The simple life

When we were kids we would visit our mother’s village pretty regularly, every summer vacation in fact. It was, and is, a beautiful place where time seems to stand still, and it appears that all the world asks of you is that you lounge around luxuriously on charpoys set under the shadiest trees, and await your next meal. A lot of my friends can’t understand the sheer delight of living in a village and regard me askance whenever I speak of it. But, it was a magical place and a magical time, when all the cousins would get together and each long, golden summer day would bring some new story or adventure to be laughed over. It never got boring for us.

Until that ring incident, we don’t talk about that.

In our village, there was a man who had a lot of money to spare and fancied himself a bit of a lion. So he went and paid a lot of money and bought a lion cub and installed it in a spacious cage, built specifically for it, in the compound of his house. Now this cub quickly grew into a fine, handsome lion, with a thick, rich mane, and a shining golden coat. He was fed mountains of meat everyday, his cage was cleaned out regularly and once a month he was visited by a terrified vet whose unfortunate duty it was to check up upon this dazzling specimen of leonine beauty. Every evening, he was let out of his cage into the sprawling compound of his master’s house, once both the gates leading out had been securely locked of course, and he would stride around regally, very much the king of beasts. This lion drew a lot of visitors everyday, (including us) so he was used to people and regarded them with disdainful, cynical, bright, golden eyes. Being a pious sort, he would roar only twice a day, once with the Fajr azaan and then with the azaan e Maghreb. People would mutter approvingly and regard him with respectful eyes.

Then, one day, one of his keepers left his cage door ajar (why he did such a stupid thing remains a mystery to this day). The lion, seeing his chance, whisked out of his cage and made straight for the main gate that was open. Panic ensued, with frightened villagers fleeing left, right and center. The lion however, wasn’t interested in them. He wasn’t scared and was too well fed and well brought up to regard them as prey. He managed to reach the stable. There was only one horse inside, a fine white stallion. The lion was stunned. People and stray dogs he had seen aplenty, but what was this strange creature? Wonderingly, he walked up to the decidedly nervous horse and held out an inquiring paw. The horse, however, was in no mood to be sociable, so it reared and snorted. Startled, the intrepid explorer shot off like an arrow, tail firmly wedged between his legs. He darted away to the compound and once he reached the safety of his cage he huddled in a corner, shivering and shaking and quite inconsolable. There were no roars accompanying the Maghreb azaan that day. We were most disconsolate. It took a hearty meal and a great deal of petting and cajoling to coax this noble beast back to his normal lordly self. How happy and relieved we all were to hear him happily roaring his head off at Fajr.

Right before the other animals joined in on a catchy song and dance routine.

We spent our days in the village playing ‘jung jung’ (war) or exploring the ‘haunted’ house adjacent to our haveli. There would be two teams for ‘jung jung’. Both led by the two eldest, male cousins. Cousin A was quite a ladies man and the poor guy would find himself saddled with ALL his female cousins, so he had quite a large team. Cousin B, on the other hand, was more of a jock, who got the only other male members of our cousin clan, two little boys, aged six and seven respectively. Out of pique, I suppose, this drove him and his team to play so well, that they would ALWAYS win. Cousin A was at his wits end until one day! That day cousin B’s team ventured into a hitherto unexplored part of the haunted house, seeking a place to hide, and all hell broke loose. The next thing we knew, cousin B’s team came screaming out followed by a swarm of very angry hornets, who stung them unmercifully. For the next week cousin B’s team was very lumpy, swollen and totally out of commission. And so we tasted our first, and last, victory.

A fascinating character in our village was our grandmother. She was a practical, no nonsense type, who made it abundantly clear that she preferred the boys to the girls, (giving them all the choicest ‘botis’ at every meal), yet we never grudged her that because she was an incomparable storyteller. Everyday, we would gather round her at dusk to be regaled by stories of a mischievous scamp named ‘ganju laila’ and his strange adventures. Now this grandmother of ours was a VERY brave woman. Nothing fazed her or scared her…not even SNAKES! She’d killed more snakes than anyone could remember. And how did she kill them…with her ‘chappal’ of all things! Everytime a snake(and there’s an abundance of them in the village) would come sidling upto her, she’d look down, unperturbed as ever, pick up her big, flat slipper and bring it crashing down upon the snake’s hapless head (yes, you could almost feel sorry for it, it simply didn’t stand a chance). And that would be the end of it. While we, the city dwellers, would run squealing to jump up on the charpoys at the sight of even a mouse or a fat, well-fed gecko. Something, she’d regard with utter contempt.

Pfft! Must I do everything?

Bedtime in the village was fraught with tension. Every evening, the servants would lay out two straight rows of charpoys on the terrace of the house, and at either ends of both rows they would place a pedestal fan. The four beds directly in front of the pedestal fans were the most coveted and hotly contested ones. Now three of these four beds would be taken by the adults and one was left for us kids to squabble over. And boy did we squabble. Till the grownups set a rule that the person who got to the bed first would get to sleep in it. Every evening, we’d race madly towards the bed as soon as the servants were done, and invariably one of the two oldest cousins would get there first. Unless they both got there together, in which case the winner of the ensuing scuffle would get it. I pretty much gave up trying to get that bed after some time and reconciled myself to the third or fourth one down the row. And so we’d fall asleep under stars so bright and big you felt you could reach out and touch them. It pretty much made up for the mosquitoes buzzing overhead all night, and the stray dogs who sometimes came and snuggled up under one’s bed.

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 Rumina Iftikhar juggles teaching, writing and motherhood.

Rumina has earlier written on her hilarious experience while travelling on Daewoo with her two young sons, and has provided invaluable tips to the aspiring teacher. You can read those here and here.

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Categories: The World I Know

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8 Comments on “The simple life”

  1. October 7, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    This piece made me so nostalgic – and I wasn’t even there! I hope we can all give our children beautiful memories like these…notwithstanding the way things are today. Keep writing, Rumina Iftikhar.

  2. Kashan
    September 27, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    A very nice read indeed. killing snakes with chappals,,, they dont make em like that anymore (i still get my mom to kill the house lizards 🙂

  3. Alliya
    September 18, 2011 at 3:15 am #

    such a nostalgic article! *sniff*

  4. Najaf
    September 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    i liked the “loin” part best!!

  5. salmeen
    September 16, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    beautiful rumi..i have many memories of my great grand mothers house too..but the part where you mention your grand ma killng snakes with her chappals was my favourite part of the whole article..lol..too good..bravo to granny..

  6. rumi
    September 16, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    awwwww! thank u…those days were the best, n having the greatest cousins around certainly helped…Irfan bhai, a reunion is definitely long overdue, i’m in, lets hope the others are too…

  7. Irfan
    September 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Cousin A reporting all teary eyed and smiles. Those were the days-a reunion is in order people – I am in for Oct – yes or no – repond please!!!

  8. Hasni
    September 16, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    hah. it was funny as hell, n yet it brought tears to my eyes. nostalgia n humor gell rather well methinks 🙂

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