“Good morning ma’am”
Salim Sheikh greeted the half drenched Aziza, who sprinted into the classroom just in time to escape the might of the downpour.
“Good morning kaka” Aziza returned Salim’s greeting. At fifty, he was the school’s oldest staff. But, his spirit had not seemed to grow at all. He had a child’s curiosity and an adolescent’s energy. With a salt and pepper hair and a short beard of the same shade, dressed in a white shirt and could easily pass of as a P.E. teacher, Aziza thought.
Nevertheless, he enjoyed the clerical duties of the peon, which he actually was in the Azad Primary School, Mirzapur.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s going to rain today. Does it?” Aziza taunted Salim. They always spoke in contradictions. Aziza found it fun. It was her way of retreating back to her kaka’s poems. Salim always spoke in a poetic way. He always seemed to talk between the lines. You obviously had to read between the lines to understand him.
“Oh come on ma’am! What difference does that make anyway?” Salim sighed. “The rain washes everything it falls on. But does it cleanse the filth of human minds? Humans have outgrown all barriers of morals and standards ma’am” So saying, he shifted into a gloomy old man.
Aziza moved on. Improbable as he was, she held Salim kaka at a high light. All that he said made a lot of sense. Every word he said was true. Every single one of it. Most of the time, she would try to rasp everything he would say, and upon understanding, would marvel at his little nuggets of wisdom.
Thinking about what Salim had said, Aziza walked into her classroom. The class was empty. It would be ten minutes before the kids would arrive. Since she had the time, she decided to enjoy the silence. Leaving her bag on the desk she walked towards the window. She saw that a few kids had already arrived and were jumping over puddles of rainwater. Aziza smiled. Those brats! She wanted to call them inside but thought the better of it. If she would stop them now, she knew that she had to stare at their sulked faces all day. Let them be for some more time, she thought.
The rain had started to pour now and some of it fell on her arms and face. Aziza didn’t mind that. Soon she found her thoughts engulfing her and dragging her to the web of memories.
Nature has a special power. It is the strongest possible force that dives into the depths of any mind and mines the strongest emotions. Even before Aziza could realise, she drifted to her early years. Being an orphan, she didn’t have a pleasant childhood. She grew up with her relatives, who never treated her better than a house maid. Every day was the exact replica of the previous. Up in the morning before everyone, do the dishes, wash the clothes, chop vegetables for the subzi and knead dough for the rotis. In spite of doing so many chores every day, her chachi was never short of chores to assign her with. There were always windows to clean, sofas to dust, curtains to wash and floors to clean. In spite of all her hardships, Aziza never once felt the need of running away. The only thing that made her live, in that wretched world she was in. It were the books that chachi’s children had.
She still remembered the first time she had held a book. She was five then. It was Razim, her elder cousin’s alphabet book. She stroked each page a number of times, smelt the binding and stared and stared at the alphabets. She was instantly drawn to books. After a couple of weeks, and a number of tries, she mastered alef. She immediately ran to show chachi with triumph in her little eyes. After a couple of minutes, Razim saw Aziza walk out of his mother’s room with a tear streaked face and bloodied cheek. He never saw her touch a book again. At least, never during the day.
By the time Aziza was fifteen, she had secretly mastered the alphabets, she could read a newspaper (Not that they would get one at home. She would collect every discarded scrape of paper on the streets and try to decipher the words), and even, to her own disbelief, write short stories, with sheep and goats and frogs as the protagonists.
A week before her she turned fifteen, she was told that she had a suitor. There were no questions asked, and no consents taken. Aziza became the wife of Al Rafi, who, to her horror, was at least thirty years older than her. Her marriage was the worst joke life had played on her. She would dread the mere thought of night. After six gory, torturous months, she ran. She was tired of being a puppet in the hands of her mother-in-law and tired of treating to the needs of her unforgivable husband. After she ran for a few days, all the fear that she had, had vaporised. She knew she was born again. Allah had, at last smiled upon this little orphan.
It was now history, that how she had accidentally, ran into a French NGO worker, who sent her to a help center for women. Here was where Aziza felt, for once in her life, blessed. For, the stories she heard around her made her heart melt, but strengthened her every day. She thanked the Lord, for sending her to this place, where, she could at last make a decision on her own. All the decisions of her life, so far, were made for her long before her.
When the former teacher, Mohammad Akmal retired from his duties, it was Salim’s idea to find a teacher for the school in the help center. Apparently, he had told his officials “Look Saab, the purpose of education is not to give those kids a meal for a day. It is teaching them how to cook a meal a day on their own. Sadly, all the students in our school are there for the former. Of course, we can’t blame them. At least, their poverty has made the midday meal a luxury for them, solely because of which they come to school! So, we need a teacher who can convince them otherwise. Who can do so better than the souls in the help center who know the importance of it? Also, they are selfless and want to reciprocate to that tiny part of society that has given them another opportunity, another life”
His superiors were thus convinced and searched the help center for an able teacher. When the offer was put forward to Aziza, she was more than happy to take it.
That was four years ago. According to Aziza, the most beautiful feeling in the world was that of gratitude. When it came to it, she had loads and loads of it to give to many people in her life.
Sudden warmth brought her back to the present. Aziza blinked a few times and wept the water droplets off her arms and face. She looked out of the window. The rain had stopped now. Strangely, she saw the rays of sun casting shadows and warming her surroundings. There was a moment’s silence before the kids erupted squealing and pointing. When she looked in that direction, she saw that, after the heavy rain, the children were very happy seeing the rainbow.