When you are in love

Maswood Alam Khan

Sara Zihan Azad, who her classmates call Sara and her parents Zihan, is the four-year old daughter of Mohammad Abul Kalam Azad, a young IT professional, the owner of the house at College Park in Maryland where I have been staying for the last six months. Both Sara and I were born in the same month of November, Sara on November 01 and me on November 27. Sara is 4 and I am 59. Whenever Sara spots me inside or outside of the house a smile brightens her face; she screams: “Maswood Uncle, how are you? I love you so much!” “I love you too, my darling!” I immediately reciprocate her offer of love. She keeps on talking with me, narrating many of her experiences which I don’t always fully understand due to her babyish inflections; only a part of her statements that she babbles away in her newly acquired American accent I can figure out. I try to make my replies as clearly as possible to satisfy a plethora of her inquisitions and curiosities. But, when she looks askance at me, I know she is sad; I feel guilty thinking about her frustrations on her inability to make me understand her inner feelings!

I was terribly shocked the other day when, a few months back, I found two old trees with their prolific branches on the backyard of the house I am living in chopped down. The trees were cut off by an electric saw within a few minutes by a hired woodcutter at the instruction of Mr. Azad, the owner of the house. One of the trees was chopped, leaving, by a chance, its stump and roots intact. The stump is still there in the lawn. Whenever I look at the trunk stump of the chopped tree, I feel sad. I wish the felled tree were still alive! I only hope there would be new shoots growing from the stump before the spring is over. I know, trees rejuvenate even after being cut down or toppled after a storm, if the underground roots of such a felled tree continue to live and absorb water and nutrients from the soils beneath the ground surface. I have kind of fallen in love with the tree which is perhaps struggling not to die!

Since my childhood, I have been very sensitive to pains a tree suffers when a tree is felled or its branches are cut off by humans. I deem it a work of savages when I find village people shaving the trunks of date trees in our country to make those helpless trees ooze juice throughout nights for us to drink and to make molasses from. Nowhere in the world, except perhaps in Bangladesh or in some other savage countries, are date trees so mercilessly hacked and injured on a continuous basis. For the last few years I have stopped taking date juice or molasses made of those juices extracted by merciless tree haters.

Often, I wonder why God did make trees so dumb, why a tree doesn’t make a sound when it suffers from pains. Maybe, we would have been kinder to a living tree if it could weep or cry. Maybe, I am stupidly wrong in saying so. We are not kind to a helpless goat when it cries its eyes out and bleats at the top of its lungs, beseeching help from its human domesticator, its guardian, before it is slaughtered, are we?

I always wonder at the double standard of humanity. We the humans cry at the plight of living beings, including humans, plants and animals, in one instance and pretend to be their protectors; and we are the same humans who, in a different instance, also love to injure or kill the same kinds of living beings with obvious relish, acting in a complete role reversal. We, the mysterious creations of God playing our mystifying roles and claiming ourselves as the best on this earth, toggle between the two diametrically opposite psyches of ours: empathy and antipathy.

I don’t feel so sad when a man or a woman of my present age dies or suffers from ailments. But I can’t stand when a child suffers. I feel like locking horns with God when a baby dies for no fault of his or her own. My heart bleeds when I find a disabled child not capable to express his or her feelings.

I am related to a family living in America who has been wrestling for the last few years with a problem of their only son, a four-year old boy, who has been diagnosed with developmental disability, a mild form of autism. I would better not mention the name of the boy for the sake of the family’s privacy. The boy is one of the loveliest I have ever seen in my life. The boy has been taught to identify me as his grandpa and I love to call the boy “Bhaiyaa”: my sweet brother, my grandchild. Whenever I visit the family, my Bhaiyaa rushes towards me and punches me on my palm with a high-five, an American way of expressing happiness in which two people raise one arm each and hit their open hands together.

Something extraordinary in my relationship with Sara, the daughter of Azad, had happened when I was basking in the sun in the backyard of the house in the magnificent spring last Saturday morning, a perfect time in Maryland for gardening. Sara’s parents were busy tilling, raking and sifting through soils in some seedbeds made in the backyard to cultivate plants for growing different kinds of gourds and vegetables; I also gave them a hand to till the soils with a shovel, level the beds with a rake, sieve stones through my bare hands and weed grasses and dead roots out from the beds. A little tired from the laborious work, I took a break and sat on the stump of the chopped tree. I was seeping tea Mrs. Azad offered me. Sara begged me for sitting on the same stump beside me. But the stump was too small a stool for two of us to sit on. Somehow, I allowed Sara to sit on the stump snuggling up to me.

Sara was continuously chattering away to me. I answered to a few of her questions that I could understand and ignored many of her queries that I could not comprehend. I was rather busier talking to her father Azad. At one stage, Sara left me and came back carrying in her both hands quite a number of little yellow flowers that are nowadays seen blooming in this springtime amid grasses out of weeds germinated in the last fall and winter. Sara presented me three such little flowers and kept with herself a similar number. I thanked Sara and Sara reciprocated my thanks, saying “Welcome, uncle”.

Sara retook her seat beside me on the stump I was still occupying. After a while Sara was not visible. She suddenly left me unnoticed. She was found sobbing, sitting on the platform of a staircase.

I rushed to Sara and asked: “What happened, dear?” But, Sara was still sobbing. Then she said: “I am sad”. I could not fathom out why she was so sad. She was sad perhaps for my ignoring her words she was continuously babbling away. I begged her for her forgiving me. Hearing my apologetic tone, Sara smiled back. After a pause, Sara said: “I love you, Maswood Uncle”.

Sara is not my only love in Maryland. Among my many other loves is one Amal, the youngest daughter of Mohammad Mukarram, one of my close friends. Ten-year old Amal had taught me theoretically how to make a snowman out of snowballs. She advised me to practice snowballing with her. I promised that I would visit her when there were snowfalls in the winter. But I didn’t keep my word. I was afraid I would catch cold if I did play with snows. Amal was angry with me because I had flouted my promise.

Tahmid, the only son of Mukarram, is my junior friend who is in his early teens. A smart boy, Tahmid is known in the neighborhood not only as a meritorious student but also as a boy of immense integrity, who does not skip a single prayer in the mosque. Tahmid is an ace judo player too.

Both Tahmid and Amal stopped talking to me. The reason I didn’t know till yesterday. Yesterday, I asked Amal: “Why don’t you email me nowadays?” Amal kept mum. I was shocked. Tahmid on behalf of Amal answered: “We will communicate with you only after we will hear you have finally quitted smoking”.

Life is full of hilarities when you are in love with children and grandchildren like Sara, Bhaiyaa, Amal and Tahmid and of course also with other living beings, including the stump of the tree that was chopped.

The writer is a regular contributor to daily sun. He writes from Maryland, USA.


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