I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy and creativity to name a few.
It was on a Monday morning in school, second period of the day when Madam “M”, our Biology teacher started lecturing about the boring skeletal system of humans. However, we remained focused in the class, because she was the first love of almost every boy in my class. We were totally fascinated with her compassion, care, charisma, beauty, and style. She had beautiful short cut wavy hair, had a great sense of style and was the only lady who dared to wear sleeveless in school (which was promptly stopped by our moral policing Principal Mr. Pallan pappu… or so they say). I am sure that many of you guys out there would be smiling and agree to me if I say that as children, we do very well in subjects which are taught by teachers that we love for whatever reasons it may be.
Madam “M” started explaining about a special pair of bones in human forearm called the Radius Ulna. She explained further by displaying the same bone seen in the Chicken wings. All of us in unison absorbed her words, looked with awe and admiration at her face….
About a minute before the close of the period, Madam “M” gave us a home assignment, which would fetch us a clean five mark for the final examination looming around the corner. The assignment project was a simple task. We were to collect the Radius Ulna bone from a chicken, clean, paint and present it on a platform made of cardboard or wood. We were all too excited since it was a guaranteed five marks scored without racking our brains in the exams.
After school I boarded the bus for the one hour long journey that would take me home. My home was far away from school. I had to travel two hours back and forth to absorb the knowledge imparted during school days. I could proudly say that I was one of the hardest working students in school, though my results were quite pathetic. “My friends… Hope you are getting my drift”.
I do realize why I stood out from the rest of my class peers. I reached home every day at 6.00 pm and was so tired that I slept off after having an early supper exclusively served for me at around 6:30 pm. I do not remember doing my home work or revising at home which was generally a routine by all students of the “Kendriya Vidyalaya” Schools (The so called “Elite school”). But providence has been quite kind to me. Intelligence of my parents had rubbed off on me slightly; therefore, even if I was allegedly one of the weakest students in class, I somehow managed to scrape through the exams by absorbing what was taught in class.
Unfortunately, all those happy thoughts that I had mentioned went down the drain as I approached home, as the realization dawned on me about the project of Madam M. To execute the project, I needed the bones from a Chicken wing. Well! I couldn’t request one of the hens of my Umma (mother) to provide me with their Radius Ulna. They wouldn’t understand the logic behind my request (Language barrier) and they wouldn’t like it either. I knew I was in trouble.
It was the year1979 AD (it sounds BC to me). My Waappa (father) was still the sole breadwinner of our family. It was indeed a huge family of 10 children, Waappa, Umma and all the poultry and cattle that dwelled in our Quarters at 12th Cross road. My elder sister was married off by then (In India we marry off our daughters and our Sons bring in girls). I still remember the panicky days my Waappa and Umma had gone through during the wedding month, with the deadlines to meet, money to buy gold, money for the party, the food, the accommodation for guests. My parents were most worried about the dowry amount to be paid in cash before the engagement day. You know, in our part of India, the grooms are usually bought by the bride’s parents by paying cash and gold. The cost at those times for an eligible bachelor boy working in factories or a government servant was around 25000 Rs Cash and 200 Grams of gold(disguised in the form of jewelry gifted to the bride by her parents). The rate for higher beings of the Indian food chain such as doctors, Engineers and lawyers where tenfold higher. Recently I heard that the market rate for educated, well off bachelor is in the range of 6 to 7 million Rs Cash (Tax free) plus 1.5 KG gold and also a BMW 7 series Cars. Nevertheless, if the bride’s parents were clever, they would hire skilled marriage brokers to wheel and deal to reduce the price of these golden boys. They also get massive discounts if the bride’s parents agree on sponsoring the boy for higher studies. You could end up a rich man if you mass produce boys and educate them to be professionals. “It’s a great business opportunity for you my friend”. Love and romance is usually restricted within the movies that we watch and among youngsters before they go different ways to marry partners of their parent’s choice. “Isn’t it a Perfect setup?”… Should we even wonder why 99.99 % of foeticide happening in India are of female gender?
The situation at home was not favorable for me to get a chicken slaughtered for a school project. I was supposed to submit the project within two days. The day was Monday and we were supposed to submit on or before Wednesday. Next Sunday was my only hope, though it would go way beyond the date of submission. If I was lucky enough, my only brother in law would visit us and if I prayed hard enough, the Radius Ulna bones of the chicken served for dinner had a chance not to be crushed in between the molars, canines and incisors of any of my family members.
The next day with dejection and embarrassment, I attended Madam “M”’s class. Almost all my class peers with their white and navy blue crisp uniforms and polished black shoes had submitted the project. They had polished or painted original Radius Ulna bones of their previous night dinner. They all had one feature in common… Yeah you guessed it right, they were all part of nuclear families. “I forgoat medam… Ayaam sorry”…. Silence…” Tomarow I will shuwarly geev medam” I Slowly stammered to Madam “M”’s enquiry in my thick Malayalam (regional language) accented English. The whole class burst into laughter. My ego and pride helped me control the tears that was brimming in my young innocent eyes. I was miserable all day and night. I prayed and wished that I was John M Varghese. He was son of the Chief medical officer at the Port hospital and one of the brightest students in class, obviously aspiring to follow his father’s footsteps.
The next day all my classmates had submitted the project. I was singled out and there was no escape for me from being the laughing stock in the class. As a punishment I had to kneel down and stand outside the class room in the open corridor for the whole period. The evening came and the whole school had dispersed except me as my bus started one and a half hrs after the school closed for the day. I passed by a huge waste bin on my path to the bus stop beside the school play ground and something in it caught my attention. I looked at it closer to find that it was the Radius Ulna project belonging to John M Varghese. After correction, Madam “M” had returned it back to him and since it was not of any further use, he had thrown it in the dustbin. I walked past the bin for a few meters and all of a sudden like a flash of lightning I did it. In a jiffy I jumped in and out of the bin with John M Varghese’s project in my hand, took it home, repainted and fitted on a new cardboard with my name written on it, “Khais Rehman”.
I proudly presented my project the next day to Madam “M”. Due to late submission I lost one mark from the total of five. “My dear friend after the initial feeling of triumph, I went through a guilt trip for a whole day”. Deep inside my young mind, I felt that I had sinned by stealing the bones, which did not rightfully belong to me and for cheating Madam “M”. It got even worse when my sister and brother in law visited us on the same weekend and another fresh White Lagon Kozhi (Breed of chicken found extensively in poultry farms) was slaughtered and feasted by the family. My last thread of thoughts before sleep that night was this “If only Madam “M” had decided to teach us yesterday about the infamous Radio Ulna bones”.
Many years later the ill-fated chickens became no more a luxury but a daily part of our diet. The day had arrived for my journey to Dubai in search of greener pastures. I narrated the Radius Ulna event of my childhood to my Umma while I was waiting for the Taxi that would take me away from her permanently. She listened to me and looked far away towards the horizon; I could see two teardrops welling in her eyes. She held my hands and whispered “My darling, was it the situation at home that stopped you from asking me to cook chicken for you that day.”? She kissed me and said “God bless you my son”!
In my childhood my parents never showered me with any luxury that my children have today. I was always craving for even the smallest of things that my friends in school had. I believe it helped me and my siblings understand the value of giving. We were grateful and appreciative of every positive gesture from our parents. I try my best but still fail to instill those values in my children. I am not strong enough to say no to my kids. On her twelfth birthday, my daughter couldn’t identify even an Item that she craved for as a gift from us.
“Am I doing justice to her by depriving her from one of the most important emotions that makes humanity move forward? To wish for … To crave for…”
Illustrations Courtesy : – Farhan Kabeer (Kabeer)