Thursday, April 2, 2015

I Am Not A Coward

“Run, run. Hide quickly, He’s coming! “ 
“What’s wrong, Faraz?” Zaheer asked one of the younger kids. “Why is everyone running away?” 
It was evening time and the children were outside playing in the street. Some rode their bicycles while others played cricket or basketball. Zaheer was new to the neighborhood. He was a well-mannered boy and made friends quickly.
“It’s Mali Chiragh Deen,” replied Faraz. “Babar has spoiled the flowerbed of Colonel Hamid’s garden again. Mali Chiragh Deen is going to be very angry. Better hide quickly!” Faraz shouted as he disappeared into his own house.

Zaheer watched as an old man in his sixties cycled over. His face was purple with rage and as soon as he saw Zaheer, he made a beeline for him.
“You mischievous little monkey! How dare you spoil my hard work?” 
He caught hold of Zaheer’s collar and shook him hard.
“But I did not do anything, Mali Baba,” said Zaheer trying to extricate himself from Chiragh Deen’s clutches, but the old gardener was beside himself with fury. He shook Zaheer once more before letting him go and, muttering angrily under his breath, went to do his chores. 
Chiragh Deen took great pride in his work. Every garden in the neighborhood was beautifully cultivated with neatly pruned hedges and blossoming flowerbeds. Chiragh Deen mowed and watered the grass regularly and no weeds were allowed to grow. All the gardens bore testimony to his skill and hard work. If only the young rascals would leave him alone!!
Seeing that the coast was clear, the children came out once again. Amongst them was Babar who simply loved to tease the old man. Sometimes he would hide his gardening tools or wreck the flowerbeds. He had even cut the old gardener’s watering hose in half. 

Babar was a bit of a bully and no one liked to get on his wrong side. So whenever he started one prank or the other, the other boys usually followed suit. Sometimes one of the boys would keep a look-out while the others punctured Chiragh Deen’s bicycle. No wonder Mali Chiragh Deen viewed them all as rude, ill-mannered boys. 
Babar grinned broadly at Zaheer’s discomfort and embarrassment. “Shook you well enough, didn't he? Why didn't you kick him and run away?”
Zaheer was shocked at Babar’s casual tone. “I can’t kick an old man. And why did you trash the flowerbed? “
 “Just for fun.” Babar shrugged his shoulders. “He’s such a mean old man.  Always shouting at us as if he owns the whole neighborhood. So we make him pay. Would you like us to puncture his bike as revenge for what he did to you?”
“I think it was wrong of you to destroy the flowerbeds. He is an old man working for his living…..” Zaheer’s words were cut short by Babar’s malicious smirk. 
“You’re saying this because you are a coward,” said Babar, “You are afraid of old Mali Chiragh Deen.”
His words stung Zaheer. “No, I am not afraid of him. I just think it’s unfair…,” he started rather hotly.
“Then prove it. You must steal his new shears. If you steal them, I will take back my words and if you don’t, the whole neighborhood will know that you are a coward,” Babar taunted.
There was silence around them. Young kids were listening intently. Zaheer felt the pressure to prove himself. 
“All right,” he agreed. “Tomorrow when Mali Chiragh Deen comes for work, I will take his shears and you will have to apologize for your words.”
Next day, there was a buzz among the children. Some were amazed by Zaheer’s courage and some doubted his ability to go through the whole thing. When Zaheer came out of his house around 5 o’clock, everyone was watching him. 
He noticed Mali Chiragh Deen’s bicycle outside Colonel Hamid’s house. He strolled towards it casually, feeling a dozen pairs of eyes watching his every move. His heart started beating a little faster. What if I get caught? Surely Mali Chiragh Deen would give him a sound thrashing. What if he complains to my father? 
Zaheer felt sick with apprehension. In his heart he knew what he was about to do was wrong and mean. He wished he had not fallen prey to Babar’s taunts. But now it was too late. With everyone watching his every move, he was determined to prove that he was not a coward,
When Zaheer reached the gate, the gardener was rolling out his prayer mat. Mali Chiragh Deen started his Asr prayers and Zaheer noticed that his tool satchel was lying next to his mat. What a stroke of good fortune! He could now pinch the shears easily and get out before Chiragh Deen could do anything. 

This challenge was going to be a piece of cake!
As Zaheer bent down to open the satchel, he noticed Chiragh Deen’s wrinkled hands. Years of hard labour had left his fingers calloused and stained. He noticed the furrows in the old man’s cheeks where sweat mingled with his white beard. 

He suddenly felt extremely ashamed of himself. What kind of courage was it to steal from an old, defenseless man? What am I trying to prove here? Will I become a hero if I steal tools from a man who is busy praying? He turned round and started walking towards where Babar was hiding. 
“I won’t do it Babar,” he said loudly. “And what’s more I won’t let you do it either.”
Babar and the other boys emerged from behind a tree. “We knew you are a coward, Zaheer. Let me show you how it is done. “
As Babar darted forward, Zaheer caught hold of his arm. “I said I won’t let you do it either. You better leave the old man alone if you know what is best for you.”
Something in Zaheer’s voice made Babar afraid. He noticed a steely determination in Zaheer’s eyes. Like all bullies, he was really a coward at heart. He licked his lips and looked at his friends. None of them wanted to pick a fight.
“Stealing does not make you brave, Babar. It makes you a thief. It is playing mischief with a person who cannot hit back that makes you a coward.” Zaheer spoke again. 
Shame-faced Babar turned away. He knew Zaheer was right.
Faraz was still hanging around. “Wow! Zaheer. It was really brave of you to stand up to Babar like that, and you did it for Mali Chiragh Deen who was especially hard on you yesterday,” he said with admiration.
“Come on, I’ll show you my new video game.” He tugged at Zaheer’s hand. 
It wasn’t Faraz alone but from that day on, the other boys too viewed Zaheer with new respect.

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