A big, black sea
A small, lonely lantern
On a small, lonely boat
In the big, black sea
And it’s


Far away
Across the fields
A warm little cabin
As rain
As wind
Inside, it’s


An urban jungle
Claustrophobic concrete
Soullessness is
A roof
A star
A cigarette
Twinkling escape
And it’s


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NIGHT. It’s hot. The power’s out. It’s damn hot. Can’t-breathe hot. You drag yourself out of bed and try swatting a mosquito that’s been pissing about your head for God-knows-how-long. You miss. He buzzes off; triumphant. The bloody bastard. Wait-a-minute. Only the females bite, right? You could make some sort of witty metaphor with that, something to impress the next girl you see, but it’s too hot. Too God-damn-hot. And it slides off the edge of your consciousness, vowing to piss you off later like a half-remembered dream. Like a f*cking mosquito. Blood-sucking bastards.

So you head for the mesh covered window, hoping for fresh air. It’s cool to the touch. But where’s that Karachi breeze? Damn. It’s like a prison: you can feel the fresh air but you can’t breathe it. The sky isn’t dark, even though it’s 12:51. Yeah, like The Strokes’ song. What-a-coincidence. There’s a sickly glow to the sky; the colour of an insomniac’s dreams. Again with the cheesy metaphors. You blame it on the claustrophobic heat and wipe the beads of sweat off your forehead.

The mosquito’s back for seconds; she wants it bad. In the distance, gunfire sounds and an ambulance wails. You see a kid walk down the street. He looks like shit. Looks like he hasn’t washed in a year. Must be, what, 12? Poor kid. Mosquito buzzes in your ear and you yelp. The kid stops. He looks up. Blink. The power’s back. Your stereo starts playing. Some jazz shit on CityFM89. Who the f*ck listens to jazz? ‘Cause the streetlights are on, you can the kid clearly. He’s still there. There’s something about the way he’s looking; you just can’t meet his gaze. But then the kamikaze mosquito dives at your ear again and you shut the window, turn on the AC and run to the bathroom to grab a can of Mortein. Stupid mosquitos. Too many of them. The bloody, blood-sucking bastards. They won’t know what hit ’em. Why the f*ck can’t they just leave you alone? You’ve never done anything to them, right?

Then you remember the kid’s stare and, suddenly, you aren’t so sure.

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First published in the Grammarian, 2012.

THE CAMPFIRE flickered, dancing like a nimble young girl away from the advances of the cold, biting wind. The grey-haired sentry pulled his scarlet cloak tighter around him. ‘Old friend,’ he whispered softly to the fire, ‘old friend once I burned with life too. I do not think I will be able to dance for much longer, as you do.’ He lapsed into silence, exhausted by the weight of his thoughts, and closed his eyes.
Gently, he caressed the coarse sand beside him. ‘You are rough,’ he said to the sand, ‘but I would be too if I had been scorched by the sun, every day since the creation of the world. Yes,’ he paused, ‘you are rough, but you are honest and pure and you only feel as you do because of the tough life you lead. You and I are not so different,’ he smiled.

And then something strange happened. Perhaps he feel asleep. Perhaps it was a mirage. Or a trick played by one of the djinn of the desert. But this much is certain that as the sentry blinked dreams from his weary lashes, his half-open grey eyes saw a dark shape crossing just outside the warm, safe halo of the flickering fire. It was darker than the surrounding night, and paused for moment, silent; motionless. Then it glided on, becoming one of the many unsolved mysteries of the desert that have been padding at the edge of man’s sanity since time immemorial and shall remain long after man is forgotten dust.

And the sentry’s eyes closed, tired from years of gazing at alien shores far from home, and he slipped into one of those strange sleeps of the body that tire the mind and pass the time and do little else.

And when he awoke later, expecting dawn, all he saw was the same dark night, blowing over infinite miles of dark desert sand. And he blinked, wishing desperately for the dawn to come, but the night only swirled tighter around him, blowing out his fire and tugging at his scarlet cloak. And then the old man knew that dawn would never come so he pulled his cloak tighter around him and closed his eyes and drifted into that sleep that rests the body and rests the mind and from which one need never again awake.



Martial law is darkness at high noon. It is neither an order nor a system.

This form of lawlessness will take us back to the law of the jungle, where only the strongest survive. Most of our people are weak and backward. They will perish in such an arrangement.

Force, naked and brute, moody and mad cannot be made the sole criterion of our honour and our respect.

Zulfi Bhutto, (1928-1979)

In the picture below, my maternal grandfather, Wg. Cdr. Saeed Akhtar, meets Mr. Bhutto at Badin Airforce Base, somewhen in the 70s.

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