Impressions

Impressions, if you remember are the collections of passages from books and papers that I have read over time. These passages are such that they leave a mark and make up a significant contribution to the impression a book ultimately has, like a quality of a person which you like more than all other qualities. More such impressions can be read here and here.

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From Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

To see the city in black and white is to see it through the tarnish of history: the patina of what is old and faded and no longer matters to the rest of the world. Even the greatest Ottoman architecture has a humble simplicity that suggests an end-of-empire gloom, a pained submission to the diminishing European gaze and to an ancient poverty that must be endured like an incurable disease. It is resignation that nourishes Istanbul’s inward-looking soul. To see the city in black and white, to see the haze that sits over it ad breathe in the melancholy its inhabitants have embraced as their common fate, you need only to fly in from a rich western city and head straight to the crowded streets; if it’s winter, every man on the Galata Bridge will be wearing the same pale, drab, shadowy clothes. The Istanbullus of my era have shunned the vibrant reds, greens and oranges of their rich, proud ancestors; to foreign visitors, it looks as if they have done so deliberately, to make a moral point. They have not – but there is in their dense gloom a suggestion of modesty. This is how you dressed in a black-and-white city, they seem to be saying; this is how you grieve for a city that has been in decline for a hundred and fifty years.

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From The Hildebrand Rarity by Ian Fleming

James Bond nodded amiably. ‘I’ve got no objection. She’s your ship’. ‘It’s my ship,’ corrected Mr Krest. ‘That’s another bit of damned nonsense, making a hunk of steel and wood a female. Anyway, let’s go. You don’t need to mind your head. Everything’s a six-foot-two clearance.’ Bond followed the narrow passage that ran the length of the ship, and for half an hour made appropriate comments on what was certainly the finest and most luxuriously designed yacht he had ever seen. In every detail, the margin was for extra comfort. Even the crew’s bath and shower was full size, and the stainless steel galley, or kitchen as Mr Krest called it, was as big as the Krest stateroom. Mr Krest opened the door of the latter without knocking. Liz Krest was at the dressing table… The girl hurriedly picked up a compact and made for the door. She gave them both a nervous half-smile and went out. ‘ Vermont birch panelling, Corning glass lamps, Mexican tuft rugs..’ Mr Krest’s catalogue ran smoothly on. But Bond was looking at something else that hung down almost out of sight by the bedside table on what was obviously Mr Krest’s side of the huge double bed. It was a thin whip about three feet long with a leather-thonged handle. It was the tail of a sting-ray. Casually Bond walked over to the side of the bed and picked it up. He ran a finger down its spiny gristle. It hurt his finger even to do that. He said: ‘Where did you pick that up? I was hunting one of these animals this morning.’ ‘Bahrein. The Arabs use them on their wives.’ Mr Krest chuckled easily. ‘Haven’t had to use more than one stroke at a time on Liz so far. Wonderful results. We call it my “Corrector”.’

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From Politics and the English language by George Orwell

Orthodoxy of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of Under-secretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, home-made turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating familiar phrases – bestial atrocities, iron heel, blood-stained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulders – one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into black discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance towards turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political confirmity… Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

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From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down the hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of heavy land adjacent to  Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution.

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From Is God an Accident by Paul Bloom

In a significant study the psychologists Jesse Bering, of the University of Arkansas, and David Bjorklund, of Florida Atlantic University, told young children a story about an alligator and a mouse, complete with a series of pictures, that ended in tragedy: “Uh oh! Mr. Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” [The children were shown a picture of the alligator eating the mouse.] “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.” The experimenters asked the children a set of questions about the mouse’s biological functioning—such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”—and about the mouse’s mental functioning, such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?” As predicted, when asked about biological properties, the children appreciated the effects of death: no need for bathroom breaks; the ears don’t work, and neither does the brain. The mouse’s body is gone. But when asked about the psychological properties, more than half the children said that these would continue: the dead mouse can feel hunger, think thoughts, and have desires. The soul survives. And children believe this more than adults do, suggesting that although we have to learn which specific afterlife people in our culture believe in (heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, and so on), the notion that life after death is possible is not learned at all. It is a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.

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Womb Whispers

 

you’ve unburdened

your consciousness upon me

and I am transformed

from nothing to something

but i dont blame you

for you too are a residue

a fulfillment, a revelation

of some consciousness

greater than ours’

what’s birth and creation but

unburdening of mystery

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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.