Vision

I had been sitting alone with books,
Till doubt was a black disease,
When I heard the cheerful shout of rooks
In the bare, prophetic trees.
Bare trees, prophetic of new birth,
You lift your branches clean and free
To be a beacon to the earth,
A flame of wrath for all to see.
And the rooks in the branches laugh and shout
To those that can hear and understand:
“Walk through the gloomy ways of doubt
With the torch of vision in your hand.”

 

Aldous Huxley

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Linea Nigra

 

nature draws its masterpieces

with one continuous stretch of creation

a dot at the centre of your consciousness,

then nature’s pen drew you around yourself

first with rose petals and rainbows,

then adorns you with me and your mum

and some moonlight and rain and some

perfume of the earth and two shining stars:

the narrow straight path you see leads

straight to heaven which has been my abode

and now will be ours

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Khabarnama

 

kal baarish kee peshangoi hai

toofan aur taiz hawayen

baarish kay saath raqs dikhayen geen,

baadal bharpoor adakaari ka muzahira

kertay huay apni majboori kaa rona royen gay

woh ghareebon per barasna nahin chahtay,

dunya kay badtareen sheher ko bhighona nahin chahtay

magar inkay, balkay kisi kay bhi haath mein

hai hee kya siwayay

ahkaamaat bhari kokh* kay?

 

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*kokh is a hindi word which means a womb, you must have heard it used numerous times in sentimental indian movies. in urdu a womb is called rehum, as my friend H recalled from his treasure of vocabulary. 

Letters En Route

Thoughts are like fire that leaps from tree to tree in a forest. I can’t seem to find a way to start it. I can’t get hold of two necessary stones and if by chance I find them somewhere I can’t ignite a spark. So I let it be and wait looking hopefully up at the sky for nature to light up the forest through its own instruments. Sometimes the clouds gather but there is only a sprinkle and the miserly wombs of blessing float away. If believed that all the ideas and feelings are a result of chemical bodily processes and that thought is to brain what urine is to kidneys,  I might be suffering from intellectual anuria. What do you call a condition when you fear you might be hypochondriac? I think hypochondria covers that too, like the heart supplying blood to itself through coronaries. But that is not so, I do not think chemical reactions result in thoughts, noble or ignominious. Your absence is like the sky, its everywhere. I do not count the days that we spend apart in calculating my actual age and you know by that standard I will be two decades younger if we count from my actual birth. For such days are spent in limbo, an empty pocket in the sequence of time and space, non-being. My mind is in suspension until we win the war.  I have been thinking about rationalizations of human affections, especially love. Sometime ago, as I remember telling you, I had tried to define love as if for some dictionary. Defining such concepts naturally confines them to the words used. I understand that any such effort of containing spiritual and metaphysical concepts within the limits of articulations is bound to fail but what else can mortals do? Haven’t we all given meanings to concepts based on our mutual consensus. Money won’t be money if enough of us stop believing it is. We must creep for meanings, look into every nook and corner for an idea. We must imagine keyholes to peek into all the mysteries of such an apparently symmetrical world. So here is a litmus test of love: when its there, there is a deep sense of loss on imagining the absence of the subject. I hear you exclaiming: Subject? how scientific! I am not claiming that I love you by this definition only. While I can say that I love you because of this and that but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly.  Beyond you, if I ever think beyond you, I find myself carrying a heavy burden. Why is it that we find ourselves under an obligation to ourselves to do something, to make something out of our numbered days? Meaningfulness. That is what every sensible young person thinks her life must have. There are as many interpretations of this concept as there are sensible young persons (I hear you saying, ‘there aren’t many). But if I reconsider for a moment, would anything be different if I did not carry my burden? Meaninglessness. Could that not be an entertain-able idea in young persons’ minds. My thoughts are not unique in fact they might even be clichés but yet I find in them an advice to see life with a loving eye and not a predatory one. They tell me that I am not obliged to be a hero. I hear you laughing and that makes me smile it is some of this and that which I love you for. The pen I am writing to you with goes dry every time I begin to put my love in words for you. It could be a coincidence but I see it as a testimony to my earlier claim that to contain some important concepts in a language is a task abhorrent to natural forces. I hear what you just said, yes, the poets do just that but they are a mad lot. I am obsessed with indivisible units of existence these days. Genes, atoms, bits. Your eyes, indivisible units of love.

Thank you, hoonvarn laai.

 

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Runaways

Webs of moonlight revealed her reluctant moist eyes. She did not feel guilt but was not ready to assume approval of conscience. Her heavy heart was the counsel of her conscience. Whatever she was doing was only in violation of assumed traditions and she cared only for the hearts she might break not the authorities she might tarnish. Had not her father always told her explicitly over so many table talks and drawing room discussions that only she has the pen which draws the lines on her hands? She has kept all the letters her father sent her in the university which could be cited in treatises on liberal values and enlightenment. But what is it with honor that makes men meek? Deny as he may, she had convinced herself that his disapproval of her lover had its roots in otherwise universally extinct phenomenon of honor. She had asked Azad, her lover, once about honor who simply called it one of the tools of suppression of women. Tools. Suppression. Liberty. Those were his favorite words and in his usual conversations he would quote from hypothetical laws of liberty, referring to it in different languages, section two of chapter nine of the constitution of hurriyah calls for abolishment of marriage, section eleven of Azadi Act promotes tasseography. The moon shone in her rolling tear. I am doing only that which I have been taught, dissent must not prevent me from choosing my ways, and if I let it win I shall forever be a coward, she rationalized her resolutions. The ways were chosen a month ago.

“If Mr. Allahbux doesnt agree to it, we are only left with one option, we shall elope”, Azad had said this fisting the table at the cafe.

Then a week ago the plan was formulated. She would meet him in the bazaar near Gol masjid. Together they would ride to the mosque on his motorcycle where two of his friends will be waiting with the imam. Formalities would be completed, yeses said, heads nodded. Thereafter they would be driven to his friend’s villa out of town and night would be felt passing and at daybreak Indus would be crossed at Lansdowne. No one would miss her at home as she would be willingly let go to attend her friend Soraya’s wedding.

The first time she brought Azad home to meet with her parents was on her brother’s graduation dinner. Everyone in the extended family was invited and no one failed to come. The party seemed more of a circumcision ceremony like the one she had attended as a girl in a nearby village with scores of children in attendance. Mr. Allahbux shook Azad’s hand and interrupted the introduction she was about to start,” Azad meet my”,  “Father”, said a deep comforting  voice, “farmer by day, poet by night”. Landowner by heart Azad mocked the aged man in his heart, “and whom have I the pleasure of meeting?”, Allahbux asked smiling at his daughter and the bearded young man. He perceived admiration in her eyes when she said, “Baba this is my friend Azad”. “By heart”, added Azad, lightly pressing her father’s hand.

“Very well, come join us in the feast of success. My son has been called the flower of  silicon valley, the highest expression bestowed by the Dean of their university, he personally told me to let him dwell among the American architects of intelligence, something called AI..”

While her father rambled on about his son’s remarkable achievements she looked at her friend, her lover’s face, his eyes, black moons in caverns. Through out the party she introduced him to people, her brother, her uncles, famed journalists and surgeons, as an aspect of hers, as her other self. She felt she was letting her family know of her as yet unknown self, unknown even to her. She and Azad joined her other friends in the terrace. After the party she tried to analyze the effect Azad may have had on important persons in his family. Father seemed impressed. She decided to tell father of her affections. The next day at tea, when Allahbux was about to leave, she said, “Baba I have to speak to you about an important matter”.

“All your matters are important to me Doll”, he sat down again and chuckled.

“Why did you marry my mother?”

Allahbux had long ceased to think about the reasons he had married his deceased wife for and was surprised at his daughters abrupt question. He did not lose his light mood:

“Because my mother chose her for me and your mother was beautiful.”

“That could have been a legitimate reason for any other person but not for you. Did you love her?”

“Yes I did, with all my heart”

“When does one know one loves?”

Allahbux took a deep sigh. He smiled and kissed her daughter’s forehead. “What have you been reading all the literature and drama for if I still have to tell you about love my dear child? Its there when there is a deep sense of loss on imagining the absence”.

Hearing her father define the elusive concept of love, she immediately imagined Azad, lost, gone, dead and whispered, “I love Azad!”

“Did you say something my dear?”

“Baba my friend Azad has asked me to marry him”.

“Who is he? Have I met him?”

“Yes I introduced him to you at Hasan’s graduation dinner. Don’t you remember?”

“I am afraid not. But what did you say to him? Have you answered him? Where does he live?”

“No I have not Baba, how could I without telling you. We met at the university, he is a year senior, his parents have passed away and he has been living with his uncle.”

Allahbux was silent. He compared the naive biography of a man with what he had already found out. He remembered Azad very well. He asked her daughter to invite him for a dinner on the weekend and left her in the garden, her face, a pale flower stayed before his eyes. Allahbux, the acute observer of men’s faces, who could detect a lie in silences had sensed the closeness between young children at the party. They were each other’s shadows and he was very sure their spirits had already mingled. He had ordered his close associates the same night to inform him about Azad’s history. Azad, the leader of the student wing of the Liberation Front, a nationalist party with pre-partition roots formed by semi-liberal sons of feudals who had half formed notions of European values and who felt pride in their idolatory of pre-historic and extinct culture and civilization of the region. Post-partition their leaders were few in number with no popularity and they were suppressed by the Army’s rule for many decades. They never gained the greatness their founders had aimed for and gradually lost whatever passion they had. Except during Mir Hassan’s, the founder’s great-grandson, short tenure as the recognized leader, the nationalists had fought among themselves and had vague ideas about their cause. The governing forces of the country never really saw them as a big threat and considered them unnecessary troublemakers. Time and again, they were dealt with iron hands. The serious troublemakers often went missing and were later found tamed. Azad was just another fruit of a tree which had no roots. His father was dead and did not leave anything for the boy. His uncle himself did not have much to share but he cared for him and treated him as his own child. He had no prospects and by adopting the nationalist cause he had become a hopeless idealist. Allahbux pitied the self-importance of such men. They were ants. They were worse then ants, ants are disciplined. No such blood will mix with my blood, he told himself as he completed a round on the walking track.

After speaking with her father, she rushed towards her room and called Azad to apprise him about the situation. He invited her to a play in the theater gala at the university. After sunset she left a note at her father’s desk about theater gala and left with the driver for the university. A play was in progress at the improvised open air theater, a sindhi adaptation of  Shakespeare’s, Venice Jo Vapari. Azad met her in the vacant ground behind the stage and felt her raised heartbeat during the embrace.

“He wants to meet you this weekend.”

“I asked the director to manage without Shylock or arrange another.”

“Stop it you child,” she said laughing. They shared their breaths and entangled their spirits. Although she had told him everything about her father, she repeated all about him in form of instructions. Azad nodded his head at each of her instructions and embraced her near the patch of earth allocated to agriculture students. He torn up some lemongrass from the ground and rubbed it between his hands and brought them close to her nose. He sat down and rubbed some grass on her feet, looked up to her eyes. Their gaze entangled. Standing up he turned toward the vacant ground and putting his hands on his hips and said addressing the imaginary audience, “The Freedom Act states as clearly as the day”, turned towards her, rubbing the grass in his hands, “it says lady that fate is destined to be with us.”

On Saturday, three of them sat and dined under the sky. The small talk was almost unbearable. After drinks Allahbux sent her daughter to her room and asked Azad to walk with him. As soon as she was gone, Allahbux said bluntly, “let not my daughter’s naivety harbour any hopes in your heart, she does not know you.”

“Sir she knows me as she knows herself.”

“You have enchanted her, I know the likes of you Azad, and if you have any sanity and honour you must leave my daughter.

“Your daughter loves me and I her.”

“Its drama nothing else. What have you got. Listen to me I will tell you about your life story, out of unending passion for your meaningless cause you will waste your entire life, you will be jailed, tortured, and tamed. You will not give up and you will go through this cycle again until you die. And your cause, its absolutely meaningless, has anything fruitful ever happened because of struggles of ideological fathers? only misery for themselves and their families. Stronger forces than your mere idealists have tried to break this country but it shall withstand all efforts!”

“When you question my ideology you show your ignorance. You Sir are very far from what we have been fighting for.”

“That is the language of all your heroes and yet they are under your very feet. I do not want my daughter to be affected by such a fate.”

“I shall not do anything which hurts her and you have no right to stop her from doing what she wants.”

Allahbux was furious at Azad’s words uttered in a courteous tone and he angrily asked him to leave the house immediately. Azad obliged and very calmly walked away. Allahbux went into the house and called her daughter. Allahbux embraced her daughter and gave his verdict. “My concern is that he will ruin his life in petty politics and may even lose it one day.” She imagined Azad dying and remember what her father had said about love.

She did not meet Azad for a week and asked her father to reconsider his decision. But Allahbux did not budge and even convinced her to forget him and learn to live without him. She imagined living without him. When she met Azad some weeks later, he proposed the idea of marriage by dissent and put her in a dilemma. She spoke to her father again but all her efforts were futile. One day in despair in the middle of the arguments she told her father that she will elope with the boy. Allahbux was full of wrath. “I shall never see your face again if you dare do such a thing”.

 

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At daybreak, two little Caesars crossed the Indus. She had left a note which would be discovered a few days later. She wept silently throughout the journey like the Indus her eyes were dry and moist as they crossed towns and cities. She remembered her father’s words. He will punish her by indifference. Indifference, taking the life away from the living. She is now a spirit, unrecognizable.

 

tbc.

 

 

 

 

Namoonay

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It is customary to step out of your vehicle when you hear a sound unlike the usual sounds of traffic rather more like a finely suppressed sound of  a low intensity grenade exploding, finely suppressed that is by a couple of fat men and an elephant or a rhino, and after assessing the sound carefully you conclude that your vehicle has been hit. I was going home from work. Mrs. Trafic and I are on very bad terms for quite a few days now. She has been behaving like an emotional and clingy past girlfriend to whom you have clearly explained your intentions of moving on yet she keeps singing songs of betrayal. If you live in this city and you have to go to a certain place to work and earn money and that place happens to be out of reach for your mortal feet alone, you will have to start a relationship with Mrs. Trafic. Your necessity to travel is just like that first time lovers look into each others’ eyes. She has no charm, in fact she has many lovers, yet you cannot help yourself. So these days when I am stuck on the road, crumpled paper balls are thrown into my face having messages like ‘I’ll follow you like your shadow XX’, ‘You were etched into the palms of my vast hands (a big drawing of a hand besides these words)’, ‘ Baby, I am like the sky, xoloxolo!’ and ‘Take this (with some indecipherable symbols)’ written on them. That is why I keep the windows of my car rolled up. I had just got out from one such encounter on the Muslim Society Road and rushed past the signal on that road just zero seconds before it turned red again after opening for negative ten seconds. I stepped on the gas on the long stretch of the Leaders Road when again to my dismay, that ugly witch was waiting there for me. I almost heard her laughing. But my long relationship has strengthened  me to stay calm. Without muttering any obscenities I sought refuge in Vammstein’s obscene songs and jerked my head in sync with the music. Minutes passed. More. I couldn’t jerk my head anymore. I turned the music off and looked at myself in the rear view mirror. My eyes fell on Montaigne’s complete works lying on the back seat which I had bought last Sunday from Fuhrere Hall after haggling for some time to bring the price down by fifty percent of what that monkey-headed bookseller was quoting. I tried to play sharp with him first warning him that nobody would buy Montaigne from you so better give it to me for the money I am willing to pay to which he replied by stating the facts about customer foot fall that every one out of six thousand customers are willing to buy sixteenth century books written by French authors on the price he was quoting. I agreed on seventy five percent of the original price to stop him from presenting his insane theories. I joked with him by giving him a debit card instead of cash and enjoyed the expressions on his face before giving him the money, he must have muttered ‘nutjob’ under his breath or something worse to that effect. Before handing me the book he said he had read Montaigne in his younger years and showed me one of his favorite lines from the book at which we had a high five and a hearty laugh which showed his beautiful teeth under gray mustache and his face lit up like your nail lights up when you press your finger against the torch of your camera phone. I stretched back to pick up the book and opened it to the page where he had shown me that line: Kings and philosophers shit, so do the ladies. I put the book back to move the car inches further and stopped again. I tried to fit the line in tune with the songs I had been listening to. But it was too prosaic for a song. Then I thought of translating it into urdu and sindhi and using it for a bumper sticker. It was when I was doing this work of literary ingenuity that I felt a thud and realized that my car has been hit from behind.

In a situation like this, for men who are sensitive about their cars and care for them like they care for their wives, there are two courses of action. They will either step out of the car, very calmly with just a frown on their noble foreheads, walk to the point where they feel the car has been hit, bend over and observe the impact like a philosopher and without looking at the assailant move back to the car and let the insurance companies take care of it. Or they will, like me, shout the national swear words (which one can say might be part of the constitution of our country) in english or urdu depending on which school they went to and what sort of company they frequent, pull the door handle in their rage to get out and then slam it shut and look for the culprit like a hunter and if the culprit turns out to be a gentleman and does not utilize these few seconds to run away and decides to face the music instead, then they will, like me, give them the concert of their life. I want to assert that people’s behavior in relation to their cars is somehow indicative of their behavior in relation to their wives, but something inside me, stops me. For one thing, no company offers a wife insurance policy. My car-hitter turned out to be a gentleman. He was sitting on his motorcycle with a helmet on and I could only see his eyes. I kept shouting at him questioning his sense of sight and cognition in swear words. I sensed from the look in his eyes that he was nervous and I would pretty well myself be so if I were in his position. I would be intimidated by  my heavy bulk and dense black mustache and eyes full of rage. I did not care to have a look at my car and see the intensity of damage done. We were still in Mrs. Trafic’s lap when this happened and by the look of it, it seemed that she was trying to make an offer to nurse us. The man was looking at me and trying to unbuckle his helmet. I turned to look at my car and behold, the very bumper which was to publish the results of literary efforts was kissing the road as a slave his master’s feet. I was furious. Just for a moment before turning to look at my car I had probably wished for a damage enough to justify my anger. Meanwhile everyone around us was waiting for a show. I felt the patterns on smartphones being drawn to unlock them. I turned around to face the man on the motorcycle. He had taken his helmet off and was supporting his bike on its stand. He walked towards me removing the gloves from his hands. He was over six feet tall and slim. The veins protruded from his naked left hand and a golden watch on his wrist reeked of old age. He seemed to be in his late thirties. He was wearing black corduroy trousers and blue denim jacket with sleeves rolled up. He pushed his long hair over his head and stuck them behind the ears and moved his hand over his beard to smooth it down. He had a ring on each of his hands. He stopped before me and with a slight bow said I am very sorry brother, its my mistake, I own it and I will pay for the damage I have done. I was taken aback by the biker’s servile tone. My previous experience had taught me that this breed of roadsters is careless, quick, over-confident of their abilities, part-stuntmen, part-actors, have fugitive tendencies and would suffer nail-extraction and electric shocks before confessing to their negligence. I myself am only bad-mouthed and usually very cool. What blows my fuse most often are the old menopausal ladies’ innuendos and improper approaches.I was trying to calm down but still repeated my questioning of the man’s senses in various synonyms. To tell you the truth brother, there was a little space all along the road between the line of cars and this median as you can see. He turned and pointed towards the road and space he was referring to. I was riding through that space very carefully when it became wider and I sped up but it got narrow again and I almost hit the side mirror of the last car and I looked back to check but unfortunately could not control my bike in time to avoid hitting your car which was blocking whatever little space there was for a bike. My car was blocking the way? Are you insane man, cant you see that we are all stuck here? What do you think I was smoking weed sitting there in my car and enjoying the breathtaking view of all these beautiful Arab horses? While I uttered the words ‘we are all stuck here’, the skeptical man living in my mind thought of the greater meaning of these words, of the futility of human life in a cold vast universe. No, no brother, I do not mean to say what you understood, perhaps my choice of words is not good. I did not understand? You hit my car, you accept it and you challenge my understanding? I’ll break your neck! Calm down brother, do no break my neck, it supports my head and my head is the only thing I value. I was surprised again. This man has a humorous vein even after damaging my car. Where is your driving licence? Show it to me! I do not have a driving licence brother. Do you know it is a crime to ride a bike without a licence. At this point, the cars started to move. Okay give me your identity card! I do not have my identity card brother. What the hell is your problem? What are you, an indian spy?  No, no brother, I am a son of this soil. I don’t give a damn if you are son of a volcano, come on now, hurry up the cars are moving, give me the money. I do not have the money right now brother, you ll have to come with me to my home. What the?? Are you crazy? Go to hell! I picked up the hanging bumper and thought of ways to fix it back temporarily. The cars around us were moving at a good pace now.No, no brother, I don’t want to go to hell, please just follow me, I know a place here nearby, they’ll fix you in a jiffy. Go to hell man, I will not follow you. Just let me fix it brother and we can go then. I said I will not go with you, fix it for me and get the hell out of here before I bust your head open. He quickly went to his bike and groped inside a bag for a minute and came back with a short piece of jute wire and we managed to lift the bumper from the ground and tied it back to its place. I stood up and went towards the front door. Brother are you coming with me? Go to hell!!!

There is another difference between automobiles and women you have entered into an amorous relationship with. If you are callous towards your women and their decency was a major contribution in your fall in love with them, chances are that these women will not leave you in the middle of the road. Au contraire, if you are callous towards your mechanical horses, they will not think before betraying you in the middle of the road and wont budge on your sincerest apologies and promises of gentlemanly behavior in future. Therefore you must have an accurate idea of their moods, and put your efforts in constructing a mental barometer to know which way the winds of  their whims are blowing. When I had purchased my car from a second owner, its remote locking mechanism was functional. Some time later, the system went mad and worked only when the cluster of Seven Sisters, Venus and Orion were visible in the sky. After condemning the biker to hell-fire I quickly pulled the front door handle but it did not open. I tried again and failed. I became certain then that car had locked itself with the keys inside. I checked the other doors and back door of the hatchback and by the Horns of Big Red Buffalo, all of them were locked. In my fury I had forgotten to take the keys out before slamming the door shut. I was boiling with wrath and kicked the tire with all my force. What happened brother? The biker came over and asked me like a child asks its mother if she is not feeling well. You happened, you dumb clown! Why are you not drying in sunshine stuck on some mud wall in your village, you dung heap!! I have no village, my ancestors migrated from the neighboring country brother. For fox sake shut up. The road had cleared now. Probably the obstruction ahead was removed and traffic flowed smoothly. Although I was furious but I knew that the keys were locked due to my error. I asked the biker if he knew how to open the door without the keys. No brother I haven’t been trained in the occupation of car-lifting. Since you hit my car and you were the prime cause (again the ears of the skeptical savage who shares my consciousness stood up, and he formed an arbitrary chain of causes and effects, tracking it back to the prime mover), you will have to help me get it open now, do you know if there is locksmith around here? Brother I don’t know about any smiths, but I can take you to the mechanic nearby I was telling you about. Somebody pulled my little finger and I looked around to see a street urchin carrying jasmine flower bands in his hands. Uncle please buy these, its two for fifty but I give you three for fifty. Go! I don’t want them! I shooed him away. Where is this mechanic of yours? I asked the biker. Its on a street near Gaza Road brother, we can go on my bike. Uncle please buy these. Bugger off! I said. Let’s go.The car was already standing in the side of the road and was not in the way of other vehicles. We walked towards the bike which he started on the third kick and we started with a jerk. I had to shoo the urchin away twice again.

Part I

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