City lights? Fairy lights.

Summer poems, winter ghazals. Sunny mornings, whispering nights.
But what does one really want? Thudding along the velocity of life, here and there. Pretending, always pretending.

It’s hilarious – and even incredible – how these glistening city lights protectively hide the hurt, the anger, the remorse (or lack of), the bitterness, the hopelessness, and all things lonely. Like a loving mother, hiding her child in her heart, saving – trying to save. It’s like standing across the table, watching a stranger cut their birthday cake as their friends and family clap and sing gaily, ‘Happy birthday to you!’ And you only smile to yourself and sigh with the wisdom of one who has lived a hundred years of solitude.

These remind me of a half-forgotten midsummer night’s dream; a quite little house by the sea, under the blue sky. Much like that nostalgic pretty house from Black Mirror’s San Junipero.

Sailors from the sky, stars from the sea, walking with us on the sandy carpet, listening to the peace of a country life, dancing to the happy carols, being the happiest you can be.

City lights? Fairy lights.

Yeah?

Hmmm…yeah!

 

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Photo credits: Momina Qadri

 

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Tycho – A Walk

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A still from Tycho – A Walk.

She suddenly draws in her breath – like the secret in that slow walk before you enter a room and shout “surprise!” – and you expect her to shatter your folly with her golden philosophy. Except that a heavy musical greets you. It is a surprise.

My meeting with this instrumental was also a surprise. Searching for an old classic, I had accidentally stumbled upon this.

So Tycho’s ‘A Walk is my drive. A smooth drive in a quiet black, car as the little droplets of rain hurriedly fall on its roof – falling slowly, aren’t they? – racing against each other to listen to the symphony that it was creating between something and everything. Outside, the sky is velvety black and the grey clouds are safely hidden away in the excitement of the shy, uncertain, future.

A deep breath here, a faraway look there.

The heart matches its beat with A Walk. You look out of the car window and see a storm behind but you do not press the accelerator. You can’t alone, can you? You can’t. So you drive ahead at the same speed till you realise just how tired, how very tired you are, but you don’t turn down the volume. You can’t. You wait. You wait for your favourite bits to come again so you can ignore the world and the taxes, and the elections, and all that nonsense that the morning newspapers shove down your throat. And as you are bravely waiting, you realise that Tycho’s A Walk is about to end and that it will never play by itself again. Never? Maybe. See the artwork of this album; you don’t know if the sun is rising or setting, do you? And just like that, you don’t know where you are – going or coming.

The path is really long.

Content nostalgia

When I first read this poem, it seemed strangely familiar, a bitter-sweet expression to define all that lies between who we were and who we are.

I once lived under a sky that was teaching me to love each of its hues one by one. And then suddenly, without warning, it decided to change its course. The heart was suddenly homeless. That happens to all of us, doesn’t it?
To see a loved one struggle with the burden of breathing – and even living, even loving – kills you before you are resurrected into who you were born to be. But this resurrection is under a different sky, with different people, with a new heart and a new soul.

And then you look back with childlike wonder at the lightyears that you’ve travelled within the earthly count of days and months. How could you reach here so soon? Because you’ve been riding on little angels as your soul meets your soul. God blew His soul into Adam, and we’re all Adam’s children. So it may be that we have more souls than we like to think; as my dear friend, Zahra, has wondered, what if we have thousands of these souls? And if she’s right, then I imagine they all have a time-limit. One in one era of our lives. Maybe that’s why we have more than one soul-mate; in a parent, a friend, a sibling, a significant other – all at different atoms carried within the energy of our times. So when all of our souls come as one, there’s a celebration; you see fireworks in your life as you realise how your desires change, how your heart begins to sing a different tune, how the chilly winds of autumn don’t bother you anymore, how stray leaves don’t tickle you, how now everything and something make a new algorithm of nothing. Maybe that’s also what deja vu is – soul-number-one meeting its twin, soul-number-two, to hand over the vial of memories so that the twin can truly be itself. Perhaps that’s what the familiarity means. Perhaps that’s why our souls travel when we’re asleep; they go looking for one another, say hello, and then come back and spin our dreams.

I call it content nostalgia.

Our souls are happy with their travels, the nostalgia is the colour of our rich dreams.

There’s a fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach as you look back excitedly, and talk, and laugh at old monsoons, but you don’t wish to get drenched again. The eyes are seeking a new horizon…along the same shore.

That’s content nostalgia, too.

The meadows there were beautiful. But this is where I want my heaven.

Content nostalgia.

I think phoenixes might have always loved this content nostalgia. And now I love phoenixes.

the angels, too, are flying at the speed of five centimetre per second?

 

There’s something about prayer – dua – that baffles me. It’s like wondering whether the angels, too, are flying at the speed of five centimetres per second, till you suddenly try to guess where their compass is – towards you or away from you.

Is a second there a hundred years here? So does the earth move around the sun at the same speed as us circumambulating around the Ka’aba? Is the universe deep enough to hide all the chords of loss? Is it darker than our fears? Are our souls the wings that angels don’t have?

Why do you and I – ruled by these thoughts and feelings that are dazzling little clusters in the clouds of our lives – put our throbbing foreheads to the ground and choke out our helplessness, our long wish-lists, and complain of starry nights lit up by our soledad when He is closer to us than our jugular veins? He speaks to me – and to you, too – in Surah Rum, “Did they not reflect in their own selves?” So He wants us to meet ourselves before we meet Him; the seconds before happiness, again. Over and over again.

Ais ishq di jhangi wich mor bulenda
Sanu qibla ton Ka’aba sohna yaar disenda
Saanu ghayal karke phir khabar na laaiyaan
Tere ishq nachaiyaan kar key thaiyaa thaiyaa

A peacock calls in the grove of passion
It’s Qibla, It’s Kaaba where lives my love
You asked not once after you stabbed
Your love has made me dance like mad.

– Bulleh Shah

Five centimetres per second is very slow. The hearts are all tired here. Its been too long.

 

 

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/gum__naam/

 

 

“He causes two bodies of water to flow and meet together, but between them is a barrier that they cannot surmount”

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/gum__naam/

Look at this picture carefully. Do you see how the different shades from the colour palate are kinetic with the serenity that the minarets of the mosque seem to be exuding? Do you feel it?

The colours are hazing into each other – like love and hate, joy and grief, pain and relief; all these different emotions that have baffled the children of Adam and Eve ever since our God said, ‘Kun Faya Kun’ – and you can hear the sweet sound of the *azaan in the background, so lovingly asking you to come home. To come home.

It rather reminds you of how He, “… causes two bodies of water to flow and meet together, but between them is a barrier that they cannot surmount” (Quran 55:19-20). The two seas that meet, but, do not mix at the Gulf of Alaska.

That’s us. All of us.

We’re a little confused, us humans. But we know we want happiness. Do we, though, know where our happiness lies? Or with whom?

Sin meets repentance, but, they do not unite. Repentance meets forgiveness, and they embrace. You can breathe but not live.

Sometimes, we find ourselves dangling in between love and hate, longing and fear for all of what we think our mortal souls desire. We beg Him for guidance, and yet, our visions are perturbed by the immortal path that we’re shown. Our intelligence so easily mocks us. And our hearts so easily deceive us.

It could be a long, long journey, they tell the faithful.

We’re all travellers here, aren’t we? I await the day when my memory will become a memory.

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*Azaan: Muslim call to prayer

aaj rung hai re maa, rung hai rii

And how do thoughts walk?

Gingerly stepping over brave ambitions, and crushed hopes, and you-s that we don’t recognise; boldly dodging the arrows. They carry an air of pride that boasts of not having been elsewhere before, announcing the visit of joy.

Your lazy thoughts get lost along the journey of lost-and-found till you discover them again, buried deep within the glow in your heart, hidden by Him only for you to discover it much later so that you can walk down another aisle of Renaissance and exclaim in surprise – and exasperation, too – over the easiness with which the storm drowned the momin. And what is really surprising about this rediscovery? The more you drown into them, the more you breathe. The darker it gets in there, the brighter His glow. The faster the spin, the deeper the magic. That’s just how it is.

So the men and women of wisdom have agreed that each thought is a different teardrop, taking on a different journey – flying, scurrying, dawdling, running, or merely strolling along with Destiny and Free Will.

And so our thoughts walk along the shores that hold the deep ocean in between them. It’s an ocean and it is too wide, too deep, and there’s no way you can cross it unless you hold the lantern that He made so lovingly, so perfectly. There’s no other way, you know? The sky has no pillars and the sun will not shine forever.

The many you-s need the blessings of Tauhid, the glory of Taqwa for it to rain daisies and lilies so that all of your souls can spark as one. So that Khusro can finally be happy.

“Aaj rung hai re maa..rung hai rii!” / “What a glow everywhere I see, mother..what a glow!”
(‘Aaj rung hai’, Amir Khusro)

 

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yellow butterflies

And whether you are a rebellious twelve-year-old or an ambitious twenty-four or a tired forty-two – or even a bored eighty – there’s just one simple pleasure in life: having something to look forward to. Anticipation, as they say.

A new funky backpack. That new glitzy ring from the local marketplace. Peaceful surrender to ‘Fragrance of Guava – Conversations with Gabriel Garçia Marquez’ in the comforting company of some good ol’ ginger ale. Friendly banter with your cousins just to see grandma smile as you race with her to finish her mango shake. The stable vitals of a very sick loved one. New teacups and intricate henna patterns on soft palms. The early morning call to prayer that jingles gently in the background as you talk to the meyna. Old friends, new letters, yellow butterflies. Even the scary uncertainty that slowly, turbulently eases into a patient wait for the exciting surprise promised by “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief”. (Quran. 94:5)

These are all little grains in the sand that the blue of the sea prostrates on; my little galaxies in the mystery of the thought of infinite, the seconds before happiness, the spring before the favourite season. So this is also what happiness looks like.
I wonder what took me so long…

Photo credits: Sabrina Merchant

You learn the names of the galaxies as you recite His ninety-nine names.

This post first appeared on the Ziauddin University Atlas.

Emotions are funny companions. They twist and turn the peace of your mind and drive you dangerously through life. Much like an over-excited bus driver racing his queen (you know the one with some eye-catchy Urdu poetry adorned on its back? Yes, that one!) through the broken roads of Karachi, jamming to the latest Bollywood song.

This picture that you see here isn’t something extraordinary. It’s a very mundane moment captured as an expression of disguised vulnerability.

This man – his back to us – may have a family back home that awaits his smile, his protective embrace. To them, the new ice-cream parlor in the city does not matter because not only are they blissfully unaware of its existence, but to them, the cherished moments of joy lie in a few happy hours spent chatting with their old grandparents, drinking some cool falsay ka sharbat, contemplating the meaning of life, and then going to bed with a full stomach, a prayer of gratitude on their lips, and utterly in awe of the Unseen Existence.

Lanes like these map our entire city, don’t they? And each mile of each of these lanes is covered by a thick layer of dust that reminds you that even without the glamour of the city, life can be very beautiful and fascinating. The muddy reflection staring at you from the road tells you that imperfection is real and okay, and the bumpy roads that cause you to jump in your seats are pretty much like the bumps that life has to offer, no? And then at the end of the road, you see a shabbily dressed man happily selling balloons to a group of happy kids. Their smiles are innocently beautiful and you are easily mesmerised by the reality of something so extraordinarily simple. And you learn to laugh amidst the tears. You learn how to count the stars on the dark night. You learn how it’s futile to run away from yourself.

You learn – after the lies and deception of this world and its mortals – the names of the galaxies as you recite His ninety-nine names.

 

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A letter to her (II)

Dearest *Nani Jaan,

You didn’t wish me ‘Eid Mubarak’. You didn’t get up to tell me how my dress looked. You didn’t even chide me for not getting henna on my hands this time even though I love it. Why?
You didn’t lovingly order us to pile our plates with food. So I didn’t. I just sat by you not wondering why Eid didn’t seem like Eid.

It’s getting quieter in here, you know.

There are highs and lows. I have raged and fought with God. I have demanded justice. There was no answer but I know it will come. I just don’t want those empty days to return. Can you possibly come back? Giving up isn’t easy and who would know that better than you? Because this silence that is becoming my new best friend is haunted by guilt.

Regrets are not easy to live with, Nani Jaan. And every time I bend down to move you, every time my own hands touch yours as I tie the damned sphygmomanometer cuff around your bony arm, every time I glance at your sunken cheeks, I find myself beaten up by guilt and regret. And then I run away from myself; my feet falter with the weakness of my heart, my tongue begging Him for help. And then you know what happened? One such moonlit night brought me the answers I had never expected.
Life is so, so strange.
It doesn’t seem fair that through this I’m seeking the mercy that I need, that through this will come my relief, that this is my way out.
It’s so true, Nani Jaan, that human intelligence is bound within the first degree of imprisonment; no matter how many nanoseconds we discover, no matter how many moons we land on, no matter what great genetic engineers we become, we are always helpless in front of His plans. Always.
I wonder if introspection and retrospection are His favourite ‘-tions’? Because they steer us towards His love, and through our own follies and short-comings, we discover His Being, and then with shaking hearts and hopeful souls we go Home to Him.

We go Home to Him.
We go Home to Him.

This doesn’t seem fair. But then who am I to decide that? A small collection of cells that is nothing without His beautiful Will. Absolutely nothing. And I know that when I see how marvellously my own plans fail and how wise are His.

Remember several of those sunny afternoons when we would ask you if you’re hungry? You’d say, “No. God has filled my stomach. I don’t feel hungry. I’m content. Thank God”.
And of course, you don’t. The hypothalamus in your brain has taken care of that. See. I found my answer. Why does that always happen? Why do I find the how to the why as soon as the when happens? Because it’s all a matter of perspective, you’d say, and it all goes back to Him.

This is just so crazy.

You called me your friend, your ‘saheli’. You said that because your friends left, you found me.
“Meri saheliyaan chali gaeeyn tou yeh saheli aagaee”.
Yes, Nani Jaan. One friendship for another. Maybe this is the meezan that God lovingly spoke about, isn’t it?

It really is getting quieter in here. And I miss a lot of a lot of things. Thank you for not giving up. Not yet.

Love,

Your Arfu.

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*Nani Jaan: maternal grandmother

there’s just some fog behind

The road was ending anyway, but you eventually said goodbye.

It’s a calm night. The stars are whistling, trying to cheer you up. The wind seems to be dancing around, inviting you to a once-in-a-lifetime. But what are these once-in-a-lifetimes anyway? Foggy regrets that your foolish heart spins into a fairy tale. Or maybe gentle reminders of a cosmos that your fragile mortality could not handle. Does it make a difference, you ask. We don’t know yet. You only know it – feel it – once it floats away from you and when you try to run towards it, it waves at you with a reproachful glance, a disappointed smile.

The night-sky is a delightful companion for the dervish. It often asks you if there is happiness in shutting doors. There isn’t, you say. There’s just peace, the scary kind that does not even tell you if there are other doors, let alone finding the key to the same one. There’s peace in jumping into the deep blue ocean and not knowing whether it will welcome you or which lonely island it will throw you on; that’s what the night-sky believes. But you’ve had enough of islands, you tell yourself. Humans are islands, too, you’re reminded.

You look up again. There’s just some fog behind.

Two shooting stars at each end of God’s canvas; sad, and scared, and defeated, their hearts longing for home. So far away, yet, so close.

Artwork: Safa Younis