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.”
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.
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.
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.
You know that part of the second, when a sight of long lost someone reminds you of a memory buried deep in the past, a glimpse from the future, a lovely combination of things said and done, of things that might have been said but thought better of them—all those feelings in one part of the second. The feeling of loving and being loved, the feeling of being needed and needing someone and the force of attraction that stretches that one part of the second—slows it down, repeats those conversations, makes you smile and cry and hates you for feeling so much. That one part of a second—when it becomes more than a lifetime of living.
I was reading Marina Keegan’s story today and how the book ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ (her collection of essays and short stories) came into being after her death, and realized how we romanticize death and the dead. They are the same people living amongst us, talking to us, hanging out with us, probably even being ignored by us right now. Hell, they are totally us, but we wait for them to die in order to appreciate their living.
In their passing, we mourn the death but not the dead. Would we be doing the same things, talking about them, thinking about them the same way, were they with us? There’s your answer.
It’s not just one story to be told, one book that needs to be published. It’s everyone’s story, everyone’s life. I think for that, we need to write more, communicate more, celebrate more—the people we love, the people who are around us and ourselves.
So maybe we could smile more, laugh more, be kinder, lend our stationery at work, compliment others (and mean them), argue less, discuss more, talk about abstract ideas, perspectives, points of view, agree to disagree openly and make others comfortable with it. And yes, maybe we could be more vocal but more tolerant of others, excited about our ideas but more willing to listen to others’ perspectives, and maybe if we judge less and appreciate more, we’d enjoy what comes across and be open to change more often.
And lastly, to constantly remind ourselves not to be too critical of ourselves. We really need to give that habit a break. Not be too buzzed about that missed job opportunity, that extra money spent on shopping when we could have saved, that conversation that could’ve gone right, that presentation that could’ve persuaded our boss, that offer that might have helped somebody but didn’t, that unreplied text, that book we couldn’t buy—things come and go and this stuff we worry about would not matter in the next year, perhaps even the next month or week. These are things we constantly need to remind ourselves; even better, that nobody is a better friend than we are to ourselves. Gosh, who would even endure us 24/7 if he/she could listen to what was going on in our minds? Even your significant others need a break.
So let’s cherish ourselves while we’re at it, and those we love. And let’s try to bear those too around us who get on our nerves all the time.
“There are no plans, just people fooling themselves by attempting to design their fates and futures. It makes them feel invincible, even if it’s for a transient period of time.”
Ashes, Wine and Dust is the debut novel of Kanza Javed, which was shortlisted for Tibor Jones South Asia Prize 2013, making her the youngest and the only Pakistani writer nominated for the prize that year.
Set in Lahore and Washington DC, Ashes, Wine and Dust is a journey of a young girl, Mariam, whose childhood experiences of loss of loved ones and memories associated with them make her feel everything a little more deeply. Thus, since her childhood, she feels more connected with the memories of her dada (paternal grandfather) and less with the rest of the family.
Memories of her childhood friends and confidants still haunt her when she decides to leave for the US for further studies and in search for self-exploration. Thus, America awaits her with the mysterious art work of her uncle who had left her family years ago, his family who no longer cares for his work, and an unexpected incident that leaves her vulnerable in an estranged land. And while Mariam is figuring out on how to cope with her current situation, she finds out about the disappearance of her younger brother, Abdullah.
Alone in a foreign country with a brother missing, she blames herself for Abdullah’s disappearance and eventually travels back home in search of clues which might lead her to him.
As the family goes through the trauma of loss of a loved one and ultimately decides to move on albeit slowly, Mariam hangs on to the clues that Abdullah has left and vows to unite him with their family.
Javed’s Ashes, Wine and Dust is an excruciatingly beautiful read with strong characters that are often difficult to find in a debut novel. The story is gripping and engulfed in such an exuberant tone of despair and desolation of the protagonist that it keeps you in the mood even after you’ve finished the book.
The imagery of Lahore with its canals, food, colourful bazaars (markets) and backdrop of Badshahi Mosque in several scenes brings back the love of Lahore for those who have visited the beautiful city and invites those who still haven’t.
While Ashes, Wine and Dust is a powerfully gripping read till the end, it did let me down towards the end. And although the book ends with a closure, tying all its loose ends, I would have been happier had it ended on a brighter note. Nevertheless, the book is a must read of 2015.
Javed has done a wonderful job writing a novel that is unswerving, profound and painfully beautiful till the very end. Ashes, Wine and Dust would be available across Pakistan by the end of November, so get a copy of the book for a reading full of feels.
Average rating: 4.7/5