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VERSE | PHILOSO-FARCE LAND

I’m sitting here feeling bright 
Home with the family
Conversation is easy and light
And then on comes the telly

I try to talk over its
Loud and aggressive tone
Political talk shows cutting
Razor-slicing through the calm

I want to look away
From this soulless carnival
But the addiction to this madness
Is deep-rooted, farcical

Dante would have short-fused
A few neurons, chomped some grass
To see the Inferno he’d imagined
Come so brutally to pass

Sartre would have grinned
In self righteous satisfaction
Hell really was other people
And their insidious interactions

Nietzsche would have conclusively
Summarily declared
That we’ve given up on heaven
And created hell instead

Turning in his class-conflicted
Grave would be Karl Marx
Seeing history do its rewind
As tragedy and then as farce

Freud would have slyly winked
And then chortled cheekily
To watch our IDs and EGOs
Play out their crazy fantasies

The philosophers and sages
Of times gone by, days of old
Are seeing the fruition of
Their theories, mad and bold

So now I’m sitting here feeling
Like the world has dropped upon
My shoulders, pulverising me
Mind and body, heart and soul.

VERSE | NATIONAL (S)CARRIER

A bit of a funny ramble about my recent flight from Karachi to Lahore.

I travelled on a plane today 
And felt compelled to write
This verse of my experiences
On PIA’s domestic flight

Let me start with a whinge
The seats have no leg room
Even the petites are overcome
By claustrophobia and doom

The stewards and the stewardesses
Seem like they’ve just had enough
Of meeting, greeting passengers
Their demeanour is kind of rough

But that’s ok, we’re a nation of
Tough minded women and men
And there is a tad more softness
For the elderly and the children

It was a daytime flight, post luncheon-time
So folks had had their meals
Some nodding off with gaping mouths
Others snoring with extra zeal

The plane jerked forward and began
To taxi on the concrete
While the stalls held two or more
Full bladder emergencies

Off we lifted off and then
We climbed up to the clouds
There was a bit of turbulence
There were loud prayers from the devout

As we levelled off the crew
Started on their inflight missions
Soon the plane transformed into
Zubaida’s Desi Kitchen

And of course everyone there
Ate a second meal
Food is integral to our
National look and feel

Soon the air was rent with
Loud belches and with sighs
The pungent vapor wafting ‘tween
The seats and in the aisles

An overhead bin flew open
With a painful, turgid groan
A fit finale to the meal that had
Endowed its own bloat

The icing on the cake was
The toffees on the tray
And our disembarkation
In a half-civilised way

One prevented a stampede
Of desperate humanity
One a choti meethi* offering
For PIA’s eccentricity.
* Choti Meethi: :small and sweet” in Urdu

VERSE | CAUGHT RED-SALAD!

This is my Alice in Wonderland type of journey through my bowl of salad. Some trials (including of the dietary variety) are best undertaken up close and personal! Also thrown in some existential angst for good measure. The title of the piece is a play on the phrase “Caught red-handed”.

I pick my way through little bits
Of bright green, the shade
Of fresh cut grass
I then pass
A scarlet flower the size of my head
It sits on the ground like it’s dead
Or perhaps waiting
Anticipating
Food? Me? Like the Venus flytrap?
I shudder and go on
It agitates me that I’m alone

I look up
There propped
On a frilly green tree
I see
A brown green dome
Velvety on the outside
Is it a temple? A den? A ploy to lull the senses
Full of pretenses
Of warmth and safety
Waiting slyly for unsuspecting prey?
I shiver and go on

I’m borne on fogs
Of peppery wet air
I stop and stare
At uneven bricks of black and white
Stacked haphazardly
Here and there
Are these stairs to heaven? alien art? remains of ritual sacrifice?
I can’t tell … but oh the smell!
As I step through a hole
Soft and pliable, the pong
Makes my eyes water
I falter for a bit
It it a giant fungus? A virus? A disease?
I step through gingerly —

“Good afternoon ma’am. How’s the salad”
I’m startled, awakened from my reverie
I look down at my bowl
Where I had been traipsing
Thumb-nail small
In a fearsome fantasy
That my despairing mind had woven
In garden salad tapestry

Lettuce, tomatoes, olives and cheese
Untouched, unloved, salt-pepper doused
Waiting for a forkful raised to my mouth
Sit patronisingly, self righteously
In the bowl, staring back at me.

SHORT STORY | THE DNA LOTTERY – Part One

“Why did you have to tell Imtiaz we have a penthouse in London?” questioned Adarmard Unwala, red faced and wrathful.

His inquiry was shot like an arrow at his wife’s back which was turned towards him as she sat facing her dressing table mirror. He generally made these aft-aimed assaults because then he could say what was on his mind; or at least as much as he dared get away with. His wife, after one of these musters of initiative from him, quite completely usurped the offensive and let him have it back ten times more ferociously. She was then relentless, focused and quite triumphant in reducing him ego and all to his precise 5 feet, 5 inches. These backside jabs always seemed like a bad idea in hindsight. But Adar Unwala was the eternal optimist and he rallied with the buoyancy of a helium balloon in the prime of its flatus. Reduced and brought to heel for the moment, he would smile blotchily at his enraged wife, handing over the battle axe into her expert hands. Tajbano Unwala would deliver a final withering blow to his already chastised ego and then fling both axe and pique into the far corner of the room. There they would lie until the next time he picked them up, wobbling and mottling under their weight until he once again handed them gratefully back to her.

It was a good thing that neither Bano Unwala nor her husband held spousal grudges, or the end of their quarrels and the ebb and flow of life in general would have been worse than medieval torture. Quite entirely for Adar Unwala that is, who would have early on joined the ranks of the vanquished and deceased husbands who live on epileptically in the memories of their robust better halves. Bano would have prevailed of course and lived to tell the tale of her unending patience and fortitude.

So it was fortunate indeed that the couple quarreled in such perfect accord that while one gamely tossed up both their shares of invective and unholy suggestions into the fray, the other graciously fizzled all out. It was a match made in heaven … well, somewhere close to the cosmic limit of things.

Bano Unwala was a ship of a woman – 5’8” and magnificently girthsome. She carried her 150 kilos with the grace of a swan: bulbous limbs treading awkwardly but invisibly beneath yards of delicately billowing silk and chiffon. She was also the queen of her social realm and took full credit for all the fortuitous happenings in and around it. Whether it was a friend’s triple bypass that had gone roaringly well while she was resident at their home or the happy spell of rain that fell in the parched deserts of Dubai when she was visiting her sister, she was the unrivalled trustee and bequeather of the universe’s kindness in her environs. If the gentle patter of rain one day, however, was followed by a dust storm of epic proportions the next day that uprooted the shed and the dog kennel, sending them careening into the Arabian desert, well, that was squarely due to some faltering in the moral and ethical compass of her hosts. Something they had done to deserve this unholy wrath of which she too gamely and graciously partook with them, she would smile with moist eyes. Karma was quick and relentless she always said knowingly.

Adar had over his two decades with Bano, perfected his unreadable face: one which absorbed all but gave away nothing. For to pay attention was expected, but to disagree with his wife in company was tantamount to betrayal and would be dealt with likewise when he and Bano were alone. And so he would listen to his wife who in turn would enthral and terrify their friends and family with declarations of celestial favours and also of brimstone and hellfire. It was an oft performed, much loved scene delivered with queenly aplomb every single time. Bano didn’t socialize; she held court.

Adar Unwala was small and retiring. His life had been devoted quite entirely to being the second shadow of his formidable wife in the event that her own defected from under the sheer thunderousness of its owner. He was also the in-house punching bag and the inescapable other half of their marital equation. Adar Unwala cheerfully shouldered these various burdens, the optimism borne more out of habit and a tenacious will to live, than any obscure masochistic inclinations. He did in another lifetime, before being encircled in the hefty arms of marital bliss, have his brash and bold moments. But with time and the unflagging force of Bano, he had become quiet and wry. The former state of being made the latter quality especially prominent and entertaining. Adar Unwala didn’t have conversatons; he performed them.

Adar was also an avid reader. He was often driven to reading poetry which he discovered, was surprisingly effective in dispelling the clouds of gloom and doom that sometimes overtook him. It was not so much the substance of the verse, but the rhyme and meter that would slowly file off the sharp edges and bit by bit, let the sun into his soul again. His favourite genre however, one that he read when he was in full possession of his composure and his serenity, was memoirs of rags to riches industrialists and business tycoons. He read these tomes not so much to gain pithy insight into how to get rich. The Unwala coffers had been quite copiously overflowing for the past many generations. No, it was almost a catharsis in reverse psychology – how it would be to have nothing; to not be identified as one of the Unwalas or as Tajbano’s husband but simply as Adermard. His keen and extended perusal of the books to date however had led him to believe that most men liked being in the clutches of influence and power, and the occasional matriarch. As kismet would have it, he had gone into the sweeping embrace of the latter and had quite completely given up any delusions of the former. He had continued to read other men’s stories nevertheless, more for the occasional nuggets of bizarre personal eccentricities and foibles they sometimes threw at him. These he would then mull over with angst, awe or amusement, filling his time and his thoughts with existential what-ifs and wild imaginings. He loved his story time.

Bano and Adar had been together for twenty one years and had produced a happy hybrid of themselves in their son. Farshad had his father’s grey eyes and his mother’s unremitting gaze. He had also inherited his mother’s stature but by dint of hard work, had extricated himself from the legacy of her bulk. Still, he tended to carry himself like there were two of him. He was intelligent and self assured like his mother with a tendency towards an almost happy cynicism like his father. Everyone remarked about how he had won the DNA lottery.

Farshad Unwala hadn’t grown into adulthood; it had metamorphosed to fit him.

Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/22/the-dna-lottery-part-two/

VERSE | STRANGER THAN FICTION

I look at the book
Have I read it before?
It’s a throng of short stories
My favourite genre
I took it from the shelf
In my own home
So it has to be one of the
For-sure-read tomes
Still, as I glanced
At the back cover blurb
Nothing jumped out
Not a line, not a word
I looked at its front
Multi shades of grey
The image glimmered
In its dusky array

I opened the book
I had to recall
A story, a plot twist
A mystery resolved
In the 267 pages
I held in my hand
So I started reading
Page one, it began:
That day Alisha
Looked up at the sky
The purples and blues
Looked terribly awry …

The rest of the story
Unwrapped itself
As I glanced through page two
Of the book from my shelf
Yes I had read it
The memory crept in
Of ETs and UFOs
And otherworldly things

Of skittering creatures
That had huge heads
Full of insidious plans
To make us all dead
Or not! Even in fiction
They were polite
Giving us choices
Being forthright
Choices! Forthrightness!
Now those are things
That are as alien now as
Well … human beings!
Laughing, I put
The Sci-Fi away
Our own lives were stranger
Than fiction these days

VERSE | JUST ANOTHER FAIRYTALE

… Only because more and more it seems like the apple doesn’t fall far from its rotting, pestilential tree. But being the eternal optimist that I am, I’m hoping that a handful of the sons and daughters are at least questioning the political and entrepreneurial legacy they are inheriting from their thieving, deceiving, mobster parents and grandparents. But then I also think, who am I kidding! Still, here’s a verse which is probably farce by its very idealism.

I look at the statement 
That I have received
At the burgeoning wealth
In my off-shore company
I revel in the fact
That I’ve paid zero tax
To the exchequer of my home country.
“Remember your legacy and your roots”
I always say to my progeny
They will of course some day
Fill my stompingly ample boots

I see the smirk
On my son’s face
It always gets to me
In some weird way
“I’m involved in this
Complex enterprise
Always walking
On the edge of a knife!
For your sister and you
So get on the same page!
Boy, this churlishness
Is not a good look!
Show some gratitude!”
I thunder and rage

“You’re stealing from people
In thieving hoardes
Tradition and Legacy
Are just hollow words
If this is my ethos,
Why does it reek
Of insult, deception
Of sly treachery
I don’t want these roots
No, no thank you
These gnarled and twisted
Tendrils of greed!”
He looks at me
With storms in his eyes
Intimidating me
Cutting me down to size

He looks at the statement
That he has received
Of the plundered millions
In his off-shore company
He holds it gently
Almost reverently
Even as he upbraids
And tongue-lashes me
He now stares me down
I have to look away
But at least I found the courage
To finally have my say

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

VERSE | MONEY DEOL

A fond and fun tribute to all those who live in close quarters with Money Deols. May the universe keep sending you little kindnesses to make up for the relentlessness of your days 😄

I had this absolutely delicious dream 
Of floating amid pocketbooks laced with cream
Dollar bills and five thousand notes
Were sending their special bouquet up my nose

Morning came and I had to resign
Those exquisite dreams to the tides of time
But ever the optimist that I am
I know I’ll dream of riches again

Today after breakfast I meditated
On my bank balance in the United State-es
My heart skipped a beat, I had to be cautious
But oohhh! All that dough! So Expialidocious!

For lunch I had a sandwich and a coke
My mind wandered into another nook
Yes it was lined up and down with money bags
I was so overcome I almost gagged

Tea was a peaceful affair as the day waned
As I dipped in a biscuit my thoughts roamed again
My prime real estate and other things like it
Made each sip sweeter, each bite iconic

By dinner time the perfection of my day
Was marred only by the distance that lay
Between all my riches and my two hands
That lovely bond only wealth connoisseurs understand

My prayers were modest as they always are:
God please don’t ever take me far
From my beloved’s legally tender embrace
I bow to you, I request your benevolent grace

I then lay me down for another night
Of gilded dreams and green backed sights
I slowly drift off on precious wings
Made of savings certificates and treasury bills

VERSE | CHECKMATE

I’m in the throes of such exhaustion 
At all of this deception
This shameless commandeering
Of the resources of our nation
This unbridalled corruption
This lewd and shameless arrogance
This swagger, this ostentation
Like a monstrous pile of steaming
Shit!

I feel so much frustration
Such griping exasperation
At this propaganda, misinformation
At our barefaced prostration
To the lords of subjugation.
At our global commoditisation
At all this brazen exploitation
Like the hapless one who’s used to hearing
Checkmate!

VERSE | YE, CHIP OF THE OLD BLOCK!

I carry this thing, it sits on my shoulder
Some call it a chip; I call it my boulder
It gnaws at my insides, it makes for low blows
When I’m swirling around in its treacherous throes

I am sometimes deceitful when I feel its weight
Dignity and grace I cavalierly leave at the gate
If it tells me I’m worth nothing, that I’m wretchedly small
I’ll lash out blindly at one and all

I grew up believing this weight that I hold
Of inflated egos and machismo bold
Is an age old legacy that’s been bestowed
From father to son and from son down below.

With time, it has morphed into an ugly avatar
Sometimes the pricks of conscience are stark
But driven by habit and custom and time
I let my massive chip drag me into the grime

I’m weaving this rhyme when I’m feeling lucid
And can see the chip: festering and putrid
Most times though it pokes me with its manly muscle:
I could murder that person who honked at my Honda Vezel!

And so I go blundering and blustering through life
Ego in one hand; in the other an invisible knife
When my shoulder can’t bear the weight of the chip
I unburden, I plot and I rage. I’m insidious.