Prose

(Why I Love) the Nostalgia of the Infinite

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. 

(two)

And, as they lean closer in the empty piazza, for a moment, their shadows become…

(one)

Giorgio de Chirico, The Nostalgia of the Infinite (Paris, 1911)

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Prose

Amor / Addiction

a photograph is all that lasts long

with glory years and quiet fears gone

when summer days are far away

you can dream of skies and lover’s eyes

blue

Shoecraft, Eyes, Blue 

OF all the addictions that may plague a man, an addiction to love is the trickiest addiction to have. This is due to the singular fact that one can not buy love in the marketplace. If one could, that would be another matter entirely and we would not be having this conversation for I would be in the marketplace but we are, and I’m not, for it is — truly, insufferably — priceless.

Its effects are astounding. It can take a boy of fifteen — a promising young lad with a first-rate mind and sound disposition — and render him anaesthetised to worldly pursuits. The worlds of commerce and politics and sport are forever more left grey and drab to him. The gold stars of society no longer mean anything to him. He has glimpsed a world drenched in colour and he can not thrive without it. Over the years, he secretly feeds his addiction with scraps of poetry and ancient Persian treatises on Sufism. He devours literature with an unslakable thirst, searching, ever searching. He sees something he can not articulate in the way the sun sets behind lonely apartment complexes. Something beckons to him on the sea breeze as it blows through banyans in the hot afternoons. And something tightens in his chest every night as he watches the rising of the stars from the roof of his ancestral home. Everything he writes ends the same way: smeared with the half-remembered colours of forgotten love. Like waking from a dream and scrambling to put it all down before it’s lost to the aether; knowing it’s going, knowing it’s gone, knowing even as you begin to write that it’s useless and yet still grasping for another fix, you addict, happy in your addiction, wouldn’t trade it for the world because you’d rather your half-remembered colour than the grey, grey, grey of everyone and everything else…

There is a boy or a girl a thousand years hence on another planet who is reading all this, feeling all this. Here, Earth is merely a byword for an unspeakable nostalgia. I write to you — future-boy, future-girl — from your ancestral home. The colours are real. They exist. There is only one way to find them and there always has been. Good luck. Godspeed.

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Prose

Keenjhar Lake

The Ziauddin University Atlas Blog

Hasham Masood, M.B.B.S., Batch XVIII.jpgGharo, Sindh, Pakistan. PHOTO CREDITS: HASHAM MASOOD, M.B.B.S., BATCH XVIII

BY: SHAHZEB NAJAM, M.B.B.S., BATCH XVIII

If you sail far enough into the blue waters of Keenjhar Lake, you’ll see a small, stone structure rising up out of the waves. You disembark onto weather-beaten steps and climb up to a white, circular platform and in the centre, in eternal solitude, lie the graves of an ancient king and an ancient queen. You say a small prayer for the royal lovers — for all lovers, in all epochs, and for those who loved too much. Before you leave, your gaze lingers a moment longer on the setting sun and the wind-ruffled waters and you wonder why it feels like you’ve left something of yourself behind there with Noori and with Jam Tamachi and their thousand sunsets. Soon, the stars will rise. And I shall think of you.

About the author: Shahzeb…

View original post 18 more words

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Prose

In your most frail gesture

BY: SHAHZEB NAJAM, M.B.B.S., BATCH XVIII I saw a patient today. He had Parkinson’s. Tremors, shuffling gait — the works. His wife was with him. She was old, too. I opened the door and helped him into the room and stood by him to steady him. And then his wife came […]

via  In your most frail gesture — The Ziauddin University Atlas Blog

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Prose

8-bit Philosophy 

Yousuf: “Kya fascination hai 8-bit sé?” (What’s your fascination with 8-bit?)

Shahzéb: “I like 8-bit because 8-bit is to us what we are to God. It’s the closest we can get to touching the mind of the divine. You plug in a game into a beat-up old Nintendo and the little screen lights up with a brand new world of life and light and adventure. And you see a little hero and you watch his little life play out and he evolves over time and, before you know it, you care about the little sprite more than you want to admit. You love him and you root for him and you guide him and you watch him do all the things you can not because you have responsibilities… 8-bit is a distilled essence of our world. It’s forced by the limitations of bits and bytes to build a universe out of a few, small pixels. Like our world — of quantum pixels — built with care and with love and programmed with destiny. But the best part is the feeling you get when you realise how small the 8-bit world is. It has walls. It’s a sandbox that’s too small for all you’ll ever want. And you realise that you feel that here, too. And the 8-bit world is too small because it’s been made by us; us, who’ve seen bigger things. That lingers on in the subconscious of the little sprite-heroes. And it’s the same with us. That’s why we feel a twinge in our hearts every time we look up at the stars. This is why I love 8-bit. Because it reminds me that there is more than… this.”

Yousuf: “Consider teaching philosophy. At least once in your life. And fill it with this stuff. Then write a book. Title it The film of my life.”

Shahzéb: If I do, I’ll call it One Last Sunset.

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Prose

Why I Write

This post was first published here, on the Ziauddin University Atlas Blog.

I REMEMBER the day I decided to become a writer.

It was one of those endless summer Sundays in Karachi and I was bored, bored, bored. The grown-ups were in the den, going on and on about politics and, restless as usual, I headed up the cold marble stairs to my Nani’s library.

The afternoon sun blazed in through the open window and I began to pick and prod at the vast, dusty shelves, looking for something — anything — to pass the never-ending Sunday.

And then I saw it. It was a thin, black volume, and it caught my eye because of how incongruous it looked among a big pile of medical textbooks. I pulled it free and wiped it clean and coughed from the dust.

An alien sun gleamed on an alien beach and that was how I met Arthur C. Clarke and his ‘Songs of Distant Earth’. The name of the book isn’t important. Every writer has their own such book.

What’s important is this: how I didn’t notice the sun sinking below the horizon until it was too dark to read; how I didn’t hear my mother calling to me from downstairs; and how, for weeks, I had dreams about Thalassa and the loneliness of space and the immensity of time. I could never look at the stars the same way again. And I just couldn’t figure out how those static little black words on yellowing paper could do that to a person.

So I decided that there was only one thing to do: become a writer and work that dark magic myself. After all, I figured, how hard could it be? Suffice it to say that my first ‘masterpiece’ was a story called Bus 13 and it was, you guessed it, about a poor old bus that had the distinct misfortune to be haunted. To their credit, my parents never let on how bad it was; they didn’t even laugh at the yellow clip art bus I had pasted at the very top of the page.

But I knew. It was a story, sure, but it wasn’t… that. And I realised then that this wasn’t going to be easy. It wasn’t the words on the page. It was the emotions — the ideas, the heart — behind them. And that needed something more: a sincere curiosity about the world and the people in it; an awareness of your own emotions and the strength to interrogate those emotions at length to figure out why exactly, that particular sunset or song made you feel all weird inside. So this, then, is why I write. To capture those moments before they’re lost forever. And to one day leave behind a thin, black book that, decades from now, some boy or girl will find on a dusty bookshelf one sunny summer afternoon and then, well, nothing will ever be the same again.

About the author: Shahzéb hopes to do his residency under the great Dr. Ernesto Guevara de la Serna. 

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Prose

They have not lit the lamp at the other farm yet / and all at once I feel lonely 

If there is only enough time in the final

minutes of the 20th century for one last dance

I would like to be dancing it slowly with you,

say, in the ballroom of a seaside hotel.

My palm would press into the small of your back

as the past hundred years collapsed into a pile

of mirrors or buttons or frivolous shoes,

just as the floor of the 19th century gave way

and disappeared in a red cloud of brick dust.

There will be no time to order another drink

or worry about what was never said,

not with the orchestra sliding into the sea

and all our attention devoted to humming

whatever it was they were playing.

Billy Collins, Dancing Towards Bethlehem

I WENT to my grandfather’s grave today. It’s high up on the side of a hill and to reach it you drive up through secluded streets shaded by large trees and there, between two houses, is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lane. It’s so narrow that even if you’re small, you can reach out really, really far and touch the dusty whitewashed walls on either side. 

As you emerge from the lane you find yourself at the top of a hill, all of Karachi spread out before you; below you grave after grave until your gaze rests at the foot of the hill. That’s a hell of a view, you think, this is a good a place as any to be buried. And imagine what it must look like at night with all those city-lights sparkling under the stars. 

You pass headstones and shaded tombs and carefully step over mounds — some so heartbreakingly small that you don’t want to think. All of them carry a story. 

PROF SURGEON H. M. SIDDIQUI says one. 

EAT WELL, DIE YOUNG, AND HAVE A GOOD LOOKING CORPSE says another. 

One of the smaller ones has a red bicycle with black handlebars carved carefully into the marble. Underneath, in small, neat letters it says LOVING SON RASHID YOUR GIFT CYCLE. 2000-2009. 

There’s a small staircase that leads down to my Nana’s grave. And there’s a small, white marble bench at the foot of it for visitors. The caretaker comes and washes the grave and then I lay the rose petals on it and say a small prayer. As the caretaker leaves, he tells me how my grandmother came just yesterday. She’s here most days, he says. Sits just there, on the bench, till sunset. He walks away up the staircase. 

And now I have to sit because my vision is blurry and my legs feel strange and I can smell the rose petals on the sea breeze. And I think of her, sitting here all alone, day in day out, even though it’s been three years, sitting on that bench that looks over Karachi and the grave of the man who spent his whole life with her and I wonder at a loneliness I can not begin to imagine. 

At the end of his book Contact, astronomer Carl Sagan writes that for small creatures such as we the infinities of the cosmos are made bearable only through love. We need the enveloping arms of those we love, ready to catch us when we grow dizzy from contemplating eternity. 

And as I lie here on the roof watching Sirius twinkle across the vastness of space and the immensity of time, I realise he knows what the hell he’s talking about. 
  

“The flowers did show us spring for a while / yet I long for the flowers that never bloomed at all.”

— Translation by my old friend, Yousuf Mehmood.

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