A letter for her (XXXI) – Al-Baatin

11:00 AM | 11 May 2020

It’s very rare – and very fascinating – to see the child that has grown within someone you call your grandmother because when you’re a kid, you think all grown ups were always all grown up.

You loved making sandcastles. The way your slender fingers would expertly build another home is a fond memory etched over the papyrus of time now. You’d place a chair on the shoreline and go and sit there, letting the waves sink the plastic chair deeper into the moist floor, the salty water playing with the seams of your saree. And you’d sit there and smile beautifully and gaze back at the sun, your sunglasses making you look like a diva. You were gorgeous!

Life has become pretty much like the waves you’d sit with. One after another, rushing in; leaving no time for the first wave of a new realisation to engage with the brain before sweeping in another extraordinary feeling that I have to struggle to recognise. I really can’t decide whether to laugh at that or to continue to be surprised. Or why not both?

I don’t have answers to any of the questions. I don’t even have questions anymore. I wanted to climb the highest peak of Tawakkal. I wanted what Hazrat Umar wanted: “Oh, Allah! Make us of your few servants!” And this is mighty difficult, Nani Jaan. You used to say, “Allah Mian bohat piyaray hain! (God is lovely!)” He really is. I don’t know anything at all except the fact that He makes me take out my phone and open up the dua, “Allah alone is sufficient for us, and He is the best disposer of affairs for us.” (Quran 3:173) when my boss is creating a difficult situation for me in an OPD swamped with more than thirty patients. All I know is that He relieves my anxiety when my brain – more than my heart – tells me that no power is bigger than God and what will only happen is what only He wills. All I know is that these last fourteen days passed by without cough and fever and in the line of duty because He is the Omnipotent, and there’s work threaded in the lines of my palms only. All I know is that if He’s giving enough strength to the two people who brought me into this world to also send me out on this new battlefield, then only He can turn the Impossible into Possible. All I know is that if I find myself calling out to Him for help when I’m stuck in the restroom with no water or when I find myself whispering to Him to grant me the motivation to drop another few extra pounds on the weighing scale or when I make a quick dua for my favourite food, I’m free from the chains of human dependency and unfulfilled expectations. All I know is that when I find myself writing unsent letters that have no address, my soul is testifying to the power of duas made long ago, to His promise of not returning us empty-handed, to the very special heartbeat that He has hidden inside me. All I know is that when lost in the blurriness of this cacophony, the only lantern I am able to hold is that of istikhara; for every tangled knot, for every aching breath, for every dark alley. All I know is that ever since I’ve started playing this game of Tawakkal, He is increasing not only the level of difficulty, but also my bonus points, my resilience, my Love for Him, and how somehow, I know we’ll be able to fill in this crossword puzzle. Because He is our secret inner companion, after all.

And all of this because of your magical duas. I see them protecting me, making me stronger, happier. Little by little, every day. The dewdrops falling on me, calming the storms within, now comfortable with patience, waiting for and amused at the unknown path, but the known heartbeat.

Thank you, Nani Jaan.

A letter for her (XXX) – hearts are prettier when they’re thankful

2:18 PM | 6 May 2020

There are two things that define those miraculous six months we spent together preparing to say goodbye to you: unconditional, unquestionable faith in God, and unconditional gratitude.

Two years down the lane, and can you believe who I am now? It’s an addiction now, Nani Jaan. I am addicted to being grateful to Him. What pain? What loneliness? What of anything at all? This ‘Alhamdullilah’ is unveiling itself with full force. Every time I feel the kheyr in a difficult situation, I feel my body dancing on the lightness of happiness. It’s such a strange kind of happiness! It’s like my heart is heavy with the lightness of nothing. It’s overwhelmed by how nothing ‘right’ that is happening is making me happy. I really don’t get how this science works, Nani Jaan. I’m beginning to think that this was the secret you referred to that day. Remember that day when we were all gathered in your room – a daily routine then – and you said, “Arfa knows everything”? There was awkwardness and confusion on everyone’s face. You just looked at me – everyone else an irrelevant entity – and repeated the words that now bring me so much comfort: “She knows, she knows everything!”

I miss you. I love you. I’m really happy that you’re in a much, much better place and even though I can’t wait to join you, I’m not prepared, yet. I’m preparing.

I love this cloud, Nani Jaan. It’s the softest. It’s the stardust I’d always wanted, the dream I thought I didn’t deserve. “Becoming bros with Him!” How did you know this would happen? How did you know this would happen like this? How did you know that laughing at pain would sound so melodious? How did you know that the peace that will marry this happiness will be so loyal? You knew it all along. It was our special secret all along.

This pandemic has broken the old frame that was keeping together this picture. It’s a crazy world right now. The toxic workplace, the political manipulation, the exposure, the sick friends and colleagues, being directly exposed, family safety – all of this has faded into the background of His ‘Kun Faya Kun’, His mercy, and my heart bearing witness to the fact that He’s taking care of us all and there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of if only I trust Him with Love: there’s coal-black, and ash-grey, and neon-yellow, and navy-blue, and deep red, and emerald-green on the canvas. There’s a roughness to it that feels gritty against the palm, hiding the smoothness of the good that is to come. Why can’t they see it, too?

Alhamdullillah. Alhamdullillah. Alhamdullillah.

“And which of the flavours of your Lord will you deny?”

A letter for her (XXVIII) – so I’m posted in the ER now

What an interesting year to work as an intern, right? It’s now mandatory for us HOs to work in the ER for 15 days on 12-hour shifts. If we don’t, we won’t get our HJ certificate.

Mine starts tomorrow. How do I feel? Unsure of what to expect. If we express concern and worry, we’re blamed for being too sensitive and negative. Our families are worried. We are worried for their safety. Where do we look for the support? Where do we young doctors go? Am I afraid of death? Now I am because I am no saint. I’m not prepared to meet my Allah. But hold on – as I wrote “my Allah!”, it just struck me that if He’s mine, He’ll listen to me. So obeying Him by wearing the headscarf; at least one thing I tried to get right, right? This whole experience is so…. spiritual. It’s like I’m getting ready to face the fact that death could be a millimetre away. And so I absolutely must do what I can to seek His Closeness. So I guess Alhamdullillah for this, too?

“And which if the favours of your Lord will you deny?”

I pray my family and loved ones stay safe and healthy. I worry about them. Ammi and Abu are just always worried about my safety. You would have been, too. I know what you’d have done: you’d have called me up early morning to speak to me and give me duas. Dadi Jaan has been giving my sadqa everyday, you know? So don’t worry about that. But, of course, you know that already.

I miss you, Nani Jaan. Your duas will always keep me safe, I know. And Ammi’s.

the Madni phase after the trials of Mecca

1 PM | 5 August 2019

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.


Artwork: Tooba Masihuddin


I often wonder how a dua makes its way up above the seventh sky

9:03 AM | 5 August 2019

I often wonder how a *dua makes its way up above the seventh sky; a little fluffy ball weighing our hopes, desires, fears, and happiness.

There’s probably more than one layer of ozone that it needs to fly beyond.
There’s the hurt resting heavy on people’s hearts, slowing down our duas. Then there are our own follies – mistakes big and small – and disobedience (do we ever really listen to what He so lovingly says?) that slow them down. There’s fear – and it’s the deadliest of all – that hunts down our duas like vultures prying over a dead animal; fear of our duas going into that empty space, the black hole of the universe.

So, you see. Our duas ascend upwards – it’s a video game! – and there’s fear and unashamed sins, and the sad, broken sighs of humans who may be once-upon-a-times; all attacking our duas from left, right, centre, up and down. The dua gets scared. Who is there to protect it? But there is, isn’t it? Repentance and Tawakkal. So from down here, our hearts launch a missile of both, powering the impossible. Up and up and up. Something just like this. And if it’s powerful enough – a couple of megavolts, maybe – the dua shoots up; beyond the stars and stardust and the misty clouds and the seven skies straight up to fall down and prostrate by His throne. And with the grace that is only His, He picks it up, ever so lightly.

And that is how we have little secrets with God. Beautiful secrets. Life-changing secrets.




Photo: Saba Saeed

there is no such thing as “things falling apart”

1:18 PM | 4 August 2019

A few minutes ago as I was tidying up my closet, a delightful thought arrived (just like how epiphanies do – amidst the chaos of our daily chores) and my heart smiled. I could picture the twinkling stars in the dark sky covering up the fairy lights set up gaily by humans like ourselves, to lighten up a simple dinner on a hot and humid day.

As I carefully hung one shirt after another onto the white hangers, I wanted to clap and laugh and laugh at myself for not realising earlier that the secret to being happy – eternally happy – was in accepting that with His praise and with gratitude on our tongues, nothing could ever go wrong; there is no such thing as “things falling apart” or “everything that can go wrong in the universe is going wrong” – it is all a part of His plan, His will, His way of rearranging and realigning things to make everything perfect for us. But what’s the key to this hidden treasure? Constant dhikr, remembering our Allah at all times – our tongues moving to sing His praise; our hands removing a thorn from the road; our legs moving to save a patient; invoking in ourselves a gentle consciousness of our actions that doesn’t hurt another soul; thoughtful gestures that rescue another one in need; through kind acceptance of another human being’s uniqueness; by not lying, by not cheating; by fulfilling the rights of our near and dear ones; by killing the deadly nafs that seeks acceptance from this world; by being forgiving; by elevating our souls and becoming better versions of ourselves.

Yep. It is all a part of His plan, His will, His way of rearranging and realigning things to make everything perfect for us. And what is perfect? Extraordinarily different and unique for us all, just like our fingerprints.

So what I’ve learnt in a little more than two decades is that the real joy is in finding happiness and peace and contentment when things don’t go our way.
Otherwise, what’s so special about this life, about us?


Artwork: Tooba Masihuddin 

the little secrets of life

7:20 PM | 1 August 2019

Five years ago when I started medical school, I had expected to learn the truth about human life – how we breathe, how we eat, how we sleep. Literally. But what I have stumbled across is far, far greater than that. I’ve learnt how we feel, why we feel. The little secrets of life, you know? Yeah. And how a dua – a heartfelt prayer – works.

We sit on the prayer mat and raise our hands in supplication and cry our hearts out, our foreheads kissing the ground, our souls trembling. We utter our hearts’ deepest, darkest desires. Then we get up from the prayer mat and we expect heaven to have been laid right before us, right away! Not so fast, people! Not so fast!

It’s a process. Slow and steady, usually. Also awe-inspiringly quick, sometimes. A fetus takes nine months to grow into the baby that the mother gives birth to after a tiring labour. I’ve seen duas being answered like that. I see it now, too. I see the ease in the difficulty. “For indeed, with hardship will be ease.” (Surah Ash-Sharh [94])
It’s amazing how I can even see it. Another one of those hugs from God, you know? Pour in a little love, a faith that loves to play hide-n-seek, also throw in an ounce of fear – “what if my prayer isn’t answered?” – and lots and lots and lots of patience: that is your dua. And then the magic begins to show itself; a  few trips here and there, maybe a disaster or two, a couple of heartbreaks and a huge river of tears later..it happens! At the perfect timing, in the perfect way. Perfect here is synonymous to His will, okay?

And so it’s happening! It’s happening and I am in happy awe of how beautifully He is managing the universe! The little ants who get their sustenance; the chirpy birds; the poor cobbler at the end of the lane. Me. You. Us.

We all have such a beautiful relationship with God. He has little secrets with everyone, all of us. That’s so incredibly fascinating, is it not? How He brings ease into my life will be very different from how He sends a hug your way. But the interesting bit is that we all see it. Not always. Just sometimes. And in those “some” times, lies the secret to all of our time on this little planet.

Everything wonderful is on the way. Yeah? Yeah.




10:15 AM | 18 July 2019

kawaakari: (n.) the gleam of last light on a river’s surface at dusk; the glow of a river in darkness

Someone said something to someone and that someone told me that, “self-righteousness and righteousness are opposites. The existence or increase of one necessarily means the absence or decrease of the other. they eliminate each other.”

A bell rang somewhere and my heart skipped a beat. I was scared. I was scared because I chose to stand away from the crowd by making a lot of decisions the way I did – in my choice of the headscarf, in choosing to expand my spiritual world by writing about it here, in listening to my heart and working hard on Walking Thoughts, in nurturing friendships and relationships the way I do. And in trying to detach myself from those worldly pleasures that could have made me a slave of my own desires. And where did that leave me? To more questions, to more locked doors. But it’s okay. Because no matter how deep, how immense the ocean seems, the shore does exist. Somewhere. And what all did everyone teach me along the way? Kindness. Empathy. Humility.
As a very dear soul sister shared a lovely secret with me, “Experience another human being in his or her very uniqueness. Giving others enough comfort to be themselves will open your eyes and heart to a multiverse of His signs. And you’ll learn who you are in the process.” This comfort to be ourselves is a privilege that our ancestors ought to have left behind as a legacy. But some dreams remain dreams.

So every time I step out of the warmth of my home sweet home, I’m reminded of how every dervish must explore, but must also guard their eyes and heart against making themselves feel better, feel superior at the cost of another human being’s uniqueness. Every time I hear the hymns of the meynas, I wonder if they, too, have time to do anything other than becoming better at flying, and taking care of their intricate nests, and of course, their hearts.

And so I realise every day that everyone is beautiful and there really are no flaws in anyone. There are only scars from falls, wounds from stabs, dried tears of pain. And fear. Fear of losing a loved one, of failing and falling, of more pain. So we’re all beautiful in our own ways. And every person we meet in this lifetime, only adds to that beauty. We’re all the same in our uniqueness, carrying a little of God everywhere we go, sharing it with everyone we meet.


Photo: Aleena Zahid Naqvi (National Museum, Karachi)


Tere ishq nachaiyaan kar key thaiyaa

9:03 AM | 17 July 2019

It’s a strange feeling resting heavy on the heart. Hurried anticipation for the near future. The kind that doesn’t let you sit still and makes you want to get up and pace around the room. A few deep breaths every other second does no good. Your feet also begin to hurt. Where are the words to describe this discomfort?

Everyone and everything around you is fine. Your aunts and uncles are sharing happy good mornings on the family WhatsApp group and there is love and warmth all around you. But do you really feel it?

How can emptiness feel heavy? But it does! I promise you that! It’s a puzzle, the heart. The missing piece is just your soul demanding to go home. And this home is not in the dusty streets of Karachi or in the shimmering ones of New York or in the rainy ones of London. This home is in His remembrance. Just remembering Him, thinking about Him, His mercy. More than the problems that keep you awake at night.
This home is in the smile you gift to another human being, it is in the ease you create for another, it’s in the comfort your words and actions gift to another. It’s in the noise of the waterfall, in the humming of the meyna, in the sea-shells washed along the shore. In the gratitude you offer as you wake up from flashbacks of a ghostly – or ghastly – past life. It is also – and I’m sure of this – in the guidance we seek, every morning.
And in love. And in Love.

“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


Photo: Aleena Zahid Naqvi

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!

2019-03-10 08-764379492..jpg
Sandspit, Karachi

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