Rashed, My Friend
Muhammed Zafar Iqbal
Translated by:Yeshim Iqbal
Published by:Somoy Prakashan
I still remember the day Rashed first came to school. The class had just started. Sir had opened his register to take the roll when a boy came and stood at the door. There was a dripping wet paper in his left hand. He held it carefully and looked into the class. He looked as if he had lost a goat or something and was looking for it inside the room. After standing there for awhile he finally decided to come in. Majid Sir looked at him with a frown and said, “Hey, who are you? What do you want?”
He didn’t reply but put the paper on Sir’s table and wiped his hands on his pants. Slightly surprised, Sir asked, “What’s this?”
“I can see that. What paper is it?”
“I don’t know.” He glanced vaguely at the class. “The office gave it to me.”
Sir briefly looked the paper over. “An admission paper? You want to get admitted to this class?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean by you don’t know?” Sir scolded, “How did this get so wet?”
“It fell in the drain.”
“The drain?” Sir made a face and pulled his hand away.
“It’s not dirty Sir – I washed it.”
” You washed it?” Sir looked at the boy in surprise. After looking at him like this for a little while he asked, “What’s your name?
The whole class burst into laughter. Sir said angrily, “Quiet! Absolutely quiet!” Once we had quieted down, Majid Sir asked the boy again, “What’s your real name?”
“I don’t have one.”
“You don’t have a real name?”
“Your name is just Laddu?”
The boy nodded his head.
“Nothing before or after that?”
Sir looked at the boy again in surprise. Then he said, “Can just Laddu be anybody’s name?”
“No,” Laddu replied thoughtfully.
“Put something else with it.”
“Put something else with it?”
“What should I put with it? Muhammed? Laddu Muhammed?”
“All right,” the boy agreed.
Sir regarded the boy with amazement, then suddenly slapped the table and said angrily, “Never! No one in my class can go by the name Laddu Muhammed. You tell your father to give you a real name.”
The boy scratched his head and said, “There’s no use, Sir.”
“Dad won’t give me a name.”
“Why won’t he?”
“He’s too lazy. Besides, he’s kind of crazy. I have a brother and he doesn’t have a full name either.”
“What’s his name?”
Sir shouted at us as we all roared with laughter again. “Quiet! Be quit! Or I’ll bash your heads in.”
After we had stopped laughing, Sir looked at the boy and said, “Your mother-“
“I don’t have a mother.”
“Oh.” Sir suddenly became quiet. He tapped on the table for awhile then said, “Then should I give you a real name?”
The boy brightened. ”All right.”
Majid Sir studied the boy for a few minutes then said, “Okay then, you tell your father that tomorrow you will be given a new name.”
Then Sir looked at us and announced, “Tomorrow each of you write down and bring a nice name. Will you remember to do that?”
We nodded. We would remember.
After Sir left we went to size the boy up. Whenever a new boy came to class he had to be sized up. Who knew, maybe someone would come who was such a good student that he would always get ninety or ninety-five out of one hundred in all the subjects and make our lives miserable – like Ashraf did. Or maybe the new boy’s father would turn out to be the District Magistrate, and if we beat him up for some reason, his father would send police to get us the may Masum’s father did. Or maybe he’d be somebody who was such a bully that he’d absolutely eat us alive – like Kader did. You can’t tell any thing from before. So the boy needed to be sized up.
I went to him and asked, “Are you going to be first in the exams?”
The boy made a face and said, “Are you crazy?”
“Then what’ll you be?”
“I’ll fail. In all the subjects.”
“In all the subjects?”
Dilip said worriedly, “How do you know from before?”
“What’s not to know? Why do you think I came to school?”
“Yeah. If I fail two years in a row, I don’t ever have to study again. Dad said so.”
Fazlu asked wide-eyed, “You won’t ever have to study again?”
We looked at one another. Fazlu’s eyes narrowed in jealousy, he said, “If you fail won’t your father beat you up?”
The boy chuckled and said, “My father never beats me up. He’s sort of crazy you know.”
“What does he do?”
“He talks and tells stories. Discusses things.”
“What does he talk about?”
“Politics!” We were astonished. What was this kid saying? His father discussed politics with him?
I asked in surprise, “Do you understand discussions about politics?”
“Why not? What’s not to understand?”
We all looked at the boy carefully. He had a head full of messy hair. His shirt was missing buttons and fastened with a safety pin. He was wearing blue pants and was barefoot. He had a fairly dark complexion and dreamy eyes. Looking at him, anybody would think he was just a normal kid, but he wasn’t normal at all. He didn’t have a mother and his father talked about politics with him. And he didn’t even have a real name. None of us admitted it, but we all became just a little bit jealous.
The next day each of us had brought a name we had chosen. After class had started, Majid Sir gave a long and impressive lecture on the necessity of having a full, nice name. Sir loved to give lectures. Then he made the boy stand at the front of the class. I think he was a little embarrassed that everyone was making such a big deal out of him. Sir said to us, “Now each of you read out your names one by one. Everybody else vote for the name you want. We’ll use whichever name gets the most votes.”
So we began to read out our names, and everybody raised their hands to vote. Ashraf wrote down the names and the number of votes for each name on a piece of paper. After going on like this for awhile, we realized that it wouldn’t work. The two names that had the most votes were ‘Rabindranath Tagore’ and ‘Kazi Nazrul Islam. So then Sir had to make a new rule that we couldn’t use famous people’s names. Then the most popular name turned out to be ‘Robert Brown.’ Then Sir had to make another rule that we couldn’t use foreign names. Fazlu, who was sort of the stubborn type, had to start an argument with Sir about what was wrong with having a foreign name. On top of that, the boy called Laddu, looking shy, had to say that he didn’t mind having a foreign name.
Then Sir gave another lecture on the importance of having a name from one’s own country – he lectured about the nation, culture, history, etc. Sir really loved giving lectures. Once he had finished the lecture, he said, “Forget the voting. You just read out the names, and I’ll choose one I like.”
So we read out the names we had. Sir wrote down the ones he liked on a piece of paper and read them out. The first one was Ali Zakaria.
Sir studied the boy for awhile, then said, “No. If your name is Zakaria you have to have a sort of long face. Your face is round. This name doesn’t suit you.”
The second name was Kaiser Ahmed. Sir shook his head again and said, “Kaisers have curly hair. Your hair isn’t curly. It looks like a bird’s nest since you haven’t combed it, but it’s not curly. This name won’t do.”
The next name was Hasan Ferdous. Sir liked this name a lot; in fact he almost decided on it, but at the last moment he changed his mind, “To be a Ferdous, you have to have pale skin.”
In our class there was a boy called Ferdous Ali and he was absolutely black, but Sir still didn’t agree. He read out the next name, Rashed Hasan.
Sir really liked this one. He read out the name in a couple of different tones of voice, then said, “This is a good name. The name has a kind of character, what do you say?”
We had no idea how a name could have character, but we nodded our heads all the same.
Sir asked, “Who chose this name?”
The shyest boy in the class, Ronju, stood up. Sir said, “Very good name! Where did you get it from?”
Ronju said so softly we could barely hear him, “My uncle goes by this name when he writes poems.
“This is a pen name?”
“What’s his real name?”
Sir nodded. “Poet Rashed Hasan sounds much better than Poet Gojonofor Miah. Your uncle’s right. You can sit.”
Ronju quickly sat down. Majid Sir called Laddu to him. When he went, Sir put his hand on the boy’s head and said, “Today the eleventh of September, 1970, I, Majid Shorkar, class teacher of class seven section B, do give you the name liked by all, ‘Rashed Hasan.'”
Nobody had told us what to do but we all shouted out together in joy. That made Sir even happier, he nodded his head and said “From now on when I use your new name, you reply, all right?”
The boy nodded.
Sir called, “Rashed Hasan.”
“Very good.” Sir looked at us and said, ”If any of you ever calls Rashed Hasan Laddu, I’ll break your head. From now on, his name is Rashed.”
Fazlu tried weakly, “But Sir, he’s had the other name for so long- “Let that be. From today it’s Rashed. He has a new name; doesn’t he have to get used to it? No one is to call him Laddu, is that clear?”
We very reluctantly nodded our heads.
Once Sir left Fazlu immediately told Rashed, “I’m not going to call you to Rashed-Fashed. That kind of gentlemanly name doesn’t come out of my mouth.”
I nodded and said, ” Laddu’s better. Your face looks like a Laddu-Laddu kind of face. I’m going to call you Laddu.”
Rashed gave a toothy smile and said, “Whatever you want!”
Class captain, Ashraf, said seriously, “I’m going to tell Sir. I’m really going to tell him.”
“Go ahead!” Fazlu showed Ashraf his thumb and walked away.
If Rashed himself didn’t have any objection to being called Laddu then what was the point in the class captain telling Sir? Besides, the class captain, Ashraf, would go all red and pretend to be angry but he would never complain to Sir like the other class captains did. Ashraf had a good heart. His one problem was that he was way too good in his studies. He would come first in the exams with his eyes closed. Not only did he always come first, he always talked properly, wore clean clothes, and even kept his hair combed. Just looking at him you could tell he was kind of the goody-goody type.
But Rashed didn’t have any problems like that. I knew he’d become a friend pretty fast.
We quickly discovered that Rashed was mischievous rascal. We had decided to call him Laddu and he hadn’t had a problem with that. But when we really did call him Laddu he would never reply. He would pretend that he hadn’t heard us. He would ignore us and sit there with a dreamy expression until we called him Rashed. Then he’d give a huge smile and look at us with big eyes and say, “You calling me?”
Fazlu and I both got all mad and decided that no matter how hard he tried, we’d still call him Laddu, not Rashed. But after a week or two we found with surprise that along with everyone else we were also calling him Rashed.
Finally we gave up. He really did like the name Rashed Hasan, and if we used it he would become so happy. So we decided that we might as well call him that.
In a couple of days we realized that Rashed wasn’t like every other kid. He didn’t talk too much at all, but that didn’t mean he was dumb. He had announced that he would fail two years in a row and not have to study anymore, but that wasn’t going to be as easy as it had seemed. Even if he failed in all the subjects, it looked as if he was going to pass in English. How a kid of his size could know such hard English was a mystery to us. Usually those of us who came from rich families read comics and stuff and learnt good English. Rashed didn’t look like one of those kids; his father was a carpenter or an electrician – definitely not a rich person. Rashed told us himself one day-since his father didn’t know English, Rashed would sometimes read and explain English newspapers to him. He would use a dictionary and spell words out and then somehow he ended up learning English! He could easily say hard things like, ‘freedom of speech,’ and ‘economic repression,’ in English.
There were other surprising things about Rashed as well. Anybody could say anything to him and he would never get angry. On his first day at school, Fazlu made a poem out of him:
In a test gaddu,
Not exactly an amazing poem. But if your name was Laddu and you and to hear the poem every thirty seconds, then you definitely might get a little annoyed. But not Rashed. Every time Fazlu said the poem, Rashed would laugh like crazy, as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard in his life. Fazlu tried for a morning then gave up. If somebody wouldn’t get mad when you tried to annoy him, then why waste your time?
You could say whatever you liked to Rashed but you couldn’t ever touch him. He wouldn’t really mind if anybody gave him a little push or something while fooling around, but if anybody ever pushed or shoved him when they were angry, he would turn around straight away and shove him back twice as hard. He’s do it with us all the time, but one day he did it to Kader. Kader was our class bully. He had failed so many times that now he was in our class, otherwise he probably would have been in college by now. He was the only boy in our class who would go to get his beard shaved off at a barber’s. Not only his beard, he also shaved his armpits. We never bothered Kader. Sometimes he would come up from behind and slap our heads and swear at us, and we would just take it quietly. One day for no reason he pushed Rashed in the chest and said, “Hey Faddu, I’ll smash you to a pulp.”
Rashed turned at once and shoved Kader with all his might. “My name isn’t Faddu.”
Kader never imagined that somebody from this class would ever dare to touch him. Caught unprepared, he lost his balance, fell over a bench and tumbled to the ground. It took him a few seconds to understand what had happened. When he finally did understand, he got up with eyes red and angry like a mad pig’s, and he would have torn Rashed apart if the Math Sir hadn’t come in then.
At tiffin break Kader held Rashed against the wall and said, “Hey Faddu.”
“My name is not Faddu.”
“Messing around with me? I’ll stab your guts out!”
Even in that position, Rashed laughed and said, “Go ahead and try!”
Kader took this as humiliation and slapped Rashed with the back of his hand. More of an attempt to humiliate Rashed then to really hurt him.
Immediately Rashed’s foot came up like a spring. Lightning-fast, he kicked Kader in the stomach so hard that Kader let go of him and sat down.
At this point, you were supposed to run away, but Rashed didn’t even try. Instead he went to Kader and started to lecture like an adult, “Fighting is not right. Fighting does not solve any problems-“
This was the last straw for Kader. Getting up with a scream, he jumped on Rashed like a tiger. Kader was a head taller than Rashed, weighed twice as much, and was at least one and a half times older. Kader could pass as a real thug, and in comparison Rashed was just a little kid. It looked as if Rashed wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight with Kader. But when fighting, more important than physical strength was courage. Rashed didn’t lack in courage at all. In fact he even didn’t look the slightest bit scared. If he wanted to, Kader could squash him to a pulp, but Rashed didn’t know that. Every time he took a punch, he’d give one straight back. Kader even had to back away once or twice when he got hit badly. But Rashed got beaten up too badly for words.
At school little scuffles happened all the time, but real big fighting didn’t occur too often. When a real fight started we would try to fix things ourselves. If things would get really bad we might have to call a teacher. That day if it had gotten a little worse we would have had to do that, but we managed to pull Kader and Rashed apart. Quite a few people had to hold Kader back, he was huffing and wheezing in anger like a mad bull. Rashed was a different matter, he spit out some blood and said calmly, as if nothing had happened, “Fighting is not right. If you really have to fight, then you should fight with someone your own size. If an elephant-sized guy like you wants to fight, you should find another elephant-sized guy. Not me. It’s a shame.”
We had thought that the matter wouldn’t go to the teachers, but somehow the headmaster found out about it. He sent for the two of them. We hung around outside his room and tried to figure out what was going on inside.
The headmaster had two canes. Apparently one was from India, it was called “Shillong especial”. The other one was from the Garo hills and it was called ”Garo especial.” The school’s bearer, Kalipod, oiled them up with turpentine oil every Friday. If anybody fought, the headmaster would first give them both a beating with the Shillong especial. Then he would listen to what they had to say. Whoever was at fault got the Garo especial. We had been pretty sure that Kader would get a double-dose of the Garo especial that day, but he came out of the headmaster’s room smiling and happy. He hadn’t gotten the Garo especial. Rashed had refused to say a word to the headmaster. If Rashed had told the absolute truth, Kader would have been in big trouble. Everyone at school knew Kader. The headmaster probably just waited for the opportunity to beat him.
In the evening, Rashed’s face swelled up pretty badly. He pressed his face here and there and asked me, “Hey Ibu, does it show?”
“Does it really show?”
“Oh. This is too bad. This is really too bad.”
“The way my face has swollen up.”
“If you get into fights like a dummy, of course that’s what’s going to happen. Are you going to get into trouble at home?”
“No no, why should I get into trouble?”
Rashed pursed his lips for a few seconds then said. “I hope Kader doesn’t have any problems.”
“Kader? Why would Kader have problems?”
“Kachu Bhai really has a temper.”
“Kachu Bhai? Who’s that?”
“He lives in our neighborhood. Thirty-six inch chest. The thugs from the N.F.S. once tried to stab him in the stomach – and the knife just slipped away. He eats four raw eggs every morning.”
“Are you friends with him?”
”We live in the same area, of course we’re friends. He really likes me – ‘ cause I give him all the news about politics.”
Rashed looked so worried that I got scared.
The next day Kader didn’t come to school. Kader didn’t exactly come to school all that regularly anyway so nobody thought too much about it. But Rashed looked very worried. When Kader didn’t come the next day either, Rashed got even more worried. That was when we all began to get scared. I asked Rashed, “What happened to Kader?”
“Didn’t you ask your Kachu Bhai?”
“Yeah. He won’t tell me anything.”
“What do you think? Do you think he killed Kader?”
Instead of laughing this off, Rashed said seriously, “Can’t say anything. Kachu Bhai is really hot-headed.”
“Did you tell Kachu Bhai about Kader?
“I didn’t want to, but he made me.” Rashed sat there looking worried.
We got chills up our spine. What a terrible thing! Did Kader get murdered because he beat up Rashed? We all sat around together, not being able to concentrate on our classes. What would happen when the police came? How was Kader murdered ? Where had Rashed’s Kachu Bhai dumped the dead body? Kachu Bhai who eats four raw eggs every morning.
But the next day Kader came back to school. At the beginning we didn’t recognize him. Kader used to have very fashionable hair. Between classes he would very seriously comb it. The hair on top of his forehead used to stick up straight like a pine tree. But not any more. His head was bald and shining like a ball. We were shocked. You wouldn’t ever believe that Kader would shave off all his hair unless you saw it with your own eyes.
Fazlu rised his eyebrows and asked, “Your- your hair?”
Kader said heavily, “Shut up, shala.”
Fazlu didn’t have the guts to say any more. I said softly, “We thought you had been murdered.”
Kader gave me a poisonous look and snarled, “Say one more word and I’ll murder you.”
Dilip asked, “Why’d you shave off all your hair? Is your father okay?”
“Shut up shala malaun.”
Rashed said, “You’re lucky it just went over the top of your head. Kachu Bhai really has a temper.”
Kader started to say something, then stopped. He looked at Rashed the same way somebody who is scared of leeches would look at a leech hanging off his leg. There were both fear and disgust in his eyes. He obviously didn’t even want to touch Rashed.
After that Kader never bothered Rashed or us again….