Greek god and wingless fairy

Yesterday I listened to a euphony of violins

that a Greek god danced to,

with a wingless fairy

who let herself go in his hands

defying gravity

in ways I did not know.

 

You rode on a horse until

the horse died and you grew up;

in between fallen autumn leaves and melting snow

and clarinets that wake you up from sleep.

I lost my eyesight; the fairy fell on the Greek god’s feet

and I kept wondering

about the principle of defying gravity.

The god lost his magic,

and you dreamed of a new horse

that flew you to the fallen fairy

but you told me he was a traitor

cause he brought you back to me.1280px-Karl_Wilhelm_Diefenbach_-_The_fairy_dance

Of a thousand thoughts

Thoughts float. It’s never that no one is not thinking, but I am always thinking a thousand things at a time. My thoughts wander farther than an Albatross’s flight without landing. Before people start speaking, I make up their present and future in my head. I miss out on people’s names. Because when they’re introducing themselves, I am thinking about what they’re going to say next, even though I remember their first impressions, because that’s what they made me feel for the first time and first times are important. For instance, do you remember the first time someone texted you and you clicked right away even though you had never known them before—like trying on a long-sleeved sweater for the first time in the trial room and feeling like that wool was especially knit out for you. One of my closest friends and I had our first encounter via text. It wasn’t a coincidence because we knew we were going to the same college—which is precisely why we texted each other in the first place—but we didn’t know our fate would be so intertwined. We were set up like friends try to set you up on a date with their friends—except that it was my father and her uncle who set us up. Two young girls from the same city were going to college all on their own to another city with no prior experience of living alone—you were bound to need good company. And so contact numbers were exchanged. We were expected to like each other, although there was no pressure. But by the end of six weeks when met each other on the college campus, we recognized each other amongst hundreds of kids like we had known each other since forever—and no there had not been any exchange of pictures before; I didn’t have a Facebook account.

So when I’m looking at you, I am trying to listen to you and nod at appropriate times but I am also thinking about what you’re thinking, other than what you’re saying. Are you looking at my nose that I don’t like, or my eyes that are trying not to blink, or my mouth that constantly keeps moving for the lack of doing anything else, or just generally looking at my overall face, which rarely happens for people? (If I am not thinking about these things, then I have probably a close relation with you). I’m also thinking about what you will say next, because you will find me completing your sentences for you. But if that happens, that would only mean two things—either you’re older and I respect you, or you’re someone new that I’m trying to be really polite with. But I often wonder about what people think when they’re looking at other people and talking, because sometimes talking can be very distracting. Other times, people are just like me.

There was a time when I tried to look at people’s feet while they talked because I had read somewhere that that the direction of your toes meant that your interest lied there. So if you talked to my friend but your toes faced me, you were not interested in her. But my experience told me that was not true. People’s toes face the direction of where they have to go next, not necessarily where they want to go next; their direction also changes with their movement, there is no hidden meaning.

My thoughts when I look at people also think about their privilege or lack thereof. Of whether the haircut they had, was allowed by their parents or if they are the master of their own little decisions. If the Hilux Revo they drive is the fruit of their own earning or if it was transferred to them by their dad by virtue of his wealth.

My thoughts wander about a million things when I talk to you. I try to remain coherent but there are inner monologues that I’m always trying to respond to—nothing to do with you, just my own head trying to remember a sad song from four years ago whose lyrics I can’t remember, along with nine hundred ninety nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine other things.

sky-bird-flying-free-clouds-seagull-white-cloud-and-white-and-black-bird-wallpaper-preview

Short Story: Sami Sahab

Author’s note: My short story, Sami Sahab has been published in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, where you can read now at https://queenmobs.com/2020/05/fiction-sami-sahab/

Initial except is shared below: 

 

Sami Arain is a funny man. And when I say funny I don’t mean that he makes people laugh, although he does make people laugh, it’s just that he doesn’t intend to make people laugh and yet people snigger. He doesn’t mind that. But sometimes he does. It depends on his mood.

Sami Arain is also a funny-looking man—six feet three inches tall, wide built and plump—you wouldn’t know what to do with so much human mass—crop-cut salt and pepper hair, fair complexion (something us South Asians die for) and baritone voice, square rimmed glasses on the nose; fifty-five and yet always immaculately dressed (with smart-cut ties and close-checkered suits), you would be slightly intimidated if you were meeting him for the first time. But that notion would soon dispel as you meet him a few more times. Especially after-lunch hours. Because he does not look the same Sami Arain you knew in the morning. His coat would come off, shirt would be tucked out from pants, tie loosened up, collar buttons undone and his hair would stand at their edges, their salt and pepper color separated.

He calls it his relaxed hours, hours of lesser productivity. ‘But that doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to work,’ he says poking his fat finger at the shoulder of one of his subordinates. ‘You are supposed to work with the same level of energy. Only your boss is allowed to relax,’ he tells him smiling slyly while his subordinate tries to lengthen the space between him and Sami to get away from his constant stab of finger.

Sami Sahab or boss as people in his department often call him, comes from a land holding family of Punjab. One of those landlords who are neither too big to join politics nor too small to be known as farmers. He tells his story proudly, tapping his cigarette lightly on the ashtray, ‘I don’t know why my father thought I could study out of all my siblings. Probably because I was the youngest,’ he shrugs. ‘He sent me to Aitchison, expecting I’d become some big shot lawyer studying with the sons of judges and politicians. But he was mistaken.’ He lowers his voice conspiringly, ‘they always think the youngest ones should be the best in everything. What the older ones couldn’t achieve, the younger ones should get that badge and put it on their goddamned chests. If you ask me, younger ones like to live up a little too.’

He repeats his story every time a new employee gets transferred to his department. ‘Look at what I have achieved. Nothing. My older brother would have done so much better. So much better I tell you!’ his voice rises sharply. ‘He only studied till tenth grade and he’s sitting in the US today running three fuel stations. Two of his children have gone to Ivy League colleges while white people cry about their children getting into drugs, and my children don’t bother to raise their heads up from their cell phones to respond to me.’ He takes a large drag from his cigarette shaking his head.

Khair yaar, you tell me, why did you get transferred here, what did you do, huh?’ He asks the newly transferred employee dramatically taking off his glasses.

Honestly I think Sami Sahab underestimates himself. He passed the exam of Superior Services of the country at the age of twenty-nine and was appointed as a civil servant, although he couldn’t get the first department of his choice. Or rather, in his words, he got selected into one of the least preferred ones.

‘By that time I was so sick of switching jobs that had they given me the Postal Group, I would have taken it too.’ Postal Group is supposed to be the most unwanted department. But when I object that he should be proud that he’s serving the country in the highest of offices, Sami sahab has a rigid response, ‘don’t tell me about this highest of offices crap Nasir, these are nothing but the remnants of the British Raj. What have we done for ourselves? For this country, huh? He gives a dramatic pause, ‘I’ve been in this job for almost twenty-six years, have you seen any change in the system?’ he asks Nasir irately.

Nasir is his Personal Assistant who you would always find in Sami Sahab’s office, never outside at his desk; sometimes making phone calls, other times just giving him company while Sami’s subordinates and guests come and go. Nasir never answers his boss. He only nods. So Sami resumes. ‘Except Bhutto Sahab, no one brought any reforms to the civil service. And were those really reforms?’ He asks taking a long drag of smoke and shakes his head. ‘He deformed this bureaucracy. That bloody genius of a politician.’ He throws his remaining cigarette forcefully in the bin under his table, his long fingers hitting the pen holder in the process.

Sami Sahab is an expressive man. Larger than life that he already is, his presence can never be missed in a company. When he talks, his large hands mimic the gestures of his tone, moving in all directions, sometimes bumping into things and people around him.

But what I appreciate most about Sami Sahab is that he is an honest man. Never involved himself in kickbacks and under-the-table deals. His promotions have been delayed, he has been transferred to far flung areas of the country, but he has been relentless. With a meagre government salary it’s difficult to live a comfortable life unless you have ensured some other means for yourself. And Sami Sahab’s family is used to a very comfortable lifestyle.

His wife, a daughter of a Lahori businessman was brought up in a well to do family and went to all girls Liberal Arts college in Lahore. Living in a household of four sisters, all loud, chatty, highly opinionated and prodigal, there was always something or the other going on the house—birthday parties, lunches and dinners full of cousins and dozens of friends invited by each sister, Seema had never witnessed a dull life before, devoid of human chatter and activity, until Sami was posted in Khuzdaar, a far flung district in Balochistan, right after their wedding.

‘You know my wife hates me.’ Sami repeats as matter-of-factly whenever he asks Nasir leave to his room for some privacy to talk on the phone each time things heat up between the two. Nasir says it’s always Seema who hangs up the phone first. I may be naïve but I don’t understand how two people could be so unhappy with each other, when they married out of love — another of his famously told stories.

(full story in the link above).

Snow by Orhan Pamuk: Book Review–Enthralling, dramatic and brilliant

I picked up Snow by Orhan Pamuk after I read the essay ‘The Last Train

snowtrip before Everything Changed’ by Lauren Markham where she talks about solitude, snow and finding reasons to write during the pandemic. In the essay, while Markham drew her inspiration to write from Orhan Pamuk’s Snow during her train journey quoting the lines, “As he watched the snow fall outside his window as slowly and silently as the snow in a dream, the traveler fell into a long-desired, long-awaited reverie: cleansed by memories of innocence and childhood, he succumbed to optimism and dared to believe himself at home in this world”, for me the essay was a godsend. I needed to read this book.

Snow by Pamuk, one of the greatest writers from Turkey, is a lovely mixture of ethereal beauty of snow, how it makes one feel, and the convoluted Turkish political landscape during nineties. The book is set in Kars, a north-eastern town of Turkey near the Armenian border, laced with poverty, unemployment and political factions consisting of Kurdish support, Armenian ideologists, Islamists, Secularists and the military. Ka, the self-exiled poet to Germany returns to Istanbul and makes his journey to the snow covered Kars in an effort to find his love interest from college who is living with her father after divorce. But the overt reason to announce his arrival in Kars is to cover the election campaign of Kars and to investigate the reason behind the surge in number of suicides by head-scarved girls.

The book layers and unlayers into understanding the politics of a small town while giving an insight into the so-called secular politics of Turkey in 90s; plays smartly with the idea of how people change their sides owing to changing self-interests albeit hiding under the pretexts of greater ideas such as politics, religion and greater good; and portrays love as an emotion only felt for trivial reasons—beauty, envy, head-scarf, political gain, lust—that I wonder if such portrayal was intentional and is sometimes even true. Amidst a heavy set plot of Machiavellian politics of power-hunger, theatrics, secularism versus Islamism, suicides of religious girls versus brainwashing of young boys, is snow—white, clear and fluffy, like a thick blanket engulfing the town into a beauty, appreciated equally from afar and within. It works as a fortification of Kars from the state, to let it settle its problems inwardly until the snow melts and the town opens again.

The book, originally in Turkish, is a translation by Maureen Freely, which makes me appreciate the craft of translation even more. For it’s extremely difficult to do justice with literary works, keeping the same essence and yet mesmerize the readers as if they were reading the original piece. It’s a shame the translators often disappear under the shadows of original pieces as mere mediators between the author and readers, when they are the source of disseminating great works of art universally.

Snow is a long read but totally worth a reread for its enthralling literature.

Mother tongue

You know how your mother tongue separates you?

In answering your phone, sitting between your friends

when your brother asks when to pick you up;

in the surprising tone of your colleague who tells you how

your accent is different from those whose language you call as your own.

I carry my language in surprise of people’s faces and sometimes in my own,

when I recognize a native smile,

a nod, a curse word intended as a joke

and in the folds of long forgotten songs.

Yesterday my friends and I sang Sindhi festive songs at a superstore in low voices

while we were in the spice section and giggled

at why these songs never made sense and yet we knew them all.

Sometimes languages aren’t meant to voice opinions,

they’re intended to connect dots,

of people, maps, rivers;

draw lines of love between strangers.

I carry my mother tongue both as a burden and as a privilege,

of knowing all those sounds and words that emanate feelings and emotions

that are not known in other languages.

And yet,

sometimes words are never enough,

it’s the association of language that suffices.

Author’s note: The above piece was published in New Asian Writing (NAW) recently and can be viewed here: http://www.new-asian-writing.com/mother-tongue-by-paras-abbasi/

Book Review: Essays in Love (Alain De Botton)

Allain De Botton’s Essays in Love (also called On Love) is a beautiful story of love between two people who meet during a London-Paris flight, with the narrator falling in love with the girl by the end of the flight. It’s not a love-story, rather a story about love; of how we fall in love, and its philosophy.

essays-in-love2

 

Essays in Love made a space in my heart as soon as I began to read it not only because of the relevant philosophy of love that it talked about, but also because of where the whole story was setup—in rainy London, little coffee shops, Chinese restaurants, walks along Kensington and Chelsea and in tiny comforts of home—it almost reminded me somehow of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, the book I fell in love with because of its quixotic setup.

The book beautifully captures not only the good sides of love but also the painful side

s, the embarrassing sides, the awkward sides—the sides only people who really truly love us would understand and accept—and that’s how we’d probably know if they really truly love us.

Being in love doesn’t mean you talk the same language, think the same way or agree on the same views. Being humans, our perceptions are different and hence we see things differently. It’s important that we acknowledge the differences and yet see the person we love in original light, loving them as we loved them before, not letting the love dwindle between us.

‘Chloe and I could both speak of being in love, and yet this love might mean significantly different things within each of us. We had often read the same books at night in the 

same bed, and later realized that they had touched us in different places: that they had been different books for each of us.’   

While some of the essays were a little too psychoanalytic for my taste, some of the others were extremely relevant—even for the love between your friends and family and not just your significant other—and hit right at your heart.

‘Perhaps it is true that we do not really exist until there is someone there to see us existing, we cannot properly speak until there is someone there who can understand what we are saying, in essence, we are not wholly alive unt

il we are loved.’

The book not only talks about love and our need for love as a social being but also about our identity as a whole—as to how we perceive ourselves and how others, those who love us versus those who don’t matter, perceive our existence.

‘The labeling of others is usually a silent process. Most people do

 not openly force us i

nto roles, they merely suggest that we adopt them through their reactions to us, and hence surreptitiously prevent us from moving beyond whatever mold they have assigned us.’ 

I read the book a year and a half ago but I never managed to write a detailed review of it. Today I was gripped by a constant pull towards the book and the need to contribute my two cents on the feeling this book induced in me while reading it. Definitely one of those books that I’d reread.

Day 10 in Quarantine: Life in the midst of chaos

As I listen to the slightly subdued voices of our neighbors wishing one of their family members a happy birthday at the change of the date at midnight, I suddenly start with a pang of reality hitting me in the face—there is life in the midst of chaos. As they finish the ‘Happy Birthday’ song with a loud cheer at the end of it and ask the birthday person to blow the candles—blame my room at the end of the house and absence of fans whirring for listening to every word of it—I am reminded of how birthdays would continue to come, children will be born, weddings will take place, and people will continue to fall in love despite death at our doors; and thus life will go on.

A few days ago, I read about a couple who said their wedding vows on a street in NYC while one of their friends read the vows to them from the window of an apartment building, the photographers took their wedding shots and passers-by took photos of the couple from their phones to record the surreal moment, and I wondered if there’s a possibility that the world might be ending. The question seems far-fetched, but so does the absolute denial of severity of lives at risk. People seem unperturbed—Italians, Spanish, Pakistanis, the governments of first world countries, conspiracy theorists, politicians; it seems as if cultures and Capitalism has taken a better part of us. Wage earners have been made an excuse rather than the governments’ responsibility to provide for them.

There is anxiety, confusion, ignorance and poverty, furthering as each day passes by; and then there is privilege—money, boredom and plenty of time to do ‘nothing’. And that ‘nothing’ translates into anxiety, misinformation and indulgence into an abyss of emotions ominous at present.

And yet there is nature. Thriving—despite the human suffering. The nature cures itself as the number of infections increase, the death toll surges—as the air quality improves and I witness cold breeze in the month of March in Karachi; canals in Venice have cleared up they say; deers have come out on the roads in Japan from the wild; Ozone is showing a remarkable self-recovery. Is it balancing it out? The pain with healing? Or perhaps it’s just how the nature works—endearing, undaunted, daring? We would never understand. Camus resolves this dilemma for us, ‘But perhaps we should love what we cannot understand.’           

The world might not end yet. Our children might grow up and have their children and grand children. We may live to tell the tale of social isolation in the time of technology that virtually connected us across the globe, when we took off the stickers of our devices’ cameras voluntarily to let people see our faces and the inside of our rooms—for work, for studies, for connecting with friends across the globe who we had not seen in years. And yet there would be a slight doubt in that memory because everything felt so unreal, movie-like—empty roads, silent streets, mass graves, lit up cities with no tourists, the sound of applause from balconies, windows, excited cheers animated at the noise of another cheer, until everything is only validated by history.

Mockery of the Pandemic

Spatter. Rub. Repeat. Spatter your sanitizer. Rub your hands. Repeat the process. Wash your hands. Soap. Foam. Rub. Rinse. Repeat.

Make sure to replenish the sanitizer. But, um, um, don’t hoard. Be a good citizen. Think about others. Don’t waste water while you rub your hands with the foam. Think about what would happen if Karachi locks down. No tankers. No water. Can you envision what I can?

Buy grocery items. For a month at least. Everyone is saying so. Even if you have everything you need at home. Everyone is saying so. No sugar in stores already? No flour? No besan (gram flour)? What are people doing? Are they hoarding for Ramzan already? Bastards. What kind of Muslims are they? No consideration for fellow Muslims? But there are other humans too besides Muslims. Don’t try to correct me. This is no time to be politically correct.           

Spatter. Rub. Repeat. Spatter your sanitizer. Rub your hands. Repeat the process. Wash your hands. Soap. Foam. Rub. Rinse. Repeat.

And socially distance yourself. To flatten the curve. But capitalism is going to kill you. If you don’t go to work, they will deduct your salary. Your boss is going to call you. Curse you. You have to make him happy. Make the bosses happy. Even when they can’t make a strategic decision. What about working from home? They have let half the employees to work from home. The other half— which is perhaps too reviled by their families—has to come to work until ‘the virus spreads on a significant level’. But don’t worry, the company is socially responsible. They give out masks, have replaced cheap handwashes in washrooms with Lifebuoy bottles and have segregated elevators into even and odd floors to control the elevator traffic.

Mind boggled with stupidity. Have you seen what happened in Italy? Iran?

“Just wear your mask. But perhaps not the gloves. Gloves don’t help.”

“Does the mask help?”

“Only hygiene helps.”

“Don’t spread panic. Your constant posting of fake news doesn’t help.”

But I’m only stating facts”.

“The offices should be closed now. It’s the center-point of spread of the epidemic.”

“Come on, don’t be too dramatic. The country will shut down eventually.

“Are you even listening to what WHO is saying?”

“No need. I already know what is going to happen. The numbers will surge. Hospitals will overflow with patients. The government will have to lockdown. I know. They can’t handle it. That is why I told you to stockpile. The world is going to end. Even though I didn’t want to die as yet. Poor, broke and dead. What an unfortunate life.”  

Spatter. Rub. Repeat. Spatter your sanitizer. Rub your hands. Repeat the process. Wash your hands. Soap. Foam. Rub. Rinse. Repeat.

You won’t die.

“But I want to save others from my exposure.”

I don’t want to go to work either.

Music in my neighbor’s backyard

I’ve been trying to write lately but my thoughts wander. It’s been about changes in life, embracing growing up, growing old and of noticing changes that makes you realize that it’s not so scary growing old after all. There will always be people who, when you meet, talk about the same reservations that you have about this trickery of growing old, and so all of a sudden, you’re not alone. There’s always nostalgia, fatigue and the sharply advancing generation around you that makes you realize that late twenties might not be the ‘sought after’ age to be–that’s only till twenty-three. I’ve been listening to this live gig from my room at this hour from our neighbor’s backyard. It’s an intimate gathering—from the noise of it, a bunch of friends, laughter, guitar and songs. It’s almost Spring—where your rooms are cold enough at night to keep the fans turned off, but windows opened, so I can listen to the chatter and every stroke of the pick on guitar. From the looks of it, the company is my age—they have played Wo Lamhay, Tum he tou ho, Wake me up when September ends, The Fray. I don’t know why but it makes me feel connected. Millennials, the depressed generation, the pioneers of social media, generation with the highest suicide rate—somehow we find the reason to connect. The boy who sings is a little rough with his voice but he plays the instrument alright. He plays Wo Lamhay while I carry out ablution, plays Tum he tou ho, while I pray and think about a thousand things unconsciously that the song reminds me of. I’ve started reading W.B Yeats today and was planning to finish a part of the book but the music from my window asks me to write—about unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, almost-happiness, driving at night without the music on, unresolved resolutions, lists on my phone and in my notebook and about people close to my heart; in books, in pictures and in real life.

Two of the boys sing Atif’s Ye Meri Kahani and I remember the first the time I heard the song. I still think about the little optimistic girl I used to be. It’s like a reel unraveling. I wonder how it would be moments before you’re going to die. Are there going to be flashbacks? Of good moments and the worse? Or is it going to be all blank? No memories retained, nothing lost?

It has started to rain. Boys have stopped playing. Winter is over. I do not await the summer.