The Stubborn Child

Image: Riyaz Shaik/ 7MB
A boy stands at the gates of heaven, faced with a terrible dilemma.

At the gates of Heaven
stood a stubborn child
digging his heels
refusing to enter.

An angel flew in
to pacify the child
to bring him in.
‘You’ve reached the place

people dream of, and pray for;
even the gates here are of gold’
she said. The child looked away.
They didn’t really matter.

So, she waved a magic wand
to make the place
look like Disneyland.
Still, the child didn’t move.

‘Come in, my child
this is a fun place
of colours and lights
of stories and stars

of magic rivers that flow
fast, but stay quiet
of seas that make way
for you to pass

of mountains that fly
past trees on which
the sweetest birds sing
and fragrant flowers bloom

of fruits that grow
so luscious
and delicate
they melt in your mouth

of huge trees that open trunks to let
you into their hearts with secret nooks
that cool in summer, exude warmth in winter
like sweet water from a deep well.’

The child turned away
shutting his eyes, covering
his nose, with an upturned lip
and an exaggerated pout.

‘I’ll take you to the island
of chocolates and ice-creams
pizzas, burgers, fries you can
eat as much as you want.’

The child showed no appetite
and word went round
it was time to make the divine
menu more tempting and delicious.

‘You know what? You can
play cricket, all year round
in Heaven’s Premier League
where everyone wins, all the time.’

Word went round now
from one look at the boy’s face
that it was time
to make Heaven a more happening place.

A wise old man was summoned
to diagnose the problem.
‘I understand my dear boy
I was once like you; afraid I’d be

lost without holding my father’s finger
cold without my mother’s warm embrace
lonely without my sister’s loving company.
That’s called human bondage.

You’ve been there, you’ve done that.
You will be free now if you fight
one last battle in which you are
your own enemy, the last man standing.

Just step over the threshold
and you win. Your family
you’ll no more miss, no one gets
lost here, or feels cold, or lonely.’

Confused and cornered, the boy searched
for his family in the space between
the curious gathering of Heaven’s citizens
squishing at and clasping vacuum.

The angel made another attempt:
‘Gotcha!’, she said, tickling the boy
‘you want to read story books
and watch your favourite movies.

So, let me tell you a little secret:
The heroes in the stories and movies
you know, are all fake, demi-gods.
The real gods are here, waiting for you.’

The boy cringed, turning pale
looking broken in heart and spirit
his hope running out, at blinding
speed, in unfamiliar territory.

The wise old man said, ‘Oh, dear
what’s the matter? In all my time
I haven’t seen anyone so pale
with fear, I know not why.’

‘It’s the gods that I am afraid of’
said the boy softly, shocking
the gathered godlets into squeals
of unconcealed exasperation.

‘Shame and Sacrilege!’, they said.
‘Shame and Sacrilege!’, they echoed.
The wise old man said: ‘why, my boy, are you
scared and scarred, beyond your years?’

‘I have seen fresh crimson red
rivers run quickly, without making
sounds and lights of blazing guns;
in broad daylight, doors blown open

flying benches unhiding children
making way for molten flesh
in blood-stained shirts
and teachers spontaneously afire.

I have seen the fading colours
and blinking lights, heard
the sounds and whimpers
of friends writhing in pain.

I smelt the flesh and blood.
I felt the draining
of warmth from coldness
in a disentropic orgy.

I heard the disengagement
of joy between raucous revelry and shrill cries
of fear between shrill cries and moaning
of sound between moaning and eerie silence.

Lying with the dying and the dead
I shuddered to think what Heaven
the abode of gods, would be like’
said the boy, ‘when on Earth

more people kill in the name of god
than of the devil, preying on the innocent
with a prayer on the lips. I heard them
you know, I am from Peshawar.’

***

This poem is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the terror attack on a Peshawar school on 16th December 2014, where 141 innocent people, including 132 children, lost their lives.

Madras Courier originally ran as a broadsheet with a poetry section. It was a time when readers felt comfortable sharing glimpses of their lives through verse. If you too have a poem you’d like to submit, do email us at editor@madrascourier.com.

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