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.