Old books, older bookmarks
Reminiscing of the past
Setting sun, falling leaves
Town yellows, brown’s retrieved.
When sounds settle, hearts grieve,
that season my love, we’ll meet.
Old books, older bookmarks
Reminiscing of the past
Setting sun, falling leaves
Town yellows, brown’s retrieved.
When sounds settle, hearts grieve,
that season my love, we’ll meet.
“You are the dreams you chase, the things that keep you awake.
You are the mountains you have climbed and the waters you have dived.
You are the playlists that you listen to, always skipping some songs, while putting others on repeat.
You are the wild car rides, speeding tickets and narrow escapes, those that brought you closer to life and close to end.
You are the karaoke nights and clumsy slumber parties and singing at the top of your voices on the radio with your friends; you are ugly gifts and pranks and arguments and later amends.
You are the stars in the sky that make you think of falling in love and seas and clouds and unicorns all at the same time; you are texts and chats and phone calls after rough patches telling them you’d be fine.
You are the tears of happiness and sighs of pain, you my dear are the first dance of monsoon rains.
You are all the books, the songs, the movies you own, you are the nostalgia of your sweet childhood gone.
You are your first love, the pure glee that it brought, the nervousness, and later the courage that it taught.
You are the shine in your eyes, the curves of your lips, the crooked collarbone of yours that you secretly adore; you are all the beautiful nights chasing after the moon and so much more.
So dont you dare believe them when they tell you they want better, for you my love know what they are missing on later.”
August 8, 2016. Bomb blast in Quetta outside a hospital killing more than 70 people, injuring several others. Did anyone ever think of the possibility of a bomb blast in a hospital? Well, now we do. How many other places like that? How many more innocent civilians? How many more soldiers, police officers, in the line of fire protecting these civilians? How many more innocent human beings? How many more of such incidents to completely desensitize us? Do we still mourn? Do we even feel the loss we are going through constantly, persistently—or have we lost it completely?
Have we become braver or just indifferent? Because ‘bravery’ is a quality and indifference is the absence of humanity. Every day I leave for work, I observe people heading to their offices, children for their schools—everyone in a hurry, breaking signals, beeping horns despite knowing there’s traffic ahead—that no one’s blocking their way on purpose, rendering traffic police powerless and frustrated. Nobody is bothered about the fact that they are heading towards the same destination eventually. That they all want to get to work. That they all have the same purpose. That no one is wasting their time intentionally. It’s a daily ritual. A car hits another. Both drivers come out, cars abandoned in the middle of the road, engage in verbal abuse—traffic blocked behind, none of them caring. Few others join them as spectators. Hardly anyone comes up to disengage them. Everyone is afraid. Weapons might come out, shots might be fired. Nobody wants to get involved. Everyone wants to witness, break some news later. I look at the sheer irony of it.
Workplace is a blessing. Friendly people, empowering work, friends to hang out with, coworkers to have a good time with, it’s almost a different world. Until reality kicks in. I log on to a local news website. There are honor killings, security threats, mourning letters from the families of those killed in the latest acts of terror. I overhear a coworker saying, ‘there have been security threats after the Quetta blast. There’s always calm before the storm.’ The hair at the back of my neck rise as I take it in. it’s always been true for Karachi.
The city has already been on high security alert because of the Independence month. People have been seen happier than most days because of the pleasant weather and a relative peace. But everyone secretly knows that schemes have been brewing—some people can never tolerate peace in this city. Quetta just might have been a reminder. So what do people do? Do they need to be brave? Or do they have to be indifferent? Brave has to endure pain willingly. Indifference makes you numb. Brave shows signs of life. Indifference is the death of the soul before demise.
I don’t believe we’re just dead. Perhaps we’ve been killed. Once, twice, thrice, and then all over again. It had been excruciating the first time it happened, but with time it became easier. We still feel when our soul is ripped apart. But every time, the pain is less. Every time the soul feels less violated. Perhaps we are getting stronger at this. And that perhaps is the paradox.
I realize I don’t have solutions; I am part of the problem myself. But I want to feel more, to feel alive. To make myself feel human. And so, while I can’t stop the bloodshed, I pray. I pray for the lack of indifference, for strength, for being part of a solution—I pray for life.
He is asking for too much money but she gives in. It’s past six on a Friday. If she says no and decides to wait for another one, it’ll probably be too late and she’ll be stuck in traffic for another hour and a half at least. So she gets in the rickshaw.
But she holds her bag a little too tighter from its strap.
The rickshaw-wala starts the rickshaw and adjusts his rear-view mirror so that he has a clear view of her. She curses without moving her lips.
By now she has witnessed this thousands of times probably but she can never used to it. So she does her daily exercise of lifting her dupatta from her shoulders and puts it over her head, brings both ends of it in front and holds them together with one hand, the other hand gripping her bag-strap. This cloth over her head works as her protector right now, from ruining her hair in the polluted, humid Karachi weather and of course from those stares, or at least that’s how she thinks.
The traffic is slow, vehicles too close. The rickshaw crawls along with the rest of the transport. A bike comes twining and comes to a halt right beside the rickshaw. It’s so close she can smell the stink of cigarettes off the clothes of these boys. They peer inside the rickshaw one by one. She pretends she does not notice but can observe their piercing gaze through her peripheral view. One of them smiles.
The traffic moves. The bike manages to zigzag its way through.
The city is changing its color. From blue to yellow to orange. She sees an old man, stick thin on his crutches standing in the middle of the road, hands stretched out, unfazed by the horrors of the road. She shudders.
Saddar. Burns Road. Narrower streets. Smells of food, of rotten meat, of paan spits, of boiling gutters at sides, the stench is overwhelming. She covers her nose with her scarf. Maybe someday she will get used to it. Some day she won’t care. But today is not the day. The sheer presence of life on these streets is suffocating. Food, men, children, crows hovering above their heads, broken roads, bikers breaking signals rendering traffic officers powerless—this city frightens her. It claws at her. Imagine if there is a bomb blast at a place like this. Where is the security? Who protects these people except God? Imagine if the bomber is right here, lurking among these people, watching, planning his move. Imagine the havoc. The destruction. The lifelessness amongst life. She shakes her head trying to push away the thought of it.
She comes back to reality when the rickshaw-wala takes a turn she doesn’t recognize.Where is he taking her? Her grip tightens on the strap of her bag. She voices her concern.
“baji ye short-cut hai, fikar na karo aap ko ghar pohuncha dun ga” (it’s a shortcut baji, don’t worry I’ll get you home), he mocks looking at her from the mirror. He does not like to be dictated.
She weighs her options. She can’t jump from this rickshaw on a comparatively empty narrow road, he can catch her easily, she can’t take that risk. She can see some people walking but she doesn’t know if they can help her. Her mind wanders towards her phone. It’s in the bag along with hundred other things. The sky has turned reddish brown by now. It would be fruitless to try searching it. So she resorts to the only help. She starts reciting Ayat-ul-kursi. Soon she is reciting all small surahs she had learnt as a child and promises God that she’ll offer prayer tonight if she’s not raped, killed and thrown in some gutter.
The rickshaw takes a turn towards left and they’re out on a road she can recognize.
She breathes. Her grip loosens a little.
The sky has turned the darker shade of blue.
Another signal. Another set of billboards. Another set of beggars.
A transgender comes towards the rickshaw. He is wearing green clothes, glitter and golden earrings. He has his back on her while he talks on the phone. She quickly zips open her bag and rummages her wallet. He has seen her by now. While still talking on the phone he comes to stand by the side of the rickshaw. The rickshaw-wala watches as a keen spectator from his mirror while she looks for a twenty rupee note.
“Koi baat nahin baji das de den” (it’s alright baji, give me ten), the transgender smiles. He has read her mind and peeked into her wallet.
The signal turns green. The rickshaw starts moving slowly. She quickly takes out ten rupees and hands it over to him. The fair colored transgender holds both his hands together in the gesture of gratitude, mouths a ‘thenk-you’ and walks away.
The sky is a shade of gray clouds. It might drizzle if not rain tonight. The moon hides completely behind the thick clouds today. No play today. No pretense.
More green signals. More billboards. More beggars. More streets. She might reach home safe today.
Author’s Note: My short story ‘Guard’ was featured in November 2016’s East Lit (a journal focused on creative writing, English literature and art specifically from East and South East Asia) issue. Here’s the link to it:
The sky was cloudless today and he wondered why. Although he was here to explore, but he knew the moods of weather. Not only was the sky cloudless, it was blazing blue. But this was neither shocking nor disappointing for him. This meant more daylight, more time to explore. Sitting outside a small dhaba in Paras, owned by two Balti brothers, he took the first sip of chai and swallowed his buttered paratha. The chai was too strong for his taste but he drank on. The weather too was a little too cold for his Karachiite standards on an October morning. He felt he still needed one more layer of clothing over his shawl and windbreaker. But oh well.
So why did he come to Paras—a small town to the north of Balakot which served as nothing but a route towards further more beautiful north? Why did he come on his own when all he wanted was to forget himself and focus on what lay ahead? Perhaps this was a road to ahead. Perhaps this was the destination. Perhaps this was just the first milestone of accepting things, admitting reality.
This place was neither surreal nor magnificent. There were mountains covered with green moss, a stream of water sprouting here and there eventually flowing into the river. But it was pure—no pretentions. The road outside the small chai shop where he was sitting was broken, but you wouldn’t see the smoke of dust after a vehicle would pass. He could see a rope and wood bridge parallel to the road joining the two sides of a green narrow gushing river which would later join the Indus. But where would this river stream flow after it touched the edge of the road? Did it flow beneath the old metallic road? Did it flow along the road from there on? He didn’t know. He would later take a peek and find out.
But the place did create some stir when he first found out about it. The legend said that Philosopher’s stone was last seen here. That the man who found out about the stone’s reality went a little mad with happiness but then thought about the violence and manslaughter it would cause. The stone made him fear for his life first and then for humanity. By that time he had lost his mind, turned all his metal utensils into gold. That is when he threw the stone in water–nobody knew if it was his madness or himself. That was thousands of years ago.
He did not know which ‘water’ it made reference to. Was it the same river which flowed in front of his eyes right now or had it changed its course, dried up or been long forgotten in the sands of time? Maybe Paras was right there in the same water that flew beneath the road. Maybe if he just tried his luck, the golden-red gleaming stone might find a master after all. Did he know how it looked like? Did he know how big it was— marble sized, pebble sized, fist sized or even bigger?
He didn’t want it for riches or turning into an immortal. No those were vanities. His greed was different. He wanted purpose when everything had failed him. Feelings had just become nouns, people had just become names he once knew, success had become a profanity. This was his first attempt towards a purpose after his perspectives had changed.
He swallowed the last piece of his paratha with a sip of burnt chai and walked towards the edge of the unfenced road. The river did not flow beneath the road from here but flowed along.
This is where it starts. He raised the cup of tea high in his hand and threw it in the flowing river. The white dot of cup touched the surface of water and disappeared.
Amid mountains that surrounded the village and sun that brought the rainbow, Paras looked Beautiful that day.
There was a pattern,
always a pattern
In the books read, recent playlists played,
Colors of weather and unwritten letters,
Badly scribbled notes under the mattress of the bed.
There was a pattern in the first said words of that broken conversation—if only you knew
Those tucked away pictures hidden from the world,
And tickets that were never used to fly 7000 miles away.
There was a shameless pattern in all the words unsaid, all the endeavors to make you break away
In the first days when seasons changed—the leaves falling off or turning green,
There were patterns in the first fall of snow and my perfect summer dream,
There were patterns in the waves of the ocean that connected lands in between.
There were perfect patterns in the winds that blew; signs if only you knew.
But oh well, never mind
Why did it matter?
When our minds were always a mess, a hopeless clatter.
Merriam Webster defines Nostalgia as ‘pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again.’
Dictionaries are supposed to be accurate in their meanings that they provide. However, it doesn’t do justice with the word ‘nostalgia’. I’m not good with words but I do feel more than an average person does and it doesn’t feel right that nostalgia is just a ‘noun’ given to some feeling we think is bitter and sweet. Nostalgia is a past that sticks with your present and haunts you with emptiness and loss of all good things that were once yours when you so much as come to brush something vaguely similar, that might or might not be yours at present. It is that tingling sensation of hopelessness and misery that comes with knowing that you cannot go back to what you’ve lived, that seeing other people go through it will make you smile but hate that you’re not in their place again. It’s the reluctance to play that song for the fear that it would trigger those memories of goofing around at sunset at the top of your lungs blanketed in 5 layers of clothes and still shivering but not letting that moment go. Nostalgia is the fear that when you play that song, you won’t be able to believe it was you—and how an eternity seems to have passed making it an unreal fragment of memory.
Why can’t we have a time-turner? No really. Not the Harry Potter one where you could make deviations so the future is safe, but just the one where you could go back and relive it once more, just like it happened in reality—where you could experience it just like it happened the first time, those heart palpitations, those real laughters in between exam preps at 3 am in the morning to release stress of failing the next day; late night winter walks amid security situations and curfew timings and singing 90s pop songs in horrendous voices which would lead to complains the next day. I don’t know if we could call it cruel that we were once those people in photographs which are now stored in long forgotten folders somewhere in the PC waiting to be opened only when one of the us passes away. Also isn’t it strange how photographs never do justice to the memory, either being too visually bright—when the memory’s only source of light is bonfire—or being too still, hiding away all behind-the-scenes and position-settings and everyone-yelling-at-the-top-of-their-lungs-to-be-heard for taking the picture perfect? The only good photographs are the blurred ones where the moment is caught in between being and having been done. And yet it misses the frame-worthy click. Shucks.
But nostalgia is not just the moments, it’s the smells, the sounds, the playlists and those lights that make us feel a certain way that no one can explain. It’s excruciating and not pleasant despite what they tell us in books and novels. A bowl of badly cooked noodles, a cup of black coffee on a hot evening, a randomly switched channel on TV which plays Coke Studio’sKinara, a group of friends procrastinating late at night for their group project—it’s like a remake of a movie, only we’re not the main character this time. It’s almost mocking, in-your-face, déjà vu, where we have no control.
I’ve met people who move on, no longer smile at old photographs, not even look at them anymore—it doesn’t work as a stimulus for them. Would I rather be like them? Maybe. It’s a good state to be, a past no longer there to haunt with beautiful memories. Would I choose to? I don’t think so.
There are songs that you listen to, that shape your memories; there are people who constantly make their way towards you—directly or indirectly, sometimes even forcefully—to shape your lives, both positively and negatively, even so that they might be the force of a constant distraction in your lives, but you need to focus. You need to focus on good things, the positive energy that comes from waking up early in the morning to pray fajr, even though you might have slept at three in the morning—for you need to realize that you’re not doing it for the sake of making the Almighty happy, you’re doing it as much for yourself too.
Our jobs suck most of the times, we don’t get along with a lot of our colleagues, but we need to find that one ounce of motivation that makes us go to work gladly every morning—be it the smile of the guard who greets you at the gate or the lady guard who you sometimes help financially to make her ends meet, or that one colleague who brings you video games that you could play when the boss is not around, or that group of people who you have your lunch with.
Life is not always easy as we might like to think for other people who always have their way. You would look at their social media and find them smiling and having fun but no one knows if they’re doing it for public validation or a general show off, none of which is healthy. Adulting is a tough task—for people like me it’s a 24/7 job that you’re constantly struggling with, trying to ace it following the ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra. And s much as I would want to deny it, we are not young anymore. We are neither fresh-out-of-college-graduates nor 22-23 looking forward to settling. And although we are still looking forward to settle, we are basically nowhere. Our dreams are yet to be fulfilled, love of our lives to be found, careers still in a phase where we are in a dilemma of whether to switch or to get going with what we have. We are so confused. And while we are acing some of the job interviews and getting into that school for post-grad education we’ve always wanted to get into or getting told in some family gathering by teenagers that we are their inspiration and asked by some youngsters to speak at their college as a motivational speaker, we still tend to underestimate ourselves. Why are we so confused?
Is it a quarter-life crisis? Our parents are our friends but sometimes their wants and our needs don’t match. The books we read inspire us to write but what we don’t have is time—no time to catch up with friends from college who we miss constantly but are embarrassed to admit because what if they have moved on? We don’t have time to listen to that song that friend the other day recommended us to listen or that article they shared with us thinking we would appreciate the genius of it, the book we borrowed from that friend who never minds is still lying on the bedside table because ‘who has time?’
Why has time become such a luxury all of a sudden that we don’t have? We have money but no time to spend that money, and honestly when I say this, I’m not exaggerating. We keep on procrastinating, on planning that trip, reading that book, cooking that great recipe, baking that cake, eating healthy and working out, gifting that whatever our friend liked the other day but couldn’t buy, what do we have if we don’t have time to give ourselves and our loved ones?
We are going after all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. Most of us. Career plans. New job. Progression. Happily ever after. It’s just a mirage. What we are, where we need to be, is here. Right where we are. And that is where we need to make amendments.
PS: It’s a rumbling, only a slight reflection of a chaotic mind.
This twenties generation of nowadays—the 90’s kids that we also like to be proudly called—is such a stuck up generation; stuck up between things that we’ve seen and lost and thus missing them, stuck up between seeing a generation that was hip and classy at the same time, that we used to idealize and a generation that is following us (read the teenagers), making us cringe, what with their music tastes and fashion sense and their cell phone apps that we’re too old to use; we are a stuck up generation because we’re perhaps too wise for our age and too young to think if can make a change—we’ve seen an entire world change before our eyes. In our short lifespan of twenty something years, we have experienced drastic temperature changes that even though we were too young to feel when we were children, we can’t nevertheless forget how cold our winters used to be, how we would actually enjoy our monsoon rains rather than worrying about an onslaught of floods every year, how we could visit the bank of Indus and boat and have picnics in summer there and eat Pallah fish without worrying about the dangerous heights of water that take away lives of little children every year these days.
We are the poster children of climate change, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve been witness to more earthquakes and hurricanes around the world in our lifespan than any of the older generation. We have been spectators to conflagrations overnight burning the entire forests in summers and deadly snowstorms in winters handicapping the entire life of metropolitan cities (in North America) all within the same climatic year. While the climate in our childhood was more predictable, pleasant summers with a heat wave in May usually (specially referring to Southern Pakistani summers here) followed by a two month monsoon season bringing consistent clouds of rain one after another, to chilly winters beginning from October and ending by the end of March with enough cushion of Spring in between to distinguish between a winter and a summer night without muddling them together unlike today. You would never see an unexpected snow in Islamabad in the middle of February and while Lahori winters have always been famous for being foggy, you would never come upon a road accident on Motorway in the beginning of March because of an intense foggy morning. These are signs—signs that climate change is here and is going to ruin this planet, not just our generation, if we don’t do something about it.
We don’t have to look at facts and figures to realize the gravity of the situation, we just have to look around us to see how our lives in general have changed. The good news is, since most of these changes have taken place while our growing up, we are the most ‘adaptable kids’ in the words of Darwin and thus can be the force of change. It’s not just our responsibility but this planet’s right to be duly given to. The bad news is, if we don’t, it will be a little bit too late.
So let’s not get stuck in the earth’s nightmare. Let’s work one step at a time, conserve our resources, not waste water, go for resources that are recyclable, reduce Carbon consumption, recycle more and consume less of everything so that it’s not just our generation that could live more, but so that our own generation is alive to tell the tale.
Have you often wondered about that middle hour of the night, when it’s only you and your silence to accompany?
Have you wondered why you feel so connected at this time of the night? What is it about 3 am, when it’s neither the beginning of the morning nor the end of the night? It’s when you can’t decide what you want to do with your life.
3 am is when you listen you to those songs that haunt you during the day, full of memories you’re afraid to replay. 3 am is when you think of replying to some texts, those emails that you’ve been ignoring since God knows when. It’s the hour when courage comes from within, for it’s the time when you’ve applied to that school you’ve been dreaming about, registered for that course you’ve always wanted to be a part of, filled that job application, wrote that short story that has always been at the back of your mind but could never come out. 3 am is that time which always cries, ‘send away that text, we’ll see what happens next.’
3 am is when a movie has just ended and you don’t know what to do with your life anymore, so you try to listen to the silence around, breathe and take in everything that is around in that odd hour of the night when even the early birds are sleeping.
3 am is when you have conversations with people in other time zones, mostly because you can’t ignore them or because they are too funny to be ignored.
3 am is also when you recognize your true friends. An hour more needy hasn’t been discovered yet.
3 am also brings upon conversations with God, about life, and things that you’ve been trying to understand but failing. It’s the time when heartfelt prayers are made, listened and answered to.
3 am is the hour that is mostly deserted yet always awaiting guests who are either smiling at the past day or crying for the pains tomorrow brings. It silently blankets the drunk, the homeless, the artists, the depressed and those who are preparing for an exam tomorrow and haven’t studied a word before.
3 am sounds really late and perhaps a lonely time of the night but it really is another world altogether waiting to be discovered where the best secrets are shared, the best conversations take place, the best books are read, the best bars, the best friends and the best people are found.