The garbage dumps and the musical anklets were his only childhood memories. He remembered nothing else. The thoughts of thirteen-year-old Asghar remained continually mired in the confusion of his heritage.
Who was he? Where had he come from? Who was his mother? Who was his father? Ever since he became conscious of his surroundings, he had found himself rummaging through garbage dumps for his existence. Scavenging for a piece or two of bread from the piles of waste with all the other homeless kids was his daily mission.
If ever he heard music from the open windows of a passing car or bus, his mind would be filled with the loud sounds of anklets. He couldn’t figure out why that sound was so startlingly clear within his cognition. He didn’t know where he had heard it before. He could remember nothing.
A fat lady who lived in the same debilitated area told him that his mother was a whore. He wasn’t sure if that made him a whore too. But as always, he remembered nothing. What was a mother? What did she look like? What was her love like? Whore or no whore, a mother is just a mother. So how did the garbage dump come in the picture? And those anklets? As much as he tried, his mind always remained blank. With every passing day, his confusion grew.
As he grew older, he learned how to read and write using the discarded pencils and books in the dumpster. He also got a small job looking after dogs in the home of a wealthy Sahib Jee, a few streets down. The gatekeeper was kind enough to lend him help with his ‘educational’ lessons once in a while. Sahib Jee had a sharp temper but was mostly out of town on business. He was always accompanied by his secretary. Sahib Jee’s wife seemed like a complete housewife, but as soon as her husband left on one of his trips, she spent most of her time with her friends; during the day as well as the night. When Sahib Jee was out of town, Chota, as he had been named by his environment, was responsible for taking care of his dogs. Since Sahib Jee’s daughter, the Younger Madam, was quite attached to the dogs, she made sure that Chota was fulfilling his dog-sitting responsibilities fully in her father’s absence.
Chota was wise enough to perceive that the male acquaintances of the Younger Madam could be categorized as anything but respectable. But then, the rich have their own definition of the word ‘respectable’. Still, Chota did not think that young men who danced to loud music under the intoxication of alcohol could be called well-bred or honorable. He had watched Younger Madam meet freely with these friends for a few months now and despite the passage of time, the situation still made him extremely uncomfortable. It was a strange uneasiness that he couldn’t place a finger on.
Then suddenly, all meetings stopped, and no young male visitors dropped by at the house. Madam took Younger Madam with her and apparently went on a trip. Then one night, Sahib Jee’s driver came to Chota’s pathetically tiny, thatched roof dwelling in the shantytown and asked him to come with him.
When Chota returned back to his hovel, he had a one-day-old baby girl in his arms and tattered pockets stuffed with money. Exultantly, he gazed at the innocent child in his arms and felt the soft crackle of money in his pockets. All he could think of was that at least for a few days now, he wouldn’t have to fight in the trash with the stray dogs for his two daily meals.
When Chota lay down to sleep that night, he suddenly felt as if a bolt of lightning had jolted his cognition, bringing back all the memories he had always struggled to remember. He sat up straight as a rod on the torn sheet on the ground that he called his bed, staring into the inky darkness of the night. A few minutes later, he took a deep sigh and raised his hands in invocation,
‘Oh my Lord of the two worlds, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty, you are the Master of everyone. Have mercy on those who are called whores on account of someone else’s error. Have compassion for the ones who are rejected for no fault of their own. Take into your clemency whom your sheltered people have abandoned without any shelter. Envelope in your grace those whose ears ring forever with the sound of anklets. Take care of this little girl and give me the strength for I now have to snatch food from the mouth of two dogs to feed us both. Just as you listen to the prayers of all the pious, heed the pleas of someone like me today. So what if we are the unwanted and the shunned of your world? Where are we to go if not to you? Who are we to turn to if not to you? Protect the honor of all whom the world has dismissed as dishonorable. Ameen.’
The next day, there was much excitement and jubilation in the stinking, shantytown. Everyone wanted to come and see the new whore in their midst.