similar posts can be found here:
Time was a string of knots, a spiked wheel,
a seam that you could split and heal—
As a boy, reclining on horsehair
one morning on a train,
you watched the countryside,
a single light-filled frame
in which lives flickered, drawn forward
like a train along a track; you saw yourself,
suspended in a fractured, endless motion,
going, never going back.
Lauren Wilcox, The Moving-Picture Principle,The Paris Review, Summer 2004
AND then there was that band that had that song called the Loving Sounds of Static. Before then, I’d never thought of static as something that could be loving; beautiful, even.
And then I learnt the only thing I remember from high-school physics: that 2% of the static you hear on old radios as you turn the dial from station to station at sunset is primordial waves — remnants of the Big Bang destined to course forever more through the lonely spaces between the stars and I feel a bit strange knowing that, don’t you?
And the band was called Möbius Band and a Möbius strip is a band, too — not the musical kind — but kinda like the one you wear around your wrist except it has a twist in it so you can visit both sides — inside, outside — without lifting your finger.
And Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, famously, about the bittersweet songs of distant earth but he also wrote about a wall of darkness at the edge of an alien universe and I remember reading it twice in one go and wondering at the magic of it all, and wanting to be a writer, and that was about a Möbius strip, too.
And since then, that’s what I think of whenever I hear static on old radios: sci-fi and interstellar origins and whatever it is that lies just beyond the border of everything. But more and more, now, I think of those quiet evenings spent endlessly tracing a finger along the continuous surface of a band worn, once upon a time, by you.
This post was first published here, on the Ziauddin University Atlas Blog.
WHEN I was a boy and still believed in magic, I would frequent book fairs searching for the first poem I fell in love with. Some books, with their glossy covers, promised so much… but they never could live up to those glistening promises. Others were dingy paperbacks, coming apart at the seams and, while they were alright for a slow Sunday, they weren’t much good for much else. And so it was that I found myself at yet another book fair, picking my way through the endless shelves, careful to avoid the stacks of solemn textbooks, hoping to find it – whatever it was.
And there it was.
There was just one copy, standing upright on a small, empty table. And the cover was purple. Why the hell is it purple? I thought. I picked it up. It was a hardcover; a slim little volume printed in a timeless serif typeface. It seemed to be divided into short anecdotes, punctuated with gorgeous brush drawings. “A gift for distinguished men and a boon for the common”, it claimed. Cool. I hoped it wasn’t too expensive: I had just a bit of pocket money left. I took it to the counter. One hundred and thirty rupees, please. I fished around in my pockets. A red note – yes! That’s a hundred rupees! And… a bunch of tens, too! One, two, three. Perfect! I had the exact amount. Poor but happy, I returned home to see if this purple thing was worth the last of my lucre.
In the coming years, after I had read and re-read and folded and scribbled and underlined my copy of the Conference into tatters, I would look back on those one hundred and thirty rupees as the best one hundred and thirty rupees I had ever spent.
Ostensibly, the Conference of the Birds is about a epic quest by a group of birds to find their king. They journey across mountains and valleys and seas. They journey through the many gilded cities and rural backwaters of love. It’s about love. And the yearning in your tired, aching heart, late into the night, when all your desires melt away, save one.
Look, either the Conference of the Birds is the best book you’ll ever read, or it’s not. Great things are polarising that way. Anything else I say beyond this point will just ruin it for you. There’s only one way to find out and there always has been. Read the damn book.
This post was also published here, on the Ziauddin University Atlas Blog.
Man’s heart a river be
deeper in depth than the unfathomable oceans,
Ah! Who knows the wailing of the heart
in search of its Lord?
Sultan Bahu, d. 1691, (translated from the Punjabi bySayed Akhlaque Husain Tauhid i)
THERE is a stubborn Sohni in my soul who longs to cross the Chenab of two worlds to reach her beloved, Mahiwal. I refuse. She persists. I patiently explain how fragile my ghaṛiya; how vast—how turbulent—the waters. It is but a simple thing fashioned of simple, unbaked clay: how dare it aspire—ad astra—to the stars? She smiles at me and slowly shakes her lovely head.
A marvellous thing: as we watch the shoreline recede behind us—and the waters swirl higher, ever higher—my turbid heart settles for the first time since I was a boy of twelve and found that battered old copy of the Conference of the Birds and learnt of love and Love.
And together, my Sohni and I watch as ourMahiwal appears on the distant bank and dives into the waves and strikes out for our simple, fragile, star-seeking, little ghaṛiya.
(Still from the music video of Coke Studio’s “Paar Chanaan De” (Across the Chenab) by Noori ft. Shilpa Rao.)
A million years ago — as they sat by their little campfire — a father pointed out the constellations to his son. And the infinite night sky didn’t seem as intimidating anymore.
It’s the stories we grow up with that whisper the loudest within our hearts; they are the framework for our dreams; they pulse with the rhythm of our short, bright lives.
Thank you for giving me the stories that have made me who I am today. (Here is one of them.) Stories of social justice and dignity and equality. Stories of a divine love that is greater than the stars. And stories of who I was, who I am, and who I will be.
They are stories that will last a lifetime and I shall never tire of telling them.
Love you, forever and always.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd…
What is it, then, between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
THE best bit of Brooklyn Bridge isn’t the walk across it at sunset.
It isn’t the sparkling Manhattan skyline stretched out before you.
It isn’t the endless East Coast sky; beckoning, forever beckoning.
And it isn’t the quiet ships plying the dark waters of the Atlantic beneath you.
The best bit of Brooklyn Bridge is reading the little letters to tomorrow carved into the walkway by thousands of travellers.
Like the Lascaux cave paintings, they speak to a deep and profound human need to say:
I was here.
Strangers leave us poems to tell of those
they loved, how the heart broke, to whisper
of the religion upstairs in the dark,
sometimes in the parlor amid blazing sunlight,
and under trees with rain coming down
in August on the bare, unaccustomed bodies.
Jack Gilbert, Relative Pitch
THE Nostalgia of the Infinite has been my favourite piece of art for as long as I can remember.
I don’t know when I first saw it — perhaps it had something to do with the indie game, Ico — but none of that truly matters. What matters is this:
That there is a deep and yearning nostalgia within Man’s heart. He feels it flutter when he looks upon the endless sea. He feels it tighten when he gazes up at the beckoning stars. He feels it even when he is with the one he loves most in the world.
The heart yearns to mingle itself with the object of its desire and it can not and so it yearns to be whole. It has yearned since the dawn of consciousness and it yearns still with each (lub dub) and every (lub dub) beat.
For there was once a time when it was not so — the heart was whole and it knew no sorrow. But that time has long since passed and is but a half-remembered dream from a childhood siesta for ever ago. But men will do strange things to appease their half-remembered dreams. Alexander led his armies to the very edge of the world. Thousands died in the impenetrable rainforests of the Amazon searching for El Dorado. And in a town called Babylon, a man built the greatest tower ever built to look upon the Face of God. It has always been so.
But look closer.
There they are, in plain sight.
And, as they lean closer in the empty piazza, for a moment, their shadows become…