Rust and Stardust

Saturday, May 14, 2016 ahmad jalil 0 Comments Category : ,

Blood was dripping from his body as he staggered on the footpath. His clothes were torn and filthy. He reeked of blood and vomit. His eyes were swollen, partly from the beating and partly from hours of crying. It was late in the night, probably after midnight. There were very few people roaming around at this late hour, none seemed to notice his condition as they walked past him. The area was a well known place for addicts and beggars, they took him for one too since they could not see his bloody clothes in the dark. That night it fully dawned on him how truly lonely he was. It hurt everywhere and there was no one he could turn to.

They were dancing flawlessly. A whole pack of them, all wearing white clothes with golden sandals, signature dress for the dancers of the Ayyash Ghar. Their faces were covered with long white veils. Their big silver colored payals were chiming loudly, something that the visitors of that place had become very familiar with. A large gathering of men was there to watch them. Men of all ages and from all walks of life. They had formed a circle around the dancers and were chewing on paan and special kinds of sweets that the house offered. Everyone was mesmerized by the performance. Every often a man from the audience would throw a few rupees towards the dancers. Shouts of appreciation were coming from every direction, some valuing the dance and others, the dancers.

He had always known that he was different. From how his mother used to pay more attention to him than his siblings despite them being better in every way to the way his father never mentioned him as his son anywhere, he knew he was not like the others. Nobody liked being his friend. Nobody liked talking to him. Everywhere he went, people avoided him. Even his brothers and sisters tried to stay away from him.

“You are very special to me, my jaan, and I love you very much. We are a team and we don’t need anyone else.”

This is what his mother used to say every time he went to complain to her when someone had said something bad to him, which happened very often. That used to be sufficient for him when he was a kid but as he grew up, his mother’s kind words weren’t enough anymore. He wasn’t allowed to play cricket in the street like the other kids were. He wasn’t allowed to go with his brothers to their friends’ places. His sisters didn’t introduce him to their friends as well.

“What’s wrong with me, mom?” He would cry in front of her, "Why don’t they like me?”

“Stop it! There’s nothing wrong with you. You are my SON! I love you, ok?”

He would stop crying in front of her. But whenever alone, he wept for hours. He knew there was something wrong with him. But he didn’t know what it was. Unfortunately, he had to find it out the hard way.

Ayaash Ghar was founded by Ustaad Sakhi and his sister, Arzoo bibi. It wasn’t always called that. Initially it was Khawab Ghar, a place built to teach young people how to perform traditional folk dances. But after the death of Arzoo bibi, Ustaad sahab changed everything about the place. In a matter of weeks, he transformed that respectable place into a house of sin, as the locals started calling it. Gone were the tranquil music and sweet sherbat that Arzoo bibi liked to serve her guests and in came loud fahash music and sweets filled with tobacco. All the respectable dancers left the place and Ustaad sahab hired the professional ones. The place also became notorious for taking in stray kids and turning them into explicit dancers. Many people tried getting the place shut down but failed due to Ustaad Sahab’s connections with a lot influential people, many of whom were the regular customers of his Ghar. So it stayed and gained a lot of popularity among the vice of the city.

He almost fell as he opened the door of the house. Please God, help, he whispered as he dragged himself forwards. He turned on the light. Everyone was asleep. He moved forwards and came in the hallway. Only one room was still illuminated. He slowly made his way towards it. He was soaking the carpet red behind him.

His mother died when he was thirteen years old. And just like that his whole world got crumbled down. She was the only person who ever loved him. After her death he had no one to look after him. His father, an alcoholic, was barely able to take care of himself, let alone his son. His brothers and sisters already hated him. It wasn’t a surprise that they closed their doors on him. None of his relatives agreed to take him in. Wherever he went, people sprung away from him like he was a bee hive.
“You’re a disgrace to our society”
“An abomination”
He went from one orphanage to another but nobody accepted and provided him with shelter. He was not normal, they said. He couldn’t be placed with other kids. So in the end he had to turn to the streets. He would sit on the muddy roads near his house all day long, begging for a rupee or two and in the end, hardly made enough to fill his belly.

One Saturday night as Ustaad Sakhi was rounding up his last show, his friend Qudrat came to his house. At first he was very displeased as he liked to be alone on Saturday nights, getting high and occasionally enjoying private shows from his dancers. But when Qudrat announced his purpose of visit, Ustaad left everything he was doing and got welcomed his guest warmly. His friend had brought with him a gift, a young child for him to enrol in the list of his dancers.
“So Ustaad jee, heard one of your dancers ran away a few days ago. What do you think about this one?” he pointed at the anxious looking boy sitting beside him.
“Hmm.. so thoughtful of you Qudrat. And yes he seems like a fine lad. Hey boy! Stand up!”
The boy obeyed the command nervously. Sakhi checked the boy out, nodding approvingly.
“Yes, you have fine taste Qudrat” he said laughing a little, delighted with what he had seen, “I presume he won’t have people looking for him, right?”
“No No Ustaad jee! I know him personally, no one alive to miss him”. The both men laughed, easily ignoring the frightened boy standing in the corner of the room. They agreed on a price and just like that the boy became a property of the Ayaash Ghar.
“So boy, what do you know about dancing?”

“Mom look! A khusra!” shouted a little boy excitedly from the backseat of the car. They had stopped when the signal turned red at Kalma Chowk. His mother turned to look where her son had pointed with disgust on her face.

“Make sure your door is locked, Ali.” She said.

It had been fifteen years since his Qudrat uncle had brought him to the Ayaash Ghar. There Ustaad sahab taught him how to dance and please his guests.

“From rust to stardust. Remember this”, Ustaad Sakhi would say while teaching them dance moves, “You lot are nothing, mere rust and a burden upon this society. But this dance”, he’d take a dance step pointing towards the sky, “will elevate you to stardust. You will become…beautiful.”

They would learn to dance all day and then at night, performed it for an audience. Ustaad sahab made them dress like girls. In the beginning that used to upset him a lot. He was a boy! His mother always told him that dancing was for girls. In his initial days at ayaash ghar, he would refuse his elders, gurus as they were called there. He wouldn’t dress in girls’ clothes or learn dancing.

“I’m not a girl!” he would cry out loud when the gurus came to take him to learn dance.

Then one day Ustaad Sakhi came to see him. He seemed like a nice enough man, kind too. So he complained to him about it and told him how the gurus were asking him to do girly things. That day he learned how misleading appearances can be. For when Ustaad ji was finished beating him, he couldn’t even walk straight for days.

“Girly things, huh? And what exactly are you? You are a hijrra! And hijrras dance.”

“But I don’t want to stay here! My mama always said that I’ll become a doctor!” he cried trying to get away from the angry man.

“A doctor?” the man laughed  out loudly, “YOU? Your mom was a fool. Khusras don’t become doctors. They dance and beg and dance more!”

And that was the day he learned what was wrong with him, why nobody liked him. He was a mutation, as Ustaad sahab told him, a mistake of God, a sinner. And as much as he hated this, he knew Ustaad Sakhi was right. What else would a ... a khusra do if not dance?

“Hey you!” someone jerked his shoulder and brought him back from his train of thoughts. “Dance for me, will ya?”. It was a man sitting on the backseat of a bike with his friend. They were sneering in his direction.

“Certainly” He replied faking a smile on his face. And then he danced. From rust to stardust. People around him whistled and hooted. Others looked at him with disgust. In the end when the signal turned green, the boys on the bike threw an old ten rupee note towards him and drove away laughing. Nobody noticed his sad eyes glistening with tears of humiliation and shame.
In Ayaash Ghar, they were taught how to dance to attract and seduce. That was not a traditional dance. Instead the moves that Ustaad Sakhi taught them were very vulgar.
“Look around you. You’ll see a bunch of garbage. None of you have any place in this 
world”, Sakhi would say as he paced around their practice room, “here in this house, I teach you a way of filling your stomachs. Always remember, this world has a weakness, exploit that and get whatever you want. Besides, there isn’t much a khusra can do besides that , is there?” he’d finish with a sly smile on his face.

“Ustaad jee...” he fell in front of Ustaad Sakhi as he opened his door. He was very badly beaten. Every inch of his place was wet with blood. Ustaad ji looked up at him.

“Heavens! What happened to you?” he said startled at his appearance.

“Those people... those guests.... they took me when I was dancing.... kidnap... they beat me Ustaad jee... their hands all over me.... drunk..” he tried his best to explain what those monsters did to him. How they violated him and beat him and then left him for dead at the side of the road when they were done with him. He could still hear them laughing and wooing, could still feel their hands over him..

“Hmm.. so go and wash up. Then get some sleep. You’ll be delighted to know that they paid double than the usual rate. They really liked you!”


“Go on now. Get yourself cleaned up.”

“You..  You knew?”

“Of course I did. That’s why I sent you. They really like them young you know.”

“But.. But you said... Rust to stardust.. Through dancing.”

“Oh come on now. It wasn’t dancing so what? You fulfilled someone’s needs. That is your role, isn’t it? You’re a khusra. You can’t possibly ask for more, can you? And besides, look at all this cash. You did transform yourself from rust to stardust.” He winked, “Now off you go. I need to get some rest now. Busy day tomor.....”

It all happened so fast. He leapt towards Ustaad Sakhi before he had even finished what he was saying,  grabbed the first thing he saw in front of him, which happened to be a large stone showpiece, and smashed it on his head. Ustaad went down without a fight. It even surprised him how his broken body suddenly had found somuch strength. What Ustaad said made him angry and mortified. He knew he was worthless. But this? Sakhi couldn't be right. It wasn't supposed to go like that, not even for valueless people like him. He deserved at least more than that, right? He had to. He couldn't seem to stop himself from hitting Ustaad.  Khusra! Khusra! Khusra! He started hearing the voices of children mocking him when he went to play with them.

He kept hitting.

“Look at yourself! You disgust me!” his father, when he asked him to take him to the market with him.
 He kept hitting.
“Stay in the room and don’t come out until they are gone, okay? His sister, hiding him in a dusty old cupboard when her friends came to their house. He was really excited to meet them and had prepared his welcome all day long. But in the end, didn’t get permission to meet them.

He kept hitting.

“Alas! such a shame he’ll bring to this family!”
“Throw him out, he is a punishment for your sins!”
“A khusra in our own family? Astaghfirullah!”
“An abomination”

 He kept hitting.

“Khusras are just meant to dance and please, don’t fool yourself by thinking you’ll ever have any sort of respect in this world.” Ustaad Sakhi’s words.

He kept hitting.

He kept hitting until all the voices had vanished. He kept going till he could no longer hear the amused voices and laughs of the men who abused him, as he cried in pain. All the people who made fun of him when he begged for money on various Chowks, he didn’t stop until their voices disappeared.

“Mom look! A khusra!”
“Make sure your door is locked, Ali.”

He kept going. Chunks of flesh and blood spread all around him as he kept hitting what used to be Ustaad's head.
And then in the end, came his mom, her kind face, her beautiful angelic smile.

“My son will grow up to become a doctor, the world’s best doctor!” And he remembered lying beside her, her hands gently caressing his hair. Her calm soothing voice when he used to cry in front of her.

“WHY MOM....... WHY?” , he cried, “WHY D....DID YOU HAVE TO LEAVE SO... SO SOON? WHY??” his tears mixing up with the blood all around him, some his, some Ustaad’s. Blood of two sinners combined, stale, rust colored blood. Wasn’t blood supposed to be red?

And then he danced. He danced on the blood of the man who had taken everything away from him. He could no longer feel any pain. It was all gone now. He had become numb. He danced and danced and danced. Just like he was taught to, but this time, he enjoyed it too. Now he knew what it was like to achieve stardust through dancing. He danced until he couldn’t,  smiling at the transformation. He was free now. He had gotten rid of all of his rust. Rust and stardust. Rust and stardust.

“You were right Ustaad jee. You were so right.” he murmured as he fell on the corpse of the man he had just killed.
When they buried him, they wrote this on the gravestone;

“Only in death do we realize,
We find stardust after shedding away our rust”.