(An adaptation of Shafiq-ur-Rehman’s awesome short story I did for one of my classes. Doesn’t have the magic of the original, which is in Urdu and probably not on the interweb, but I think I managed to avoid killing the idea completely.)
A peculiar thing happened that evening. I came home exhausted from playing outside all day and plopped down on the sofa. The radio was on and an experienced hunter was sharing anecdotes from his life. I changed the frequency to see what else the airwaves had to offer. Two other programmes were being broadcast at the same time; a film star was relating his numerous romances on one channel and on another, a psychologist was getting ready to discuss children.
Spoilt for choice, I had to make a decision. Should I listen to this boring old man? What did I have in common with children anyway? I was already thirteen. As for the actor, hearing about his romantic triumphs would only make my own seem less impressive. As a rule, I ignored everyone more successful than me. It would be best to just listen to the hunter; I know a thing or two about firing a gun after all, maybe I could call in and correct him on a few points.
I tried tuning it back to the original frequency but couldn’t find that station again. I managed to find strange noises, whistles, and even the sound of thundering clouds but not the hunter’s voice. Maybe the thing was broken? Mechanical tasks were beneath somebody of my intelligence, obviously, so I called one of the servants who was obsessed with the stupid contraption. I asked him to take a look at it, he gave it a good knock with his fist and found the elusive station immediately. The hunter had started another monologue.
“Hunting elephants is very difficult. Elephants have no sportsman spirit you see, they are mean and selfish animals. If any elephant is listening, well I’m sorry but it’s the truth. They get unreasonably agitated over the idea of being hunted and once upset are difficult to calm down. What’s more they really know how to hold a grudge. The next time they see a hunter they’ll automatically run after him, it’s just their vengeful nature. Even if we’re out hunting something else they’ll go out of their way to make our lives miserable. It’s these little things, you know, that make them lose their humanity in our eyes. Look how well the other animals treat us. I mean, I can shoot an elk standing in the middle of a bloody herd and the rest would hardly take notice, let alone chase after me or try to bury my prey. Bury each other! Who gave them the big idea anyway?
I remember this one time, a few years ago, I’d been sitting in the jungle waiting for an elephant the entire day. I was staked near his home but the thing was just refusing to show up. At last he came strolling about at something like two in the morning. He didn’t even come alone; he had the gall to bring another elephant with him. A female! I thought to myself, do these animals have no shame? I fired a shot and hit him in the leg. He sat down, slowly, as if from tiredness, and hardly let out a sound. That’s what I mean when I say they’re not good sports, the least you can do when somebody shoots you is make a bit of noise. It’s just common bloody courtesy.
Anyway, that got his girlfriend quite incensed, the way I saw it I did her a favour; who knows what would have went on that night. Did they even have protection? What if she got pregnant a few months down the line? Out of wedlock at that? Where would she be then?
She didn’t see it my way however and leapt straight towards me. She tore down all the trees in her path and since I happened to be sitting in one, I found myself sprawled on the ground as well. I got up but immediately got knocked down again. Then I got up and fell down and got up once again, this time very quickly, and ran away. The elephant gave chase and I had to keep running for what seemed like miles, but what was probably just a hundred yards, to put some distance between us.
I thought I’d given her the slip and climbed another tree. But it only took her a few seconds to knock that one down as well. She was really raging now, stamping her feet on the ground and using extremely profane language. I know what you all must be wondering, what had I done to deserve any of this?
It’s important to say at this point that I had all but given up hope, an angry elephant is the most dangerous thing on the planet. Well, after an irate salesman, but you don’t get a permit to hunt those. All I was thinking was, if I could slow it down somehow maybe it wouldn’t mangle my corpse beyond recognition. Maybe they’d find me and take me back to my home and put me in the family graveyard next to my father. He’d died in the jungle as well, hunting squirrels.
I aimed my gun straight at the thing’s chest and pulled the trigger. Nothing came out of the rifle. If there had been any gunpowder inside, maybe something would have come out, although one can never be sure.
The elephant though, she didn’t care, she was coming at me something fierce now. Trunk swinging, shouting and screaming; my arms and legs went numb from fear. What did I do then? Well…I worked up the courage and took her hand in my own, put it against my face and told her that if she was taken from my life nothing but wilderness would remain, all the colour in my world was because of her. She smiled and I almost fainted from the effect.
I kept her hand in mine and my hand in hers. Everything went quiet, only a solitary owl broke the silence with his melodious crooning. There were was a blanket of stars over our head and soft grass beneath our feet. In front of us was the east, behind us the west and on our right the north. About south, we weren’t sure.
In this sublime atmosphere I expressed my love for her and she bowed her head, smiling. I told her we should get married soon, move to another country, maybe have kids, grow old together; she said what about your career? I told her it was okay, I would start playing father figures, do commercials, besides any actor who survives to old age automatically gets an award. Things would work out.
She went quiet, I waited patiently for an answer but when I looked at her again I saw hesitation, doubt. I looked her straight in the eyes and asked, ‘You haven’t changed your mind…have you?’ She shook her head in denial and…I stood up straight in front of her and exclaimed, ‘I’ve never seen such a stubborn girl, just wait till your mother comes home, I’ll have her sit you down and braid your hair!’
Punishment is important you see. It teaches the child the essential rules of life, to not punish a child is to leave it unprepared for practical life, where reward and punishment are important motivations. It is also imperative to instill in them a competitive spirit, children are quite susceptible to feelings of envy, use this to your advantage. For instance, when my daughter is being disobedient I often start praising the neighbours’ child in front of her.
Look at that boy, I say. You never see him complaining. He’s so much nicer than you are, have you not noticed how mature his habits and mannerisms are? His mother doesn’t even have to wake him up for school in the mornings. He gets up at the break of dawn by himself everyday…and goes in search of water while it’s still dark. After having his fill he burps loudly and the entire forest reverberates with the sound; waking up all the birds and animals.
Afterwards, the lion goes in search of food. Lions are much safer to hunt than elephants. They’re creatures of habit, where as elephants are anarchists by nature; unpredictable, violent. The lion is king of the jungle after all, fairly right wing, conservative, it’s in his interest to maintain the status quo. He’s not a trouble maker. Other than the fact that he may eat you, he’s perfectly pleasant company, and extremely predictable.
Coming back from his hunt, he shares the leftovers with his family and has a little siesta. In the evening he works out or if it’s a weekend, makes a royal visitation to some lion in another jungle. Strictly business, affairs of the crown, you know, lion stuff.
After dinner, a congregation of all the animals in the forest is convened under his throne and they come to him one by one with their problems and and disputes. At the end, he announces his prey for the next morning. Those chosen consider it a great honour, those not chosen consider it a great relief.