The puffed rice seller was tall and gaunt, with a wispy stubble on his chin. He was aged roughly about forty five. He’d sing as he went about the neighborhood with his sack! And the song he would always sing was ‘Hawaa Hawaa Aye Hawaa’, a Pakistani song, quite a hit during those times in India. His name was Amjad. Bool Sheet was then in his early teens and he along with his friends would play gully cricket on the streets or lagori – a game involving a tower of stones and throwing a ball around hitting each other with the ball and all that junk. It was a welcome distraction as Amjad passed by always singing!
The year was 1996 and it was the month of December, Bool Sheet and his friends would as usual get back from school and then the games would begin on the streets in the evening, loud noise and shouts rang in the air. It was routine and yet it was fun and around 5:30 in the evening regularly the sound of the song ‘Hawaa Hawaa’ would come floating in. Bool Sheet and his friends would often taunt Amjad with loud shouts of ‘Hawaa Hawaa’ sometimes singing more of the song along with Amjad mixed with general tomfoolery!
Something happened in the second week that December and all schools were shut down in the neighborhood. There was some sort of panic, and Bool Sheet and his friends were not allowed to even play on the streets by their parents lest something untoward happened. It was something about Babri Masjid and Ram Janmabhoomi that Bool Sheet didn’t care about but had learnt about when the TV blared on and his dad sat rapt, catching the news.
For a few days the school and games on the street routine was disrupted. And the kids got restless at homes. Playing cards and chess or carom (which Bool hated) became the norm. There was news that there had been violent clashes near the market which was less than half a kilometer down the main road. Clashes among people of the main religious communities - Hindus and Muslims but it had come under control as no one wanted disruption in business and all this would only lead to losses as Bool heard some wise man tell his dad!
One winter evening Bool Sheet sat thinking about the unexpected holidays he had got from school – it was fun and not so fun too. However one sudden observation he had was that Amjad had not been seen after that period of turmoil. The schools had resumed after a week or two and so had their games on the streets, but what about Amjad? A chilling thought came to Bool Sheet’s mind as he was prone to thinking extremes. Had Amjad…? There had been some news of burning of shacks and shanties on the other side of the temple. Is that where Amjad lived? Had something happened to him? Next day Bool Sheet asked his best friend Wimp Keed. Keed also noticed that Amjad would no longer come in the evenings, singing ‘Hawaa Hawaa’ and that was quite unusual he agreed. Probably people had stopped eating puffed rice he hypothesized. “Bullshit”, thought Bool Sheet but he was scared, he even asked his mom and she couldn’t give a satisfactory answer either.
That night as he slept he dreamt that he had reached heaven and there as he was entering the portals of Jom’s world he saw a single, lonely person seated on a chair among the rows and rows of empty chairs. A familiar tune was being played out in a slow symphony in the background. The person was seated with his head held in his hands and face down. As Bool went towards the man and touched him on his arm, he raised his head. It was Amjad and in the background as if the slow symphony started playing louder it was the same tune “Hawaa Hawaa”.
He narrated this to Wimp Keed and Keed couldn’t stop laughing for the next one full minute as Bool’s cheeks went red in anger and he left Keed in a huff, still laughing. Keed was usually silent and listened carefully to Bool but on this occasion he was so terribly insensitive! What Bool Sheet I say thought Keed in turn. The problem with Bool was he’d often go off on stupid, imaginary worlds like this – quite usual for him.
It was about a month later when they were in an intense game of cricket and Bool’s LBW decision was being heatedly debated that they heard the familiar tune of that gruff voice singing and Bool just forgot all about the cricket match and ran towards that sound. As Amjad came towards them hunched forward, with his grimy off-white plastic sack lugged over his shoulder, Bool stood still in front of him but could say nothing.
“Kaisa hain Bool babua?”, “How are you Mr Bool?” said Amjad touching Bool on his cheek.
But Bool wouldn’t move and continued to block Amjad’s path and stood there staring at his face.
It was as if some sort of a human bond of familiarity had formed between them and Amjad could sense it.
“Arre main badhiya hoon, no peeroblem”, he said as he gave a toothy smile. He meant ‘I am fine no problems whatsoever’.
After a while Bool held Amjad’s hand and squeezed it to see if it were really Amjad. Amjad patted his hand and Bool ran back to his buddies to argue out the LBW decision suddenly aware he had been given out unfairly.
In an instant again his doubt surfaced and he wanted to really, really make sure that whom he was seeing was really Amjad! Then he did an even more bizarre thing - he actually went back, held up Amjad’s arm from behind as he turned around and bit him.
What Bool Sheet!