Sunday, June 08, 2008

Green ducks

It was the day before Ramzan Eid & Raza was home for the occasion. A reporter for Al-Jazeera, Raza hardly knew the concept of a planned vacation. Anytime, a major event could trigger a leave-cancellation request from the channel & Raza would gladly oblige. Reporting from these sensitive regions of the Middle-East meant a constant threat to life, but these were the hazards of the occupation he had knowingly & willing embraced. His job made him travel to not only countries in the Middle-East but also to the channels' broadcast-centres at London, Kuala-Lumpur & Washington D.C. His key role in the coverage of the Lebanese Civil War of 2000-01 had earned him credibility & respect as a senior reporter with the channel. 'Labour of love' he called it.

Whenever home, Raza loved to indulge in all the regular chores & errands that a loving husband & a doting father would. He lived out these little windows of family-bonding to the fullest. That day he dragged his wife Sakina along to fetch their 4 year old son Junaid from school. Junaid had recently started attending school & his drawing class was on when they reached to pick him. His classroom was on the ground-floor & quite a few parents stood outside the windows appreciating their kids 'study'. It must be quite a fulfilling experience for parents to see their tiny tots receive education & learn skills that would one day make them responsible & independent.

Their eyes hovered over the kids in the classroom to spot Junaid & there he was standing on the last bench with his arms raised. Two other kids had received similar punishment & they stood next to him like partners in crime. Their tiny soft tummies stuck out of their shirts as their arms pointed towards the ceiling. Raza found this sight strangely adorable & almost chuckled. Sakina smiled & nudged taunting "Like father, like son". But soon she grew concerned as she could almost feel the pain that Junaid's tiny soft shoulders were feeling. Junaid managed a sidelong glance & was delighted beyond bounds to see his dad standing outside after so long. He almost forgot pain.

Soon the bell rang and kids from all over the school poured out like thousands of frenzied bats rushing out of caves at dusk. Raza & Sakina could see Junaid racing at top speed towards them. The spoon in his empty tiffin-box clanked as it hit the sides. Two rows of tiny white teeth had nibbled at the food therein during lunch break. Junaid rushed & hugged Raza with such speed that those same white teeth nearly hit Raza's knee. Raza grabbed him in delight as Sakina caressed his shoulders hoping to alleviate his pain. "And why were u all punished?" enquired Sakina right away. "Because our ducks were green..." replied Junaid as he stuck out his drawing-sheet towards his parents.

"Huh?" expressed Sakina as Raza inspected his piece of art. It was a typical topic of a house with a pond besides it. Tiny ducks swam therein & they were indeed green in colour instead of their characteristic yellow! "Oh, the yellow of the ducks has mixed with the blue of the pond rendering them green..." analyzed Raza. "Junu, you should be more careful while colouring at their edges. You should not spill colour out of the boundaries..." instructed Sakina. After what seemed like a longish pause, Raza remarked "His punishment is well-deserved. He should learn to respect boundaries & I'm glad he's learning it the hard way". Sakina shuddered. She knew what Raza was talking about.

No one knew the value of boundaries as much as Raza did. Umpteen times had he reported border-conflicts. He had first covered the Gulf-War back in 1990-91, when he was serving at CNN. Iraq had invaded Kuwait accusing them of trespassing by stealing their oil through 'slant-drilling' across the border into Iraq's Rumaila oil-fields. Back then, Raza had already relocated to the U.S. with his parents for greater freedom of expression, better career opportunities & better standard-of-living. However his parents were unable to adjust to this new land. Here people were cordial but kept to themselves. This 'closed-door culture', wherein many-a-times for months they didn't know or get to see who their neighbours were; was so different from where they came from. They had been raised in a society wherein neighbours formed an extended family. Taking heed of their growing solitude and need for company at their age, Raza had decided to move back home. He had thus seized the opportunity in 1996, when Al-Jazeera got functional from its headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Al-Jazeera had covered the brutal 9/11 attacks at the Trade-centres in N.Y. in 2001 and had broadcasted various interviews with al-Qaeda leaders. According to al-Qaeda, it were a retaliation against the U.S. for their increasing interference into matters pertaining to the Middle-East. Raza also recalled how in 2002, Bahrain had banned Al Jazeera correspondents from reporting from inside the country, saying that the station was biased towards Israel. Raza & his colleagues were careful not to trespass Bahrain borders for fear of life. They had faced similar restrictions from Iraq during the 2003 Iraq War. They had lost count of the tussles they had covered related to the Israel-Palestine conflict & the India-Pakistan border issues. Off late they had also covered the protests from all over India & the Indian community in the U.S. over a 'headless' map of the country released by the software-giant Microsoft. He had seen how much a line over a paper meant & how much bloodshed resulted by disrespecting it. He had realized that borders & fences, walls & locks, lines and barbed-wires all had a special reason for their existence. They brought peace.

The trio then walked home. That night a faint crescent shone in the clear dark sky. It meant sweets & new clothes for Junaid. He was all excited. The next day Junaid had completed his punishment-homework wherein he had to redraw the house with pool & ducks. This time the ducks were neat & yellow. The pain experienced by those little shoulders had done the trick. Not a feather of those birds had dipped into the pond & not a drop of water had dared to splash upon them. It looked a bit artificial but nevertheless, everything seemed to be in a state of peaceful co-existence. At least the drawing-teacher would now be at peace with Junaid! This time Raza noticed a picket-fence drawn around the house. "So Junu, is this fence meant to keep people in or to keep people out?" he teased. A pair of confused & innocent doe-eyes stared back at him. "Stop it!" yelled Sakina at Raza as she curled around Junu & fed him a spoonful of sweet 'Sheer-kurma' whilst drawing his attention to the pretty crescent that so peacefully floated over the horizon.

Acknowledgments -
Painting Illustration - "April" by Kate Chu

And thanks to Tanzeem for clearing my fundae regarding Eid :)