Sunday, 7 December 2014

Writer’s Life

Smitten with the written word is he. But this is not entirely an innocent love that shuns all thoughts of material gains. 

Omar’s love for the written word has a smattering of worldly motives. More than a smattering in fact.

It all began when Omar decided to copy every book in the world. “I want to build my own library,” he told me.”

“Why don’t you buy them?” simpleton that I am, I always fail to decipher Omar’s deeper motives.

“I want to write my own books. And it will save money.”

“But this is not writing, this is copying somebody’s work.” I have already admitted to not being very sharp.

“I am writing. This is my handwriting.” Considering the finality in Omar’s tone, I decide not to wax eloquent on plagiarism.

A chicken-hearted simpleton. Not very flattering!

Thus a couple of stories are written. And here ends the first phase of the writer’s life.

It is with swarming thoughts and plans of getting rich and famous that the second phase starts.

Now Omar wants the world us to see what he is seeing, imagining.  And he wants to become rich.

“How much money do you need to get a book published? I will get it published with my pocket money and then sell it in shops,” he outlines his writerly plans.

“If some publisher likes your book, she will pay you for writing it, “I tell him about the rosy side of writers’ life.

“Really!” he is excited and tells me about the book that he is writing.

“It is really good. It is about an astronaut who lives in Australia and has a rocket. One day he lands in Japan and meet children there. Do you think some publisher would like to publish it?”

“Yes, it sounds interesting. Keep writing.”

For a couple of days, Omar is excited and is seen writing at all times and in all positions: lying down in the lounge, cuddled in bed, sitting on a sofa.  

 “Mr.Robert is now in Pakistan and he is writing books with children. They have set up a small book shop, they are going to sell books and become rich,” Omar tells me one day.


“The astronaut in my book! He is now in Pakistan.” Robert is now Omar’s alter ego. Omar is excited. He believes he is writing a best seller, and he is vicariously living the life he wants to live. The best phase of a writer’s life.

Now starts the next phase.

One day, the writer seems cranky and in not so good a mood.

“I think my book is not good enough. Nobody would want to publish it.”

“It is good. Just keep writing, write what you want to write about, don’t care about getting published,” I pass on the classic advice given to all wnna-be writers. 

This works for a few days, and then:

“Robert built a gold castle with children and has gone back to Japan. I don’t know what to write next. Can’t think of anything,” the writer sounds frustrated.

The little writer is suffering from a massive writer’s block.

For the next few days, Omar is in the worst possible mood. And then he decides to settle for an ordinary life:

“Keep this with you. I don’t think I can finish it. Maybe, I am too young,” Omar hands me his un-finished manuscript.

I am keeping the manuscript safe. I know he is going to ask for it one day. I know once you fall prey to the scourge of writing, you remain a captive. Publishers or no publishers.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Getting Political

We saw a car stuffed with children...singing, and waving PTI flags

“Have you ever been to a jalsa,” Saif asks me.

“No, I am claustrophobic, crowds suffocate me.”

Saif only listens to half of my comment because he is busy chanting a PTI song.

“But you have to go to his one. There will be a huge crowd, the like of which you have never seen before,” Saif informs me.

“So, you are a PTI supporter. Why?”

“Because Imran Khan is going to change everything. Nawaz Sharif goes to America and stays in the most expensive hotels. And we don’t need metros, we need more schools and hospitals. Why should his daughter handle that project which Imran Khan says she does?” Saif is a regular listener of Imran Khan’s daily tirades

Saif and all the other Lilliputians daily watch news channels and discuss politics. They are now so into politics.

Should I accompany them to the jalsa?

I have a green shirt. And this decides for me.

As our car inches along towards the Minar-e-Paksitan, the first impression  that I register is that of people around me-immense crowds- twisting, hopping, tapping, nodding and whirling and waving in different directions. I realize this is some kind of response to the blaring music that accompanies many cars. What I find particularly endearing are the shopkeepers in the roadside shops  dancing, yes dancing, while doing their business.

“Look!” Omar excitedly points toward one PTI supporter who is wearing a mask.

Very creative.

We encounter many other imaginative souls who have
man with the horns
devised different ways to register their support.

My favourite, however, is the man with the horns. He sits on the bumper of his car,  makes a victory sign and gives huge smiles to everyone. 

I start thinking. Maybe the man with the horn represents the change that Imran Khan talks about. So does the change rhetoric imply that people will be able to live the way they want to live? Wear what they want wear, even horns?

Jalsa Mood
The   thought makes me happy. But somehow I have a feeling that this is not what IK has in mind. He has never waxed
eloquent about horns.

The crowd is growing by the minute.      
We finally reach our destination. I am beginning to have serious bouts of claustrophobic paranoia.
Friendship bands

The police on duty seems weary, and almost have a harassed looked. They are telling people to move quickly, to make way for other people.

I hear one weary policeman telling a charged PTI supporter, “Please hurry up, Nawaz sharif is going. Make way for other people!”

flying child
Yes, I have never seen so many people together. And there is also a robust commercial activity going on amidst crowds. There are hawkers selling food items, offering to paint faces, selling friendship bands, caps and other paraphernalia.

We can barely move. Barely breathe, so dense is the crowed. And there are children, toddlers, infants. Some flying in the air.

"I want to see Imran Khan"
“I need to go near the stage, I have to see Imran Khan,” Zainab says.

“What’s the point of coming here if we can’t go near the stage,” Saif grumbles.

“We can’t, there’s no place. Besides, Imran Khan hasn’t arrived yet,” I tell them.

The disgruntled looks don’t go away.

After an hour of being sandwiched in the crowd I am tired of looking around, and  look up.

“The moon is waxing…it’s a beautiful crescent,” I invite them to look at the sky. My claustrophobia eases for a while

Nobody replies. Nobody is listening.

While we stand and listen to various chants, a woman offers us gulabjamas. “Take as many as you want,” she says.

I am beginning to like PTI people. I mean, they give you gulabjamans.

There are more people coming, and there is no place to stand.

“Let’s go back,” my claustrophobia begins to mount. Every inch of the grounds, every bit of the bridge, trees, poles, cars, walls, are packed with roaring, shouting, dancing humans.
We ignore fuming faces of Saif and Zainab. We turn a deaf ear to their griping. Omar is too tired to say anything, but he keeps making weird faces.

We start looking for a way out. We walk, and walk.

After an hour, we manage to somehow go out of the Minar. But No let up from the teeming, charged humanity. We keep walking, keep shoving, keep getting shoved and pushed all the way to the Bhaati gate.

There we get a chingchi and get a ride to the Secretariat. Omar now tries to ward off his bad mood by donning all the paraphernalia of PTI that he has purchased so far and starts making faces. Once there, we call the driver and reach home. Just in time to listen to Imran Khan. 

The Lilliputians, though tired, run and huddle around the TV. They listen. Now that they have been to the jalsa, they feel they are a part of something big. They are all charged up and feeling important.

Omar wearing all PTI stuff
I only want to hide somewhere quiet with a steaming mug of tea.

There are two types of people in the world: jalsa- type, and not-jalsa-type. I know to which category I belong


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Of Candle Light and Parties

 Can pyromania surface as fascination for candle light? A kind of sublimation of the fierce urge to set fire to things and then watch them burn, and burn.

Perhaps. Who knows. And Freud is no longer here to enlighten us.

“I love watching it quiver ever so lightly, it almost seems to be smiling and nodding at something,” this is what I had told Omar once. It must have happened when I was in one of my candle-light-roof-top party moods.  Omar had looked at me askance, as he tends to do when he seems to be having second thoughts about my credentials as a learned-wise-adult.

But in spite of his doubts, my sublimated pyromania must have appealed to Omar’s equally wayward imagination.

I am not prepared, not in this hot sauna like evening, for an invitation to a candle light tea party.    

“Look! Thirty candles. I have brought thirty candles, and they are scented. I have bought a  colourful dinner set for our parties. You will light the candles, you will have your tea, and I will have a glass of lemonade,” Omar tells me about the party that I have to attend, and arrange.

Notice the ‘will.’

“Omar, don’t you think it is too hot? It's the load shedding hour so there won’t be any air conditioner to make it bearable. The fan will blow out the candles,” I tell him.

“Of Course, we will not switch on the fan. If you don’t want to have tea, you can have coffee. But hurry up. I have also arranged for something to eat.”

Do I have a choice!

So here I sit with Omar, sipping tea, and looking at the thirty flames, wondering what are they smiling at and who are they nodding too.

The heat bothers. But Omar is happy, he tells me that I am the best, and this more than makes up for the hot evening made hotter by the wafting heat from the candle flames.

The sublimated form of pyromania seems to run in the family.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A Story that Happens at the Dining Table

It is a hot and humid night, a few stars are gazing lazily at the dwellers of this planet.

They think about the shenanigans that the inhabitants of the earth engage in, and they start yawning. The thought is boring.

“Ha! Look at the people casting stones while sitting in a glass house,” exclaims Sirius the brightest star.

“And there are piped pipers too who seem to be having delusions of grandeur,” says another bored star.

They yawn. Suddenly one of them starts twinkling real fast. “Look, finally there is something interesting happening on the earth,” he sparkles with joy.

They peep inside the window of the house on one of the streets in Lahore.

They have Google street maps so it’s easier for them to find the exact place.

There is light, there’s food, there’s the laughter of  children, and a sense of expectancy. A perfect setting. 

Waft of something crispy, salty, tasty, settles on the dining table, it blends with the laughter, settles on the tongues of Mobby and Roshan.

Amma comes, bearing a dish of mouth watering home made KFC style mini burgers. The dish is placed on the table.

And then it happens.

 “This looks like a turtle…well, almost a turtle,” Roshan has spotted a turtle among the burgers.

Sure. There is one turtle. All I need is a pair of cloves and a dash of tomato peel.

I am so good at sculpting eatables.

“One turtle is looking, while the rest of them are hiding inside their shells,” Mobby observes.

“ Invite your friends, introduce turtles to them,” I tell them.

I want visitors to admire my sculpting skills. I want to be famous.

A teddy comes and sits near the dish of turtles. “They look so cute,” he says.
Another friend comes. And then another.

“They are such darlings,” say the teddy and the froggy, and they bend down to kiss them.

“These turtles smell like…smell like…something yummmmmy,” they open their mouths.

The turtle, the one that’s not hiding in its shell, tries to run away…

Ah! It’s the cloves I taste first.

Teddy and friends have gone back, and they never admired my sculpting skill. I am not famous. But I am satiated, and it feels good.

A happy ending.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Of Tooth Fairies and Sparrows

“They travel at night and collect teeth. In the morning they set to work and fashion those teeth into gleaming white pearls and make necklaces. In the evening they get dressed, wear tooth pearl necklaces, and dance. And they sing, ‘we are happy, we are pretty’,” I tell Omar when he asks me about tooth fairies.

“And they give gifts to children?” he asks.

“Yes, they like to do honest business. So they barter gifts for teeth.”

Omar seems indecisive about something. But after a while he shows me his key ring and a wallet with brand new notes. “Look, what the tooth fairy gave me last night.”

I am excited about Omar’s new found riches and tell him so. After all, this comes as a replacement of his seven year old tooth. A long held treasure.

Something is still bothering Omar. And he asks me, “Do you actually believe in tooth fairies? I think, Amma put these gifts under my pillow when I was sleeping.”

Omar is facing an existential moment.

“Of course, I believe in fairies, all kind of fairies. Why would Amma wake up in the middle of the night to do so, she could have given you these gifts in the morning,” I am in my defense- counsel-for-fairies mode.

Now Roshan joins the conversation. He is also a beneficiary of tooth fairies’ largesse. “I got a big teddy bear. Shops are closed at midnight, and I didn’t see my mother going to the market in the morning to buy a teddy bear.  I think there are tooth fairies,” Roshan seems to be reassuring himself.

Omar is not entirely convinced. “Dado, were there tooth fairies when you lost your teeth at seven,” Omar asks grandma. He is now looking for historical, empirical evidence for tooth fairies’ existence.  

“We used to give our teeth to sparrows. We would chant ‘Sparrow, sparrow, take our old tooth and give us a brand new one’,” Dado reminisces.

“At that time in history, tooth fairies weren’t mobile. So they asked sparrows to collect teeth for them. I believe, the fairies paid those sparrows handsomely,” I am a loyal counsel.

If I want my tooth back, will the fairy give it back?” Omar asks.

“No, I don’t think so. It has already been turned into a pearl,” my loyalty knows no bounds.

“What kind of a fairy is she if she can’t return my tooth?”

Omar and Roshan look at each other meaningfully.

 Ah! The real world. The world where tooth fairies don’t exist but dentists do. The world of skepticism, doubts, disillusionment, and questions with no answers. What a momentous transition. We do need tooth fairies to mark the moment, to make it easier. Maybe, a dollop of enchantment with stay on. 

Yes, I believe in tooth fairies; and I  believe there were sparrows who used to run errands for fairies.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

No More

I stand by the main door and wait. Roseee has this habit of hiding behind flowers pots and sneaking inside whenever someone opens the door. I open the door, wait in the foyer, look around. Of course, Roseee cannot come inside, she is no more. 

Roseee died a few days ago, and I am still waiting for something to tell me there is no need to look behind the flowerpots.

“What if she hasn’t died, but only fainted and will come back someday!” Omar is wishful.

“I can’t even believe she is dead. She was nicer than most human beings, so gentle and loving,” Zainab is wistful.  

“We once gave her a bath, remember?” Saif says.

We reminisce.

It seems yesterday, but it also seems long ago when we befriended Roseee. A stray cat that walked into her home and stole our heart away. She was so unlike a stray cat and behaved as if she had always known us. She was so trusting, and loved being touched and held.

Zainab is right. Roseee was kinder than most humans. We remember how she would sit back and look at the hens when they would greedily devour her favorite bread and butter. She liked omelets, Nusrat Fateh Ali, and long walks at night.

“Do you remember we once gave her a bath?” Omar chuckles.

Yes, I do. I lathered her with my favorite shampoo.  A bewildered Roseee looked at me, a wet, dripping Roseee ran away and hid on the rooftop. It was a new experience for her, she didn’t like it. But shortly afterwards a cleaner, prettier Roseee sat in my room and listened to Nusrat Fateh Ali.

“And that trip to the doctor!” Saif laughs.

Yes. Roseee kept giving me hurtful, accusing looks throughout the trip to the doctor and back. Perhaps she didn’t think too well of me when the doctor gave her two injections. But later, a healthy, active Roseee walked with me on the rooftop and snuggled against my legs.

“We built her a house. She liked it, didn’t she?” Omar asks.

I am glad we did. It kept her cozy on winter nights; yes, she liked it.

“Her kittens were pretty like her,” says Zainab.

Roseee had two litters of kittens in a year. There were three kittens in the first litter and we gave them up for adoption. Hopefully, they are now health young cats. She had her second litter of kittens on March 31, 2014. There were five kittens in the litter. Two of them died and two we gave up for adoption, and one still lives here.   

“How she carrid her kittens in her mouth and brought them to our home,” Omar reminisces.

It was soon after her second litter of kittens that Roseee was probably hit by a car. -she was a stray cat and needed to go out from time to time. She developed some complications which the doctor couldn’t figure out. It was a painful and slow death. She lost weight, she stopped eating, she couldn’t poop.

She kept wandering during her last days. But she came back here to die.

A sense of loss there is. Our senses feel deprived…she seems to be around but we can’t see her, hear her or touch her.

She is no more. No more forever.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

An Unending Story

“The story starts almost like another story: The Sleeping Beauty. However, it is about a seed. There was once a little black seed. It slept peacefully inside the earth for many months while the water kept caressing it. So one day it woke up. 

The seed opened its green eyes and looked at the world around it. It looked at the Ashoka tree that stood tall at some distance and was looking affectionately at the budding seed. The seed smiled and nodded to the tree. Little did it know that one day the tree would become its best friend.

As the sunlight gently touched the bud it started growing, and it grew fast. It was curious and wanted to explore the world, so it kept spreading in all directions. The water and the sunlight, seeing the seed’s thirst for knowledge, kept helping it travel far and wide.

It became a vine.

One day the vine looked at the starry skies, they seemed to beckon it. Now it wanted to travel upwards and meet the stars, so unquenchable was its curiosity.  As it pined for the stars and the moon, the tree who had witnessed the seed’s journey, thought of the ways to help it. One day it asked the sprawling vine to lean on it.

‘Entwine yourself around me and climb upwards. And you might touch the stars one day,’ It told the seed that was now a vibrant vine.

The vine was happy. The happiness wasn’t just about the thought of climbing upwards, it was also about having someone to lean on, having someone to share its dreams and happiness with. It was about having a friend. 

Together the two friends nodded to the wind, played with the sunlight, and conversed with the stars. They also endured harsh blizzards, but they had each other.

As the vine grew and grew, it bore gourds that people happily ate. But some of the gourds that grew on the top, remained hidden. There was a purpose behind it. They had to live on to tell the story.”

I tell this story to the Lilliputians. And show them the dried gourd that I found on the top of an Ashoka tree growing in a house in Garden Town. How I asked the security guard of the house that I badly needed a dried gourd, and how gracious was the guard to pick it for me, is another story.

 “I have brought one of the hidden gourds so you can also hear the story.  Now hear,” I shake the gourd and something jingles inside it.

They are curious. I peel off a little bit of the hard core, and we have a glimpse of a sponge like loofah. Their excitement mounts. Together we peel the entire dried gourd. A brand new loofah becomes visible.

“It is used as a bathing sponge. But it hasn’t yet stopped narrating its story,” I tell them, and shake the loofah. It still jingles and the seeds start falling down. 

Omar collects the seeds and washes the loofah.

Now the story has started all over again. Omar daily waters the seeds and they are growing fast. Travelling far and wide.

Omar has plans to sell loofahs…home grown organic loofahs.

Capitalism has seeped inside the story!

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Of Banana Twins and Twin souls

“Look!” Omar’s voice reverberates in the kitchen and, most probably, is heard within the radius of thirty miles. 

He has experienced a eureka moment:Two bananas that sleep cozily inside a single peel.

“They are twins. They are born together,” I tell Omar, and then decide to create a visual experience. 

And if you are standing in a kitchen, there is no dearth of possibilities to stoke your creativity. My sculpting skills need just two black peppers for those deep dark eyes, a clove for a roman nose, and a bit of tomato peel for those rosy lips.

I am happy with my artwork. I feel so creative; and Omar is impressed.

“Aren’t they cute” I ask Omar.

“Yes, let’s keep them for ever,” he enthuses. 

“We can’t, they will rot. Everything in this world is transitory, even banana twins.”

After all these years, Omar has learned to ignore my meaningless digressions. And he focuses on what matters: twins

“Do I have a twin too?” he asks.

“No, you don’t. But in all probability you have a twin soul, but twin souls are, generally speaking, elusive. And sometimes…” here I stop as Omar starts giving me here-she-goes-again look.

 “And if I had a twin, would he have been exactly like me?”

“There’s a possibility that he or she would have looked like you, but no one in the world, not even a twin, can be exactly like you. The way you think, the way you feel, the way you experience things is unique. There is just one you.”

I don’t know how much of my eloquent sermon on individual uniqueness makes sense to Omar but this seems to make him happy.

He again looks at the banana twins and marvels at my ‘sculpture’, “You are such a good artist,” he declares and runs to invite everyone to have a look at my ‘masterpiece.’

I am an artist. This is my eureka moment. So happy.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Under the Starry Skies

 “You said we would camp on the rooftop and watch the starts…you have been saying this for at least a year now,” Saif reminds me of our long overdue ‘expedition rooftop.’

Zainab and Omar join Saif’s refrain. I decide not to let the posterity remember me as someone-who-never-kept-her-promises.

“Tonight is the night. Pack your things. We will dwell among the stars,” I announce amid a thunder of applause. My reputation is secure.

“Saif and Zainab pack their bags. “I have also made a first aid box,” Saif tells me.
Aren’t they well versed in the art of camping!

Omar’s bag contains eatables, biscuits and chips. He also has a dictionary in his bag.
“What’s that for?” I ask.

“If we spot a constellation we can’t name, we can check it in the dictionary,” Omar educates me.

I take along (borrowed) binoculars, and my camera.

We light a few candles, set up a camp on the rooftop, and start charting the constellations. A naughty monkey comes from somewhere and climbs on our tent.

We spot Ursa Major. Zainab thinks she can see the summer triangle. We spot a few constellations we can’t name, and Omar can't find them in his dictionary either.

It’s getting quite dark. We blow out the candles and settle in the camp.

 “Let’s listen to the sounds of the night. If you talk loudly, you don’t know what creatures of the night might get disturbed,” I whisper and then add dramatically, “What if they barge inside our tent...”

The warning works. There’s a sudden hush. And we look on at the starry skies and try to listen.  

An inadequate yolk yellow moon hangs in the sky. A crow flies over. Maybe it has forgotten the way back to home, or perhaps it is just a loner and likes to take long lonely flights at night. There’s faint honking of a rickshaw somewhere far away on the road. A koel sings in the Lawrence Gardens. Or maybe it is just a ring tone of somebody’s cell! After all we are trying to listen to the sounds at night in the 21st century.

It’s quiet…so very quiet.

Suddenly the monkey on our tent starts jumping, it squeals, it has spotted our chips and biscuits and wants some. And then… there’s an elephant, a big grey elephant.  It eyes us. It extends its trunk and rummage inside the tent, takes away some of Omar’s biscuits. What if it decides to come inside?

We are scared. But I have an idea.

 I tell them that if the elephants barges inside, we will jump and mount it. We will take a tour of the wilderness on the elephants back. Now we are eager to greet the elepahant.

While we are planning who will jump from which side to mount the elephant, a kangaroo comes; it is looking for its mate. The mate actually sleep walks and sometimes lands near the lion’s den. 

We say hello to the kangaroo, but it doesn’t reply, it is so worried, almost in tears. 

“Come, jump and sit on my back. We will find your mate. And don’t cry, the lion normally sleeps at this hour. He ate a heavy dinner and won’t wake up soon” the elephant reassures the kangaroo and they both go away to find the sleep-walking mate.

We are disappointed, but happy for the kangaroo.

“Look there!” Zainab points to a cute little teddy bear. We invite the bear inside the tent, it snuggles with us, and we try to sleep.

And…Omar sneezes, he has a sudden headache. It is 2’0 clock and so chilly. Our blanket is damp.

“Let’s pack our things, and go downstairs. It is getting cold.

They are not willing to go, not yet. But I start picking up things.

“You said we will watch the morning start,” Saif and Zainab grumble.

Omar tries to convince me that it was just one sneeze, there won’t be more, and then sneezes again.

“We have to go. Next time we will arrange a bigger tent and stay here till the morning star comes,” I try to pacify them.

But the bad mood has set in. They are grumpy.

But now we know. There’s a whole new world under the starry skies. We only have to go to our roof top to experience it.