In this version

Helen burns Troy

Let there be no ambiguity.

The day she stepped

Out of Troy

It burnt

Let there be no speculations.

It could no longer exist

With traditions that stifled one’s soul

It had to burn

Let there be no contradictions.

Galaxy

I displaced myself not like a bag of books, as I never displace them. I was like an unidentified galaxy, which people talked about but never cared. They were fascinated by the ambiguity of my existence. They wanted to know whether I provided life, or not? Well, I have stars and they don’t twinkle, they remain fixed. I think that people may be abhorred by its unabashedness.


I know of a Stranger

                                          To be a stranger

                                          Is beautiful

The world is

Collapsing

I know of a stranger

Who collects broken pieces

And glues it into life

Who saves my world

The world is

Forgetting

I know of a stranger

Who reminds me of my existence

And how beautiful

It is to exist

The world is 

Crying

I know of a stranger

Who cries with me

On the passing days of 

Our youth

The world is 

Shrugging

I know of a stranger

Whose outstretched arms

Provides solace

For people like me

The world is 

Changing

I know of a stranger

Whose infectious smile

Changes dreary days to

Full of warmth

                                          To be a stranger

                                          Is beautiful

My Muse

I painted my Muse. Now I have to destroy it!

I cannot fathom the unruly hour which made me do this hideous act. I should have been incapacitated the very second this unworthy thought struck my mind. But my capriciousness led me to it.

Fifteen years ago, I left him intentionally at the Art Gallery. He was watching Van Gogh’s Starry Night with an air of wistfulness. And I slowly traced my way outside the Gallery and into the cold street. When I had distanced myself from god knows what, I stopped and turned around. I saw him walking the street, eyes searching every other stranger’s face, and then suddenly resting on mine. The desperation of his eyes settled into a calm merriness. He ran towards me, touched my face, pressed my shoulders, and looked at me from head to toe. Finally, when he was sure what he beheld was his brother, he surrounded his profligate arms around my weary heart just like a wreath and then smiled foolishly.

Then suddenly, using his face to express his lack of speech he showed “Why did you leave me alone? Don’t you love me? Do you hate me?”

That face, the expression, the eyes which were still in a state of pensive did something to me. I felt myself feeling weak and all the glories I had gained as a painter seemed worthless. I realised, I knew nothing and I had to start all over again. I wondered how just a gaze could unclothe my emotions so easily. I had never felt so defenseless in my life. From that very moment, he became my Muse.

I picked up my pen and settled down at my desk. I had to write him an apology, I wanted him to know how much he means to me. And I did not intend to hurt him this time in any way.

Dear John

Are you listening?

I see in you, the memories of being young

Like a fireproof warehouse storing innocence.

I see in you, the sunset marked skyline

Creating a boundary of ending,

And also a reminiscence of a beginning;

Are you listening?

Your presence took me

And brittled me down into something beautiful.

Your existence for me is beyond physicality

That I don’t have to remember you because I’ll never forget you;

Are you listening?

You are the streetlight that flickers across my street,

And also the lighthouse of my ocean

I don’t see rainbows anymore

But when I see you

I end up looking at the sky

And always find a rainbow thick shimmer;

Are you listening?

You are that longing for an unknown place

Like a boat sailing me through a strange land

Making the destination, a home!

How many such homes have you built me?

Are you even listening?

You never asked me what is it that I feel

But I think you know

Sometimes it’s

Like waiting to be burnt

Like choosing the same book, again and again, not wanting to discover something new

Like dead lilies on a driveway

Waiting to be picked up by a kid and kept in a book.

Just when I finished writing I knew what I had to do, to amend this situation. I asked my dear friend Mathew to bring back the painting from the exhibition as early as he can.

After a while, I heard a knock. I opened the door, Mathew stood there with the painting. He gave me a bewildered look.

“Why on earth did you send this to an exhibition if you didn’t want to show it to the world?” he asked.

“It was a mistake, a horrible mistake,” I said.

“I don’t understand why it’s a mistake”

“Don’t you understand, he is my muse!”

“So what he is your muse?” he asked, shrugging his shoulders. “How does it change anything?”

“Just give me the painting,” I said, impatiently.

And Matthew came inside and sat at my desk.

“You wrote him a letter?” he asked, trying to suppress his astonishment.

“Yes indeed, I wanted him to know”

“What is wrong with you, HE IS DEAD!” he said, looking uneasily at me.

I picked up a wet cloth and rubbed it on the painting, till it was destroyed.

“Not anymore” I replied.

“He has been dead for five years now. What madness has taken over you?” He asked, looking at the now destroyed painting.

“I can always feel his presence. I cannot preserve him in a physical state, it would imply that I need something beyond my heart to store him. I ought to leave him alone, he is too pure to be contained” I replied, with a heavy sigh.

“Doesn’t that demolish the role of an artist?”

“No, it doesn’t, because I hated every second I spent on this painting”

“Then why didn’t you stop”

“Because I wanted to see the end, I wanted to see how much I remembered him. And when I started drawing I could picture him as he was— the little mole on his forehead, his kind blue eyes, his bushy eyebrows. I could draw everything. But then when I finished, what I saw was a perfect imitation, but what I couldn’t see was reality. It was far removed from reality, that I almost felt as an impersonator. And it was unbearable. I had to destroy the painting to protect him, to protect the raw him.”

“So it is about how you feel, it has nothing to do with doing him justice!” he asked.

“No, it’s only about him. Don’t you understand? He is my muse. He exists, that’s why I can create art. I cannot make him an art by painting him, he is already one.”

I went inside, after offering Mathew my deepest gratitude for bringing the painting back. Then I sat down on my hard bed and slowly closed my eyes. Splinters of imagination started forming a perfect deportment inside my head. My muse was back, and I knew I had to start painting.

Inexplicable Beauty

Screenshot_20200723-121354I wish you could stop being Hassan

Lose your mind, look away, you may find something

I wish to seek solace in the pain you give, but are you even aware of this concept yet?

Love can be liberating too

You have suffered for your sanity

I oughta leave you alone, you are too pure to be contained

Hey! I’ll buy you The Kite Runner,

We can read it together

When the sun sets and shadows glimmer

We can stay on the terrace and watch the stars

Reminding ourselves that illusions can be magical too

You say “For you a thousand times over”

I wonder why does it hurt so much

But I wish to say once and for all

“I’m sorry, you are so tragically beautiful”

The Man Who Loved Sunsets

Everyday at 5pm, Ove had walked the same street for almost six years now. His legs frolicking over the dead lilies, the packet of bread swinging in his sweaty hands, his eyes narrowing down the small green bench opposite the Central Library, where he settled down to bid adieu to the sunset.

Once he was comfortably seated, he took out his leather bound diary from his old-fashioned coat, kept it carefully beside the packet of bread, leaving enough space for one more person to sit, and patiently waited. Ove noticed that the solemn expression which people wore when they entered the library changed into a peaceful and more gayety look when they came out. As if they went there to read themselves into quietness. His silent musings were interrupted by a voice which carried such grave intensity that it demanded immediate attention, that everyone present on the streets stopped whatever they were doing to look at the source.

“Is the seat taken?” he asked with a tone which was ready to break down if any refusal was thrown its way. “Are you waiting for someone?”

Ove looked up, studying him like a specimen of an experiment. The man looked as if he just turned 30 that very minute and wasn’t at all pleased by this sudden change, his slightly greying hair probably meant he was married, carrying responsibilities which he never wished to, eyes which reflected almost everything it saw, that one could see the colour of their eyes’ reflection in them. Both his hands were tightly pressed against each other; as if seeking solace in each other’s human warmth, and any effort to separate them would be a sin.

“Sure sir!” Ove replied with a tone of slight excitement “been waiting for the right person”.He would have been more excited, since for the past six years he had wished for something like this, but the atmosphere required gravity so he opened up his notebook and a fountain pen gifted by his grandfather, like a student ready to take some notes.

“Sarfaraz,” said the man with a forceful smile.

“They call me Ove,” said he nodding his head.

Sarfaraz sat down, slowly, looking down at his splendid, shiny shoes and let out a huge sigh. 

Ove stared at the man for a while and asked

“Are you happy, sir?”

“Well yes I must be” he said checking his phone.

Suddenly the phone rang and he almost dropped it. He slowly answered and someone said something which Ove couldn’t hear and there was silence thereafter. Some people carry emotions like their skin, every line, every turn, every crevice suggestive of something. This man wasn’t any different, like his eyes, his face too reflected the ongoings of his heart. 

“It’s a pity, “Ove thought “not seeing him at his jolliest, his face would have been a pleasure to behold.”

“Are you happy, Sarfaraz?” Ove asked again. As if this is how he normally exchanged commonplace.

“I’m miserable, I have been happy all my life, but now I’m miserable” he cried with an urgency as if any delay would make him even more miserable.

“What makes you miserable? 

“Life itself”

“Is beautiful”

“Was beautiful, within the four walls, when I played all day with my sister, when mum gave us goodnight kisses and papa read us stories, until we had to start living without them”

“You love how it used to be right?”

“I hate how it used to be if this is what has become of me” he replied “if they would have already said how it would be, it would have been easier, to live with myself”

“Ahh” Ove replied with a small smirk “then you would have simply stopped chasing your sister around the house, turned away your face when your mom gave you goodnight kiss, and slept before your father came to the room with your bedtime story.”

Sarfaraz looked at Ove and said “You know, my little Amir, he loved the coffee I made, and I would make it 5 times a day for him. Maybe it’s the coffee that killed him. Oh god…. I murdered him.”

“No Sarfaraz, it must not be the coffee”

“I’m awfully sure it’s the coffee,” said Sarfaraz, looking angrily and uneasily around. “What time is it?”

“It’s 6.30” replied Ove without looking anywhere but the sun which was on the verge of bidding its farewell for the day. “Do you watch the sunset, Sarfaraz?”

“Sunset, what sunset? replied Sarfaraz absent-mindedly.

“Do you have a balcony at your home?

“Yes, everyone has one, don’t they?”

“I hope so” 

“Would you join me at the library terrace? We can watch the sunset from there” asked Ove looking up dreamily.

There was a quiet movement and Sarfaraz was up walking towards the stairs of the library which led to the terrace. Ove quickly gathered his belongings and followed him up. The languid steps of Sarfaraz accentuated by the silence reached the door and there was an elaborate creak, as if his arms were too flabby to sustain the pull.

“Aahhh” cried Sarfaraz, “I have never seen something so beautiful, dear lord!” His voice now had a hint of wistfulness and the air made his face look younger.

“I bet” said Ove watching the red ball subduing into a bow as if bidding its final goodbye.”

There was a silence, which transcended slowly. Ove opened his packet of bread and offered Sarfaraz a loaf. He took it with a smile so peaceful and innocent and the golden lights illuminating his brown hair gave him the look of a modern greek hero.

“You know I have an uncanny deposition towards any kind of farwell,” said Ove glancing at Sarfaraz ” I avoid it as much as possible, but I like to make an exception with the sun, it just comes back around every time as if playing a game of hide-seek, and you just have to seek it. It is there always, you just have to seek it”

Sarfaraz suddenly took hold of Ove’s hands and awkwardly hugged him, then stared at him with a shy smile.

“Why do you carry the diary?”

“I have been waiting to write something for the past six years, I think today I’ll be able to do it.”

“Ahh, good for you, I hope you write everyday” saying that Sarfaraz sprinted away with the agility of a teenager and looked back and waved his hands at Ove before finally going down.

Ove with his leftover packet of bread lingered on the terrace for a while, his shadow slowly dancing with the dying lights of the sun, he wrote “sunsets are tragically beautiful” in his diary before heading back to home. For the first time in six years, the packet of bread had been opened and a line written.

The House of Cards

‘So you’re all set for the day?’ Azeem asks in his toneless voice. ‘You are coming, right?’

I look at him. He is sitting on the armchair, eyes fixed at the bookshelf, watching the spines of Homers’, Dickens’, Austens’ and Brontes’ with an insatiable gaze.

‘Yes, maybe,’ I reply while returning to my desk to complete the letter I had been writing.

‘Maybe,’ he repeated slowly after a while as if making some sense of the word.

I know that he would never cajole me into going, my refusal would mean that he simply goes alone. Yet, his tacit expression spoke otherwise- that my presence would be somewhat appealing to him.

The shirt I was wearing was clinging to my back, sweat tracing the bones of my spine. I got up and opened the balcony door; there was not a trace of sunlight. I touched my face, rubbed the side of my nose and was left with a grimy, oily residue on my hands. Awaiting rain to fall on the now deserted streets, I came back in.

I have been close to people in the same way I have been with myself, just that I’m unfiltered chaos by myself, whereas, what others get is an infinitesimal part of that chaos. But with Azeem, my ideas had an urge to jut out of my mind. I look at him again, and every time I find something new hidden in those wistful eyes, which speak more than the monosyllables uttered once in a while.

‘I heard you fighting with papa,’ I remarked in a fervent tone.

‘Yes,’ said Azeem with an expression of dejected sadness.

‘What was it about?’

‘I don’t know, the usual.’

‘What usual?’

‘The usual, usual.’

‘Why can’t you tell me? Why do I tell you everything? You are a horrible person, you know that! And if I’m not admitted to your sadness, I don’t wish to know to share your happiness too,’ I finished, already regretting those words and turned around.

He stood up, grabbed his crutches and moved slowly towards the bookshelf; his hands reached for a book, his muscles flexed into an arch, like that of an intrinsic piece of architecture, his shoulders were perfect and his hands agile as if to compensate for his languid legs. The acrid smell of pomade which he always applied, reached my nose, and he crumbled down into a chair facing me. I felt miserable for some reason. That smell makes me sad. But he loves it and uses nothing else, almost as if he’s afraid that his hair won’t be the same without it.

And that I did not give anyone the responsibility for my life. It is mine. I made it. And can do whatever I want to with it. Live it. Give it back, someday without bitterness, to the wild and weedy dunes,‘ he spoke directly looking at me.  ‘You know who said this? Mary Oliver!’

For some reason, this made me even more vexed. Quoting people and quieting people, that’s all he ever did. I did not wish to say anything more and remained silent pretending to write something important.

‘Ada, listen,’ he whispered with a voice which quivered with a glint of sadness. ‘It’s just that I don’t wish to disclose the most intimate details of my life. They are to be devoured within the heart. So that no one can claim their part. It’s my pain, that’s the only real thing I can claim for myself. You know when I am sad, I am always thinking about myself. There is this overwhelming feeling which cuts me off from the world. I feel more alive with every step I take, every breath is a mournful celebration. Yes. A celebration, Ada,’ he spoke softly, looking at my confused expression. ‘Celebrations are meant to make you alive, and this makes me so alive. Maybe that’s why I don’t hate being sad, nor am I afraid of it. Why should I be afraid of something which makes me more alive and close to myself?’ he finished with an ounce of satisfaction and looked at me. Just looked at me. I knew he did not want any reply, it was a look which embarked a new journey, which said here- you are a part of me now, I’m allowing you to know me because -I love you.

‘I am going for a walk,’ I said, suddenly. ‘I’ll be back before lunch. Tell amma, will you?’

He nodded.

I put on my small bonnet because I knew it would rain and did not feel like holding an umbrella.

I went to the park just below our house. There was no one there except a small child with pale blue eyes, crying hysterically. I went over and sat next to him and asked, ‘Why are you crying?’ looking at the shattered house of cards.

He paid no heed to my presence and continued to bawl.

I took the cards and built a house out of it again.

‘See, it’s okay now!’ I exclaimed proudly.

But watching the now perfectly built castle he sobbed harder. His expression was that of bewilderment, accusation and betrayal as if I had done something which shouldn’t have been done. Suddenly, I felt a huge droplet hit my nose. I looked above and saw the sky turn black. Within a matter of seconds, it started raining cats and dogs. I saw Azeem peeping through the window, raindrops mapping the curves of his face, reaching his mouth. I wonder how salty it must have tasted. The sound of the rain, the muffled cries of the child and Azeem’s innocuous smile, all blended into an inexplicable emotion. It felt like a new beginning.

‘Ada,’ Azeem called gleefully, ‘come, amma is calling. Lunch is ready.’

I nodded.

The child had stopped crying. He trotted, jerking his tiny head sideways, every time he took a step, leaving the perfect house of cards behind.