A letter for her (XX) – subha bakhyr

9:01 AM | 27 February

I’d like to imagine that right now – at this moment – I’m watching the sun rise here and set far away.

Slowly, gracefully, the orange semi-circle of the centre of this known universe rises. The darkness of the previous night shies away as hope and love begin to dawn. It’s going to be a new day, another day, anything can happen! Anything at all! Do you see how big that is? How amazing that is? Good Lord!

It keeps on ascending the azure, singing hymns to the seven skies, admiring the hues of the wild blue yonder, nodding “*subha bakhyr” to all who woke up to say “thank you for another day” to the God who sends little miracles along their way, each day, every day.

And once it’s up there – majestic and all – it just shines down on everyone. The rich, the poor, the weak, the strong, the sad, the happy, the sinful, the pious. And just knowing that it’s there up there, helps you breathe deeply, slowly, calming that erratic heartbeat and sweaty palms and racing thoughts and the doubts and fears. It’s a little hard to believe but when you peek at the crystal mirror, you see your reflection smile in gratitude for another chance at life; for tearing away the heavy, heavy mask that was taking your life away; for this magical walk on the clouds when you lightly put your feet in front of the other and dance carefully, unbelievably light, not believing that the long path behind you is really now that: behind you.

Skipping heartbeats, grateful **sujoods, peaceful eyes. Really, “***Allah O Akbar”!

Love you more!

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Sandspit, Karachi

* good morning
** prostration
*** God is great




A letter for her (XIX) – Happy Women’s Day

And not very long ago, there lived two women on a mystical land by the sea. The days between their life and death were too many, the distance between their hearts not very much so. There was a whole generation between them; grief was borne patiently, happiness celebrated gratefully; silent battles fought, stories untold. They created a language of silence as one woman honoured another.

They would wake up to be surprised by the stardust flying above their heads, tickling them, pushing the curtains aside so the cheerful rays of the sun could convince the younger one to get up and greet herself; to welcome a womanhood that explores new vistas of kind friendships, unconditional love, generous forgiveness, soaring ambitions, and a childlike hope.

“The chains that have wounded our women are still very much there, and so are other women looming over each other as predators. The glass ceilings are also very much there. But we’re all growing. You are growing. Stronger and kinder and stronger, a little each day.”

Young hearts are always curious. “Who am I? Where am I?”

It was an extraordinary bond, a love too strong for this mortal world. It outshone the bright stars of Eve even. As they sat together, hand in hand – the younger one memorising in her heart the love radiating from those old, wrinkled hands; soon to go far away from her reach – they smiled in awe at having been chosen for this beautiful union of the souls, for this blessed friendship, for this unconditional love where they could together share their love for Him and Him alone.

And now – what seems like an eternity later and when an eternity is still left – the younger of the two is left with fond memories that do ache, will forever ache.

She is walking down this path, trying to read the map her friend entrusted her with, to the best of her abilities. She is trying. And it’s lovely out there. There’s plenty of hope. She is breathing in the gentle joy of loving His mercy, of bowing down in gratitude to all the ways He has planned out her life.

If anyone had told her that today – this day of this year – she’d be peacefully sipping on her tea, gazing afar into the future, the clouds of despair and that stifling confusion nowhere in sight, she would have laughed at them. But there’s none of that now. The road is clear, the ambition to conquer the worlds is returning home, the love for His people and the ardent desire to make this small earth bigger for the brokenhearted is guarding her own heart now. She is coming home. She really is.
And she owes it all to her friend, Nani Jaan.

Thank you for being the perfect woman. Thank for never letting go of your faith and for passing on the gift of Tawaqqal to me, with dignity and grace and so much love.

I miss you every single day but I know that you are watching over me. Happy women’s day!
See you around! Soon. Soon.

Two women, 1936
Amrita Sher-Gil; Two Women, 1936

A letter for her (XVIII) – each second in the hospital reminds me of you

There are certain memories that are like that old friend we promised to meet up with soon but never got around to.

“Heyy! Let’s meet up!”

“Yeah, sure! Let’s!”

And then we get busy with work and there are other family commitments, too. And then weekends find us in bed with a new book and maybe some chocolate chip ice-cream. So basically, that friend we care about but we’re too tired to make more of an effort to meet.

Will it be blasphemous to say that Surah Rehman is that friend now?

Every verse that flows into my ears takes me back to those moments – painful, and yet, so alive – when I’d hold your hand; feeling your leathery, withered skin against mine as each cell in my body mourned and celebrated at the same time. Like that time when we sat in the living room, the afternoon sun comfortably shining in; you on your throne, my head on your shoulder – two friends living in the moment, valuing the time that saw each other’s beating hearts, feeling the love that they were blessed with, marvelling at the vastness of life and the speed of the seconds. Every time I play the Surah – sometimes on my way to the hospital and sometimes on my way back home, tired after another day of fighting the tug at my heart when I see your smiling eyes in the face of all the patients I’ve seen that day – I live it all again. The honour of those last days, the painful realisations, the fearful ticking away of the clock. All of that and more. You know it, of course.

You know, right, that every second in the hospital reminds me of you? And also all that I couldn’t do for you? I wish I had been older. Maybe it could have been easier for us both then.

But thank you for watching over me, still. Knowing that our love has defeated mortality makes me look forward to each day with a grateful smile. Its the best feeling in the world, Nani Jaan!

It will be a joyous meeting, He has promised us that!



A letter for her (XVII) – we’re… good

3:01 PM | 25 January 2019

So imagine this: a little boy in middle school is in a bad mood. He woke up late. He spilt milk on his uniform as he tried to gulp it down in time to climb the honking school bus outside. Whoosh! He misses the bus, of course! Quickly changing into a fresh uniform, he is rushed to the school by his cranky dad who is also getting late for work. As you can guess, this kid is late and punished by the teacher. He’s made to stand outside the classroom. He can see his friends giggling inside. He knows they’ll make fun of him during recess.

He is suddenly angry. This isn’t fair. The world is cruel.

He rushes outside the corridor. He starts running. He runs fast towards the playground. He’s running and he’s furious and his little mind doesn’t know of any other way, yet, to take out this anger. And he keeps running.


He crashes into his P. E. teacher – his favourite teacher – and spills the sport’s day balloons that he’s carrying all over!


Who wouldn’t laugh at the sight of a small kid and a grown-up lying on the floor, astounded, balloons of all colours flying over their heads?

So life’s like that, too. I’ve been running and running and running – sometimes away from the monsters and sometimes towards them – and in all this confusion, I forgot to laugh. Until today. And now I wish to bottle up this feeling forever. I laughed and smiled and it doesn’t matter how hard the road ahead seems to be; it doesn’t matter that unconventional, difficult decisions lie ahead; it doesn’t matter that things are probably not going to go my way – it doesn’t matter because that’s natural and I’m still here – waking up to the cuckoo’s song each day – and a smile and gratitude, and a heartfelt prayer, and a crazy desire for some crazy fun and a happy longing to be happy is all that matters. Spreading smiles is all that matters.

Do you know who taught me that today? Dr H. F. at N.I.C.V.D.
And I’m beginning to think that the magic dua I made before starting this rotation worked! It’s not that bad; it’s turning out to be nice and fun, and that patient who loved Mirinda reminded me of you, and we’re learning, and Z & I have been giggling away like teenagers, and even the library is nice, and we’re… good. So far. It’s going to stay that way, isn’t it?


Miss you all the time.


A letter for her (XVI) – everything reminds me of you.

4:26 PM | 27 December 2018

A young man in the M.I.C.U. passed away today from dengue haemorrhagic fever. His lifeless body reminded me of a lot of things – emotions felt, the time that has passed, a haunting nightmare. It reminded me of your lifeless body, lying there. I couldn’t make it in time. How could that cheerful body lie there like that? Like that.
His mother’s screams, her tears.

“Myn kaisay rahoun gi abb! Yeh zulm ho gaya. Beta uthh jaa, pukaar mjhe!”
(“How will I live now? This is so cruel! Son, get up, speak to me!”)

There was nothing any one of us could do. His mother’s tears reminded me of my own loss – the seconds ticking by reminding me of how it will always, always pain the same – and how the moments proceeding the hospital formalities will be tinged with disbelief, grief, helplessness, anger, and that very fiery feeling of wanting to rip your heart out. Of wanting to go into a deep, deep slumber and never wake up again. How when today I go home and carry on with the eating and drinking and complaining about all that is wrong with the world, that mother will have buried a part of her soul, sitting amongst the crowd of sympathetic relatives and neighbours, in the incense of disbelief, the rosemary in her hand moving with the realisation that this is the only thing she can do.

Why am I writing this – such a sad account – here? Because this is also real. Far more real than the filtered smiles that social media uses to give us all self-doubt and anxiety issues. This is real enough to make us cherish each happy moment that we find ourselves fortunate enough to be celebrating. I write this as a small reminder – first for myself – that we must value and guard with reverence and gratitude all the good, all the love, all the chances at happiness that come our way.  I write this to tell you that I remember; I’m trying, and everything reminds me of you.

A small cup of warm tea by the dusty roadside, with our favourite crazy people making fun of how red the tip of my nose can turn in winters, may just be the biggest blessing in life. Right?

Miss you every day.


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A letter for her (XV) – a memory so strong, a feeling so beautiful, it still breaks my heart.

Our final year of medical school has begun. So close, and yet. There’s not much that I have to say. Except that in every patient that I see, I see you, Nani Jaan. Every deranged renal function test, every ailing elderly, every smiling patient reminds me of you. Each step I take towards these patients, each word that I utter brings me closer to YOU. As I breathe in these simple moments – like reading off facts from a sheet of yellowed paper – I make sense of the past, and perhaps, the future, too.

I know now what it means to be a shadow, to find honour in a loss.
Always with me, hidden away in my heart; a memory so strong, a feeling so beautiful, it still breaks my heart.

There’s one thing, though, that I do know. I will no longer question who the real me was, is, will be. And for that, I thank you. Again.

To peaceful, happier, lovelier, kinder days.


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Dr Ziauddin Hospital, Nazimabad.

A letter for her (XIV) – no heart is broken, only lost

I woke up with a heavy heart today. That slow, subtle pain that seeps through your bones and rattles your soul. That’s the simplest way to describe it.

A few days before you left us, I began grieving. As close as our souls were, how could I have not known? And so I began grieving, the emptiness settling all over, ready to say goodbye to you in this world. And now again, I’ve grieved. Again, for a loss in this world. But only you know that because you know everything.

And so the railway tracks are empty and those dry, crinkling orange leaves are flying over them, lonely; waiting for the excitement of lives fleeting by.

Those autumn leaves are also falling down the well. Down and down and down. There is no end to this one.

The tunnel is dark. The laws of this world have defied those of the heart. An echo reverberates long after they left.

This is what they are going to write down in the history books: It’s another end to another era and no heart is broken, only lost. Maybe forever.

Keep watching over me. Please?


8:48 AM