Prose

Melancholy Tastes the Same in Italy and Other Stories

“A sad story, don’t you think?”
Haruki Murakami, On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning

1.

I thought all the kids did it. Whenever it got too much, you’d just take it all, unspooled as it was, and pick a song. (Any song.) You’d listen to that song again and again and again, until the feeling was the song and the song the feeling. And… then you didn’t have to worry about it ever again. It worked really well — it still does. The only problem is that now I’m old enough to forget things. And sometimes I’ll play a song that’s vaguely familiar and, before I know it, all those threads that I’ve carefully stashed into it will come flying out. And high up on Mount Olympus, Ariadne can’t stop giggling.


2.

I remember the softness of her naked feet on the cold, clean tiles.


3.

At dusk, bright billboards of you across Lahore pursue me home.


4.

Even the smallest Dairy Milk is purple. Once, purple was worth its weight in gold. The Phoenicians would crack open hundreds of thousands of Mediterranean sea snails to make an ounce of Tyrian purple. Imagine that. Imagine the audacity of trying to overwhelm her with quantity, to stretch my hands out “thiiiiiiis much”, “to the moon and back”, “infinity times infinity”, but I can’t say all that, of course, so I do the best I can and save up for weeks and weeks and buy as many of the small, purple bars of Dairy Milk that I can. And when I turn the large backpack upside down before her, I can see the concern for my sanity in her eyes. Believe me, this is the best that I can do to show you how much. Forgive the quality of the chocolate. Once, purple was worth its weight in gold. I stand before you, hoping that the quantity is enough for you to extrapolate the quality. You were always good at math.


5.

The indolent Sunday afternoons of my childhood are estranged from me. Lost in time. They seemed so endless back then. Will I ever get them back? Or, if I do, will it simply lead to a relocation of those longings to another horizon, still further back. I dream of horizons of yearning, each gazing at the other, a succession of infinite funhouse mirrors in a Barnum and Bailey multiverse. “But it wouldn’t be make-believe / if you believed / in me.”


6.

A final memory. Another birthday party. She is not coming. So I talk to an old friend. An animated conversation about politics — the usual. When, suddenly. Small, soft palms cover my eyes. The heart-note of a perfume I can always pick out, no matter how crowded the school’s corridor. A voice breathes in my ear. Guess who? And I can not breathe. For I know that this moment will forever be a barometer for my happiness, the high-water mark left on the battered levees of my heart. When did the sun begin to set?


7.

And now here I am, on the last train home. And I do not know what to make of that.


we were running through the autumn leaves /
a couple kids just wearing out our jeans…

Standard
Poetry

Calliope

What potions have I drunk of Siren tears?

Shakespeare, Sonnet CXIX

Two thousand years ago, Ptolemy

traced the vagaries of the stars

and was left immortal for that

and I, too, yearn for the taste

of ambrosia. So here I lie, on

moonless nights, writing my

own Almagest, as I trace the

constellations formed by the

stardust of your nevi.

Howard Pyle, “The Mermaid” (1910)

Standard
Poetry

Summer Begins in Whitestone, New York

(a haiku)

summer rains, stars rise —
taking the long way home I
am mugged by fireflies

Image result for primitive radio gods

and if I die before I learn to speak / can money pay for all the days I lived awake / but half asleep?

Standard
Poetry

Camelot

Every love story is a ghost story.

David Foster Wallace

in a flyover state where

the trains do not stop

but chug on toward the

hills, a quiet chord drifts

out over the darkling

plains and is lost for ever

to the wind and rain and

perhaps we are only

this: ghosts before our

time burning through

books burning through

women burning through

ourselves hoping to find

Camelot.

oceans away — a place

where nobody speaks the

language of the heartland

— you wait for the Q44 to

take you home. lights

alight. church bells toll

the hour. tonight the

street is empty and the

night is empty and the

moon will not rise and

there will be no stars to

guide you home. only the

dumpster fires rage on,

filled with the debris of

yesterday.

I got this window that looks out to Orion / I paid extra for

Standard
Prose

On the sweet sounds of static on old radios

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.

 

 

Standard
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. 

Standard
Prose

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.)

Standard