Too indifferent, disinterested
Too much but
Also not enough
These arrows used to fly
East and west
Between the bazaars and the mosques
Down and up
From my beating heart
To my silent mouth, forging
Right angles containing me
In burnished boxes glittering bright
But in the moorings
Of all these paradoxes writhing out
Like strident dirges from treacherous lyres
Howling of brimstone and hellfire
Now I hear only one thing
I only hear that one constant thing
In the refrains that ring
Thunder and break
I hear it sing:
In all that cacophony
In the clarion calls of propriety
Pounding, rounding endlessly
From the steeples of society
That is all I ever hear now
🌸 YOU ARE! 🌸 YOU ARE! 🌸 YOU ARE! 🌸
Yes I am! I finally am! This is me
And that is all I ever need to be.
VERSE | THE PASSION FLOWER VINE
Outside in the garden
There’s a Passion flower vine
Its little green tendrils
Have curled here and there
Where the shoots are fullest
Lushest, most verdant
They burgeon and grow
Weaving circles of rapture
Until they’ve spun around
Lighting up the chakras of life
And then just like that
Their work done
Of dancing in the sun
Inside the house
There’s a woman
Is tied up in a bun
She’s on the run
With little tendrils escaping
At the nape of her neck
She’s rushing upstairs
There’s a toddler emergency
And then she races like the wind
Into the kitchen
To make breakfast
And then she’s on the run again
Appointments, to-do lists, errands
And then back to cook and clean
To feed and coddle, kiss a bruised knee
The hours weave their set design
Finite, regimented, organized
But she has no sense
Of its texture or lines
The day is done and finally
She sits down for a while
Soft tendrils forming
At the nape - one, two, three
I hold my breath
I count the whorls in the curls
The longest one has six
I look away
A little thought flits up to me
Unexpectedly, a sign
Whispering secrets I don’t want to hear
Of endings on the whorl-bearing vine
She smiles at me tiredly
I wish, I wish fervently
That the curls that gather
Loosely around her neck
Is just hair soaked in sweat
In the labour of love
I pray, I pray silently
Into the depths of whatever’s out there
God, the universe, ethereal energy
For the moisture laden curls to weave
Their mystical circles for a few more years
Until they attest
To a life well-lived, joyfully
Until they wear their silver-grey majesty
Before they finally
Unspool in eternal rest.
VERSE | WALKING ACROSS THE STREET TO THE PARK
I wish this verse was more wholesome and whimsical like Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, but that it is not. This is about women determinedly forging on across streets, bazaars, workplaces, government offices, neighbourhoods and communities. This verse is also not so much about the woman hopeful of change (God knows that’s going to take its time in our blessed homeland), but the woman who is stoic and steadfast. It is the woman who goes about her day despite the odds that pull at her body, spirit and soul. It is the woman who dares to bare her true self despite and in fact because society expects otherwise. It is the woman who walks in her neighborhood afraid yet brave. May you find your grit and your grace for the rest of the days of your life.
A resolute, meaningful Women’s Day to all my friends and family 🌺
I wear my track pants
And a pink shirt, long
It says “Life is a song”
I wonder if it’s too loud
Stoking thoughts like a gong
To the world of men that teams about
For glimpses of variously clad
Women that are mad
Enough to sidle into the periphery of their sight
And special leery gazes
Trained like full-throttled tasers
On women who dare
More than the hand wrist down
Or a smidgeon of a toe around
Which sits an uncomfortable sandal
A Soleful reminder
To walk cautiously
To always look behind her
To shrink as small as she is able
So she might pass
With a warning glance
From the men sitting around
Jenetic Judges of right and wrong
For the women who dare
There’s a special gaze
For their fall from grace
From the fraternity that mills about
The corners of streets
Pissing in plain sight
Marking their territories
For the women who dare to bare
More than the eyes
Vacuous and pure
For them there’s the death stare
Cutting them down to size
I’m one of those
Who - Dares - To - Bare
The woman within
The whole human being
Self assured, aware
She sits in my eyes
Even as her heart drums inside
As she traverses that den
Of wolves, dressed as men.
VERSE | FIRE QUEEN
There’s a girl in the sunset
Her hair is ablaze
Her dupatta streams
In the arid breeze
I can’t see her face
I catch my breath
She stands there still
I see the horizon seethe and rage
Scorch her in its red-hot rampage
I close my eyes
I’m afraid to look
Afraid to see the heavens burn
Afraid to see the ashes blown
Of the girl that is standing there alone
My stinging eyelids fly open, I see
She’s still there
She looks back at me
The blaze of the sun
Now a shimmering red
Halo around her head
Like a crown
She won’t go down
When her world careens
When her world burns all around
Grey smoke rising from the sea
Of charred, asphyxiated dreams
She stands there serene
She gathers the light around her being
She smiles, she gleams
She is the fire queen.
BOOK READING | RIOTOUS LOVE
Reading from my book of short stories, “THE GIRL WITH THE PAISLEY DUPATTA”. The book is available at Sarasavi, Barefoot, Jam fruit Tree, Expographics and Pendi in Sri Lanka and at Readings, Liberty Books and Paramount Books in Pakistan.
Many of the stories in this book are from outside the bell curve of our lives, embracing sensitive social elements that are spoken of either in subdued whispers or not at all: from the brutal vigilante justice dispensed in the name of religion in “The Gods of Fury”; to the harrowing custom of honour revenge in the “Sins of our Fathers”; to the patriarchal ruthlessness that so many young women are subjected to in the title story “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta”.
Some of the other stories are of women and men negotiating life, love, friendship, careers and tradition in the sometimes tumultuous and many times limiting folds of their families and their communities: from the enterprising love affair of 61 year old Nighat in “Love in Rawalpindi”; to the shenanigans of a dancing queen in “Riotous Love”; to the complicated friendship between two middle aged unmarried society girls in “Days of Purgatory”.
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.
SHORT STORY | RAAT KI RANI* – Part Two
Raza Murad was what is universally known as a “confirmed bachelor”. In the South Asian context however, this is a misnomer since no man is ever over the hill and there is always a good, respectable bahu* to be had. Raza Murad however, had tended to go with the universal meaning of the term and had kept swarms of eager aunties at bay, armed as they were with proposals for their daughters and with time, for themselves too. Raza Murad was in fact, in a whimsical twist of fate, a doppleganger of Waheed Murad, the quintessential chocolate hero of the 60s and 70s Pakistani cinema. Despite an abundance of ingredients for leaving a long line of bruised and broken hearts in his wake, 60 year old Raza had only ever been in two relationships. The first had been with a man. There had been no physicality there (except for one time in the beginning of the companionship). They had lived together for ten years and then his partner had succumbed to congestive heart disease.
The second relationship had started when he was forty five, and had culminated in a six year marriage. There were no children – he couldn’t have them. She had left him when she had got the opportunity to immigrate to Canada. He had stayed behind not so much because he had opted to, but because she had.
For the last decade or so, Raza Murad had been living alone and tending to his little farm in Bedian, a mostly agricultural area about 30 kms from the Lahore city centre. His farming enterprise which had started out as a hobby, was now a lucrative little business, financing the upkeep of his home and his pet indulgence: rare editions of books by Urdu writers; his trio of first editions of the works of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ismat Chughtai and Ibn-e-Insha were his pride and joy. With time, a modest little library had sprung up around these three mighty pillars. The fourth prop was built somewhat bashfully but prolifically from his own attempts at satire and romance. In the spirit of a true literary purist, he tried to keep the two genres largely separate but there were many instances where before he was quite aware, they had coupled to form a sometimes absurd and sometimes comical tapestry of odes and comeback-odes. It was a cathartic endeavour for the generally low key Raza Murad.
Most of Raza Murad’s farm produce made its way to the Sabzi Mandi*. He had also set up a stall at the Good Market that was held in Defence every Saturday. Here he sold avocados, litchi and jaman which were bought fast and furiously by the ladies who strolled in their dozens through the market to sight-see and socialise.
Raza Murad met Haniya when she and her children had moved into his rental property in Model town about a year ago. He was instantly taken in by the woman with the big brown eyes and the quiet manner. She even had a flick of grey hair, exquisite in its placement: gently traversing the distance from her widow’s peak to behind her left ear, and in its singularity: the one and only shot of grey in her otherwise dark brown hair. He knew it was a beautiful foible of nature but in its perfection, it could have been wrought by the deft machinations of a hairdresser given to the classic whimsy of old world charm.
Over the next few months, he had visited Haniya on some repair related pretexts a few times. These were undertaken to more fully understand what he felt rather than in any subtle rituals of courtship. After a decade of being alone, he wanted to make sure this sudden, unexpected urge for her company was not in fact some late-aged infatuation. It wasn’t, he had realized. That was when in a fit of organic creativity, he had decided to carry a carton full of the fruit and the vegetables of his labour to Model town every Tuesday. Haniya had been surprised that he did home deliveries, to which he had mumbled something about fickle shelf life and customer satisfaction. The weekly fruit and vegetable deliveries had over the last few months morphed into Tuesday afternoons of easy conversations, gentle laughter and the doing away of burdensome labels like bhai* and behen*.
The bell rang just as Haniya had washed and put away the lunch dishes. She adjusted her dupatta, took a quick almost furtive peek at herself in the little mirror near the entrance and went to open the gate.
“I’ve brought you lychees today. They’re delicious. You and the children will enjoy them” said a smiling Raza as Haniya opened the gate for him. Her eyes danced as she smiled in happy acknowledgment, more from the pleasure of seeing him rather than the anticipation of lychees for dessert that night. Still with the happy tingle in her spine, she suddenly asked him to drive his cultus into the house. Now his eyes were dancing too. While he got back into the car to drive into Haniya’s home, she looked away for a minute, to calm herself. What is wrong with you? You have two grown up children! she chided herself, willing the sobriety of the reminder to discipline her wildly beating heart. But in the next instant, she was grinning widely again. She chuckled at the rebelliousness of her own emotions, feeling like an adolescent with a secret crush. Hers had been Sean Connery … and Waheed Murad. She lifted the corner of her dupatta to her mouth to hide the laughter that was now bubbling in her throat.
Raza glanced at Haniya as she looked away, lightly covering her face with her dupatta. He wondered if she was in fact already regretting her knee jerk invitation for him to drive into the house. He sat in the car and looked away for a few seconds to give her time to compose herself, to make up her mind.
“Are you going to keep sitting there or are you going to come out ji*? If you do come out, I can make us some tea”.
While Haniya and Raza sipped on hot tea, sitting on the steps of the little veranda outside with a carton between them bursting with yellows, greens and reds, Laiba watched from inside. She felt an odd sensation in the pit of her stomach as she saw her mother …. flirting with a man. She has a right to live her own life, a part of her reasoned quietly. But the part of her that looked on with a premonition of doom and even mild disgust gathered in strength and moral outrage. By the time Raza departed thirty minutes later leaving behind a medley of fresh produce and a little song in Haniya’s heart, Laiba was seething with righteous anger. That evening she refused to come out for dinner and the next morning she had left the house before Haniya had woken up.
“Amma, we need to talk” said Ali quietly when mother and son were sitting in the lounge after dinner the next day. Haniya looked at her son with a steady gaze. Her daughter’s complete boycott of her since the previous evening had prepared her for the talk, the reminder of respectability.
“That man who comes to deliver vegetables ….”
“Raza Murad is his name” Haniya interjected gently while still looking directly at Ali.
“Yes, him. What’s going on Amma?”
“Nothing is going on beta*. He delivers vegetables and we have a conversation”
“And that’s all?” asked Ali, his face now blotchy with indignation as well as the embarrassment of having this conversation with his mother.
So like his father he looks …the thought whispered through Haniya’s mind even as she focused on her own composure.
“That’s all beta”.
That’s all Haniya said to herself too. That is all.
“Is that all?” Raza asked Haniya when she called him a few days later to ask him not to come for the next fortnight; she and her family were going out of town.
“Yes … that’s all“, she said by way of ending the conversation.
“Ok, let me know when you are back …”
“Yes … I’ll call you … we’ll get in touch when we are back”. She ended the call, feeling morally upright, while the cloak of respectability tightened around her, squeezing her, reducing her so she could keep fitting into the blessed box.
Respectable but boxed in. Wanton but free. Respectable … wanton … respectable … shameless … free … shameless —
She breathed in deeply to still the suffocating thoughts that were ricocheting through her head; to dislodge the tension that had built up like a wall in her chest. She then blinked twice, three times while looking straight into the heart of the glimmering horizon.
That evening Haniya sat on the steps of her veranda looking at the jasmine that was growing in the far corner of the little garden. It was resplendent with sweet smelling flowers. They were her favourite flowers – always abundant and always redolent. Faizan used to like their fragrance too and would often bring in a handful when the shrub was abloom in their old home. Raat ki rani for my raat ki Raani he used to say to her, the mixture of humour and intimacy making her redden and laugh. She would put them in a bowl full of water and gradually their delicate fragrance would fill the whole room. She smiled at the memory that had, like the scent of the night blooming jasmine, gently assailed her.
She and Faizan had planted a shrub in their old house twenty years ago and it had grown and settled in their garden spreading its sweet bouquet around their home for over fifteen years. Throughout the hot months, it had sprung into a throng of flowers, like a snow mirage in the corner of their summer-baked garden. One summer, a year or so after Faizan had passed away, it had just stopped flowering and by winter it had withered away. She had refused to plant anything there, mourning in equal measure, her dead garden companion and her deceased husband. The empty space in the corner of the garden became an oddly cathartic reminder of the emptiness in her heart.
When she had moved into her new home a year ago, she had in the throes of new beginnings and old memories, planted a jasmine sapling in the garden. It had over the last year, grown and flourished, and was now riotous in its first efflorescence.
Haniya looked at the blooming, burgeoning shrub for a while; its vitality was almost palpable in the deepening shadows of dusk. She went towards the plant and plucked a handful of the flowers. She breathed in their sweet scent, full of freshness and newness. She inhaled deeply and then buried her face in their velvety softness. She stayed that way for a minute, maybe two and then looked up, smiling. The shapes and textures of her feelings, that for so long had been put away like wedding joras* their time and place having come and gone once and for all, now gathered again bright and beautiful in her heart. She reached for them in the sweet fragrance of the jasmine, as she brought her flower-strewn palms up to her face again. She felt her heart swell with a cresting, suffusing joy as it released its own sweet petrichor.
She loved her children but she knew she could be more than a mother and a grandmother, and so much more than this shadow of herself that she had become.
There in the gathering dusk, amid the jasmine blossoms, she felt the warm effusion of all that she had yet to give, and also the soft, malleable space in her heart where she could yet receive. She would be like the jasmine: redolent in its garden bed, fragrant in a bowl of water and tender in the warmth of the hands. Just like the vital little flowers bloomed again and again, cradled in the arms of nature and the universe, so could she. So would she.
Read Part One here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/06/25/raat-ki-rani/
* Raat ki Raani: The night blooming jasmine. Literally the term means “queen of the night”.
* Bahu: Bride/ daughter in law in Urdu.
* Sabzi Mandi: Wholesale vegetable market
* Bhai: Brother in Urdu
* Behen: Sister in Urdu
* Ji: A general term of respectful acknowledgment
* Beta: Son in Urdu
* Jora: Dress/ outfit
SHORT STORY | RAAT KI RANI* – Part One
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 because 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 upon 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.
“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.
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.
This emotional tug of war had of late often and passionately hurtled and leaped within her, with sometimes one and sometimes the other side coming out stronger. Haniya now 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. Despite her vivid imagination which often took her away on cathartic flights of fancy, she had for all practical purposes, fitted herself into the box of widowhood that was resoundingly set at her door when her husband had passed away. She had then dutifully also 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.
Read Part Two here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2022/07/04/raat-ki-raani-part-2/
* 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 | 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
* 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.
VERSE | ALONE, JAWAB-E-SHIKWA*
I laugh unabashedly, from the belly out
Someone has said something absurd
They all watch me in derision and doubt
This woman who shouldn’t be seen or heard
She speaks! What social license does she bear?
She’s no debutante, she’s no political heir
Yet she comes to these exclusive soirées
And instead of blurring, fading away
Into the background, this upstart lets down her hair
I walk out gaily, dressed like a queen
I bump into my neighbour, the virulent Sameen
Her face already garbed in a smug smile
She says “Where to Maha? So dressed to kill?”
I laugh loudly, her smile falters a bit
“Just to the market, to get some things
A shirt from Sapphire, two thootis* of kheer*
A tub of it’s-none-of-your-business-my-dear
Is there something you would like me to bring?
I’ve been alone these twenty five years
But I’ve never been lonely, I decided that early
I surmounted my doubts conquered my fears
It wasn’t easy, it took a few years
It took some lonesomeness, some vanishing acts
From folks I called friends and even family who cracked
Under the pressure of seeing me break out
Of the box built for me by the socially devout
But I dug in my heels, I wasn’t going back
Now there are friends and well wishers anew
In all that chaff, I found these gems too
They give me hope, they let me be me
It’s been food for my soul, this honesty
I know who I am and who I want to be
And it’s not a reflection of what society
Has plotted and planned for someone that swerves
Through fate or design, outside its bell curve
I’m contented, eccentric and oh so happy!
* Jawab-e-Shikwa: “Shikwa” (Complaint in Urdu) and “Jawab-e-Shikwa” (Response to Complaint) are poems written by the poet Mohammad Iqbal. They are known for their lyrical beauty and depth of thought
* Thooti: a small clay saucer in which some Pakistani and Indian desserts are sold in order to keep them cool and fresh
* Kheer: rice pudding in Urdu
VERSE | ALONE
I’m alone … but I’m not really alone
In all the ways that don’t matter
That shouldn’t matter, I’m never alone
In all the ways that I need someone
In all the ways of being human
I’m alone. There is no one.
It wasn’t always like this, this lonesomeness
It came on slowly as time went by
As I transitioned, nay devolved
Dislodged from the blessed marital fold
From a wife to a wretched divorcee
From a daughter to a social deportee
I couldn’t be the woman he’d conceptualised
His wife to be. Already fantasizing
He was in heaven itself, spoilt for choice
By the virgins lined up in waiting
For him to pick one or four to be his own
I got picked first, then I got disowned.
I’ve been alone these twenty five years
Fading ever more into the background
As time trudges on with heavy treads
My aura fades, my voice has no sound
I tried to talk louder at first to be heard
But the booming voices of the world
Were louder still, my voice was drowned
Now I sit alone marking time
For when the cosmos sees fit to smile
In a new welcome; in a final decline
I see people but they see me not
They saw me only when I came out
Of the box, against the tide of tradition
Then there was outrage, there was derision
I don’t go out anymore nor do I
Try to be bigger than the box fitted for me
I sit in it quietly, patiently
Lonely oh so lonely … but not really
In all the ways that shouldn’t matter
Im not alone. They all watch me
In all the ways that would make my heart sing
I’m alone, waiting for the final curtain.
VERSE | WHY?
Why? She asks me why do I
Not get to do the things that he
Does so freely, so independently
Cavorting with opportunities
Expanding his experience of the world
That we both live in; why just he?
Why? She asks me why am I
Held back by you and the others
The elders of the family
The uncles and the brothers
For my own good I’m told
Walled in like Rapunzel, from the world?
Why? She asks me why can’t I
Go out on my own. Why can’t I
Even stay alone at home?
Why have I been singled out
Among my siblings as the burdensome one
The ill-fated sister among the men?
Why? She asks me have you built
These rules to limit my existence
Holding me back, making me doubt
Myself, my being, my purpose in life
Strangling my dreams to always stand
Centuries behind a boy or a man?
Why? She asks me why are you
Complicit in this chauvinistic ruse?
Why did you learn to become small
To deliberately set yourself up for a fall?
You were better than everyone
A hero …. No a heroine!
You my mother, the architect
Of dreams, of hopes and even homes
Why did you let it all go?
Why are you expecting me to do
The same, be a wraith of myself
A fragile decoration on the shelf
Until I become someone’s wife
Until you can pass on the keys of my life
To someone else … to some man else
Why? She asks me as the tears well
In eyes that see the truth of the world
That see the expanse of her wretched road
That is why they killed them all off
The babies, the girls born centuries ago
There was divine justice in that
Saving them from a world that sat
In Judgement, in anger, in self pride
Over girls that survived the infanticide
Tell me mother, why was I
Born a woman into this life?
Why was I born into this home
My dignity defaced, my wings shorn?
Why do I feel like to get a fair try
At life, another life, I first must die?