I think as difficult as this time is, I’m going to miss living it. Even the uncertainties seem to have warmed my heart and I’m nothing but surprised; surprised at how far we’ve come, surprised at the light sneaking out from that haunted house; how the hospital beds have nestled hopeful dreams and difficult patients no longer make you anxious. But COVID-19 and patients who lie still do.
“Farz chhorr k nafl kar rahi houn!” (Its like I’m leaving my real job to offer voluntary services!) These are physician mothers who have not met their kids for months since the pandemic.
I can’t wait for a tomorrow that is peaceful, less frightening, and that will finally see the end to a journey of patience that has lasted for as long as I can remember. Because getting exhausted is the very proof that you need to believe that you’re a human, too.
Its amazing how life unfolds and you get answers for questions long forgotten. Almost like tumbling across a 1000-rupee note in the pocket of your old jeans. Or finding your favourite chocolates at the back of the fridge. But despite this all, some emotions linger on, the subconcious plays it’s game and tricks and corners it’s questions and queries about the the little universe within its own self, just like these disconnected thoughts. That’s life.
And sometimes I can’t distinguish between breathing and breathing from behind the tight-fitting N-95. Is it the same struggle?
The last few letters that I wrote to you were all written in a hurry, like a quick update to my best friend so I can feel her around. It reminds me of how we draw back the curtains on a sunny day to let the sunlight in without letting the room heat up.
It’s going alright. It’s going okay.
When we wake up from a long, long sleep – literally – there’s a fresh glow on the face that prepares us for what is to come – the squabbles of the day, the empty milk bottle in the fridge, another terrorising shift in the middle of human bodies breathing in money. A little bit of that and a lot of our own misgivings, our own trials being judged by our God. So there was that finally. It’s a good start, you’d say. At least enough to let one stand up again.
What’s the point of this all anyway? What’s the point of being defeated in a battle that was never mine?
There’s a long, long journey lying ahead in the count of whatever miles we have left. And I do not want to sin by wasting them. What answer will my soul have when I stand in front of Him then? Your resilience taught us to stand firm on our faith – the faith that asks us to believe in His powers, in His wisdom, in His mercy – and not give up. The last six months of your life ask me to honour that. How can I turn away now? I’ve come so far on this journey and on the journey of my heart and soul. I’ve lost the way to go back. There are no sign-posts behind, there’s nothing; some people take away all of us when they go. You know that.
In a parallel world, if little fn was stepping on these same pebbles, falling and hurting herself, giving up, crying and praying, what would have I done? I thought long and hard about this, Nani Jaan. I’d have told her to stand up for herself. Finding happiness within ourselves is pretty much like laughing at the balloon you just threw in the air. Or the thorny rose you plucked from the garden – the gardener snoring blissfully – to hide in your ‘Dear Diary’. I’ll fight everything – the injustices, the cruelty of this world – and I’ll also pick up the shattered glass pieces that have pierced the gentleness of what I so freely and happily gave. But with the smile of my soul, the faith that you had, and the miracle of prayers. And some forgiveness. That’s going to be hard. But I shall try because I want to be true to the promises I’ve made. Do you think I can do that? Do you think you are still proud of me?
It’s so quiet in here. So very quiet. The quiet dripping of the water from a broken tap. The childhood memory of the meyna chirping at 3 PM in the afternoon, only the sun keeping it company as young kids slept before a daily ritual of tea and Gluco biscuits. The sharpening of the pencils before starting off the exam paper as small hands brushed the shavings underneath the desk drawers. The lovely, lovely scent of baby powder as a new born slept peacefully – curtains drawn, innocence and happiness frolicking in the air – and grown ups looked down at it in awe and envy. It’s so quiet in here. So very quiet.
I’m not scared today. Maybe because I’m your granddaughter. Maybe because I’m the daughter of a woman who sends out her heart everyday when she drops me off at the hospital, duas and “Beta, apna bohat khayal rakhna!” making the seconds go by. Maybe because I come from a generation of women whose strength and courage in the face of life’s challenges have always, always won. Women who have truly been women, God’s gentlest, strongest creations. So now I’m not scared of anything anymore. Because you weren’t either. And because she isn’t, either. And Insha’Allah, she won’t be, either.
it used to come out slowly, bespeaking an affection always hesitant. because there’s a little fear. a pretty little fear of falling down, of running away. a little bit of adoration, so much longing. so. “aik baat bataoun?”
always some sweet surprise, a favourite season. an old yearning shy to be seen, twinkling to light up your world, you said. words and gestures, wishes and prayers hidden away. a sunless sky for the moonless nights. so. “aik baat bataoun?”
confessions, and secrets, and memories, and hopes and dreams, all planned for the ceremony. pine trees swinging, meynas singing. nobody can say it again. even the mirror will lie. so. “aik baat bataoun?”
reading a book unwritten, words not spoken; i carry souvenirs from the future, memories i have from a place far, far away from here. maybe from the land where we were. waking up at dawn with eggs, and coffee black and milky. the lazy sun twirling our sunny weekends. and there was the beach, sandy and playful an old gramophone singing and giggling. letters, and diaries, and poetry on the creaking rocking chair. flowers fresh and bright, awaiting the night. i have lived already, what more is there? a soul flying away, watching them from afar, i see so many of them – two as one – happy and smiling. “oh, i wish you well. god keep you blessed”, i say. there’s still hope for this world, then. there’s hope for the book, too. write it with me, will you?
there’s a little knock on the door “tuk, tuk, tuk”. but i stand still, holding my breath. this door is made of all things broken glued together with love. the polish is old, almost worn-out. there’s another knock. i do not move. the clock hasn’t struck – not yet – i remind myself. homecoming is never easy, i want to say. “tuk, tuk, tuk”. maybe one day. one day when they won’t stop you. maybe one day. one day when i am but not a problem, not a doubt. not that. one day when you have caught your stars. one day when you are shining on them like the brightest of ’em all. till then, i’ll stand here, listening to all the knocks keeping me alive but opening the door only once: when the answer to our prayer will be so loud, so clear that it will go around the world faster than the scent of tulips. there’s a little knock on the door. “je pense à toi aussi”. “sois juste heureux”.
When you’re standing in front of the freezing burst of the air conditioner, shivering a little uncomfortably – but not enough to be noticed – all you can think of is how to turn that damned machine off. A few seconds of good luck that reappear after every minute or so, strikes and the direction of that freezing blast of air moves away from you, leaving you in that very welcome warmth of comfort. It makes you very much comfortable. You may even sigh with relief. And then the cold air comes again.
Unfortunate incidents and bumps in the road are like that; they last for a few days before there’s the warmth of happiness again. Then something else happens to give you another sleepless night before there’s a smile of gratitude. So just like the cold air booming out of the air conditioner, happiness and peace also play hide-and-seek with us.
But what I’d like us to remember is the very comfortable warmth of Love that hugs us. The sunrise after a dark, stormy night of thunderstorms. The laugh mixed with tears. Like a dear friend said, the Madni phase after the trials of Mecca.
If you have an interest in gardening, you’ll know that for a flower to bloom, it may take days and days of loving care and attention, and a little of some faith in the power of miracles. So you patiently water that plant, look at it with adoration, and you talk to it, hoping that your words reach your little buddy’s heart and it finds all the will and strength that it needs to bloom out and bathe in the sun.
Other times, you pack a few homemade sandwiches and drive to the beach so you can watch the sunset perched on the rocky walls that have seated all of Karachi’s lovers and thieves, the dervish and the faqeers, the lost and the seeking. The small hand of your beloved watch moves forward, slowly, and you watch the sun go down, bit by bit, rising elsewhere. You sit there and look around at the children running along the shore, asking their fathers to buy them the colourful balloons. You live in every moment, aware of how deep your breaths are and how the slow tug at your heart never seems to go away.
And then suddenly, all of that is gone – the unease, the dull ache. There’s a little jump to your heart’s rhythm – sometimes here, sometimes there – and when you look in the mirror, there’s a new smile! Where did that come from?
And in between trying to believe that this is real – very real – you find yourself thinking of Him again and again and again. You had set out to find Him, and He sent down angels to greet you; that’s what happened! You tied yourself around the ancient pillar of Tawakkal * (because that is the only option) and you went in a sujood** of gratitude, and it worked; magic dust is real and God is very much around.
My eyes are shut and I’m happily enjoying the Love. Come, join me!
**perfect trust in God and reliance on Him alone
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.
Karachi — my good, ol’ Karachi — has that nostalgic tinge about it. You know the kind that makes you miss the future — not the present — with each passing second? That. You really can’t imagine what the Karachi that your grandchildren will live in will look like, can you? Will it be haunted by uninvited uniforms or by power-hungry industrialists? Will this blissful state of ignorance still be our companion then?
The era of the ’70s and the ’80s that brought you a dozen eggs for a few pennies and when driving from Empress Market to the sandy Clifton beach was only a matter of a few Vital Signs songs, is long gone. And now, living in the days of Karachi Eat Festivals and apartment complexes mushrooming all over the city, you live this moment knowing that this Karachi will never come back. That this you will never come back. You will adapt to the latest fashion, to the latest trends. But the walls of your house overlooking these wise and learned streets will continue to smell of all that makes this Karachi our Karachi — political turbulence and gunshots that stole a mother’s hope and caravans celebrating Pakistan’s win in a cricket match and the sweet whisperings of little girls and boys who walk to the nearest store with their fathers to buy candy every day.
Karachi, you’re an old man sitting by the roadside – your head bent – but watching closely all the passer-bys, listening intently to all our stories. Live long, live well.