BOOK READING | VELVET DREAMS

Reading an excerpt from the short story “Velvet Dreams” from my book THE GIRL WITH THE PAISLEY DUPATTA. The anthology of short stories is available across bookstores in Sri Lanka and at Liberty Books and Paramount Books in Pakistan. Do get your copies folk 🌸

The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta is divided into three sections: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the USA. The last category is an ode to that most ingenious art form – political satire.

Most of the stories in the book revolve around the social, cultural and even faith related challenges that women face in their day to day lives. This particular story however is about family pressure and the main protagonist is a man 🤓

VERSE | REMINISCENCE

You said to look for you in blooms
The most vibrant that adorned
The sunny yellow Amalthas
As it stood verdant in the lawn

I chose a bower in my mind
It was you whispering to me
Everytime a drizzle fell
Or when she murmured in the breeze

But then came fall and with it all
The flowers began to drop
I held my breath as I watched
but you stayed shimmering on

You wore your golden yellows
Dancing in your green abode
But then nature came calling your name
You were the last to free your hold

You whispered softly one last time
As you let go of the tree
I watched but did not linger, I
Imagined you somewhere roaming free

But in my heart I’ve always known
You’ve shredded up your form
With all your love and courage
Back into the earth you’ve gone

You said that I should look for you
In the things that make me smile
I see you now in leaves and flowers
In the rain and the fireflies.

VERSE | LOVE

I look at you with a thrum of love 
You look back with a smile
Your eyes crinkle affectionately
We’ve been together a while

I have stopped lingering upon
The outside of your being
For, years ago I fell in love
With what lies within the seams

Now I look into the depths
Of your twinkling, smiling eyes
And I see the gracious soul
That reverberates inside

I see the kindness that you bring
To the tumultuous world around
To the big and small, the young and old
You bring an empathy that’s profound

I see the pain and the passion too
Both heave in your very depths
One keeps you wise and rooted
The other keeps you forging ahead

I also see peace and calm
They rest quietly in your heart
When life sometimes disturbs, disrupts
They play their blessed parts

At your very centre I see the man
That you always strive to be
Dignified, upright, aware and true
All while you nurture your humanity.
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VERSE | JOY

When morning shakes out her dress
Of blue and gold and green
I hope that you can smile at her
Beauty as she preens

I hope that you’ve fulfilled some things
That you’d planned out for the day
As noon time jogs along your path
In his radiant array

As the tender blush of evening
Bids farewell to the sun
I hope you found joy in the tasks
That needed to get done

When at last night drops her cloak
Around the world and you
I hope that in your heart there’s peace
And the spirit to start anew

When morning sings her new-day song
And wafts in once again
I hope that you will dance with her
Heart to heart and hand in hand.

VERSE | TEA FOR TWO

It was two for tea and tea for two
Both meeting after a decade or two
Friends of old, kins of the heart
Separated by time and circumstance
Chatter and laugh over tea for two

Tea for two and two for tea
Neighbours for a year, kindred souls for twenty-three
They’d seen each other through thick and thin
Loving Kintsugi* mending walls where they’d grown thin
Catch up over two for tea

It was two for tea and tea for two
From working together their friendship grew
They had rejoiced in one another’s highs
And had held each other’s hands in trying times
Rendezvous over tea for two

Tea for two and two for tea
The sister and the brother sat quietly
The coolness of bruised hearts lay around
The air was rent with empty sounds
As they tried to build bridges over two for tea

It is usually two for tea and tea for two
That brings hearts together, both the sunny and the blue
Loving ones forge more joyful memories
Aching ones for a while find some peace
When they come together over tea for two.
* Kintsugi: The Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.
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VERSE | MELANCHOLIA

When evening falls and once again 
Melancholia sets in
Tinctures and shadows of times gone by
Come bleeding, weeping in

When the orbit of the earth
Has brought in the dark of night
And memories, remembrances
When all with the world was right

When you cannot escape the bed
That has forged into a cell
Holding you fast for the night
In unending wakefulness

When at last your weary mind
At some hour releases you
Into realms of visions and dreams
That bruise and lance anew

When you finally awake
And the sun shines bright again
Pumping the lifeblood that the night
Has stolen from your veins

Breathe in deeply, close your eyes
This will not be the last
Of eventide’s strange conjuring
Of aching for the past

Many will be the days when
The joyless cycle will repeat
But at some point the salve of time
Will turn the memories bittersweet.
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VERSE | SEASONS WHISPERER

Where are you going my little one 
With your hands full of summer flowers?
Why do you have that smile on your lips?
Why do your eyes shine like stars?

I’m coaxing with play the Summer away
She’s never ever happy to leave
She’ll pout and she’ll wallow, go all shades of yellow
She’ll moult in the throes of grief

But when I pick up her bloom-strewn dresses
And laughingly whisk them away
She follows along singing a song
And her sister takes up the reign

I’m the whisper of the breeze flowing in the trees
I’m the drops of morning dew
I’m the patter of rain on sun-kissed earth
I’m her fragrance as she breathes anew

I’m the usher of times, of blossoms and snow
I’m the forger of grand season farewells
I’m the music and cadence of the rhythm of life
I ring all its wistful and joyful bells.

VERSE | HIDDEN AWAY

The rain is falling in sheets upon sheets 
Jumping into puddles, skipping over feet
Performing a symphony as it flows
Reaching a crescendo down the street
Where whirlwind eddies and the sidewalk meet

The koi in the pond in the building know
Something is up, they flicker and jump
Out of the water again and again
But the ripples on the surface aren’t enough
To join in the play of the skies above

They don’t feel the glorious downpour
Charge into their silent world thrumming
They swim up and down around and around
Waiting, waiting expecting something
The sensory pleasure of nature dancing

But the koi will float in agitated oblivion
To the playful frolic of the monsoon sky
As it cavorts with all of earth’s creatures
But not with the pond and not with the koi
Our faithful tributes to a world gone awry.

VERSE | BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

It is beautiful, it is powerful 
Draping me like a queen
It is elegant, it is personal
It’s not for you to intervene

How I wear it, when I wear it
Or If I wear it at all
It is not yours to abuse
In your chauvinistic thrall

It is mine to choose and mine alone
If I drape it on one side
An embellishment, an adornment
Not a holy tent for me to hide

I choose if indeed I cover
My head or not at all
Mine to choose mine to use
To wrap around me like a shawl

In the end my garb, my hijab
My dupatta and my scarf
Are not for you to politicise
To legislate on my behalf

It’s mine to choose and mine alone
Not for you to rant and rail
To demonise and brutalise
Scrambling into realms of faith

It’s just free flowing fabric
There’s no honour in my veil
My virtue lies inside of me
And its not your holy grail

Angels never hide their light
They shine in its bright glow
I too choose a life for me where
Im free to thrive and grow

It has always been my choice to make
Not for you nor your most devout
Where I’m radiant and dignified
With my dupatta or indeed without.

VERSE | BLUNDER WOMAN

I was in a hurry, in a mad rush 
The morning was crazy, yes one of those
The alarm had belted shrilly out
But I was dead to the world, comatose

Dreaming of wishes being horses and Bookers
Until the clock struck ten and then
I threw off the duvet, leaped out of bed
Limbs all awry like a headless chicken

Here’s a little aside: when I’m stressed
My hair also declares a mutiny
Acts up like it’s the raging heroine
Of its very own show on prime time telly

And so it was in this agitation
That I knocked my elbow on the door
I cursed like a sailor who’s had too much ale-er
Deliriously, frenziedly I swore

I vented as much as a random string
Of choice expletives can enable
The rest of the rage I swallowed away
As virtuously as I was able

Then the ultimate decimation came to pass
I stubbed my wretched left little toe
What chanced to happen in the heat of my passion
You really wouldn’t want to know

Suffice it to say that on that day
The angels filling in my Wicked Gal page
With brimstone, hellfire, the sinfulness of ire
Had a field day, ‘twas their advantage

And so ‘twixt my shoulders and my feet now
A funny bone doesn’t exist at all
I try to be sweet-talking, kind and good
Until the next time I slam, stub or fall.

VERSE | SWEET AWKWARDNESS

They look at each other 
Awkwardly
It’s been thirty five years
Since they’d last seen each other
Blood has flowed thinner, starker than water
For the two sisters
Now standing together

They sit down
It’s in the younger one’s home
The older one perches on her seat
Hands clasped around her knees
Knees bunched together awkwardly

The younger one makes the tea
The steaming, billowing pour
Softening, mollifying the tension
That has stretched like taut skin
Raw, painful, blue-complexioned
On the surface of the atmosphere

The older one reaches for the milk
She pours it into her cup of tea
Hesitates and looks at her
Wondering if she still drinks it
The same way she did before

The younger one nods, smiles ever so faintly
She puts the sugar in
Looks at the older one inquiringly
No, she didn’t have sugar in her tea
From each other, they both look away
At the steaming cups on the tray

The brews in the cups
Swirl for a while
Spin and beguile
Then come to rest
Pulling a film of whey and casein
Around their hearts
Hiding away from the scene
Hiding away from the awkwardness

“Do you remember -“
“Do you remember -“
“You used to love the milk skin on the tea”
“I used to love the milk skin on my tea”

They look at each other
At last
They laugh
Sweet-awkwardly
Eyes moist, hearts beating fast
The tension is torn away
Finally
In the gush of warmth
From the tea
From she looking at her
From her looking back smilingly

The older one looks at her cup
The smile still playing on her lips
She picks up her spoon
To remove the cream
Her sister never had it
Today she wouldn’t too

The younger one looks at her cup
Gazing down at the membrane
Floating in the milky brew
She picks up her cup
Her sister always had it
Today she would too.
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VERSE | NOSTALGIA

She steps into the car
Its gleaming surfaces
Adorned with gladioli and motia*
She’s the bride tonight
Garlands also lovingly
Entwine in her hair
Their fragrance filling
The nighttime air
Eyes bright
Face shining with expectation
She glances behind her
Just for a moment
One last time
At that spot where she stood
Leaving behind her childhood
Marking the end of her maidenhood
She smiles
Nostalgia now sits there
Young, hopeful and light
Eyes bright
Face shining with expectation
Waiting to fill the space
That has been so tenderly placed
Into her sacred embrace.
* Motia: The Jasmine flower.