My father and I snuck into the stables of the Aligarh Horse Riding Club. It was all part of my father's attempt to sell me onto the idea of studying at the Aligarh Muslim University in India. I loved horses - I had my own horse colouring book, a prized copy of Black Beauty, and very happy memories of attending a horse show hosted by the Sultan of Oman who shared this passion with me - hence the cleverly planned detour from the usual campus visit.
Not a soul was to be seen on the riding grounds that summer afternoon. Even the gatekeeper had left for the afternoon siesta. Nothing moved except for the stiff swaying of summer-dried plants. There was no sound except for the dull hum of insects lazily buzzing about the dusty flora. I was 15 years old, and had never seen a horse so up close before. His name was Rustam. My father and I stepped into his stable, cool and shaded from the sleepy sun. What a beautiful creature he was. Gigantic, statuesque, tall and strong, his deep black coat thick on his rocky muscles, but a face so unassuming, an eye so gentle, you knew his soul had remained uncorrupted. I approached him slowly, never having been so close to a horse before, suddenly aware of some primal connection between us all, dimly conscious of origins that they try their hardest to make us forget.
He was so much bigger than me. I had never seen anything so large have a life of its own. I looked at his strong hooves, much bigger and tougher-looking than my fists, and worried that he might step onto my smaller sandaled feet. A machine of muscle and bone and breath that I'd only seen pictures of, yet here it was, a whole other creature, just as alive as me, maybe even better than me.
I touched his large neck, afraid that he might flinch and crush my fragile feet with his rocky ones. But he didn't. He knew in the silence that I was only here to appreciate him. I felt his life under my palm, a living being, a whole other existence different from my own. I slowly touched the flat of his face, startled at the hardness of it, aware of his acknowledgment of me. Rustam the Arabian horse, Rustam the hero of Shahnameh, Rustam the creature of God I met for a few minutes and have remembered since.
Did He smile His work to see? Did He who made the lamb make thee?