‘Are you married?’
I am asked this question all the time; but never before had it been asked so simply by a boy called Kamran. I met him in Lahore in a school where children of those men and women study without whom the gardens of Lahore will not be green and the houses of Lahore will not be clean.
‘No I am not.’
‘Are beautiful people not married?’
‘No they are, but I am not beautiful.’
‘You are beautiful just like my mother. She is not married too.’
Our first reactions are outcomes of our upbringing. Our second reactions, the demonstration of our capacity to blend the values of our upbringing with the realities of our surroundings. I had thought he was an illegitimate child and exclaimed Oh!
After Oh came the thought that this may not be true and even if it was there could be many reasons.
‘My father died and no one wants to marry her.’
‘But that is fine.’
‘Do you have money to buy your food?’
‘Yes I do but why do you ask.’
‘My mother does not. She does for ten days of a month and not for twenty days of a month.’
‘Oh then what do you do.’
‘She works as a cleaning woman. Sometimes she gets food from the places she works at, but when she does not, we go to sleep without food.’
I did not want to continue my conversation with the seven year old boy Kamran. I knew I would hear a story of suffering enough to keep me awake for half the night.
I started to look for money in my handbag. A habit, I have developed to escape responsibility, accountability and reality.
‘You live in London.’
‘Yes I do.’
I continued to search for money.
‘Will you stop searching for money and look at me.’
‘Are people in London hungry.’
‘No they are not. You are just saying it to make me feel better.’
‘Yes they are not but how do you know.’
‘My mother says I must study so that I can never be hungry. I think people in London will not be hungry. Why are they not hungry?’
‘Because they have education. When you get educated, you will also not be without food. Does your mother have education?’
‘No. That is why I want her to get married to an educated man. Then we will not be hungry.’
His innocence was tragic.
‘Yes but you must study hard so that neither you nor your mother is ever hungry.’
‘Yes I will work hard. I will become a doctor.’
‘I can come to London then.’
‘You can go to London or America or wherever you want to.’
‘I will have a car.’
‘Yes a big car.’
‘So I must study hard.’
‘Yes because if you do not then your children would be hungry too.’
‘But if I study hard then I will marry a pretty woman like you.’
‘Yes you will and then have a big house.’
‘Of course in London.’
‘London must be a very big city.’
‘It is a huge city.’
‘Just like Lahore. Is London better than Lahore?’
‘Oh no Lahore is better.’
‘How can it be better, people like me have no food to eat. Men like my father have no doctors.’
‘Do you dream Kamran?’
‘All the time.’
‘So let us together dream of a Lahore like London.’
‘It will have food.’
‘Lahore has food.’
‘For people like you, not for people like me. In Lahore of my dreams no one goes to bed without food. Everyone has real food to eat.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Cooked food, not like me who only has bread and onions. Everyone has chicken, eggs, vegetables, deserts. In my Lahore everyone would have money every day, not on some of the days. In my Lahore everyone would have a doctor.’
My Lahore already had everything he was seeking. Did I and him live in different Lahore? We did not.
‘You know now why I want to go to London, did you go to London for food?’
‘And you got food’
‘Yes loads of it and so will you.’
‘Alright then I will study hard.’
I had at last found some money to give him for food. He did not take the money. He wanted to earn the money some day soon to buy food.