Plates of Haleem

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The other day, a strong and physically fit young man knocked on my car’s window at a red signal, with his hands wide open, and face a picture of utter despair. As I turned to look at him, a very old but vivid memory resurfaced….

I’m sitting in the backseat of the car enjoying a plate of haleem as we stopped at the infamous ‘Haleem Centre’ for a casual dinner one night. As we eat, a rosy cheeked young boy of about 7 or 8 knocks with his chubby hand on the front window and offers us one of the wilted roses he is trying to sell. Papa smiles and hands him some money expecting him to walk away but he is insistent on handing a rose to my mother saying ‘Mein bheek nahi maangta, cheez bechta hoon.’ (‘I don’t beg- I sell.’) Moved by the sentiment and staunch belief in principles that even grown men do not seem to have, my mother takes the rose and talks to him for a bit while my father orders a plate of haleem for him. We find out he and his siblings don’t go to school but try to earn some money to assist their parents. When the waiter returns with the plate and hands it to him, the little boy says something that has been engraved into my mind ever since: ‘Aik aur chamcha laadain mera bhai bhi hai, use bhi bhook lagi ho gi’ (‘Please bring another spoon, I have a brother who is hungry too’). Clutching the plate and two spoons, he calls out into the night, and waits patiently, bravely refusing to even taste the tempting delicacy in his hands. We watch in utter disbelief as a fourteen year old boy suddenly appears out of nowhere clutching his own small items for sale, and both proceed to sit down on the grimy footpath to eagerly share the serving I easily had had one of. Immediately we order another one for his brother and leave them to enjoy their ‘feast’…

Back in reality, my car sped away from signal but I was left in deep thought for the rest of my journey. For that little boy taught me two very significant lessons that day- those that a lot of grown men in this society would do well to learn. First of all, the importance of labor and halal earnings. No work is shameful and no job is beneath you if it helps you feed and clothe yourself. All around the streets of this city we see beggars of all types and ages, so much so, that it becomes nearly impossible to differentiate the genuine ones from the fake. But I believe no matter what your situation may be, honest work is always available for those who wish to venture in that direction. Begging should never ever be a resort, forget it being your sole source of earnings.

In a world where sincerity is an unknown trait, and sharing a long forgotten action, that little boy whose perhaps one good meal of the week was that single plate of food, declined the opportunity to enjoy it alone despite knowing he would get less if he shared it with his brother. At the age of seven when kids refuse to share their candies with anyone, he chose to call his brother and left us all stunned.

For him it was the haleem, for another person something else, but I really hope that we can all resolve to share our own plates of haleem, just like that little boy.

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