Muhammed Zafar Iqbal studied Physics from Dhaka University and later pursued a PhD. from the University of Washington in the United States. After working as a scientist in researches conducted by the California Institute of Technology and Bel Communications for nearly two decades, Zafar returned to Bangladesh and took up the post of Head of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology. He is a widely read author of children's books and science fiction novels. The readers' favorite writer had won the Bangla Academy Prize in 2004.
Muhammad Zafar Iqbal
I am always asked to return straight home after buying a human child from the market. We eat the flesh about twice every month as a treat. It has turned into a habit to invite friends every month to dinner on those two special nights. I remain nonchalant about it all, unlike my wife who gets very excited.
Buying humans used to be a luxury for us middle classed families. But it's different now. The government subsidizes the stores that sell children. But then again, who knows for how long? The opposition might just make this an agenda in the upcoming elections. I find all of this very childish! Will adultery stop just because prostitution is obliterated? Human flesh consumption will not end even if it is banned. The government also has to look after the economy — if these children from the colonized countries were not consumed then they would die of disease, starvation or war anyways.
It was just the other day that I was reading a published letter. The author thinks that selling children should be stopped (I can bet that this lady cannot go by without human meat a single meal). She opined that it is against humanity to consume other humans. If I was to accept that argument, I would have to give up eating ducks, chickens, fish… everything! We are all living creatures. Then should we abstain from eating any other creature? It's not logical. The ones she referred to as humans are only human by appearance. And that was her mistake from the very beginning, because there is no difference between ducks, chicken, or fish and these 'humans'.
Anyways, I visited one of my regular shops on my way back home. The manager came out smiling once he spotted me. He said I could wait for the new shipment scheduled to arrive from Africa. I did not have time on my hands, and besides that: I never liked African children — the meat is always a little too gamey.
I went into the shop with the manager. Two to three naked children occupied each small cage in the shop. I never saw any of them speak. But how could they? They were all bought as soon as they left their mothers’ teats, put on special diets for rapid fattening till the age of three or four, and then shipped off to different markets all over the world.
Noticing the same girl with a missing hand from last time, I asked, “Are all the children in each shipment always sold out?”
“They are,” the manager replied in a proud tone, “We like to maintain quality in this shop.”
“What happens to the ones not sold?”
“If any of them are unfit for sale, they are killed. You must be aware — the papers covered the story extensively — the whole shipment from Indonesia had to be culled for some kind of virus infection. We had to bear a huge loss!”
I was observing a little boy; I don't know why, but he looked very familiar. He was averting my gaze. The boy was actually not recognizable; it was his actions that were. My youngest son acts the same way for doing something wrong. I was very surprised and shocked. I was comparing the boy meant for dinner with my own son!
A very strange thought peeked into my mind: what if my youngest son Babul was being sold like this? Shoving aside the horrible idea I started choosing amongst the available boys.
A Middle Eastern boy caught my eye; very plump — even though small — with full cheeks, and fair. The shop clerk expertly tied the limbs behind his back and put him in the car. If it was not for the brand on his forehead, he could definitely be passed off as a regular human child.
Once I reached home, I heard that my younger brother had passed away. His wife's ex-husband Jamshed had shot him in the head. I am very cool under pressure, and so listened very carefully and asked for every little detail. I called the police and visited his wife before going to the morgue. She was absolutely broken and very scared, “Jamshed will kill me too if he finds me”. I calmed her down and was on my way.
It took four whole days to resolve the matter. No food was cooked in the house during the time. After all the hassle was taken care of, and having slept off the fatigue, I asked my wife to cook something special. And it was right at that moment I remembered having bought a human child. After going into the storeroom, I saw that the child lay dead in the filth; we had even forgotten to untie him. Calling the wife I said, “It's dead. Get rid of it.”
“Really?” she entered the store very curiously and a bit later started shouting from inside, “he's not dead yet! There's a heartbeat!”
I was surprised! I would die if I was left there with my limbs bound together for just fifteen minutes! This boy had not even one drop of water for four whole days! Strange how strong life forces these things have!
“Come look what the boy's doing.”
“What good will that do? Throw it away. It will be dead in a few minutes anyway.”
“How can I throw it away alive?”
“Step on its throat with a bit of pressure for a minute.”
I don't know why, but my wife freed it and brought it over into the open space. She covered it up with some old rags and fed it some warm milk. She started to feed it some kind of tonic every two hours around the clock. The amount of care, I swear! It seemed as if it was her own son that had fallen ill!
Surprisingly it was back to full health in just two weeks. My wife didn't even acknowledge me when I asked her to slaughter the kid. I was absolutely sure of her attachment to the kid when she refused to slaughter it even for Babul's birthday. Instead she had bought another child from the market for the feast. The whole matter was childish! It got to a point where the kid had bitten her for trying to put clothes on it. The whole matter really started to vex me and I scolded her again and again saying that it could only become a well-trained chimpanzee, but never a full-fledged human; there was no use caring so much about it. But somehow women, especially my wife, have their own ways of being stupidly stubborn about very childish and illogical matters. She had even named it: Junglee.
And how surprising it was! The kid was very obedient to her and had started to learn how to speak as well. I am not sure if it was to irritate me, but it would yell for food whenever hungry and would say no, no, no in its shrill voice every time something was not to its liking.
A very good friend and my wife's elder brother Ahsan came over during one of those days. A leftist; dealing with guns and ammunition and always running from the police. “Will stay here till late in the night”, he had said, and mockingly, “so feed me with something good.”
It's always futile to ask him to stay over, and on the other hand arranging for food at that hour was cumbersome. My wife asked, “What to do? What do I feed Dada with?”
I was perplexed, but the very next moment I thought of Junglee. She piped up saying, “No, no, no…”
“No — No? What do you mean by no?”
Irritated I asked, “Will you keep him around forever?”
She had fallen silent.
“Go and have him slaughtered.”
“But, not Junglee…”
Ahsan entered the kitchen right at that moment, “What's the matter?”
“Nothing Dada, absolutely nothing,” she spoke up and tried to hide the whole thing, “go take rest and dinner will be ready in a bit.” She had looked at me very sadly as if to say that I should not tell him. I would have maybe kept the whole thing a secret, but it being so childish I could not help but tell Ahsan. My wife usually listens to him. Maybe he could get rid of her childishness!
Ahsan burst out in laughter after hearing the whole story, “You haven't changed one bit. Still the childish little girl that you always used to be! There are so many other hardships in this world; does it help if you are going to be so emotional about such little details?”
He had held Junglee's head while slaughtering him. He was adept and skilled in many things and never saw any work as demeaning. I could not help but applaud how expertly he had made the blood spill into the basin without spilling even one drop. Junglee kept on screaming the whole time while with his sad eyes gazing at my wife. She stood there rigid and grimacing all the while. It was hard for her to see even a chicken being slaughtered; and this was Junglee, the boy she nurtured back to health.
It had taken quite a while for the meat to cook. But the cooking was excellent none the less! Ahsan and I had enjoyed the food very much. But my wife on the other hand could not eat one bite — she had played with a piece of bone from the ribs all along the while, while pretending to eat. I did not say anything though. Who knows how the human mind works and when it acts up with irrationality?
My wife used to be ashamed of the whole incident at the beginning. It has been a long time since. She isn't ashamed anymore, rather treats it amusingly now. Truly! It's strange how people turn so very childish at times!
Translated by Hasan Ameen Salahuddin
Illustration By Ujjal Ghose
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