “Do you speak Hindi?”

The boy answered “Nahin, mein Hindi nahin jaanta.” (No, I don’t know Hindi.)

Hearing again ‘No’ and may be that too without the honorific ‘Sir’, the military-walla  got angry and slightly stiffened his tone: “Tu to abhi Hindi bol raha tha (You were just speaking in Hindi). Why are you lying that you don’t know Hindi?”

The boy replied “Nahin, mein jhootth nahin bolta.” (No, I do not lie.)

The military-walla, now in full temper, shouted and started abusing "@#$%, phir se jhootth bol raha hai!” (You are lying once again!)

The frightened boy somehow gathered courage and managed to tell him, “What I speak is Urdu, not Hindi.”

The military-walla was enraged further by the apparent cheekiness of the little boy or by his not using the honorific ‘Sir’ while answering. He caught hold of the boy and slapped him in the face.

The puzzled boy kept looking at him. He didn’t cry but thereafter, he never spoke to those familiar military-wallas with whom he used to chat on the road side on his way to school. That day, the boy didn’t go to his maatamaal but rushed to his house quietly, without even mentioning the incident to any of his family members. Perhaps he understood that if he discloses this matter to his Mummy or Papa, they will come out and ask that military-walla why he slapped their son and he may respond by thrashing them also. So the boy decided to keep mum, even though his left cheek was burning with red hot pain.

After this incident, the boy stopped to play with his friends completely and used to remain mostly indoors, as if his innocent playfulness too was censored like PTV by the nearby military camp.

“Why he was slapped and abused?”

The boy couldn’t answer this question until his Masters in Arts, where he came to know that Urdu and Hindi are basically same languages using different scripts and loan words. Whatever the boy spoke, intending Urdu expressions, the military-walla took them as Hindi expressions.

However, before arriving at this truth, the boy had developed bizarre theories about the military-wallas. He used to say that you have to be terribly abnormal and abnormally sick and sadistic to be a successful military-walla. He thought only bull-heads and sadists are welcomed in military and also he used to say, "Why should I use a honorific like ‘Sir’ for such sadistic lot when I use them for my beloved teachers?"

Further, he had developed a very strong negative stereotype for Hindi. The stereotypes were strong to the extent that he used to say that Hindi text would sometimes appear him like a queue of similar looking military-wallas, in different postures, carrying different types of weaponry, ready to crackdown on some village and beat people mercilessly.

But after Masters, he tried hard to overcome such stereotypes. In fact, he has been successful to a great extent in eradicating them and has even learned very heavy ‘klishtt’ (difficult) Hindi.

Although the boy, now a grown up, told me that he is convinced that the military-walla slapped him in ignorance, due to his misunderstanding of his innocence, language and his ice-cold glass of water, for me it is not so simple. I know because I too was beaten many times on petty reasons or sometimes for no reasons at all. They used to be more concerned with time-pass with whosoever used to pass by them, either by thrashing him or by humiliating him or by holding him there for hours, frisking, questioning, and wasting his time. Even if the person had to go for some urgent work, they hardly used to bother.

Author’s note: It is a true story of early 1990’s. This was the first shocking incident in the boy’s life that changed his attitude and created a different kind of mindset in him. He had, afterwards, seen many such incidents, even the worst ones, which one can't imagine in luxurious zones and, as far as I remember, what he said last time, he was further beaten fifteen times until he graduated. He promised that he will share details of all the fifteen incidents but he said that he is not sure about the exact dates of the incidents and it is quite possible that he might mix up things.


[1]  A horse driven carriage.

[2]  A taluka or District division.

[3] This makeshift radio consisted of a handset of an old broken telephone with its small microphone and speaker, connected with an electronic device, which, in turn, was connected with an erect segment of wire on the top of his house that acted as an antenna. To listen, the boy needed to press the telephone receiver against his ear. Hence, Kan’na (Ear) Radio.

[4]  “Tell me which work I have to do, whom I have to eat?”

[5] Azaan, duwa, surahs, ahadees: Islamic call for prayers, prayers, chapters of Quran and sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), respectively.

[6] General Knowledge

[7] “Every day they leave the censor on! Don’t even allow us to watch TV, these cursed people!”

[8] “May lightning strike their homes! They started the censor! Perhaps they hand is paining.”

[9] Maternal grandparents’ home.

[10] A cup of salt tea, with buttered ‘tandoori roti’.

[11] Played 20-20 cricket match = make short or fast work of something; to finish something quickly. This is the boy’s original expression.

[12] Pahalwan dub = WWF wrestling match

[13] Moustached

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