VERSE | KIDNEY-STONED

There’s an ache in my kidneys 
It’s stuck fast to me
It seems to go deeper
Than just physically

When I least expect it
The pain creeps up on me
Like a divine messenger
Whispering its prophecy

I clutch my aching flesh
On my left or my right
I press desperate fingers
On the tormenting side

And then I hear the words
As they form in my head
The pain cannon-balling them
Into shooting threads

It’s a manifestation of
Trying hard to fit in
Of being torn to pieces
Every single day within

It’s the gathering storm
On every page in my feed
Of a debt-propelled suicide
Of a billionaire’s feast

It’s the hungry eyes
That sit in their deathly sockets
It’s the bloated engines
Of Mars-bound rockets

It’s people breaking out of
Society’s pristine box
To be trodden underfoot
By the conventionally orthodox

It’s the clamour of politics
Economics and faith
It’s the thousand new ways
We resent and we hate

These barbs sit inside me
Each waiting its turn
They’ll wound and they’ll lance me
Until they’re felt and they’re heard

There’s an ache in my kidneys
Of a tragedy that’s new
Or one that’s lingered awhile
And now is screaming its truth.
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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 | 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 | 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 | OUR HUMANITY-FREE DIET

I’m in Karachi after two and a half years of Pandemic gridlocks, and it’s been a whirlwind of a homecoming. Besides grappling with the major and minor curveballs that my micro and macro environments tend to throw at me off and on, I have also been able to indulge in some nostalgia: found my little book in which I’ve put down a few poems that I’d written in my teens. Even at that tender age, external stimuli hit hard! 😅 Below is one of my verses from my adolescent days.

I was walking through the woods one day
With my thoughts in a turmoil
Oblivious to nature was I -
To the trees and the grass and the soil

I was attempting to decipher
The meaning of strife and war
Was it political agitation
For the enforcement of a law?

Or was it as I believed the cause
Of a moment’s disarray
Of a value old as age itself -
The simple Human Way

Where was the compassion that
Bespoke the worth of one?
Had the shield of dignity and love
Been replaced by the gun?

Where was the pride in good deeds
Where was the humility?
Was everything really shrouded by
The veil of frailty?

Frailty of causes
And frailty of sense
Had the once true noble values
Become a mere pretence?

I was looking for the answers
I was seeking a refuge
From the grief and the confusion that
Had overcome me like a deluge

It was then that I heard whispering
The soil, the grass, the trees
“You already have the answers
Now you only have to see

When man was made a brother
Unto the other one
The moulding of a sacred
Tradition had begun

So when war threatens to break this bond
Their spirit shall hold them fast
For that was always meant to be
Unto the very last”.

VERSE | DO YOU REMEMBER?

Do you remember when you felt the blood
Gushing through your body
You felt it etch into your being
All the kindness, courage and love
That you thought you could ever feel
And your heart sang!

Do you remember how your breath
Caught in your throat. The sheer shock
Of those emotions rocking you inside
You felt so overwhelmed that your tear ducts
Felt the strain. You blinked your wet eyes
And your heart sang!

You looked straight ahead
The wave kept rising in your chest
You felt like you were everything
That you were meant to be. Your atoms ricocheted
With those around you. Nature played
A little bit of handball as she caught
Your atoms in her hands and passed her own to you
And your heart sang!

Do you remember feeling like this was
The perfect moment in your time
In your space, in your place
And everything had come together that day to remind you
That your heart was aligned with all
That defined you as the happiest version of yourself
And oh your heart, it sang!

You don’t remember - not really. Neither do I. I mean
I remember the warmth in my being, the love flowing out
In waves, in rivers. A oneness with the essence of the world
But beyond that, I can’t remember; I can’t evoke the feeling
Something has gone awry, something has been lost
Along the way
But I still see its ghost flitting
Vaguely passing before my eyes when I am still
But my heart, it doesn’t sing.

VERSE | SCHIZOMEDIA

I Laugh Out Loud as I hear him tell the joke
Of the 12 inch pianist who was quite the coincidental bloke
She Twittered delightedly out loud and on her phone

We were out and about, having coffee and conversation
About Freedom of Religion and Marijuana regulation
Facebook also heard it all through her joyful proclamation

The waiter brought our food in style, ‘here you are madam!’
He and I had pizza, she had salad with J. Statham*,
(The pleasure of his photo presence she could only fathom!)
But Instagram was hit with #handsomeboy and #foodgasm

We were done with lunch now, chatting over cherry flan
When there was a bustle and in walked Fawad Khan*
Of course she put the video on Snapchat for all her fans

Three hours later, satiated, our day updated digitally
While saying goodbye, he tripped outside and fell on the concrete
TikTok later showed us all how hilarious tragedy can be.

And there you have it, dear friends and frenemies
Our lives on a platter for all the world to see
A Schizo-polar history for our bedevilled progeny.
* Jason Statham: An English actor and producer. Typecast as an antihero, he is known for action-thriller films and portraying tough, irredeemable, and machiavellian characters.

* Fawad Khan: a popular Pakistani drama and film star.

VERSE | THE KNOCK KNOCK JOKE WITH A MENTAL TWIST

Written amidst the mind-numbing perils of never ending curfew lockdowns. Read at your own mental risk 🤓

Tak taka tak - Tak Tak
Kaun hai bhai bata ab tak

CHINA!

CHAI NA girana babu
Bari tarpay tarpay tarpay
Meri leg not so halkay halkay

Knock knockity! Knock Knock
Who’s there, before I click back the lock

ZEBRA!

ZE BRA in France is black or white
Practical and just hugging one right
And if you feel the added zeal
Add some colour, like lilac and teal.

Tap ti tap tap - Tap Tap
Who is it? That was a fine rap

LIZARD!

LIZ ‘EARD you call her “mighty stout”
You really put your foot in your mouth!
She may be big but she’s got style
She’ll make you eat your words for a mile

Ding da ding ding- Ding Dong
Who is it? Come sing us a song

RHINO! O-O! O…OOOO!

Mr. RAI, NO we will not do this
Mrs Rai yes it’s all the craze
Rainbow coloured hair for you
And I will go for baby blue

Clap de clap clap - Clap Clap
Who goes there? Who gives my door a thwack?

‘Tis me MAYNA!

MAY NA bhoolonga
MAIN NA bhoolongi
My nemesis is bharta de cauliflower
And mine is garbanzo beans!

Open the door for salvation
Open the door for your soul
Who … who’s there?
‘Tis me your moral sense,
Call me your conscience
No punning, rhyming words here
No weighty equations.
Just you and me and clarity
That’s been lost too long at sea

I’m deaf! I’m deaf! I can’t hear you
Ps. I’ve not seen any clarinet either! (Hehe!)
So the door stays closed, barred and locked
Not opening any windows neither!
Go elsewhere, go where you can be heard
The (h)earless are quite rampant here
Don’t come knockity knocking upon my door
Amd I’ll pretend as if you were never here - dear!

Conscience! Right! Where’s the pun in that!

OPINION | THE AFGHANISTAN CONUNDRUM

US Hegemony, Its Lingering Pakistan/ Afghanistan Embarrassment and now a Taliban Government

It was the early 80s. I still vividly remember as a child, standing on the side of the iconic Mall road in Murree (a mountain resort town situated about 30kms northeast of Islamabad in Punjab, Pakistan, and also home to a number of missionary boarding schools) with compatriots from my school and others, waving little Pakistani and American flags as President Zia ul Haq accompanied by the then US Vice President, George H. W. Bush (Bush Senior) drove by in their endless cavalcade of black luxury sedans. For us it was a joyous day out of the regular rigour of boarding school life; for Pakistan it was the beginning of the end of its Rising Star status in the region.

Pakistan, so geostrategically well situated to catalyse the downfall of the Soviet empire- the one thorn in the side of the Americans and the only obstacle to an all out USA dominated planet- was requested to become Ally Numero Uno. And we complied in the then considered most shrewd and cunning manner – through religiously radicalising, arming and mobilising an entire nation in a war that was to turn in on itself for decades after the USSR fell. By God, did we comply! And for very little in return. A statesman at the helm of affairs at the time (or even a half-way successful businessman like Donald Trump armed as he is with his career collage of bankruptcies), rather than a religiously devout military man like Zia Ul Haq, would have at least got us better trade deals to help shore up the economy once the dust of battle settled. But these are wishful conjectures…and the rest as they say, is history.

Soviet Russia sputtered and fell and the USA couldn’t get out of the region fast enough, leaving two countries with populations in the area of 130 million (circa 1992) to clean up the mess. But radical religion has a way of festering, sometimes out of sight, and emerging multiplied, more virulent, more destructive and deadlier than before. And that has been the dubious Vestige of Alliance bestowed on the two countries, the “rewards” of which we are continuing to grimly reap. Kabul, once considered the Paris of the East, is now a wraith of its former self, and the country has been declared a failed state. Pakistan itself has been teetering on the edge of the abyss of Pariah States. It’s people have undergone decades of global dismissal at best and damnation at worst. Despite being the fifth most populous country in the world and a nuclear power, it has fallen behind all its compatriots on almost every index of progress, prosperity and nationhood. The war on terror in fact, has purportedly cost the Pakistani economy a total of almost USD 130 billion since 2001.

And now in a not entirely shocking but surprising turn of events, Afghanistan has fallen to the Taliban. I’m not even sure anymore as to how appropriate the term “fallen” is in this case. After all, for 40 years, the country was propped up by mostly US military might and the puppet government that it supported. The powers that be, were quite completely ignorant of the real dynamics of the region: the centuries old tribalism, the multicultural factionalism. They were attempting to colour Afghanistan with the same brush that they have done in almost all of their other failed military endeavours of the 20th and 21st centuries. They were trying to homogenise the country; bring it to heel via a myopic vision that they thought was applicable to all the tribes, all the different kinds of people that made up the rich social and cultural fabric of Afghanistan. They failed, utterly and completely.

The below are a few key reasons for this most recent watershed moment in the country:

⁃ The average Afghan, (mean age: 20 years) having lived in a state of mostly active war, has developed an innate distrust of its sham government and its “enablers” (the West). They see the country as having been taken over, “invaded” by the US; and that has never been a sustainable state of affairs for the proud, sovereign Afghan people. And so, after 40 years of occupation, many in the beleaguered country preferred to opt for the dystopic, ultra orthodox approach of the Taliban since it also brought with it freedom from the invading forces. There was thus, a perfect storm created at the centre of which was the formidable desire for self determination.

⁃ The last 20 years have purportedly seen billions of dollars siphoned towards the Afghan cause. But when you have a country with no economy to speak of, no development and no nation building, the aid tends to find its way into the local pockets of the crooked and the powerful. And so it has been with Afghanistan with very little of the aid finding its way to the communities at large. Investing in building trade and industry would have been the optimal way to make real, effective inroads into the lives of the people. But that requires sitting down with the people, understanding them and working with them at grass root levels. That was never the agenda of the US. They wanted things done their way backed by the full force of their military might. Which brings me to the third point.

⁃ The average Afghan also saw that there was massive corruption in the government, among the very people who were supposed to lead them out of their war-driven poverty. Over the past 40 years, a complete and utter trust deficit had grown between the people and their “infidel-supported” puppet government – there was no fifth, sixth or twentieth chance left to give to their leaders; no opportunities for do-overs by their government. And so, the exit of the allied troops also served as the inflection point for their exploitative, demoralised leadership to be overturned. That the Taliban were doing the overturning was inconsequential. At the end of the day, they in all their perverse, radical glory, were still their fellow citizens, their brothers in arms.

And so it was, that on a balmy August day in 2021, Afghanistan was once again a free country. Bizarre as it sounds given who freed the proud Afghan people, that for them, is the inalienable truth.

The million dollar question now is how the brand new Afghan sovereignty will be managed by the Taliban leadership. It is important to note that they as a faction, are also older, wiser and more cognisant of global norms, ethics and diplomacy. They are aware also that they are no longer a rag tag militia group hiding in caves and living on the edge with no clear and sustainable vision or mission. They have been catapulted against all odds (or indeed because of them!) into the role of the leaders of their homeland. They know they’ve outgrown the plundering, riotous band of robbers and murderers that they were. They know they now have the formidable task of the leadership and governance of almost 40 million people. The Taliban are aware that almost overnight they have morphed into statesmen.

The million dollar question beckons again: how are the Taliban going to go about being national leaders who will also be welcome on International platforms? A state that other countries will engage with on trade, diplomacy, military/defense, intelligence and foreign aid? They know they cannot exist as a dystopian island unto themselves; even if they have the inclination, they don’t have the means.

The early glimmerings in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban takeover indicate that it can go either way: their spokesperson is articulate and willing to share their points of view and to be questioned by mainstream international media. So far, the sound bites have been almost liberal by historical Taliban standards.

While I, as a woman, would not want to be a citizen of the newly independent state, I would still pause before summarily dismissing the new regime. We are living in strange times where no nation can lay claim anymore to being more righteous than the rest and presume to lead the natives out of their ignorance (everyone now has public skeletons in their History closets). These are also times where global ethics and policies are constantly being reshaped by the voices of the people of the world as they look for the truth; as they learn to separate the chaff from the grain on the information super highway.

While everything right now points to the country being pulled back into the dark ages, while our knee jerks are all about reclaiming the land back from the Taliban, we need to pause. We need to wait and watch. Like I said, we are living in strange times and while we continue to champion human rights, to raise our voices for the basic freedoms of every citizen everywhere, we still need to be aware that the one size of the western democratic ideal doesn’t fit all.

Closer to home, countries like Pakistan, Russia, China and Iran have a direct stake in this new equation since any militant activity will tend to spillover into these countries either in the form of terrorism or refugees or both as has been the unfortunate case in Pakistan. Now is the critical juncture where all the allies (and the adversaries!) in the region need to come together to make this transition in the Afghan government as seamless as possible, while also ensuring that the small steps made towards modernization and individual emancipation in the country over the last few years, are not completely decimated by the new orthodox Islamist regime.

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OPINION | FAITH

Faith: more and more, a tenuous ideology as it has traditionally existed. Increasingly, we are seeing how conventional belief systems are becoming less and less able to minister to the spiritual needs of believers at large.

As our spheres of existence evolve, leaping and bounding into the digital age; as we progressively become part of a smaller and smaller global village, we are also increasingly being faced with unprecedented challenges in terms of how we interact with the communities we live in, and others around the world. More and more we see how intolerance, hate and suffering are being directly perpetrated in the dubious paths of organized belief systems. The way I see it, we have slowly but surely lost our humanity to the relentless machinations of modern day religious powerhouses.

What is Faith then, in the current times? What does it mean to be devout and devoted? Is it a copious measure of ritual practice while the heart continues to race in fear and the mind is a cacophony of discord in times of trial? Is it the demonstration of exalted acts performed in the way of glorifying one’s particular belief system which, at its very core, is selfish and ungenerous? Where every “good deed” is performed on a quid pro quo basis: you are charitable primarily so YOU can go to heaven, and not because someone is needy – (that’s just a circumstantially advantageous outcome). You go to church and to the mosque so YOU can get into the Almighty’s good books so YOU can skip into Eden, not because you have the well- being of your community at heart. All, spiritually depleting ideologies of faith practised solely from a fear of consequences, rather than the simple desire to embody and celebrate our humanity.

What is it then, to truly believe? Could it be simply, the genuine attempt to be the best version of oneself spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically? To be able to look within to become a force for good without? To be able to think for oneself more and to rely less on the divisive narrative of neo-evangelists? Is it to finally pay fit tribute to our innate “God-given” spiritual and mental prowess? To finally breaking through the webs of intrigue and confusion woven by self serving belief systems and sifting through the spiritual antimatter for ourselves.

Look around you. Nature itself has manifested how irrelevant caste, creed and racial differences are. How even more insignificant religiously wrought community and political boundaries are: The recent Corona virus pandemic didn’t pick political or religious sides. No one was beyond the reach of its pestilential nature. Why then are we not heeding what we instinctively know to be true: That our shared humanity is bigger than any individual religion. That our communal joys and sorrows are more spiritually potent than any Sunday service or Friday ‘Khutba’*. That together we are a stronger, better, more spiritually evolved species than we are when projecting our differences of Faith. At the end of the day, the very essence of all religions is entrenched not only in equality, kindness and charity among “our own flock”, but in thoughtfully and inclusively channeling these attributes to ensure one becomes a more universal force for good.

It is time. Time to break through the inertia and the paralysis of our different religions; of the illogical but deeply ingrained ways we are taught to hate one another. It is time to start having the difficult but essential discussions on renewing and revitalising our counter intuitive belief systems. It is time to take back our hijacked/ distorted ideologies of belief and once again breathe the essence of universal humanity into them.

* Khutba: publicly held formal sermon, especially delivered after the communal Friday prayers in the Islamic religion.