He called me by the name I had loathed ever since I was a kindergarten student.
I did not know its meaning then, but I could make out that I was being looked down upon when I heard this word thrown at me for the first time by a sneering group of senior boys in the school bus.
And how vividly I recall that day from my early adolescent years when I encountered it during an inter-school cricket match! I was humiliated with the word when the captain of my team was run out due to my mistake and we lost the match. I rushed home and cried silently after locking myself inside the washroom. My mother made umpteen futile attempts to know why I cried that afternoon. That was the last time I cried though. I used to play really well but I discontinued playing the sport after that.
The number of instances when someone mocked me by calling me that name surged over time. Believe me, it affected my blood the way quinine affects the blood cells to kill malaria parasites. I actually began to imagine mosquitoes dying after pulling a meal from my blood vessels.
And, how can you overlook the muscles that I wear today? It’s not that I have been a gym enthusiast from the beginning. It’s only when a couple of bullies tested their muscles while I tried to show some resistance that I felt a need to respond. Everyone at the gym envied my weight lifting capabilities. They could only dream of carrying the weight I lifted in each set.
I experienced that one’s fear amongst others is proportional to the power one possesses. Nobody dared taking that name in front of me. I overheard it at my back sometimes but always tried not to look back and let go. Whenever the fury began rising up from the bottom of my heart, I would to hit the gym or pedal kilometres on a deserted road.
I had nevertheless become afraid of the rage sulking inside me more than anything else. I made a promise to myself that I would let the word strengthen me, make me more patient and resistant to the hardships that life has in store.
But today, when this man called me by the same name in front of my child … the suppressed bitter froth of anger and humiliation resurfaced. This was unlike anything I had experienced before. I could never feel that these people I come across everyday are my compatriots, and I did not want my child to begin thinking the way I have been made to.
I have never said anything wrong to anyone throughout my life. They have been doing it, persistently. And today, I want to know what gives them the right to behave as if they are the landlords of the nation, and I, some loathsome vermin.
Yes, I hit that man. But it was just a blow. I did not know it would be fatal. I could sense drops of my bitter blood coming together in the veins crisscrossing my biceps and flowing down to the fist where the lava of my rage had accumulated. This all erupted together in that single blow.
But judge sahib! If circumcision is a part of my faith, why should one have a right to call me a katua?
Parminder Singh is a Research Scholar at the Department of English & Cultural Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He was an IT Professional for over a decade. He the IT section of Panjab Digital Library since 2008 and has been instrumental in setting up this major resource on the preservation of the heritage of Panjab. He made a career-shift from the IT industry to teaching and also teaches English at DAV College, Chandigarh.
Parminder has presented papers at international and national conferences and seminars and his research papers have been published in peer-reviewed and refereed journals such as New Academia, Galaxy and Langlit and in conference proceedings. He has recently published a book Sikh Dharma, a Punjabi translation of Appreciating Sikhism. He has also been part of three anthologies of poetry in Punjabi, Kosse Chaanan (Lukewarm Lamps) and Kosse Chaanan II and Ghazal Udas Hai. His poetry has featured in the refereed journals such as South Asian Ensemble and The Criterion, and on websites such as Preetlarhi, ApnaOrg, Punjabizm, HaikuPunjabi, UNP, Seerat and Sanjhi Kalam.