there are no mermaids in the warm oceans and the sea is aging.

This poem first appeared on the Ziauddin University Atlas.

there are no mermaids in the warm oceans and the sea is aging.
the waves are still dancing with the moon, rising and falling with my sighs,
the notes resonating with the khamaj of the universe.
and the earth is playing the dhun loudly, hoping for a miracle,
courting the sun, beloved to the stars.
beloved to you,
beloved to me.
shadow by shadow, they prostrate to
a God Unseen, the pearls in the sea-bed
waiting for you,
waiting for me.
how many hour-glasses will we break?
the darkness of this universe is
the light within you,
the light within me.
the small galaxies glowing in the mystery of black, taking me deeper into its heart, reading out – bit by bit –
the words of Destiny,
surprising you,
surprising me.
and there are no mermaids here,
and no elves,
there’s just you,
there’s just me.

Photo: Safa Younis

the colour palette of the universe

are there as many colours

on the colour palete of the universe

as in dreams, we weave?



I will say, “The wall-clock has broken”.

Huge rivers flowing from large, brown
eyes pool into your heart. It hurts; you cry out. Mountains don’t move,
and you walk ahead towards the storm, away from the tempest. Time will pass, languages will evolve, your letters will rust,
and we will live beyond the realm of unlived dreams.
I will say, “The wall-clock has broken”.

Artwork: Fatima Afzal

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:


The history of pain

Photo credits:

Taking histories, writing them down, presenting them to your consultant — quite a tedious task as seen by us future doctors. But it’s so much more than that, isn’t it? Your narrative collides with that of the patients’ — like two meteoroids falling together, their paths colliding for a nanosecond in the eternity of time itself.

You’re taking a history of pain – any kind; abdominal, arm, any part of the body. You have a checklist in your mind that will help you reach a diagnosis and swiftly answer the consultant when he asks you to enumerate the differentials.

“Where do you have pain?”
“For how long have you had it?”
“Did the pain start suddenly or gradually?”
“Does it travel to any other region of your body? Yes? Where?”
“Tell me more about this pain. Does it feel like someone’s stabbing you? Or it’s a kind of heaviness in this area? Or it’s throbbing?”
“Does it get worse when you move about? Is it relieved by taking meds?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is it?”
“Does the pain come with anything else? Any nausea or vomiting?”
And a couple of other questions like these.

As a future doctor learning the basics, every time I see these patients, I wonder if aching hearts ought to be healed this way, too?

“My heart and soul are aching, doc”.
“Umm, I’ve had it for a while now. Ever since my son died”.
“It started suddenly. Like a strong current rising within my chest. Like something stopping me from breathing”.
“Yes, it travels all the way into the depths of my soul and then down to my legs. I feel very weak then. Like I can’t stand on my feet, you know?”
“It’s all of that, doc. It’s throbbing sometimes. And sometimes it feels like a heavyweight is placed on my chest”.
“Yeah, it does get worse. When I walk out of my room and I see his baby clothes lying in the laundry because nobody has the courage to pick them up, or his toys peeking at me from behind undusted furniture”.
“I came to you for the meds, doc! Make this pain go away!”
“1 to 10? I don’t know. Sometimes it’s 3, sometimes it’s 8. And sometimes, it’s 11. I don’t know”.
“Yeah, it comes with loneliness.”

So many pieces all at once,

in the blink of an eye,

in half a breath,

in a fraction of a second –

a little hole here, a bigger one there

because this is magnificent beauty; this wound

where the light enters you.

Long before the oceans dry up, the lone traveller struggles to reach the shore




Photo credits: Younis Bazai


Chaque homme porte la forme entiere de l’humaine condition.
Each of us bears the complete stamp of the human condition.
– The first principle of psychiatry as proclaimed by Michel De Montaigne in 1580.


Unbothered by the quick feet shuffling around her, carrying unknown faces down the corridors of what she has learnt to call her ‘home’, this young lady was lost in a world of her own. She paints a sad picture and reminds me of long, lonely hallways with high roofs, warmed by the yellow of the afternoon sun. A sad, sad nostalgia. The silence in the psychiatric hospital is as calming as it is unnerving; like the reminder on our cell phones that we keep snoozing because we just can not bring ourselves to finish the task. Did I like it there? I can’t be sure. It was another world altogether, mirroring how vicious the real world out there – the one I came from, the one where I felt safe – can actually be.

What if these people are far, far saner than we are? What if their insanity is a very welcome escape from the social rules and norms that you and I are bound to since birth? Is this sanity a burden that we earthlings will be carrying to our graves? Maybe somewhere far away, lying deep within the heart of another galaxy in another universe, is a world inhabited by beings where people like us home in institutes like these?

So I went home that day – relishing the warmth of the sun on what was supposed to be a chilly December evening – watching the traffic slip away as busy men and women rushed through life occupied by thoughts of their electricity bills and crippling taxes. And when I walked into my room, I wondered why I hadn’t noticed the slow spin of the fan. I wondered what it’s speed was. And then I opened my notebook and stared at the white pages holding a catharsis that was just a few days old:

Breath by breath the memories shed themselves,
uncovering the heart within; the statue dismembering.
Long before the oceans dry up,
the lone traveller struggles to reach the shore –
away from the embers of the world,
towards the awaited smile.

Truly, ‘So which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?’ (55:38; The Quran)