the beginning of our everything, a somewhere only we know.

This poem is inspired by the song, ‘Somwhere Only We Know’ by Renée Dominique.

3:45 PM | 12 April 2020


there’s a fallen flower lying on our path, the only path i know.
in the field of daffodils, it’s raining cherry blossoms
and the mist of unspoken words hug me so close.
and i wonder if i’m dreaming or
walking through a future i’ve been dreaming of:
a whole life ahead of us, a long, long path
and no secret map, except our grieving hearts.
you can go there, and light our lamps,
and sit under the chandelier of stars, and love
the tiny heaven only we know of;
the beginning of our everything,
a somewhere only we know.

Dear Karachi

9:00 AM | 17 March 2020

your nostalgic beaches and your trustworthy skies
calling us home.
your sandy winds caressing our secrets,
your muddy waters drowning our sorrows.
sunsets watching us from open car windows,
songs of our heart matching the speed of the car.
but you betrayed us, too, Karachi,
me and our dreams, the promises of a tomorrow never seen.
letting go of our hand;
i thought you could do anything for us.
but you were making a bubble,
the soapy ones blown on your shores by
kids bored at home.
why, Karachi?
our hearts have hurt, have grieved all the deaths.
but there’s no one to listen.
you have seen the stars at night,
each one of them – you know all their names.
do you remember mine?
you thought it was easy,
but we’re mortals. we die.
you gave us all your sorrows, the burdens of your soul,
making us yours. and now time is playing with us,
you’re not the same, Karachi.

Abb kya kar saktay hain?

11:04 am | 8 November 2019

The morning shone with a little chill in the air, the first proper welcome to the year’s winter. I really wanted to turn the pages of a poetry book and enjoy a banana-chocolate muffin but I need to finish studying hernias. As I try to do that, I sense the goodbye in the air. Goodbyes and grief and broken chords. Goodbye to the safety net some of us had around us; grieving the loss of a safe space; loose strings mocking us all in the face.

When did it come to this? How did it come to this?

Maybe that’s what adulting is about. We spend years and years in building homes within our hearts – falling down, scraping our knees, crying like a baby, getting up again, wiping away the tears, making up with jelly-os – only to watch it being bulldozed by our irresponsible selves. Maybe we just don’t know how to act our parts well. And by the time we learn, we’ve moved past that bridge.

A pinch of salt can make such a difference in the food we cook. Quite like the pinch of attention and care that can save us all.

Like my best friend says, “Abb kya kar saktay hain?”

Photo: Azzam Murtaza

the final mile

6:07 PM | 27 November 2019

This is going to sound crazy but I’m kind of having fun with these exams. “Final year prof”. The adrenaline rush, the cramming and cursing, WhatsApp group chats dissecting – not discussing – the answers, and crazy food cravings; there’s just a very homely feel to it. It’s like we’ve been a clan for these past five years, fighting and laughing together, united against the exams. And now suddenly we won’t be that anymore. Maybe something else, probably something better, but definitely not that.

Amidst the whispers of medical jargon, there has been a tangible homeliness in the air, a comradery that saw us all smiling and laughing and taking pictures as we all huddled together in front of the steps of the university building to save a memory that marked the final mile of our journey as medical students. A small part of us is going to miss this. We know that, don’t we?

 

6:35 PM |7 December 2019

As quickly as it came, the wandering enjoyment has deserted me. At last. Three months of studying and five years of climbing this feeble ladder; and minutes swimming into seconds of despair, exhaustion, second-guessing, then hope and ambition again. When you invest half a decade of your youth into something, it sure does become ‘something’. It’s not the end goal that really matters. It’s the little golden moments that come together to create a new timeline; the small rays of the sun converging to become a beam. The little clues we doctors call signs and symptoms, and lab and radiological investigations that walk us to the final diagnosis. Yes, it’s all of that. The lessons learnt along the way, the answers we got wrong, the friends we lost, the family we made.

Maybe that’s why sunsets are so beloved. They beckon to the hope within us, the home within us; the cuckoo’s song for the rising sun.

 

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.

My heart is my own, after all.

9 AM | 22 December 2018

You can see the sign of ‘Cafe Zee’ behind that old umbrella, I’m sure.

I love Saturday mornings like these. The otherwise depressing atmosphere of the hospital switches over to the merriment of a desi breakfast of halwa puri warmed by a steaming cup of doodh patti that the overworked doctors and the sad, sad students (what else would you call a bunch of final years who measure time as the jump from one existential crisis to another, clouded by the vastness of all the knowledge that they are supposed to have and that which they don’t?) seem to celebrate.

I love these mornings simply because they gently remind me of how graceful is the happiness that you steal from the threats of circumstances beyond your control, and that I really don’t have to walk with the pain that nostalgia tends to bring and that not everything is beyond the horizon.

My heart is my own, after all.

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A letter for her (XIII) – Bijwara

I miss Bijwara, too, now. I miss the rocky mountains that you would climb. And the ripe, juicy mangoes that I have never tasted. I miss those friends of yours, the ones you played with. And the warm peanuts heated in cold winters over guarded fires. And the buggy rides on strong, Indian horses.

Suddenly, as I’m missing Bijwara, I see you. Lying on the bed, with that white shroud. I see no sign of the life that had kept me alive. “What am I going to do now?” Of course, nothing at all. They took you away then. And that was the end of an era they will never know of.

The next morning felt like a new day, you know. A new sun, a new wind, a new me. A new beginning to some new loss. I miss that, even. I miss it so much that even my dreams call out to you, call out for all that you had prayed for.

The touch of your hand in mine. The trust that one human gives to another one. Those silent sunsets and the struggle to forgive the imposter as Rumi explained to me what the heart is really capable of: our souls are already mourning the seconds fleeting by. As I held your hands in mine and said goodbye to the selfish desires of mortality.

I am happy. Yes.

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A letter for her (XII) – faith-testing-happiness

Life is catching up – like an old, Victorian train steaming away from one station to the next – and the days gone by seeming like a nightmare. But I miss those days. The fear of losing someone very precious, the inevitability of it – that’s a blessing in itself, too. To know that you had a bond so lovely, that you had a love so tender that living without it seems like a punishment, is a gift in itself. Do you think I’m getting that gift back?

The calendar reminds me of the days gone by and those yet to come. And as the days flip over, I realize – smile by smile – that the pain made me feel Loved.

This bright Saturday evening, my fear of embracing the happiness blew up. A little bird of mercy reminded me of a crazy prayer made last season: faith-testing-happiness.
And the jasmine flowers are beginning to blossom again.

You know K sent me this picture some time back? A chiseled, long staircase with sky-high roofs, echoing of a God loved only when the waves are tossing the ship off.

I miss you terribly today, Nani Jaan. Today, every day. I will miss you when the 7 AM call will not come.

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

 

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Tomorrow is another day!

It’s time to say goodbye to the sun-baked benches of Keemari that have often eavesdropped on the little moments of our lives there; rants over strict teachers, last-minute exam revisions, the hushed secrets, giggles over the phone, sad smiles, many a happy birthday. The year passed away a little too soon, I tell myself. Exhausting me, teaching me. Those dusty leaves of the faithful trees crowning those benches have sheltered many a sigh, many a smile, a little anger, a few disappointments.

Shahid Bhai’s first-floor cafeteria has always welcomed us with a homely comfort otherwise alien to the sound of ‘Keemari’. It’s warm, milky tea steaming with the joy of life-long friendships, meaningful – and meandering – conversations, even a few sad tears, a lot of fights with the best friends, and a square-table conference over the important matters of the world (and the heart) that absolutely demanded an opinion upon – that’s more than a comfortable haul to take home as I empty the Keemari locker.

The fourth year of my medical school has thankfully drawn to an end. I’m not particularly ready for the exams ahead, or for the grill of the fifth year. I’m just looking at tomorrow because “Tomorrow is another day!”* and while we live, we will hope, we will smile, we will Love.

*from Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

 

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Tonight, there are two bright stars shining up in the sky

Starry nights and the warm September air are peacefully looking down upon us this Saturday. “Goodbyes,” I say to myself, “can be a nostalgic fantasy!”

The pitter patter of the words on this dimly lit screen is just an indictment of what the timelessness of grief and loss feels like. Woven from sentiments struggling to find a way out of this, there’s a rope of hope hanging around somewhere, begging to be clutched on to for dear life.

Tonight, there are two bright stars shining up in the sky, celebrating the nostalgic love of the days gone by, the memories sacrificed at the altar of egos, the love of knowing that you belong to a rather lovely “These are my people!”
And there’s nothing left but promises of meeting in happier times.

It’s a few days past the full moon. It’s time to play with the heartstrings again, and I am beginning to realise that I really do love this music.

Photo: Haniya Ather