Monday, 7 November 2016

Old Lovers

The clouds descended that morning. I had only one wish amongst many which seemed impossible. Isn't flying the only dream we dream when the bird we reach to pet takes off, yawning with its wings? I wanted to fly up, ball up clouds in my hands like snow and bring them down as I land theatrically, gracefully. I jumped off sidewalks and stairs to see if I could land without breaking a bone or falling face first. I prepared for my first flight.

I grew up, and as I gained years, my bank of things-to-know gained a few pounds too. My aunt once told me a story where somewhere high up on a paved mountain road a cloud passed through her car. How did it feel? I asked her. She looked at me confused and said: It was cold. It just passed right through, like cold air. The disappointment I felt still wheezes when it breathes.

The solid fluffs of clouds turned out to be a mirage, preserving its secrets only by staying far up, brushing the space between space and atmosphere like a handle-less broom. That's why we forget about flying and landing. We know now there are no cotton arms to hug us and our wings as we lift off.

The clouds, my old lovers, lost more and more of my attention because their lies had been caught. I didn't even jump off stairs anymore; just stepped off like a reasonable human being. I suppose they got upset at my conditional attachment. I suppose they got attached to me right then, like a faithless sweetheart who wants you only after you leave. I suppose they did, because before it was time to wake up that morning, they made their way down to my sea-level city; they bowed their heads and sank to my window, passed through iron bars and pressed their white noses against the glass. I suppose they decided love was not a cul-de-sac but a two-way street and that it was time to confess. Because when I woke up that morning, all I could see was fog.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Fine Line

I'd always heard
There is a fine line
Between love and hate.
But it took little more
Than a speedbreaker jump
To go over to the other hell.
Love is a big four letter word
And I'm not big enough.
I only know it's more than a
Tingling of the toes and
Heavy breathing.
It's a stripping of your soul
From the soles.
Pulling at your feet till your knees
Bang on grass.
It is getting hit in the gut with
Your brother's cricket bat
Only a bit more pleasant.
It is a mob in your chest,
Scratching and banging against the bars of the rib cage.
It is an ache
In your empty hands.
It is a hysteria.

So what am I surprised for
When hate feels just the same.
When both I know are passionate
And on a Richter scale would read
Either eighteen or eight.
What am I surprised for
That the line is a pencil mark hardly visible
Rubbed on with fingertips until
Carbon outlines the fingerprints.
I should have known your tongue would make
Instead of kisses one day.
The promises made will be
One by one
Like shoelaces pulled out with no regard for the elaborate braiding.

When 'liar' became the only untruth,
I was left gasping for oxygen
Because somehow you were my plant
And I had never a green thumb.
But I won't just stop watering you.
You will not wither and dry.
I will not put you in
A blistering corner of the sun
To die a natural death.

I will
Light matches,
Burn cigarette holes
In your leaves.

Friday, 20 November 2015


They say you should never find your home in a person, for all that ever leads to is homesickness. People change, people leave, people move. Make your home some place steady. Make your home at places. That way, when all people scatter and you feel stranded, you can always go back to land and own it; feel a familiar ground beneath your feet and love the gravity for its pull. Believe me, there is no worse advice.

I am a lover of places. I wear my heart on my sleeve and fall in love with land. With the bumps and the stones, with the grass and the trees, with the landmarks and signposts, with the walls and their windows, with the broken windowpane that no one fixed, with that one dust bunny that has always been around, with the patch of sky that forms the highest domed ceiling of the world, with the buildings under-construction, with the buildings declining, with corridors that give off whiffs of grime, with the clock that's been stuck at 2pm all this time, with food that you can't eat if you've seen being cooked, with library books, with all staircases and all corners, all nooks, with the morning air that only smells like that there. If you've ever seen how it looks when it rains there, you would know what I'm talking about.

I am a lover of places. When we moved out of our last house, I cried for weeks. I said 'take me home, please.' And when they told me this was my home now, I cried even harder. These walls will never be those walls. This floor will never be that floor. I look out the window and don't see what I used to see. This is not my home.

I wear my heart on my sleeve, and it's graduation day. I walked in here feeling displaced and in four years I've given my heart to a place, yet again. People say, move on! This is how long this was supposed to last. I only hear: don't love, don't love, don't love. Never fall in love with places. People you can take with you, places are stubborn; they won't budge. It hurts more walking away. Being left will always be easier than leaving. I have the power to stay here a bit longer. This thought will drive you mad. Is it better to stay and let it get deeper under your skin, or should you worry about how much more it is going to bleed then and rip it out now? While you can? While you can see it stirring your thickest vein?

When two people part ways, the world says:  'There are plenty of fish in the sea'. I read a poem once that said: 'and if she was the ocean? There are seven of those too' See, that's where the poet was wrong. Even if there were seven million oceans on planet Earth, home would be your place of birth. Not where you were literally born but where you built yourself. For you, there would always be that one ocean you want to swim in, jump in and die in. The poet was wrong.

I am a lover of places, and that's the worst kind of love there is. It's invisible, intangible. Your beloved stays where she is; you change, you leave, you move and being left will always be easier than leaving.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

If she were to be given a voice...

If Pakistan were to be given a voice, she would sing hymns of all the sacrifices that have been made for her. She would tell you that her land has been fought over by thousands of faithful, faithless men. She would tell you that she has been washed with blood and irrigated with fire. She would tell you that she has been won, fair and square, so that those that live in her can be safe. Her organs have been severed and distributed. Her heart that she calls Kashmir has been ripped from her body.

But Pakistan is a strong, resilient mother. She has been ploughing on with her life regardless of her sons and daughters drilling holes in her every day. Despite her children pointing guns at each other and planting bombs under her feet, she has lived for sixty eight long years. She does not like one son over the other; she treats each family member the same. She doesn't care if one son likes to wear a turban while the other a long beard. She doesn't tell one daughter to dress like the other. She is patient; she is kind. She lets them live in their houses of choice, whether they be under minarets or under crosses.

Her children have lost patience with each other though. They have grown so violent and hard that they have exiled each other to separate pieces of land. Pakistan is a mute; but she wishes she wishes she could speak so she could scream at them to stop fighting. Just stop fighting. I love you all the same. You all have a right to be here. Is this not what I was promised when I was ripped limb from limb? Was I not told you will all behave yourselves; that there would be peace and tolerance? Was I not told we would all live together over my land and under my roof?

Pakistan is a mute; but if she could speak she would tell you that she was torn apart by faithful, faithless men. She is a survivor. She will not surrender. She would tell you to stand strong from within so that when they come over to take her away, you can defend her. Fight for her. She would beg you to protect her. She is now sixty eight, old and weary, and she needs many hands to rub her sore joints. Pakistan is just a mother, who wants a little less smoke in the air, and a little more love.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

A Five Billion Star Hotel

The only sky I had ever seen was ruined; covered like a bad Instagram filter that diffuses all the detail to make things look prettier. Except, sometimes when the rawness and realness of something is removed, it doesn't really stay itself anymore. I never really believed it, before I went to the Fairy Meadows; before I trekked uphill on mountains for six hours and started believing for one minute, in my naivety, that nothing is worth this much trouble. I have not been more wrong. As soon as I entered the clearing my small wooden cabin was in, the first thing I did was revel in my achievement: I had never seen the face of a mountain before, living by the sea, let alone attempt to go on the roughest hike through one of the most dangerous routes in the world. The second thing I did was look the Nanga Parbat in the face and tell her: you are gorgeous, you are beauty. Right then, I was so sorry that I had words used like amazing and mind blowing and breathtaking on less deserving situations in my previous life, my life pre-trekking-for-six-hours. Right then, I knew that phrases like 'heaven on earth' and 'paradise-like' originated in a place like this. I knew that people living in metropolitan cities were unworthy of having words like these in their vocabulary, because look what they did; they used them up before they should have.

As I was standing there I felt the kind of cold that travels like fog and seeps into your clothes only to accumulate under your skin. The kind that clings on to you with it's claw like nails even when you've put your face up close to a big live fire. The fire stung my face but didn't warm me up and I gave up on getting myself heat. I stood up, shivering with every step and moved out in the open where the light of the fire shrank back. And just then, accidentally, I looked up and saw heaven right there and then. You know they say life is a miracle? How they say the universe is unfathomable? I was looking up, craning my neck, my nose making a 90 degree angle with the ground, and just stared. There was not a single empty space in the sky. Every inch of sky I could see was peppered with stars, a polka dotted bedsheet gone wrong. It was as if a child who didn't know what ordinary sky looked like went on Microsoft Paint and sprayed on a dark background just for the heck of it. I didn't care about my neck joint hurting like a fracture, I couldn't feel the cold. In fact, I couldn't feel anything but awed, and slightly frightened. The same sky I watched every day for 21 years was suddenly more. Like someone decided it needed additional decoration Right then I saw a comet and screamed with wonderment. A new friend I'd made came up behind me and said, yes, you see a lot of shooting stars here. I just couldn't go inside my little wooden 'hotel room'. Instead I sat down on the ladder-like steps outside with him and lit a smoke, looking up all the while.

The bad thing about being so thousands of feet above sea level is that there's very little oxygen. You strain to breathe. And for an asthma patient (read: me) it's a complete nightmare. Every breath is laborious. The best thing about being so high up is that there is very little oxygen: my cigarette seemed to stay lit for hours, no O2 to guzzle it up. That moment at the steps, talking in whispers, looking not at each other in the dark but gazing at the stars. lit cigarette in hand, seemed to go on forever. It lasted for days and for seconds. Later I tried to imagine what it would be like to be here with someone you love passionately, someone you can lie down on the grass with, hold hands with, make love with. You would just fall in deeper. Like men who to war together and see death and despair emerge 'bound by the wet bond of blood' as Robert Graves put it, people who see visions of beauty side by side are bound too.

As soon as I stood up and was out of my reverie, I looked at the stars again, I looked at the white mountain made of powdery snow, I looked at the cigarette stub on the ground, I looked at my friend still sitting on the steps smiling at me; and I knew I'd pick this billion star hotel over any other place in the world, any day. Even if getting there meant spending six hours breathing like a lung cancer patient and forcing my feet to fight gravity. It is absolutely worth it, if only for a sky that is unruined, and unfiltered.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

This Moment

My incredibly cool philosophy professor once said that memory is time. If we have no memory of what has just happened, there's no way of knowing that time has passed. It is kind of mind boggling really. Imagine if all the clocks in the world went back an hour, and you had memory of what you had been doing in that period, you would know that the hour did pass. (Or maybe you'd just think you're going mad.) Now, what if when all the clocks went back, you forgot the entire hour and whatever you experienced during it. There's no way of knowing time passed, is there? Scary.

Time really is an arbitrary concept if you think about it. When you're with friends or family, it swooshes by. What, has it been four hours already? you ask. Now what about the times that you spend waiting for someone to come or something to happen? It seems like time is crawling and each minute feels longer than a day; painful and never ending. It seems like time punishes those that keep track of it; the more you are aware of it, the more it keeps you aware of itself. You stop caring about it and it lets you be, it paces away. It just does the opposite of what you want it to do: you want it to stop, it races; you want it to pass, it goes into slow-motion. Time is a stubborn, stubborn bastard.

As my favourite moments go by, I just stop for a second and tell my people: hold on, stop talking for a second. I want to remember this moment and how happy we are in it. I want to think back and remember exactly how you look, how there are small creases at the corner of your eyes as you smile, how crooked your teeth are, how the laughter starts bubbling in my stomach and overflows till it reaches my lips. I want to remember everything, everything as it is in this moment.

When I do that, it doesn't matter how fast or how slow time goes. I don't mind it cheating me of my best moments. I don't mind it going away as fast as it can go because I've got memories, and, after all, memory IS time.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Wild Beasts and Alter Egos

The mind of the writer is a haunted place, filled with wild beasts and psychopathic characters and alter egos; a schizophrenic or two; maybe even some criminal mastermind. He can think beyond the limits of a normal man. He thinks in metaphors, he understands poetry and beauty. Science and math are his worst enemies and symmetry, uniformity as unbearable to him as they are paramount for architects.

He processes every flake of information with utmost intensity and every description of everything is heartfelt; the workings of his brain as intricate as fierce; his thoughts as wondrous as scary.

The writer is a poor, tormented creature, carrying the weight of soul-crushing inadequacy that seems to be the onus of being an artist and not everyone can understand him. His believes are often dismissed as being too ambitious, or too plain. He talks about building red-brick castles when people talk about skyscrapers. He demands change for that one man falling asleep hungry at the corner of his street when people talk about changing lifestyles. He asks for love when people covet riches.

Is it wrong of us, then, to fall head over heels for someone who shows us a little sympathy, a little affection, a little understanding? Look at poor Sylvia Plath who couldn’t tolerate her husband’s disloyalty. We are all so easily manipulated, it’s pathetic.

My point in all this is only that if you come across a creature huddled in the corner scribbling in a notebook, be kind, be patient. He is living a lot more lives in his head than you can ever imagine.