Dawn News

How long can I tell lies to my children?

“This is the story of a little boy and his mother who were poor but honest,” I told my sons when they asked for a story. “His father was dead, so they lived on whatever money his mom brought home, working as a domestic help.”

Although I had a wide range of stories to choose from – fairy tales to Alif Laila, I decided to tell them a positive story from my homeland, a land they have not yet seen but are keen to know about.

When I was a child, I thought there were plenty of positive stories. Now I am not so sure. Are you?

On Eid day, the mother said to her son: “Wake up, beta, it’s time for Eid prayers.”

“Didn’t she go with him to the mosque?” asked my son Ramiz.

“No, she had to clean up their little hut and prepare something for Eid,” I lied.

I did not tell him that in my country mosques are for men only.

It would have confused my children. Their mother goes to the mosque with them. Also, at school they pray with girls, not separately.

“I hope she made a cake for him because I do not like Eid dishes,” said Ariz.

“No, beta, she did not make a cake and cooked no Eid dishes either.” This time I could not lie.

“Why not?” asked Ryan.

“Because they had no money,” I said.

“They were poor, don’t you see,” said Ariz to his brother. “They will get food from the community kitchen.”

“They lived in a small village where there was no community kitchen,” I said, not telling them that many sleep hungry in my country, Eid or no Eid.

“Why are there so many poor people where you come from, Baba?” asked Ramiz.

I did not know why but Ryan saved me. “Let’s proceed with the story,” he said.

“The boy went out of the hut and started washing himself,” I said.

“Out in the open? Didn’t they have a bathroom?” asked one of the three.

“Most people do not have bathrooms there,” I had to admit.

“They do not have bathrooms?” this time all three shouted together. “How is it possible?” asked one. “How can you not have a bathroom?” asked another.

Not sure how to respond, I said: “They had not yet built one.”

“OK, OK, so they go to a public toilet,” said the third one.

I could not tell him that I once went to a public toilet back home and could not eat the whole day.

The boy washed himself and said: “Mom, I am ready. Where is my Eid dress?”

The mother gave him his dress: a pair of old Shalwar Kameez with patches to hide the holes.

“But mom, people wear new clothes on Eid,” the boy protested.

“You know, beta, we cannot afford new clothes,” said the mother, wiping her tears.

The son, being a poor boy, understood and put on the dress. He then asked for food. The mother gave him some pieces of bread with pickles. The son, being poor, understood and ate what his mother gave.

“How could he understand so much, he was just a little boy?” asked Ramiz.

“He did,” said I, without daring to explain that where I come from poor boys and girls understand everything. They have to because they have no choice.

After he finished eating, the mother sent her poor son to the mosque, wiping her tears.

“Why just cry?” asked one of the three. “She could have done some extra work and bought her son a pair of new clothes and food for Eid day,” he said.

I could not explain that being a young widow, she did not have too many options.

The mosque was far from his hut. The boy walked slowly, with a heavy heart, looking at other boys in new clothes and with filled stomachs.

He went to the mosque and sat in a corner. No one greeted him and he greeted no one.

When the prayer was over, he got up quietly and walked out of the mosque. Nobody hugged him or said ‘Eid Mubarak’ to him.

“No, that’s not true,” said Ryan. “So many people greet you and you have to hug so many that it hurts.”

It reminded me of his comments after the Eid prayers, “enough of Eid Mubarak, dad. Let’s go home.”

“But this boy was poor,” I said.

“So nobody says Eid Mubarak to a poor boy?” asked Ariz. “That’s too bad.”

“Not exactly, there are a lot of good people too,” I defended my homeland. “They give food and clothes to the poor and say Eid Mubarak to them as well.”

It was a half-truth. I have seen people giving food and clothes but never saw people saying Eid Mubarak to the poor.

The boy was very sad. He too wanted new clothes and Eid food. Also, he did not like the way people treated him in the mosque, pushing him to the last row.

When he thought of this he too started crying. And that’s when an angel came to him.

(As I brought this angel into the story, I thought: “If the boy tells his neighbours that an angel came to him, they will accuse him of blasphemy. If they are lucky, his mother and he will spend the rest of their lives in prison. If not, they will be killed.”)

The angel came to the boy and gave him a large packet, full of new clothes, and asked: “Is this yours?”

There were plenty of clothes, for both him and his mother. So the boy felt like saying, “this is mine” but instead said: “No, this is not. I am a poor boy I do not have such clothes.”

“He was a very honest boy,” I told my children. I could not tell them that even if he were not honest, he could not have accepted those clothes. Had the neighbours seen him wearing those clothes, they would have brought the police to their hut. He could not take such risks.

The angel disappeared and came again, this time with a basket full of sweets, cakes and chocolates. The boy had seen them in city stores but had never tasted them. So when the angel asked, he almost said yes but then said, “No.”

“Honesty again,” I told my sons. I did not tell them that fear too played a key role. Since the boy did not have the resources to buy such things, he would have been accused of stealing them from a shop.

The angel disappeared and the boy went home. He told his mother how someone had tried to get him arrested by offering him new clothes and food and how he saw the trap and rejected the offers.

And the mother thought of one of the Sahebs she worked for. He lived alone, his wife lived in another city, and he often tried to take advantage of her situation. The woman told him that after her husband’s death, she had devoted her entire life to her son and had no interest in anything else.

“Is he trying to get my son arrested, so that he could have his way?” she thought. “I will stop going there,” she resolved.

Obviously, I did not say any of these to my sons.

And while the mother and the son were still discussing the incident, someone knocked. When the boy opened the door, he saw the angel again.

“Mom, it is the same man who tried to get me arrested,” said the boy. But I did not share this with my sons. I told them that the boy opened the door and invited the angel inside.

Imagine a young widow inviting an angel-looking man inside her home! How could I tell my children that had her neighbours seen this, both could have been sentenced to “death by stoning,” if not actually stoned by the neighbours themselves.

The angel showed them a box of jewellery, real gold, pearls and stones, no imitation.

“What have we done to you? Why are you after us?” asked the woman, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Tell the man who hired you, he can never get what he wants.”

The man explained that he was an angel and was here to help them. What they experienced was aimed at testing their honesty and they had passed the test. Now was the time to reward them.

“I like staring at the moon but I am not lunatic,” said the women. “Angels do not come knocking at poor people’s doors.”

But the angel showed them evidence and convinced them that he indeed was an angel.

“But how will you help us?” asked the woman. “If you gave us money, we will be accused of stealing and end up in a jail. If you built a palace for us, as you say you can, the land mafia will kill us and seize the property.”

“I can set up a business for you and teach your boy how to be a successful businessman,” said the angel.

“That is a long-term plan. Where will you live while you execute this plan?” asked the woman.

“Here with you,” said the angel.

This alarmed the woman again. “So I was right, your intentions are not good,” she said.

“No, no, no. Do not doubt my sincerity. I will come back tomorrow with a solution,” he said.

The next day, an old woman knocked at their door. “Who are you?” asked the widow.

The woman laughed and said: “I am the angel who came yesterday. I consulted other angels and they also said that in your country people can stone an angel too. So I came back as a woman.”

“But this is just a disguise and it may not work,” said the widow.

“No, it is not a disguise. I can take any shape I want,” said the angel. Obviously, I did not share any of this with my children.

The story I told them was simple: The angel stayed there as a man, bought cattle, hired people and established a successful dairy farm. He also helped the boy establish a shop in the city and returned to his abode after accomplishing the mission.

The reality is, I do not know if the angel accomplished his mission. All I know is that many men, women and children still live in abject poverty. All are waiting but no angel comes to them.


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (61) Closed

Aug 25, 2012 04:19pm
The bitter truth
Ehsan Hadi
Aug 25, 2012 03:29pm
I agree, this story depicts the negativity prevailing in our society, and newspaper. They don't want to see the positivity in anything or talk about the good being done by a lot of people.
Karachi Wala
Aug 25, 2012 10:21am
Nice try. I wonder for kids born/living into privileged families and countries this "Alif Laila" story would make any sense.
Aug 25, 2012 02:18pm
Even in my country that is supposed to be a modern Muslim nation,I do not see many women worshiping in mosques. Why? Is not the house of Allah open to all his believers?
Aug 25, 2012 03:27pm
i like ur ideas
Aug 25, 2012 03:30pm
But far from facts and reality!!!
El Cid
Aug 25, 2012 07:42pm
@Waleed: Such an intelligent constructive positive response. So wisely put. With people like you still around, Edhi and Imran Khan has a vibrant energy source: A well-spring of energatic, emotionally mature and physically healthy people to draw from. The transfer of depression, despondency and defeat to the next generation has to be nipped in the bud and replaced with enthusiasm, energy, courage and foresight...your post demonstrates. Well said.
Aug 25, 2012 10:49pm
Splendid story
Deepen C
Aug 25, 2012 05:44pm
Pakistan has the best story to tell their children for generations to come........ The story how Americans found out OBL in the backyard of the country's army camp!
Aug 25, 2012 11:33am
Wonderful Story sir. Made me feel human not hindu nor indian. There are many poor in south asia. May we all get motivated to do more to help others in our neighbourhood.
Aug 25, 2012 11:26am
"I consulted other angels and they also said that in your country people can stone an angel too"....hehe.......funny....i liked it........seems a truth..............
Aug 25, 2012 11:26am
Thank you for your positive approach.
Aug 25, 2012 11:09am
I think you think a lot.....Be proud of ur country. Tell him the facts before he finds out from someone else. Its a good story but I dont think hidding the facts would create a big impression. U never know he grows up to be a saviour one day.
Aug 25, 2012 10:00am
He(Anwar Iqbal) always inspires me by his writings....!!!
Aug 27, 2012 07:19am
Please pull up the proportions/percentages of rich/middle-class/poor/poorest people in the USA and Pakistan? You will know which story is more representative then!
Aug 25, 2012 10:42am
Here is my true small story. Living in pakistan upto for a few years ago we always had a typical eid with good food, good clothes and eidi but it meant nothing this is what we had every day anyway so not much was new other than permission to watch tv unlimited. But 3 children in our servant quarter i have envied at every eid. They got new clothes always on eid , they were allowed to go out , they got money in the hand only on both eids and got money not only from their parents but also from our mother. Got great food that day. They way they glowed could be seen from meters away. Oh God how they enjoyed doing everything they didnt get all year. Even though their clothes even on eid were not so good and eidi they got was lesser than us but still they were the winners.
Aug 25, 2012 11:57pm
religions are man made!
Ali Anwar
Aug 25, 2012 10:53pm
I so agree with waleed. Looks like Dawn has gone around and picked writers who have nothing positive to say about pakistan. I have been noticing this for a while. Dawn seems to cherish negativity , that is all they do. Instead of using this platform and using it to provide solutions they are dissemanating negativity. Most of dawns writers are just that "writers". there are very few practical achievers at Dawn. people who have accomplished something or done something worthwhile. any body can sit around and indulge in negative talk all the time.r Change YOur attitude Dawn or you will lose readership.
Cyrus Howell
Aug 25, 2012 11:30pm
You have a point, but too many in Pakistan are ducking their political and social responsibilities. You can't lead from behind.
Aug 25, 2012 05:51pm
+1 to Waleed's comments. Choosing the right and truthful words that bring out the positive can be very hard, but not impossible. I'm sure you can imagine a child at first day of school (pre-school, etc.). When you pick up the child, you can either say "did you cry" or "did you have fun?" The choice is yours and what comes out is a reflection of your own mindset.
Aug 25, 2012 06:16pm
Very beautiful,heart touching and inspiring article.
Ali Jaffar Zaidi
Aug 25, 2012 12:52pm
Beautifully expressed, vey touching.
Iftikhar Siddique
Aug 25, 2012 12:50pm
Well done, once again, Anwar Iqbal. Its a dilemma that haunts us all, who live in the West. What do we tell our children, when they question us about our homeland? And most of us, we lie. We tell blatant lies not only to our children but also to our friends to save face and the pride, we take in the country of our origin. Its the cost of patriotism that we happily pay at the expense of our conscious.
Aug 25, 2012 10:34am
You really write well, Sir.
Aug 25, 2012 10:36am
Im surprized at your article. Cindrella didnt have a mother does that make it the reason to be the worst story. Beauty and the beast beauty was kept in a castle by the beast does it make it a story which noone can even think of telling. Snowwhites step mother tried to give her a poisonous apple so you dont tell that to a child. Same goes for true stories of the west tell your kids on our eids there is the entire family maybe no good clothes but both mother and father are present on every eid unlike other cultures. And by the way that is the moral of the story good clothes dont make you happy. That is the basic thing children need to learn. Something is wrong with our thinking process as a nation. As long as the same story comes from another country we are happy but if it comes from our own country its not acceptable. I can give you hundreds of true and fictious stories. Which ones are you looking for.
Aug 25, 2012 10:38am
As always, what a wonderful story sir :)
Aug 26, 2012 01:52am
Each one of the Anwar iqbal 's writing is soul searching it has come to the stage that he brings the truth of life in words as never before. A nation of despondency should wake up and can see the darkness and try to search for light.
Aug 25, 2012 10:31am
aap ne story boht drag kardi, It has lost its grip :(
Iqbal Hussain
Aug 26, 2012 04:42pm
When I went through the article it took me back in 70s when the things were not favorable for us in terms of resources available to live with happiness and comfortably. There was only one bread earner who used to feed 10 members of the family, a practice of a joint-family that’s why the people were hand to mouth. However despite growing up in poverty our parents left no stone untenured to educate us at least matric level (up to class 10) and it is we who further studied and did our Master and PhDs’ - So we should not blame our parents they did according to their strength & access. I am certain that we are self-made and we should not be reluctant to share with our children that “Yes I am self-made and I did a lot of struggle to make my life” whatever the luxurious you have owned it has been earned after multiple sacrifice, working day and night for gold and glory with the only motive to attain betterment and advancement of our children. Such conviction & devotion will enable our children to think about us and this will be a key message for them to prosper, grow and make their life more successful.
Asad Malik
Aug 25, 2012 03:13pm
Thank you for writing what I was about to
Aug 25, 2012 09:09pm
It seems that we make them "winners" by first making them losers.
Aug 26, 2012 10:20am
Your response is better than the article. There are billions of sad stories in this human race of 6 billion and more people. We should not sugar-coat them and try to turn every human story a positive one... but that cause is certainly not helped by the dozens of daily blogs in our english papers that compete with each other in which spreads more pessimism and self-hatred. A more positive approach would be to do a rational and objective analysis of the problems, discuss solutions, and present positive examples to inspire others. Just one example: Every time i visit Pakistan, i see new examples of smart entrepreneurs that have come up with innovative business ideas and succeeding with them (e.g. the solar rickshaw concept) despite all the social and economic problems... however i am yet to see any blog or documentary that celebrate such examples.
Aug 26, 2012 10:21am
Anwar iqbal is a good writer i am reader of his writings make me nostalgic as he always look in his paragraphs of reporting his short stories reminds me late 70s 80,Anwar's kids don't know about his home land is a hell for innocence but when they ll grow up they will know them selves Anwar don't want to feel ashamed when his children will say our father is a brave man he survived such a idiotic society on earth,Anwar is a roving eye for dawn.com, he is a story teller of story tellers,cheers
Tahir M. Raja
Aug 25, 2012 01:37pm
Respecting Anwar sb. opinion but unfortunately the thoughts of most of us who speak,write and think in English and especially sitting in foreign land are very different as to the reality. In the present world this is primarily due to the manner in which my "Land" is presented by the media which includes even own own media. I am from the English medium and went every day for Taravees to the mosque and than on Eid. Sorry sir, the situation was not as presented. As to angel coming to the ones with poverty. KIndly do not give a wrong impression. First ask the ones who on the earth are duty bound to do away with the problems such as poverty,etc. And than question pious role players like Angels. We need to start thinking in a balance and realistic manner.
Aug 27, 2012 05:22am
Maybe the writer can come back and do something about the problems instead of writing about it from thousands of miles away !!!
Aug 26, 2012 03:48pm
What an amazing tale! My heart cried out when the young kid was offered the goodies and he didn't take it. People of Pakistan need enlightenment. The society is in duplicity.
Aug 26, 2012 07:51am
... and be in denial...
Aug 26, 2012 07:24am
Lets have the courage to tell our children that Angels (if they exist?) do not interfere in our lives and people have to fight it out in this jungle on our own.
Aug 26, 2012 07:09am
zafar musyani khuzdar
Aug 26, 2012 06:43am
superb and heart touching article, may all help those who spend their Eid without dress and shoes and other needs and with a paining stomach
Aug 27, 2012 02:20am
I think out society is getting numb from listening tales likes this. It is really dangerous.. Let's start offering solution..... and practical solution. Can we have some Muhammad Younis of Bangaldesh among us?
Secular Pakistani
Aug 25, 2012 06:59pm
anwar bhai this is some great stuff
Aug 26, 2012 06:10am
I am not going to judge if the purpose of the story is to ridicule our country or to try a positive change by identifying very important negative behaviours in our society. Personally I believe the writer wants us to realize these shortcommings in our society and understand the true meaning of Eid that is sharing with poor and treat them as our brothers. Excellent article. I also agree with the difficulties faced by women in our society as highlighted by the author and we have to give a better environment to our women. These are realities and we should try to change ourselves.
Mahfooz Ahmad
Aug 25, 2012 12:29pm
Mahfooz malik Hey Anwar Iqbal you have surprised me yet again .It is a very moving and wonderful reflection on a class society where even angels feel hesitant to visit.Well done .
Ali Arman
Aug 26, 2012 05:20am
Pain is painful but articulated pain with such perfection is lethal but it moves us to rise up and struggle for a change. Mr Anwar you are a lethal writer but keep it up so we can rise from ashes.
Biswajeet Banerjee
Aug 26, 2012 04:44am
A touching story. I am from Lucknow in India. The situation here in no different. You brought stark reality of life veneered in positivity. Congrats sir.
Nadeem Khan
Aug 25, 2012 04:51pm
Fully agree with your thoughts, these are so called Liberal Pakistanis who make Pakistani Bashing a habit and couldnt see any positive image of Pakistani. Why dont Anwar Iqbal come back to Pakistan and become an angel
Sam Malone
Aug 25, 2012 06:56pm
Aug 26, 2012 02:36am
You brought tears to my eyes
Aug 25, 2012 10:48am
Another master piece...
Aug 25, 2012 10:49am
I told my son a similar story....one where a poor boy living in the US does not know who his father is....this poor boys mother is a crack addict and too busy stealing money to fullfill her addiction rather than providing for her children....these poor children lived in the poor black neighbourhoods of the US..and before they knew it an angel in the form of a gang leader was trying to recruit them...these angels asked them to do some very serious tasks ...maybe even break the law....... I could go on.... The problem in the story you narrated is not that there are no good stories of Pakistan, it is that your mind is filled with negativity and pessimism and you are transferring it to your children...There are mosques in Pakistan where women go and pray...moreover in some locations women have seperate mosques where they pray behind a female imam...In pakistan you have had a female prime minister...something the US can still hardly dream of...We have women a woman heading the parliment etc etc etc.... The prism you are looking through is the same prism your western colleagues look through when they judge you and your culture..women praying in a seperate room, forced to cover themselves up from head to toe etc etc etc im sure uv heard it all.... Having said that i do not condone what is happening in pakistan at this time, things are bad and looking to get worse...i will not pass the blame to anyone else..we are to blame...however...negativity is a mindset...the first step is to make sure our children do not grow up with the negativity we are surrounded by...it is your job to make sure your children see a better picture of pakistan...one with beautiful mountains and sure some people use toilets outside their houses..and some people sleep hungry...but there is beautiful fruit that is better than anywhere in the world..there is organic farming where vegetables taste amazing...there are restaurants that serve hallal food and u dont have to worry about pork...there is a cricket team, hockey team, squash team that have achieved so much...there are people who after having gone through so much are still standing and shouting out that we will not go down and we will work and do good...there are people like edhi sb and Imran khan...
Aug 25, 2012 11:50am
Waleed. Your point about too much negativity not being good is well taken but the man is writing a story integrating all the social ills in a country. Similar stories can be written about other countries too. The point is that we should introspect and learn from it be it the ill-treatment of blacks/brown in America or the struggle of untouchables in India. In both Pakistan and India there are lots of well to do people who can do a whole lot more for the poor and these kinds of wonderful stories can provoke them into doing something positive for the community. Peace.
Aug 29, 2012 10:10am
An observation to reflect on!
Aug 27, 2012 09:19pm
Hope you have less children than other muslims who have dozens. If you have one or two kids, then you can give them a good education and help them to become a good human.
Akhter Husain
Aug 27, 2012 06:59am
Very touchy I can only shed few tears. It will be normal attitude there after, that is, never to think about down-trodden.
ashar aneel
Aug 26, 2012 12:07pm
great work anwer bhai! wonder full piece of writing!
Aug 28, 2012 10:59am
Great article. you have an eye to see the other dimensions of the world and hence you are able to see what others might not. Very few people have such kind of Intellect. great!!!!
pk surendran
Aug 26, 2012 10:15am
Great Anwar, a revealing story. Any community that discrimiantes against a sex is blind, deaf and has no right to exist. I, as a journalist, had writen (12 yeears ago) how the high priest of a Trivandrum mosque (forgot his name) defied orthodoxy and allowed women to pray with men (with a screen dividing them). The bigots howled but he was firm. We featured him in Times of India. It was a great act opening eyes of those unlettered Mullahs who wanted women out. Dont be a coward. pschology of religious terrorists is that of a dog's. if you run, it will come after you. Dare it, it will wimp and go away
P N Eswaran
Aug 30, 2012 02:27pm
Falsehood is addicting. The writer should apologize for disturbing your delusions.
Aug 28, 2012 08:08am
@ El Cid for one I partly agree with you. a very wisely put answer by Waleed, indeed. Which does not go on to say that self criticism should be nipped at the bud. On the contrary, self criticism will only make us stronger and self reflection will help for improving the stand and image as a nation better. @ Waleed like you I see a lot of good in Pakistan and potential too, what I am transferring to my son. But I also tell my son that there is a lot of bad in this world, regardless of where it is and that those who aim to make the world a better place for others and themselves in whatever magnitude are the fortunate ones.
Aug 29, 2012 09:07am
When I read this story it took me back to when I was a kid. We did not have much but my parents struggled a lot to give us an education and the best of life that they could. My parebts are no more but they taught us to be self sufficient. By the grace of God today we have everything but have not forgotten our past. thank you my parents, may you get all the hapiness in God's Kingdom, and thank you 'writer' for this story