Written by Mahmood Shahid in Urdu
Rendered into English by Faheem Jawaid (Riyadh)
Sep 12, 2007
It was the first day of Shaista in school. When she entered the classroom, I simply kept on looking at her. It was not only me; almost all of my classmates turned their attention towards her. When she sat on her seat with an inarticulate smile, and took a slight and quick look of the classroom, we felt, as though, our lives were filled with real exuberance. A stream of sparkle and vivacity flowed down over our rigid and hostile faces.
Teacher would also look at her face while giving lessons in the classroom. Her face was too attractive and charismatic. She beautified the environs of our classroom in particular; and of our whole school in general, with her admission. Her entry was a pleasant add-on to our school.
It would quite be fair if I would compare our school to a ruin. Our school building might have been magnificent before, but presently the broken-bricks of the exposed walls were suggesting that the building was in a distressed condition. The windowpanes were broken, and the iron-rods of windows were covered with rust. A big crack in the rare-wall came into sight openly. The white ants were eating the withered and weakened roof-planks. The feeble legs of the old tables and chairs were hardly able to bear any weight. The center-garden of the school was living through a spell of continuous autumn. Dry leaves and deceased twigs and stems scattered all around the place. Neither was there any bush on the ground nor were any flowering shrubs on the dead plants of the garden. Rats and creepy-crawly insects and bugs were seen running over dry bushes. A sort of desolation and wretchedness enveloped the whole school building, and the smell of bats’ dung was noticeable in every nook and cranny of it.
Shaista looked prominent among all the girls of our school. She was unlike her classmates – taller, gentle youthful body, wheatish color, beautiful delicate nose, bright eyes, luscious lips, soft-spoken with an elite gait.
It was not that the school was devoid of beautiful and talented girls. The matter was that, there was no difference between their existence and non-existence. They used to sit in their chairs minimizing themselves to be hardly ever seen. They were rather unaware of their clothes, faces and their scattered hairs. It was due to school’s unexciting and gloomy atmosphere, where every student was kept under a constant psychosomatic pressure, preventing to express his or her natural feelings and emotions. As a result, the student’s personality was unable to materialize fully. It would rather remain incomplete, and sometimes would take a form of unconstructiveness.
Neither the Head Master of school realized this nor did the teachers care to think of it. Head Master looked like retired, both physically and mentally, before his bona fide retirement. On the other hand, teachers’ internal-political-affairs did not permit them to think of the school.
The Mathematics teacher was more interested in English than in his own subject. He believed that he was more proficient in English than the English teacher was. On the other hand, the English teacher claimed himself to be an authority of English Grammar. Science teacher considered himself superior to the teacher of Social Studies; but the latter was proud to be the most senior teacher of the school, and was certain that he would be the only prospective Head Master of the school. Some teachers were of opinion that the Drawing and Craft teachers were taking their salaries for nothing. The Hindi teacher and the teachers of complementary regional languages had no appreciation and understanding with each other. As a result, the school was gradually moving towards a catastrophe.
I seriously got attracted to Shaista. I was hardly ever interested in studies, but I got a sort of refuge in Shaista’s beautiful and attractive existence. I do not know why, from my childhood, I was scared of going anywhere near the books. Moreover, the school’s gloomy and insipid atmosphere added fuel to the fires.
In my childhood, the school where I studied consisted of an old house of one small and two big rooms with a tiny verandah. In the inner room, 1st and 2nd class students were arranged to sit, next to which 3rd and 4th class students were taught one after another, in shifts. In the outer room, 5th class was conducted.
We used to utilize the verandah as our playground. In fact, this small verandah was of no use for any kind of sport; forget about playing football or cricket, out there. At times, we used to play some absurd type of games and while playing used to fight with each other, by tearing clothes, pulling legs, hitting on each other’s heads etc. Our desire of playing a game in its full, was never accomplished.
It was the time of the kids to progress and grow. It was the time for them to develop, raise, and take shape of character and individuality. When they do not get spacious and extensive environment and surroundings to nurture, they wither, dry and die like a curbed plant. Our state of condition was similar to this.
Small school and more number of students – students were rather plunged into the classrooms. We used to be much mischievous by pinching each other, tearing each other’s books and notebooks, and by coloring each other’s faces and clothes with ink. In short, lessons were taught less in the school, but naughtiness and tomfoolery were more among the students. Only three teachers were available for five standards. Teachers’ attitude never implicated that they were serious in teaching or were a bit interested in students.
I, being an individualist, became the reason for getting attracted to Shaista. I get attracted towards anything that has shades of original character. Shaista too, brought with herself a unique set up, attitude, and culture in the school. She had both shyness and boldness in her eyes. She was equally careless and careful of her being. Her appearance had an air of seriousness but with a lot of smile and smirk on her face. Where she was meticulous and ascetic, she was, a bit wayward and chaotic too.
On one hand, she was reserved and reticent and on the other, was informal and unceremonious. For me, looking at her became a source of peace and serenity.
The major change that took place in me was that I began going to school regularly. Before Shaista’s admission I used to be absent from the school, at least for two-three days in a week. Shaista’s beautiful face and eyes were, to a certain extent, a magnetic pull of the school that was hard to resist. I was significantly restless to see her.
Most of the students sitting in the first row tried to give out a feeling that they were much intelligent, and true students. At times, I too began sitting in the first row to demonstrate my false interest and fake intelligence. Looking at my change of attitude, teachers might have been thinking that I had started taking serious interest in studies, whereas, the reason was entirely different. By sitting in the first row, I was able to see Shaista clearly. I wished the school bell would never ring and I could see Shaista without blinking my eyes and she sat before me forever and ever.
Whenever, Shaista was absent from the school, a thoughtful impatience killed me. The class looked incomplete, uninteresting and meaningless in her absence, and I stared at the surrounding of the class in such a way, as if, a precious thing of mine was missing and I was keenly searching for it. On holidays, my anxiety and intolerance would be on peak and I wished school could run without any interruption even on Sundays, so that I could not fail to see Shaista for a moment.
In the past, I wanted the school to be closed forever. The school seemed like a prison, books looked like a burden, and the attitude of teachers appeared like an unwanted pressure upon me. Now, I hated seeing the school closed for an hour, a sort of hearty relationship was developed between the school and me. The school became a centre of my interest.
My drawing was very good and I used to help my Science teacher in this regard. Our Science teacher was dreadfully weak in drawing. He used to draw a fish in the place of a frog, and a snake instead of a fish. Due to this, I used to draw the specified animals and plants on the black board on his request. While drawing, I used to look at Shaista from the corners of my eyes and fancied that I could draw her life size picture on the black board, and sit alone facing her, and study her with utmost interest and curiosity like a book.
Shaista’s beauty was multiplying with the course of time. The shining in her eyes was enhanced a lot, luscious lips were filled with more and more drops of honey, and the color of her rosy cheeks was becoming darker and darker.
I was longing to see the whole class empty except me; and Shaista as a teacher, teaching me with love and fondnesses, making me take more interest in my course books. I was yearning to see her answering my questions in a simple manner, and asking me questions to improve and develop my intelligence; appreciating my correct answers, by being very gentle, kind and caring with me. At times, I was craving to see Shaista alone in the classroom and I was teaching her with all love and kindness, and the class was carrying on and on in an atmosphere of friendship and closeness.
It was the last year for both of us in the school. In the last 3-4 years, Shaista and I came close to each other, but a safe distance was always maintained. I was to be blamed for the reason of that distance. Sometimes, I was a bit casual and at times a bit careless. On occasions, I was rather tense and occasionally anxious and fearful. Notwithstanding, we were attached to each other, and we both knew that.
Both of us got admission in a college at the same time. Now, the nature of our feelings and thoughts, changed altogether. We were able to sense each other’s existence with more zest and gusto. Shaista realized that I had a special kind of sentiment for her, in my heart. It was true that I enjoyed Shaista’s beauty until now, but never ever seriously tried to understand the meanings of her eyes and face expression. Now, I began reading her face in the wake of her rosy cheeks, shiny eyes, and her way with words. Her beautiful face was similar to a fascinating and remarkable book, which I was trying to construe and read, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. Shaista’s face was the only book, which made me take interest and drew my attention to pursue my studies. Shaista’s face was a well-written book of simple and meaningful disposition, which could endow the reader with a refreshing energy.
The college days were passing swiftly. The speed of education here was very fast. As usual, I was slow in it, and hence was behind my own classmates. It was a galloping run, in which all students were involved. At college, education and knowledge were divided in various categories, and we were told as to which branch of education could take us to which trade and profession. This was the place from where our commercial and business ways of thinking developed.
We wanted to make use of our education, wisdom and knowledge in terms of business and trade. This was the only aim of everybody in acquiring education, but my point of view and state of mind was different. To me, the aim of education was to reach and achieve insight, knowledge and wisdom.
I was so happy that Shaista lighted a flame of knowledge, perception, and wisdom in my mind and heart that; while reading her beautiful face I became able to read the time, the circumstances, the world and my own face.
About Mahmood Shahid:
Mahmood Shahid is a name to reckon with in the world of Urdu literature. He is a unique storywriter, an inimitable poet, and a distinctive critic. His fortnight-magazine “Waseela” on net, is known almost all over the world for its high-ranking standard and regular publication. The above story is taken from his short stories collection “Dhancha” means “Skeleton”.
About Faheem Jawaid:
Faheem Jawaid is working as Senior Manager in Saudi American Bank (H.O.) in Riyadh. He is a writer and poet of Urdu and English. His articles and poetry of Urdu and English are featured in various famous literary magazines and journals of India and Pakistan. Currently, he finds time in transforming of Urdu’s remarkable stories into English.
Note: Getting attracted to opposite sex is a human nature. Ordinary people take relationships with opposite sex, in a run of the mill fashion. These relationships could be of adolescence or platonic. Both relationships do exist; those are nonphysical, nonsexual but are still friendly and spiritual. This story of Mahmood Shahid treats with such feelings that are uncommon and rather uninteresting for ordinary individuals. Extraordinary group of people with bizarre and exceptional sensitivity can understand the feelings and emotions that have been crafted and expressed in this story.
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