Maybe you, too, will think of it as Hemingway’s Keemari then

This post first appeared on The Ziauddin University Atlas.

Come fourth year and you find yourself driving to the Keemari campus every day. The famous Netty Jetty bridge will present to you an interesting sight – men and women standing at its perimeter, looking down wistfully, all their worries jumping into the dirty waters below. The oil tankers zoom past you like elephants in a jungle. And when you finally enter the neighbourhood of the Ziauddin hospital, you look at the common man sitting leisurely at the dhaba, dipping the greasy parathas into his steaming doodh patti, fretting over the national state of affairs and the ever-increasing inflation that feeds him the plain old daal most days except Sundays. I wonder what his story is. How many family members does he have? What does he do? Does he ever wonder why the sun lends it’s light to the moon?

So you drive ahead and you don’t stop because you are a busy medical student and you don’t have time to think about other people in ways that will make you think about yourself because you only have to – no, need to – remember the differentials for the common diseases and a few random but important facts (IM injection and NSAIDs are contraindicated in dengue patients). So you drive ahead.

Enter Ziauddin. The courtyard can give you a decent picture with it’s cream-coloured benches decorated with brittle, orange leaves that have fallen from the trees above (like dreams falling down, never to be dreamt again), and men bringing bottles of water and packets of biscuits to their women who wipe off the sweat from the foreheads of their kids with their bright, cotton dupattas. The air has the salt of the sea, and the nostalgia of the students for the shiny Clifton campus, and the generosity of helpful, charitable hearts.

So if you travel to this part of Ziauddin, look around at all the living, breathing novels walking around you. Strain your ears to listen to their stories. See the simple stitches that hold the folds of their lives together. Feel the old soul resting within the hospital’s germ-infested walls. Sit in the courtyard and think why you’re here. Drop a kind word there.
See the mud for what it really is.

Maybe you, too, will think of it as Hemingway’s Keemari then.



the eternity of your forever

This post first appeared on The Ziauddin University Atlas.

This is a nice view, isn’t it? So much like all of us – standing afar but a little too close to the Light, peeking out from the stone walls, trying to look for something that will take you where you want to be. And amdist the confusion, the blur of people, the chaos of questions – between all that was and all that could be – you stand there, alone. You feel distant, don’t you? Like you’re the only one who knows that spring is coming, as Gilbert would have said.

You know what’s really nostalgic? The hum of the AC and the smell of it in a darkened room in the late morning. And standing here, the tug at your heartstrings is the warmth of your bed, the familiarity of your room, the comfort of Mom’s embrace, and falling asleep next to your best friend (yes, the one who gets you like no other) at siesta time with the breeze blowing it from the Aegean as you both whisper away. But it’s alright, you know? It really is. Because you weren’t really alone as you stood there embracing the transience of existentialism, the eternity of your forever.

You never are.


i wonder if our eyes rain more than the sky

You know when you’re trudging along the sea shore with the cool waves kissing your ankles as your feet move along the shore line, the deep ocean on your side? It’s the most wonderful feeling ever, isn’t it? But when you get home after watching the calming sunset, your feet begin to ache and your muscles tell you that they’re tearing apart; it’s a heavy pain, the kind that makes you want to go to bed and curl up like you once were (your-age-minus-nine-months-ago) in your mother’s womb.

Do you think life is a little like that, too? Beautiful, but frustratingly tiring? You love it, but it’s slowly eating you away. You’re dancing away to the tunes but boy, oh, boy! You’re tired!

And have you ever strolled with the waves as it has rained? Have the tears of the clouds drenched your soul as the Divine returns it to its birthplace? That’s also a little more like life when it gives you back everything – the good and the bad – that you’ve given to the humans of this planet.

I wonder if our eyes rain more than the sky…

Come, let’s move forward.

You walk in these waves as the raindrops bless you. And then suddenly, your heart skips a beat at the memory of forever, the nostalgia of your lovely sunrise, the ghost of your favourite season. And then you return your raindrops to the sea as your tears grace the peaceful waves at your feet. Everything smells salty.

Life – smiling at you – is all of that. But we’re too busy with politics and the stock exchange to return that smile, aren’t we?


/ to live to let you shine /

There’s something incredibly fascinating about women and their friendships. To study this intricate and complex dynamic joining one Eve with another is beyond the possibilities that are known to define men.

We grow up playing with tea-cups and dolls, our young selves conforming with social norms. But when we die, we leave behind legacies of relationships nurtured, lives touched, hearts warmed. The real joy of womanhood – I’ve thankfully realised at the very right time – lies in honouring your fellow women; in being kind, in being compassionate, in being generous, in being wise and just, in being forgiving, in being the pillar of strength for each other rather than playing the devil.

Have you ever closely observed a flight of birds? The very magnificent V-shape that they fly in? There’s not just an interesting physics behind it, but also their loving hearts looking out for each other. Quite a lesson in there for us mortals!

The archaic tradition of Venus vs Venus needs to die out, isn’t it? We’re ‘modern’ people of this latest century where we should be so busy discovering new worlds of science, technology, arts, literature, and spirituality, that petty politics should be a bad, sad memory.

So every time I see a woman helping another woman get to her feet, every time I see one woman easing the way of another and fighting the odds for her, every time I see one woman feeling the pain of another, my heart does a small summersault of joy and I look around and proudly eye my own girl-gang with unconditional gratitude because they’ve been there all the time, every time – through the turbulence that has been my own, through the cacophony of this world, during moments of peace, during the silent pleas of understanding. They’ve been through it all and more. And as these words hit the paper (or rather, the screen), I know deep within, that they’ll continue to be there as wonderfully as they always have, and through their big and small gestures of love and encouragement, they’ll continue to exemplify what a strong, empowered woman looks like!

The different colours and emotions that make up the fascinating mortality of a woman are beyond the scope of words – there’s no language to tell you about what it is to be one. You need to feel the incredible love and the tremendous miracles that a woman is capable of. Proudly and openly honour, cherish and love all those women in your lives. They are simply more than mothers, sisters, daughters, wives because they’re simply the not-so-simple creations of God with the power to change the course of the river. They truly, truly do.

The next time you stand under the high roof of a majestic architecture, admiring the intricate, sturdy doorways, pause in your tracks and remember the many women around you who are much, much more than that simply because of their desire to live to let you shine.

“A lot of women, when they’re young, feel they have very good friends, and find later on that friendship is complicated. It’s easy to be friends when everyone’s 18. It gets harder the older you get, as you make different life choices, as people say in America. A lot of women’s friendships begin to founder. I was interested in why that was, why it’s not possible for a woman to see her friend living differently and just think, Oh, she lives differently.”
― Zadie Smith



Photo credits: Saba Saeed


holding no scalpel

Before starting clinical years, I often found myself caught between the age-old dilemma of eventually having to choose between clinicals and the academia. Fast forward to the fourth year of medical school – the real doctor roles – and I realised with a tinge of surprise and joy that I actually do enjoy the patient interaction. The miraculous way in which my narrative intertwines with that of a stranger’s and how much I learn about life, about myself, about all things mystical, and of course, about the very vastness of medicine itself, is a bit more than magic itself, no?

A recent encounter with an adorable young mother taught me the importance of empathy and compassion like none other.

A young woman awaiting her second C-section, *Saba was a vivid picture of anxiety. Her lips were constantly moving with the recitation of all the holy verses that she knew. So I  failed to get her out of my mind as I stood in the OT observing the removal of an ovarian cyst. Couldn’t help myself and I went up to her. We talked. She told me about her elder son and we became friends in that magical moment of one Eve feeling the emotions of another. I remember how her hands slowly warmed up as the C-section started. I wasn’t the doctor here, no, not at all! I was a student standing by her side, whispering to her verses of calm and peace, and watching the joy and relief spread over her milky face as I told her that the baby was out and aye, its a girl! Her big eyes twinkled with pure, unconditional love as I showed her a picture of her baby! And in that hour – where I held no scalpel – I was overwhelmed by what this mother and her daughter did for me. It wasn’t the first time that I saw a baby arrive into our rather cold world, but it was the first time I felt myself playing a small, small part in a stranger’s narrative. What did I gain out of it, you say? I saw my frustrations melt away into a gentle reminder of how beautiful, how painfully short life is to spend it brooding over that which is not in my hands. I saw my worries sail away as the gentle breeze of peace and hope hit my heart. I heard the turbulence of my soul settle down into something so deep and tranquil, that I was proud – more than ever – of being the reflection of Eve that I am today. I felt my strength multiply into infinity as I realised what blessings empathy, compassion, and gentleness are. And all of that propelled me to let go of my fears and embrace the fragility, the vulnerability, the truth that life, and destiny, and qadr has to offer.

So when you’re looking at the light blue sky above you, drowning in the depth of the million eternities around you, do you ever wonder why and how your chronology is what it is?

*Name has been changed for reasons of privacy.



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The picture has been taken with consent.


Empty cradles and the language of tears

There are a lot of languages in this world. And tears are one of them. You knew that, didn’t you?

Some ask you to helplessly listen to how you write helplessness. I learnt that outside the narrow corridors of the operation theatre. Some talk about regrets, and nostalgia, and everything in between. We learn that every day.

Then there’s the one that speaks to you about grief and hurt, and short lives, and broken mirrors. You see that everywhere – in crowded, colourful busses and in shabbily dressed children knocking at your car window, in empty cradles shamelessly standing outside Edhi and Chhipa centres and in the roadside stall selling Salmonella infested fries, in the frustrated horns at the traffic signal and in the silent eyes of mothers who bury their children for the sake of their *watn ki mitti. These are the most devastating ones. Learning this dialect is like watching a sturdy building fall down after a life-threatening earthquake.

But can you guess what the most beautiful, the softest of all dialects of this extraordinary language is? Gratitude and love for the One. There’s a raw strength in the gentleness of these tears. There’s a strange comfort in being taken care of by a miracle. I wonder if those innocent souls lying in those empty cradles outside Karachi’s NGOs ever speak to their new lives in tears of gratitude? Or it’s just a sharp nostalgia for that they’ve never seen, never heard, never felt, but perhaps, only imagined in their childhood dreams?

It sends shivers down my spine. Are you also haunted by the thought of a life that could have been yours but isn’t because Someone, Somewhere decided that you are lucky?


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I wonder if all the people I’ve met are remnants of visions I had in another lifetime.

There’s an eternity hidden within the folds of these pages, behind those unshed tears.

I see words being written about stories that were never lived, dreams from another multiverse.

And I wonder if all the people I’ve met are remnants of visions I had in another lifetime.

Do they miss the days and nights of their world?


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Photo credits:


Silent hearts

Six times a week when I commute from my home to the Ziauddin Keemari hospital, I pass by the majestic buildings mapping the Saddar town of this vibrant city. They’re very enchanting, very mysterious. “What secrets are you guarding?” Old family feuds, tragic heartbreaks, black money, political conspiracies? Tell me!

They stand silently, these buildings. Like silent hearts. They’ve seen the worst of their beloved – this Karachi – and borne it all. And now every time they see a nameless young lad stealing a few pears from the fruit vendor, their silence deepens. Every time they see an unmasked man use a small, black pistol to rob a young father of his infant’s milk money, their silence booms. Every time they see a young girl hurrying home from the vultures’ eyes, their silence shrieks. Every time the political strikes eat up the city’s economy, they go silent. Every time Power spills the innocent blood, its silence turns into a cacophony. It deepens and deepens until you can no longer take comfort in the bustling signs of life around you because that-which-is-felt-but-not-said is booming very loudly. It’s pretty much like hearts that go silent after going out into the battlefield – hoping to win – but returning as a Ghazi, with arrows piercing its fragile epicentre. And then they no longer want to know what letters, and words, and phrases, and sentences mean. Or how bitterness is different from the sweet sweetness. Or how patience and longing are a match made in Heaven.

It’s a strange city, with stranger people.

Just don’t ever say, “I hate you!”


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the tying together of these heartstrings after they have lived an eternity away from each other

You know very well what heartstrings are, don’t you? They hold together those bits and pieces of your soul that are supposed to be yours. They loosen up if they grow weak. But they also tear apart ruthlessly if they are too strong. Rather like this old city of yours where sunsets are enjoyed in the background of ghazals, the salty sea is an angry witness to your follies, and regrets ride away in rickshaws candescent with simple urdu poetry.

So how does that happen?

In all the ways that you can imagine plus one.

Sometimes, it’s that annoying screeching of nails across the smooth surface of the blackboard. At other times, it’s the sound of the delicate, expensive vase breaking and then the sight of your bleeding finger as you try to pick up the broken pieces of the shreds of the glass and also those of your soul. It’s also a little like the old, torn newspaper that soaks up the oil as the deep fried pakoras are laid on it. It’s the slow movement of the fan that doesn’t cool the air but is therapeutic to watch. It’s the sound of the hungry baby wailing for it’s milk. It’s the desperation in a helpless prayer, the hopelessness in the defeated trudge back home from another jobless day. It’s the slap across the face for daring to pursue the silenced dreams. It’s the disgust with which you try to shoo away the flies from your evening tea’s cake. It’s also the pause before the yes and the sundial moving ahead after the no.

But you know what’s so incredible? It’s also – surprisingly – the tying together of these heartstrings after they have lived an eternity away from each other. It’s how they painstakingly glue it together with wax, or try to put the lapis lazuli back in the ring it fell from. Or trying to stitch together the burnt silk. It’s also the patience of old sincerity, the silence of fresh pain; much like the old and yellowed British buildings standing on the old, dusty streets of Saddar.

Hush! Don’t pull them too hard.

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Real life

A dry wind blows lazily as you sit with the emptiness, watching your pieces scatter away. You have no idea where they’re headed. They just don’t belong to you anymore. They call out to you and their screams echo in your ears long after you are dead. You savour the moment so that you can then know what the opposite will feel like. You read stories of warriors who have survived the Possible but the Unimaginable, on Facebook pages like The Humans of Pakistan. Your heart shakes hands with those of strangers who know what real life looks like. Yes, ‘real life’. That of difficult decisions, battles of solitude, struggles with your own self, confrontations with your heart, the disdain of insincerity. That’s real life. These strangers have a strange look. It’s not scary. It’s just comforting, and a little bit overwhelming. Because you feel understood, you ask yourself, “So there is someone out of everyone who knows what it is!” And as you stealthily walk away from your shadow, the black image on the ground seems to get ahead of you. You don’t want anyone to get ahead of you! But it does and you scramble after it until you fall and hurt yourself and cry like a baby and look around for your mom. Then you’re okay – just a little – and then you remember that there are things like biryani, and chai, and fish-n-chips, and chapli kabab, and Alfredo pasta, and pizza, and then you feel alright again.
You feel all okay again.
Yeah? Yeah.