VERSE | A SWEET ENCOUNTER

I looked at her over my coffee mug 
Stealing silent glances
Looking her way
Then looking away
My heart had set up a regular cacophony
As I stared at her secretly
From above the rim of my cup
That I brought to my lips to sip,
The adrenaline instead making me chug
She sat there, serene and beautiful
An ode to perfection itself
Between the gulps I watched and drooled
Oh lord! I felt like such a fool!
I took in a ragged breath
I had to calm myself
I had to let the feeling pass
To wring it, wash it from my heart
I had to fight, wrest my hungry eyes
Off that whetter of fantasies, that queen of delight
That mesmerizing, will-defying Passion Fruit Tart

VERSE | RODS AND CONES

Day breaks and I’m asleep
But I can tell its dawn again
The light touches my retina
Through the barrier of my skin
It gently feels its way around
The darkness behind my shuttered lids
Then it sits itself down
Waiting for me to let it
Begin its morning ritual of
Dancing with my rods and cones
The caper sometimes morphs into
A red hot duel that is fought
Electro-impulsively in my brain
Where the battleground is wrought
Or we break into a marathon run
Away, away from every one
Flowing with the adrenaline
Out of the arteries, into the veins
I lead it where it needs to go
Some days we waltz, and on some
We antelope it out the door
Today breaks, I open my eyes
My rods and cones are in for a surprise

VERSE | SURVIVE

I sit with the sweet pain 
Of remonstrating muscles
Aching tendons
It’s been a good day
I’ve clocked my vital number
Of steps again
Day Five. Five days. Day Five
Of doing my best
The precious little victories
Sit like shiny safety pins
In my body. Their lancing points
Glimmering. Abrading. Wounding
Forcing tiny trickles of red-hot plasma
To run outside my veins
The sweet agony of pain
Reminding me that I’m still alive
I’m still surviving, still striving
Still clocking all the steps
That keep this life ongoing
Going on. Ongoing. Going on
I breathe in deeply. Tonight
I am serene, there will be no dreams
To torture or torment me. Tonight
In her benumbing arms I will
let sleep take me … I breathe out
As I lie down with my gentle pain.

SHORT STORY | RAAT KI RANI* – Part One

(I)

Haniya looked at the pin prick of blood on her index finger, lingering on its vital redness just a moment longer than usual. It was Tuesday today. She blinked, her mouth curving into a faint smile, and then wiped her finger with a rag strewn with little speckles of rust-red.

Haniya sewed initially becasue she had the skill and she liked the meditative quality of the needle going in and out of the fabric. With time and the fickle nature of circumstances, that labour of love had morphed into an exertion underscored by urgency and need. There was a little money that came in from a couple of modest investments that her husband had made and a small monthly stipend that her brother sent her. These meagre streams of income Haniya augmented with the little windfalls that she received for her delicate needlework.

After her husband had died six years ago, she had taken on the role of the provider and the “man” of the house. That last title was foisted on her when she had scared off two thieves, adolescents really, who had come to burgle her home; of what, she still sometimes wondered as she mentally scanned the modest contents of their two bedroom townhouse rental.

She put the shirt down with its spray of jasmine that was slowly coming to life under her deft handiwork. She took a sip of her tea – her fifth cup since the morning and it was only noon now. Her mind wandered as the still hot liquid warmed up her cache of memories. Faizan had loved his tea too. She would make two steaming cups when he came in through the door at 6 o’ clock in the evening. Husband and wife would then sit in each other’s company, communicating almost solely through harmonious sips of the hot beverage. Faizan had been a man of few words, and he was especially grateful for the acknowledgment and understanding of this quiet reticence by his wife. For him, the highest form of language was one of the heart and of harmony of action. His evening cup of tea in the quiet company of Haniya was probably one of his dearest forms of togetherness. On weekends the couple would demolish almost a quarter bag of tea leaves, taking turns to cook a potful, its four-cup contents disappearing in under half an hour each time.

Haniya sighed wistfully. She missed him. She missed being held close. She missed the vital warmth at night, on the right side of their bed … her bed now. She missed having a companion.

Haniya had been a voluble, chirpy young woman when she had got married at 21. Under the calming, quiet influence of her husband, coupled with the fact that they had their first child five years later, she had gradually spoken less and less. Over the years, she had slowly replaced her outer chatter with the quietude of inner serenity. Now, sometimes days went by and she hardly said a word out loud until both her children came back home from university. Both, Ali and Laiba had fitted into and then emulated their parents’ reserve. And so, the years had plodded on largely to the hazy sounds of life from outside of their quiet bubble of existence.

Haniya picked up her empty cup and went to the kitchen. It was almost 1 o’ clock. She needed to start preparing lunch. Laiba would be home at 3. Ali had just started working at a bank and usually came home after 7.

(II)

“Amma, I’m never getting married” said Laiba as they both sat at the little dining table over plates of two day old daal* and sabzi*, their protracted spice-infused marination made up for with fresh, hot roti from the tandoor* downstairs. Haniya looked at her second born with a little smile.

It was a game they played occasionally to call to heel any depressing thoughts that at various times, tended to meander through the purple-grey spaces in the minds of the two women. Before either drifted into inner worlds with clouded skies, shutting out the late afternoon sunshine falling on her face, the other would pull her right back.

Her mother’s morning musings were still etched in her face and Laiba, reading them, had dropped a conversational grenade to shatter any bruise-coloured doors closing out the brightness of the day. She was happy and an essential part of the fruition of that sentiment for her, was seeing her mother’s gentle smile.

“And why is that?” asked Haniya, her own smile widening at her daughter’s bright-eyed playfulness.

“Because I’m going to miss these vintage daal and sabzi lunches amma – straight up manna from heaven they are!”

Haniya laughed at the affectionate sarcasm thrown at her by her feisty daughter while Laiba grinned back with dancing eyes.

(III)

It was Tuesday today. Vegetable delivery day. Vegetables and conversation day. Vegetables, conversation and a bit of a happy flurry of the heart day. Haniya smiled. Even the dispiriting act of putting three-day old curry back into the fridge for another meal, didn’t dampen the pleasure of her Tuesday afternoons. She looked outside the kitchen window at a world that was shimmering in the late afternoon sunlight. She felt a happy little surge in her own heart as she glanced at herself in the glass door of the kitchen cabinet. Seeing the smile spreading to the corners of her brown eyes, she instinctively lowered her gaze, collecting herself. Those crows feet were only ever supposed to crinkle in pleasure for her children … and later, for her grandchildren, she chided herself. She sighed, feeling the tentacles of exasperation and helplessness slowly coil around her solar plexus.

Why? she asked herself in the next instant, reaching for her heart, fortifying herself against the censorial voices of tradition and expectations. Why did happiness for her have to always be a borrowed emotion – borrowed from her children and even from her unborn grandchildren? Borrowed for a brief while and then returned; always given back; never made her own. Why did she have to become a hollow shell of herself because she was widowed, permanently denouncing the vital, pulsing, feeling part of her? Why couldn’t she allow herself to be happy for herself; for something that was specifically, wholly, stirringly hers?

Because you’re a middle aged widow with grown up children, berated the part of her that was used to being loud, commanding and keeping her respectable.

Haniya willed herself, as she had learnt to do over the last few months, to focus only on the feeling of warmth that had been sweeping her up in its flow. Thinking beyond the visceral emotion, invariably woke up a whole slew of confusing, disapproving thoughts that would then mock and scold her until there was no pleasure left anymore in her Tuesday afternoons. Her afternoons that were filled with all shades of greens, reds and yellows as she bought a whole week’s worth of vegetables from Raza bhai. Raza – the bhai* had been largely dispensed with six months into these Tuesday afternoon exchanges, only ever surfacing if one of the children was within earshot of their conversation. These improvisations were made intuitively, unthinkingly.

Haniya Faizan was a respectable, middle class woman and following social norms was a part of her DNA which had also faithfully served her self preservation instinct. She was not a woman who went against the flow of convention, and had fitted herself into the box of widowhood that was resoundingly set at her door when her husband had passed away. She had then dutifully folded up her sexuality and put it safely away in the box to let it molder in the blessed throes of time and aloneness.

Haniya was still youngish however – 48 – and so despite society’s asexual prescription for her for having survived her husband, there was always a motley brigade of men that roamed around the box, hoping for Haniya to make a fissure just big enough for them to strut in. For most of these hopefuls, the end of their particular widow-exploit was yet murky in their minds; so much of that depended on the woman. If she relented, they could bestow her with male companionship, diligently cloaked from the world and their wives. If she didn’t, well some would leave it at that, while a not entirely insignificant number of others would put in focused efforts to torment her in big and small ways. The patriarchy, on such occasions, is said to be a mysterious beast, sweeping up entire communities of men and women in its ravenous wake. So far however, and especially after the encounter with the fresh-faced thieves, Haniya had been spared proposals of both, the decent and indecent varieties.

But there were changes afoot; little dalliances from the norm that were making their way into Haniya’s heart and she was feeling their, as yet unformed textures, with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation.

* Raat ki raani: the night-blooming jasmine

* Daal: A Pakistani/ Indian dish made of dried, split pulses that do not require soaking before cooking.

* Sabzi: vegetables in Urdu


* Bhai: Brother in Urdu.

* Tandoor: also known as tannour it is predominantly a cylindrical clay or metal oven used in cooking and baking, mostly flat breads.

VERSE | THE SHOW MUST JOE ON!

A tad controversial? Maybe. But am I still saying it out loud, in rhyme and meter no less? But of course. Some folks mull over things in the privacy of their heads, others whisper them in low tones while my iPad … well, it just blurts them out, no holds barred. Whoosh! Here it comes like a sweetly painful winter chill to get your adrenaline up and your spine a-tingle.

Hello 46th* 
Are you seeing this?
A war has been stoked
Europe has refugees - Look!
The shock of it!
Afghanistan and Kashmir
Don’t count; neither does
The Middle East
Oh please!
The world is used to those
People, forever in the throes
Of some tragedy,
Some devilry,
Some new-fangled holocausts
Of their own

Russia, the land of Ruskis and Putin
You do so hate them all, Joe Biden
Your last names though
Have such a harmonious ring
Putin, Biden … Biden, Putin
But I digress, your sentiments
Have reached across the continents
To grapple at the throat
Of that villainous foe
That Trump-loving pariah
That creator of election drama
That divider of the faithful
And good American folks

Oh, and you’re still not over
The Hunt for Red October*
The hunt that Hunter* hunted
Via the Kiev crossover
All the chickens that got away
Came home to roost and lay
Their devilled eggs, without the yolks
Putin had them all artichoked!
You believe in all of it
The fairytale, the who-dunnit
To Russia is where all the trenches lead
Putin has always been so full of sheeet!

So now there’s bloody war afoot
The gloves are off, we’re all in it
It’s the same old American adage
“You’re with us or you’re with the villains”
And while you’re beating
That hoodoo drum
The whole world is slipping
Into a recession.
There’s no food, no fuel,
No jobs to do
These trickle-down economics
Don’t affect you
They make their insidious paths towards
The poor, the beaten, the never seen nor heard

Hellooo 46th
Do you at least see
How so much is attributable
To you directly?
The depression, the frustration
The agony
That is doing the rounds
On its maleficent spree
I can see how you wont
See this like we do
How? you declare, can
Uncle Sam be such a brute?!
But you are! You are!
And a bully to boot!
On a final note, dear Joe
May A tad bit of third worldliness
That has so diligently been foisted on us
Graciously, karmically circle around
To you and yours. Please be assured
It will be an experience profound.
* 46th: the 46th president of the USA

* The Hunt for Red October: Tom Clancy’s debut novel, it shows the contrast between Soviet and American societies as exemplified by their militaries. Another significant theme that is played out on several levels of the novel is that of betrayal.

* Hunter: Joe Biden’s son who is rumoured to have had dodgy business connections with Ukraine.

VERSE | THE SCREAM

Listen to the poem being read here: https://vt.tiktok.com/ZSdn6UdCw/?k=1

A storm is unleashed
In sheets upon sheets
Of pouring rain
In a cacophony
Pounding the ears
Pounding the earth
For a while
The storm becomes a part of me
I listen …
I hear a howl, a primal cry
I’m agitated, it feels so familiar
I still my breath …
I know that voice
I’ve heard it before
Finding itself
In a tropical downpour
As the sky tore open its breast
Pouring out its glutted greyness
On my world that was floating upon
Even tides of peace and rest
I heard it then, the banshee scream
It swelled upon the torrents that
Came down in never ending sheets
I heard it then as I hear it now
That voice that is screaming inside me

VERSE | I LURRRVE YOU!

This is for the ladies. Amidst all the funniness abounding in the verse, there is a subtle message of self love and self reliance.

Here’s hoping that we can always read between the literal and figurative noisy lines that may be thrown at us in the name of love. And that our peace of mind and our sense of self worth always supersede other enterprises of the liver (jigar) and the heart!

No offence to my male family, friends and acquaintances - these are truth-telling times!
He said I love you 
Like I have never loved another
I said you’re 48 and you’re still
Looking for that perfect other?

Surely you’ve felt something in that realm
You have walked down lovers lanes
Were you perchance arm in arm
With your tonic and your gin?
And not a woman whom you’d consider
A partner and a friend
No, she was always just a trip
A means towards an end
Each bedecked your evenings out
The “I love yous” that left your lips
Were whispered as sweet nothings
In between your boozy sips
And now you tell me that
You’re in love with me too
Except it’s not your usual form
You don’t know what’s happened to you!
Maybe your three-month romances
Would extend to five with me
But the Shallow Hal* in you, pal
Is still waiting to count to three
And then your extra special
Trademark escape artistry
Will take center stage
It’ll be the same old page
From your book of Love for Free

That day he said I love you
Like I have never loved before
I said dear boy you wouldn’t know true love
If it speared you in your gall bladder
…. and why I am undoubtedly the man of your dreams!”
* Shallow Hal: A 2001 Hollywood Rom-Com in which Hal, a shallow man who only dates attractive women, falls in love with Rosemary, after being hypnotized to see the inner beauty of women, not knowing that she is obese.

BOOK REVIEW | THE GIRL WITH THE PAISLEY DUPATTA

Hello folks,

Wanted to share with you the first ever review of my book of short stories “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta and other stories”. The review was done by Maha Qazi of the YouTube channel Maha’s Musings.

She’s done a pretty good summary of the book in general and has also mentioned very relevant specifics from within some of the stories.

Take a look!

(P.S. I would describe myself as a “corporate RUT absconder. A bit of a Nutty enigma in the intro there! 😅)

https://youtu.be/-uyrbICrQW8

VERSE | FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD*

Listen to the poem being read here: https://vt.tiktok.com/ZSdn6QjcC/?k=1

I pick it up, I feel its form 
I hold it in my hands, the warmth
Transfers slowly and I sense
The tingle of the words within

I gaze at the lines upon its face
I turn it over, my eyes trace
The tale it whispers all its own
Its beauty hidden, as yet unknown
The seeds of intrigue have been sown
It invites me in, in subtle tones
We follow, I and my intuition
On lightning wings, we race in!
Another stridently demands that I
Feel its spine from end to end
And then I oftentimes comply
As it tells its story by and by

I leave my existence behind
For a while I’m in another life
I go on voyages fraught with love
With pain, with humor with suspense
I journey on through these realms
Sometimes laughing sometimes tense
And then I will glance again
At the portal to the world I’m in
Pausing my trip-in words
The story wraps itself up, and I’m
Whisked back into the world
Where I’m dutifully marking time

I feel its form one last time
I leave it with a wistful smile
That Teller of a myriad tales
Waits until I visit it again
* Title inspiration from the novel by Thomas Hardy of the same name

VERSE | BEDROOM PRISMS

I get out of bed, slowly, numbly
The morning dopamine has not kicked in
In fact, I have no sense of it
I sigh … that’s never a good sign
It’s going to be one of those days again

I turn off the AC
The gentle hum that had filled the spaces
Where my happy hormone should have been racing
Stops.
I blink slowly
I look at my bedroom slippers
Their shadowy forms
Like yesterday’s leaves
Plucked off by the breeze
Lie on the ground

I get up and look at my curtains
Drawn together like knitted brows
Beige-blonde brows in a frown
Censorial, dragging down
I can’t bring myself to touch
Those sulking folds,
To draw them back
In the ritual
Of morning time

I sit on the stool in front of my dressing table
I look at the woman
Staring back at me
Barely visible, her outline perseveres
Reminding me that I am still here
I watch her for a while
Feeling nothing - vacuous space
And then -
I see something glimmer
At the back in the mirror

The prism that I had hung up
A vestigial piece of love
From a chandelier that has long since
Ceased to grace the space above
Had caught the first ray of light
That had tried to flow
Into my chamber of shadows
Teasing, romancing it
Holding, embracing it
In all its radiant rainbow hues

I turn around towards this scene
Of sudden brightness
I get up, pull back the curtain
Just a little bit. The colours
Fall in shimmering streams
Across my feet
I lift one up and then the other
I slowly dance with the rainbow of colour
My blood gushes warm, I have to smile
It doesn’t seem like another dog day after all

VERSE | SEPIA STORMS

I hear the leaves rustle in the breeze
The gust picks up slowly, gradually
I hear the rattle of a window
The one that lies loosely in its frame
Like a watchful sentry
Announcing the entry
Of a wayward breeze
That rolls in through its screen
To knock upon the door
At the end of the corridor

I walk out of my bedroom into the lounge
The sentinel window
Is now trembling, recoiling
Rattling its pane
Warning of rain
That will soon moisten
Its face; gushing,
Rushing, tearing
The dust off old memories -
Renewing the pain

I see the first flash of lightning and then
The thunder breaks
The storm has arrived
I look at it through the window
Now lying quietly in its frame
Soon the glisten of its pane
Swells into a stream flowing
Down silently, as I sit quietly
With the sweet ache
Of old memories again

VERSE | THE QUIRKS OF WAXING LYRICAL

I thought I’d write a poem today 
For a change, a cheerful one
It seems like my prolific poetry
Is making me the Queen of Glum

It’s not that I don’t see the beauty
The hope and joy that abound
In big and small spaces
In young and old faces
Oh i see it all around!

But I also see life’s glimmer
Fade away, get slowly dimmer
In close and distant places
In fresh and weathered faces
And my own feelings grow grimmer

The angst nudges the bard in me
Unlike any rush of triumph or glee
The words spill out agonised, enraged
In wounded quatrains upon the page
(And I have to say!)
I feel lighter for the venting spree

So I thought I’d write a poem to tell
Whether in fact I am capable
Of verse that won’t assault your tear ducts
Or indeed get your adrenaline up
(What can I say!)
These are the quirks of waxing lyrical

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