Tales of a Sunset

As we were leaving Islamabad, it was almost maghrib. I had been dreading the long journey ahead. Tedious hours of just sitting in a car! Drivers everywhere, travelling, travelers, stressed about their destinations. The road between Islamabad and the M-2 was still under construction. For a split second, my gaze wandered to the sky. The split second turned into aeons. It was a watercolour painting. A perfectly blended painting; yellow gradually fading to pale yellow, pale yellow turning to a forget-me-not blue. Red streaks across where the clouds were closest to the sun, reflecting fury and rage. Grey streaks above the red, where the clouds were impermeable to the ferocity of the sun. A tiny silver crescent just beginning to peek out shyly.

Amongst angry drivers and big machines drilling away noisily, there was a calm. Amongst the chaos that is found on these roads on a Sunday night (as people return after the weekend), there was a sort of serenity spread out on the world. For a moment, I forgot my stress. Everything that had made me so tense this weekend, and that everyone had told me to let go of, I now realised was worthless. I “lived in the moment”, as my sister had been telling me to. Traveling never brought out the best in me, but today nature itself brought me relief. My face relaxed. Although there was no one I had to convey my joy to, although all this was just a feeling in the very depths of my heart, a tiny smile took over. Since winter departed two days ago, and spring had not yet entirely come, the trees were still dried up, leafless, lifeless. Perfect against the backdrop of the sky, a postcard.

We were now on the motorway. The red streaks were fading away as the blue slowly took over. Here, trees lined both sides of the road. The trees had leaves. Green fields spread out for miles on every side. It like was one of those expensive paintings one would expect to see in a huge victorian mansion. It was getting dark. The sky was always the hero. Trees silhouetted against a sky so intricate. Sometimes a hill came, sometimes a huge rock outlined against the sky, all seeking attention, all failing against a sky so beautiful.

Every second looking out of a moving car changed the scenery. Every second the sky and the fields and the silhouetted trees made a new masterpiece. Every second it showed the craftsmanship of the One behind it.

It was Him. Allah. He was the Artist. He was the Art.

The shy crescent now shone quite boldly. The red disappeared entirely, the wrath of the sun wrapped up by the gentle blue of the night. In the distance I could now see lights; villages and small towns located at intervals. Eventually the light blue turned to a rich, royal blue which had no place for yellows and oranges. Only the silver of the moon or the distant stars could conquer a sky so overpowering.

It was strange to think of this sky. The same sky shone over refugees, over starving, diseased children, over mourning mothers, over depressed and oppressed people. The same sky shone over crime, hate, injustice and intolerance. And yet, it was this same sky that painted a picture for me, for my peace, stretching for miles and miles across. It was this same sky that inspired poetry.

And I rested my head against the window; once again worries returning to my tired head, dreading all that was to come, the night clouding my thinking and wrapping around my head.

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Frosted Glass

Pain.

Traveling up my arm

With each flash of illumination,

Revealing in frosted glass,

A body. Stark naked.

Glass which,

In the absence of illumination,

Conveyed boldly,

Nothing.


~temporary post.

Slumber

It was the only day of the week where she knew she could sleep with the gas heater on. Not because this was a weekly suicidal ritual that she religiously performed, but because she knew there would be someone to turn it off.

Tonight, she was tired. With lights turned off and the blaring noise of the television in the next room, she was aware that she only had a few hours to sleep. Come, sleep, come. Come before the night has faded and trials afresh await my doom. Come.

It came, but in slow, unsure steps. Like the carbon monoxide that slowly filled up the room as she awaited her half death. Perhaps it was not sleep, but this gas, which slowly suffocated her to slumber as she thought of the exact time required by the gas to fill up this room and deprive her of air. How odd.

The slumber now surrounded her like the stars that never shone in her sky anymore. She was losing herself, and she was aware. A conscious unconsciousness. Collateral beauty. Her eyes gently closed as the warm orange rays lit up the room to a comfortable resting place. A comfortable last resting place, as they would’ve said later.

Who was to know if this was a half death, or slumber in eternity?

My Language

It’s always been so important to me. What language I speak in, what language I belong to. And it’s always been a struggle.

Because you see, no language owned me.

I grew up with a British accent in a Pakistani society. I spoke Urdu and English and was fluent in both. English wasn’t a status symbol for me. It wasn’t an icon of superiority. I didn’t even know it was considered as such until school happened.

Whatever language I speak, I want to speak well. Great orators have always inspired me. However, that’s not what society saw in me. I was bullied in school because I wanted to “show off” an accent I did “not” have. I was made fun of for the “funny” way I spoke in Urdu. I was called an angrez, even a non-muslim, for the way I spoke. Little kids usually believe their peers, I was no exception. I asked my mum if I indeed was Muslim. Or Pakistani. The answer to both was affirmative. But that didn’t stop anything.

My insecurities led to very surprising results: I began to stammer. I had never stammered before, but I did then and I continue to do so now. I just didn’t don’t have the confidence to speak. Another thing that happened (much to my mother’s annoyance) was that I began putting on accents. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s something that happens naturally. I change my accent with every person I talk to, in varying degrees. The only person I talk to in my natural accent is my mother. Even with my sister, I sometimes change accents. It’s not that she wouldn’t understand (she would) but sometimes we’re talking and we naturally start talking in our “survival accents”. I discovered she did the same. In school, we would add a little Pakistani to our accents. Sometimes a Punjabi hint, sometimes just Lahori. I cannot talk to two people in the same accent in two separate events. It’s weird because, I don’t know. People still make fun of me despite all the trouble I go through trying to change my accent. And that’s just English. We don’t even converse in English as frequently as Urdu.

When I started college, the amount of people that asked me why my “tone” (meaning accent) was “change” (meaning different) was absurd. People told me I wasn’t Punjabi, or even Pakistani. Which is absurd, I’ve spent my entire life in Pakistanis! I’ve learnt Urdu from Pakistanis! Then why didn’t I sound Pakistani? That’s a mystery still unsolved. I told myself that just because I don’t talk like some person who’s never even heard of anything outside their city, who speaks not in urdu, but an amalgamation of Urdu and Punjabi, they considered me a foreign particle. Why don’t people say that to my father?! He’s the first person to teach me Urdu, I’ve spent every day of my life talking to him in Urdu, surely I sound like him? But apparently, I do not. Which is quite strange.

While on one hand I’ve been made fun of because of this English accent, on the other hand, people have made fun of me for my overwhelmingly amazing Urdu. Of course I flatter myself. But there are circumstances where people have made fun of me for too much Urdu. Messed up? Sighs. I remember in school someone asked me for scissors (actually saying the word scissors in an Urdu sentence) so I asked another person. Only I said the word “Qainchi” whichis scissors in Urdu. And the entire class made fun of me. It still confuses me, why? What’s wrong in saying Qainchi instead of scissors?

I don’t know where this post is going. But I do know that no matter what I say, write or communicate in any form, I try my best. Wethar I write in English or Urdu, I try to be grammatically correct. I try to come clear. I try. I hide behind a keyboard because I can’t talk in real life. Whenever I am talking to someone, it’s always in the back of my head. Am I being clear? Do I sound like I belong here? Does anyone even understand me? Are they even listening? Is my tone so monotonous that I’ve lost them?

On and on and on. My insecurities pile up until I get tired. Can’t I have a normal conversation without you treating me different? Can you not just listen to what I’m saying instead of how I’m saying it? And can you PLEASE keep your opinions on my speech to yourself?

It doesn’t really matter. No matter what I say, or do, it’ll always be there. This glitch in my head because of… my accent? Yes. It’s always going to be there. But you. You can help.

There’s other people like me. They seem so confident from the outside, they look like they’re out to conquer the world. But inside, they’re just a crumbling mess of insecurities. Insecurities that weren’t there, but were put there by society. Society played with them and made them feel inferior and insignificant. Society told them there words weren’t worth anything, they didn’t mean anything to anyone. But who is society? Well. That’s you. That’s me.

We are society.

Flashback: First week of third grade, new school. A teacher asking if anyone would like to read out the translation of the holy Quran in Emglish in the assembly before the entire school. Two very eager hands shot up. Both girls given a few days to practice. The final day for the selection arrives. A wannabe accent, and a natural one. The girl with the natural one had been scolded the previous night for trying to put on a Pakistani accent. Both read it out. The teacher asks for a vote. Not a single hand for the scottish accent. A mocking crowd, a broken hearted eight year old, a memory to forever stay with her. For the rest of her life.

Fin.

(I haven’t even STARTED my sob story about Punajbi yet. It’s even more boring 🙄)

A Conversation

It was just the two of us. You, of all people, should’ve known. I tried. You saw me! You saw me try! It didn’t work out. It could never have; we both know that. But I tried still, I gave it all I had, I tried until I could no more, until my arms ached, until a gust of very hot air blew at my knees and I buckled. But even as I buckled, I reached into the source of that hot air, and I countered it with all I had! I turned raw mush into that and even if I didn’t succeed, look at what I accomplished! I changed a state of matter by sheer force and determination! By the time I was done, my fluid heart had become a strong muscle. My sweat turned to ice. Look at that! Could you have done that? Could you have changed the state of matter that way?!

Perhaps you forget, but yes. I have done that many times. I have more accomplishments to my name.

Oh please, I’ll have none of these weak words! You have nothing. Nothing that you can reveal that will not be your undoing, too!

Aah, my dear. You forget; you have more to your name to lose than I do. My existence is wholly dependent on you. Your undoing will devastate you, I shall remain unaffected. I, however, have the power to destroy you. What of me? A meer conversion from being to not being, it does not affect me that much. I have learnt to converse with time and space.

You are weak.

No, but I have been the cause of your weakness many a time.

However, it was me who accomplished something! Let that never be forgotten.

Oh dear, you simply cannot learn. Must I teach you the truth?

Out with it then!

My dear, a simple mix aches your arms. A “gust of hot wind” from the oven buckles your knees. As for converting “matter”, that is of no significance. You turn raw batter into an inedible cake-like structure and feel pride. A cake that could not even fulfill the basic function of its existence; I pity you. Your fluid heart pumped twice and gained a rigidity– it can lose it simply by skipping two beats. Your sweat turned to ice by inactivity. And as for the question of my converting matter, have you never realised how quickly I can reduce you iron will into a honey like consistency, and then decrease its viscosity to that of water, and then reduce water to gas as it evaporates? Child, do not question the wisdom of a hundred of your years, and a hundred of mine. You have much to learn.




What, have you never had a conversation like that with yourself after you ruined a cake for the hundredth time? Dear me….

Of Gujjars and Grandfather tales.

Last night found us talking about Gujjars*. My grandfather was telling us about how, when they first came into India from Afghanistan, they split into three main groups. One of them settled in the north, in Khyber Pakhtun Khwa and Gilgit Baltistan. The other one along the Grand Trunk Road (GT rd). And for a long time, they actually did herd cattle and sell milk. In South Asia, lots of people don’t buy pasteurised milk. The trend has increased in recent years, but still a lot of people drink fresh milk provided by gawalay. These milkmen were invariably (as my grandfather says) Gujjars. However, for three days every year, they didn’t give their milk to anyone but instead they all gave the milk to the grand Urs of Data Darbar. For three days, any man could come and take as much milk as he wanted without any charge. This Darbar is actually a shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri who was a saint and a deeply spiritual man. The Darbar is called Data Darbar because Data means “The giver” (a crude translation, forgive me) and it is believed that anything will be granted if the person in need asks God through Data Sahib. Shirk, yes, but nevertheless it is a notion held by many.

This practice of giving all the milk to the Urs actually has a very interesting origin. There is a story about it, and when asked about its authenticity, my grandfather said it was completely true.

The story goes that one day, Ali Hajveri sat by the bank of the Ravi. A woman passed by him carrying a pot full of milk. He asked the woman if she would give him some milk.

“I cannot. I will only milk my cows for the jogi that lives yonder.” She replied.

He asked her to give him some milk for that day only. She refused. He asked the reason.

“Whenever I give this milk to anyone other than the jogi my cows start giving blood instead of milk.” The saint then understood that the jogi had cast some sort of spell.

“Give this to me, and I assure you, your cows will never give you blood again.” He told her. Reluctantly, the woman gave him the milk. The next day, when she milked the cows, there was such an abundance that all the containers in her house were not sufficient to hold the milk. Word quickly spread throughout the village, and all the other milkmen soon stopped supplying milk to the jogi and gave it, instead, to Ali Hajveri.

When the jogi realised this, he confronted the saint and threatened him. The saint said there was nothing he could do to harm him. At this, the jogi flew up in the air. The saint took of his kharawan (a very simple shoe — a wooden block with a single canvas strap across it) and threw it after him, and the shoe started beating the jogi in mid-air! The jogi realised this was no magic, that it was actually a Divine power. And so the jogi was defeated!

I don’t know if the milk thing still happens, but it was quite interesting to know this!


*Gujjars are a cast in the Indian subcontinent. The usual stereotype says that Gujjars sell milk and herd cattle, but it doesn’t apply anymore. Lots of other casts have taken up this profession. Similarly, one can find Gujjars in all fields now. Chaudhary Rehmat Ali, an eminent Muslim leader in the Creation of Pakistan, was a Gujjar. He suggested the name for Pakistan in his famous publication, “Now or Never”. Two strangers will become instant friends upon learning that they are both gujjars. It is said that Gujjars are quite fierce (it doesn’t apply anymore though). After the War of Independence (1857) in India, the British had commanded their officers to shoot gujjars on sight. They were considered “rebels”.

Incessant Dreaming

It had been a few days. Hunger and lethargy floated somewhere amongst these transitions of conscious into unconscious, reality into dream, clarity into haze. A constant thump thump of the raindrops on the tin roof could be heard. A fragile hand tried to move in the darkness of the shabby hut. Was this real? Was it a dream? Everything seemed a dream these days. How long though? How long had this incessant dreaming been continuing? Who knew. And who cared. Because it was true! An insignificant being dying in a dismal hut of hunger and starvation. It didn’t alter the course of the universe. It didn’t hinder the path of the sun. And it didn’t stop this monsoon rain.

The much needed rain. The rain prayed for, the rain begged for.

Yet what good did it do to a dying being? A dying being incessantly dreaming. For the world refused to acknowledge the being as human. But even so, the being had no control over its being. The rain drops seemed to be getting bigger and bigger now. The humidity was suffocating. Soon they were as big as that listless hand. The humidity might turn solid any moment now. The rain drops were bigger than the cars by now: every single drop fell as if a bomb attempting to destroy everything on the face of the earth. And then amongst all the chaos: a thunderous knocking. The door was weak, perhaps weaker than the inhabitant, but it put up a good fight. The inhabitant swore and tried to convince his brain to convince his body to move. The pounding on the door increased, the rain drops got bigger, the humidity got more humid. The being was gasping for air, all the while thinking why was it so difficult to breathe when there was a deprivation of food and not air? The door must’ve opened. The being heard a loud bang where the door hit the wall. Or maybe the door fell down. It was so difficult to tell what was going on. Was this even real? If only reality and dream would distinguish between themselves! Even vision was a burden. And then it was no more. Black.

The being gasped for air until it gasped no more.


Writing prompt:

Incessant dreaming (day 8)