Prose

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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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…

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Poetry

Byronic heroes are people, too

For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul wears out the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

And love itself have rest.

Lord Byron, So, we’ll go no more a roving

All these books in my library — lives lived

out, words spent, atria emptied of their 

blood. I see them and realise that I do not

have much time. But, like all the rest, I am

bound in webs of responsibility and class

and aspiration. A small cottage by the beach

with a well-stocked library and a fire in the

hearth where we could spend our evenings 

before the dark descends. And, perhaps, 

there is where I’ll have the time to ponder over

the mysteries of the Sufis. Why do the stars

call me so? Why does the sea, why do old

houses, and old books, and saudade call me so?

The dreams of another life… almost

forgotten… breaking on the shores of my

heart, and I… I frantic, searching among the 

ruins and the driftwood for a compass to guide 

me home. Home? The place I yearn for when I 

hear someone playing A minor softly, clear as 

a bell, through the sweet, sad sounds of static 

on old radios. In a short time, this will be a 

long, long time ago…

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Poetry

some nights, i

some nights the wind whistles

through the old lighthouse and

in the town below the mothers

tuck in their children and close

their shutters and watch their

fires till dawn.

 

some nights you tell me stories

of the village graveyard with the

night watchman and the magic

stick whose tip-taps are the

measure of the night.

 

some nights the stars are so close

that you forget. i dream of old

souls haunting the highways of

the heartland. this late, love,

the night belongs to students

and the stars.

 

some nights i hear a piano; two

notes hesitant in the dark. your

name is now a stranger on my

lips. how could it come to this?

how could it come to this?

 

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Poetry

One hundred years of solitude and all I got was this lousy t-shirt

Why do you love lighthouses
she said
what’s with all those maps of distant islands
she said
and those other ones of the stars.
I don’t know
he said
maybe
he said
maybe
I miss somewhere
he said
somewhen
he said
maybe that’s how nostalgia was born.
Adam’s lament for home and we
his children.

O, Majnun!
they said
why do you sift the desert sands
they said
you will not find Layla there.
And Majnun said:
I search for her
everywhere
in the hopes of finding her
somewhere.

In this age of starships and relativity
as we journey out into the dark
we should not be surprised if
on another world
our ships land on other shores and
beneath alien suns
we find our old friend Majnun
sifting through those alien sands
ever-searching
ever-seeking
his belov’d.

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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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