Poetry

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy

A rough sea!

Stretched out over Sado

The Milky Way.

Matsuo Bashō (1644–94)

The classical masters of old say it is bad 

luck to play the wrong tune at the wrong 

time. Every raga echoes a certain mood, 

they say, in tune with the colours of the 

hours and the watches of the night. The 

old haiku masters of Japan agree. Every 

haiku only belongs to a certain season, 

crafted with the words particular to that 

season. So they spoke of summer rains, 

autumn loves, winter dreams; and — 

beneath it all — the call of the deep, deep 

north. And here we are, ragas out of time, 

haikus out of space, trying to find our way 

home while in our tired hearts beats the 

call of the deep, deep north.

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Poetry

Ad Astra (II)

in a hinterland galaxy 

by a mid-sized star 

on a strange blue world 

a hairless ape stands up and 

gains sentience and 

looks up at the stars and 

is never the same again. 

and somewhere 

far out at sea 

it is raining. 

it has been raining for 

many, many days 

and there is no one to see 

the Homecoming. 

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Sohni

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 by Sayed Akhlaque Husain Tauhidi)

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 our Mahiwal 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.)

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Dear Baba

Dear Baba,

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.

Your son,

Shahzéb

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Poetry

Searching for it

Ye masāil-e-tasavvuf

These matters of mysticism

Ye tirā bayān ‘ġhālib’

These discourses of yours, Ghalib

Tujhe ham valī samajhte

We’d judge you a saint

Jo na bāda-ḳhvār hotā 

If you weren’t an alcoholic

Ghalib, Ye na thi hamari qismat ki visal-e-yar hota (It just wasn’t my kismet to meet my lover)

searching for it at night

searching for it in brothels

searching for it in bottles of Murree’s finest on cold winter evenings

searching for it on walks through the city

walking.

walking through the humid streets of your childhood

by the park where you first kissed her

behind the queen-of-the-nights;

you will ask for them on your deathbed

to your tired, ravaged mind they will only be

a memory 

of something you knew, once,

so well

almost 

got it

almost there

almost.

 

walking.

walking through the graveyard

where your grandfather lies

and his father

and his father before him

and you, too, someday

(if you like)

under the big banyan tree

that your grandmother told you was haunted

by a family of djinn

and you’d search for them during the hot afternoons

for three whole summers;

they say every love story is a ghost story

and if that’s true

then

who will you love?

who will you haunt?

 

walking,

forever walking.

to the mosque by the sea

where you found God one day

found him on the sea breeze

that came in through the broken windowpane

of that poor fishermen’s mosque

and kissed you on the forehead as you knelt 

and you kneel again

please, you say,

please, please.

but there is no breeze tonight

so you sit there

cross-legged on the dusty woven mat

and look through another broken windowpane

at the rising sun

and the fishermen as they row in

from nights spent

searching, searching

on the dark waters

and you see the morning star

and you see the Ursids flash by

and something flutters in your heart, then

and you are alright, then;

what a strange thing you are,

Man’s heart

what a strange, strange thing you are.

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The best bit of Brooklyn Bridge isn’t

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.

I existed.

Remember me.

Remember me

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