Friday, July 25, 2014

It Makes Perfect Sense

I greatly admire people who can properly word their prayers. People who beseech God with proper words of prayers asking Him not just forgiveness but for other material and immaterial things as well.

In the grand mosque located where the mohalla ends, the Imam who used to be was very good with words. I think most imams in Kashmir are. They have a set of items which they all ask in congregational prayers. Forgiveness. Honour. Livelihood. Health. Cure. Suitors. Children. There are prayers for Kashmir, especially in times of turmoil and curfew. There are prayers for Palestine and Muslims around the world. The imam would close his eyes and sit partially facing the gathering as he repeated the same prayer everyday.

It made perfect sense. These things are universal. Everybody could do with living a healthy life with honour and dignity.

Then there is a little pause as the people in the congregation consider a small prayer, just for themselves. But some prayers are not easy to speak out. On nights like the last, Shab Qadr, one feels especially tongue tied of what to ask God for. Is there a picking order? How does one vent out the contradictions and conflict of the heart?

Or we dont. For God already knows. He knows the hope of the heart and its answer. We only need to say Amen. An Amen content in the knowledge that God knows and understands our condition, and that we have no gift for words. He, being the Provider and the Pathmaker, shall make a way for the unsaid prayer to reach Him.


Image Credit: Sajad Rafeeq

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Inside of a Cup

Precisely at the moment I lost it, it became precious. Like lost lyrics to the songs which you remembered by heart once.

There was no bread to be had, no czochwour and no company. Srinagar was a cool breezy house where afternoon echoed in through open doors. Empty. There was some nun chai, I was sure. But I didn't know how to make it. It was something that was already at home, waiting to be heated and had.

I let the nun chai brew. A bit hesitatingly, not sure if this is the right way. Something so famously complicated couldn't have such a simple beginning. Or could it? The dried crisp leaves danced in the boiling water. It needs to be boiled, for hours and hours, of that I was sure. In the old days, when electricity was really poor in Srinagar and the voltages fluctuated wildly, nun chai was prepared in a thick bottomed vessel, four hours together on a electric heater. That changed with times. When families used to be large and people had too much time and, often too many servants, the samavars were heated in the morning and would brew the nun chai perfectly for hours before serving. Of course, the pot bellied copper samavars are the most authentic way to have nun chai.

But not today. Not for me. The tea lacked colour. And even though the aroma was the same nostalgic fragrance which at once reminded me of my mother's blue winter shawl the colour was absent. I was missing the soda, phol, sodium bicarbonate. The magic ingredient which draws out all the flavour and colour from the tea leaves. Of course, it does that slowly too. The tea bubbled a little as the powder dissolved into it and then died. The electric induction cooker did its usual hum and the tea went back to boiling just as it was.Nun chai draws from the slow humdrum life of Kashmir, taking patience and labour to get the work done. Though, in case of nun chai as I found out, there isn't much work involved at all.

Fifteen minutes.

"Friends" was playing on the television and that was perhaps why I lost track of time. And perhaps because I was keeping myself company, I also noticed how throughout the seasons of Friends it is Monica with her giving nature who binds the friends together. How her fridge was always stocked up for friends to arrive at all hours and feel at home.

Half and hour, may be. I had lost count.

The afternoon dropped temperatures. Srinagar was now a million miles away. It was a memory written on the tea stains on the inside of a cup. It was the pleasant aroma of the inside of my mother's shawl on an autumn afternoon.







Friday, May 30, 2014

Thank God For Little Pleasures - XXVII

There was a fire on the hills.

The stranger had appeared again amidst us. No one noticed the stranger, as people never do. He was waiting at the bus stand in a queue of people. It was hot, the heat drawing out like a centipede on his neck where perspiration trickled. He looked straight ahead. Behind him somebody was laughing wildly into a phone, with such abandon as if there was nothing wrong with the world. His world may be, how would the stranger know?

The bus stand was slowly filling  up. People came and went. Not a single familiar face. The stranger was glad for such things at times. It was an odd relationship with the city: there were no expectations, no pretences and so few disappointments. Both of them hated each other with the same intensity.

Tonight there is nobody. Just the stranger and a few waiters waiting for him to go away. The food is tasteless, like always. And the stranger is starving.



Up in the mountains, there is a fire. The ovens are burning bright and there is a feast laid out for no body in particular. The stranger is aware of it. Acutely, as he reminds his starving mind. He completes his food, puts down his fork, pays the cash to the waiter waiting with the bill and leaves.

The mountains are a pretty place to be in. The stranger considers his mind and the edges he has been drawn to. A draft brings the smoke of the fire to him. They must be burning roses up there. It smells pleasant, singed roses, their colour bleeding into fuel and their fragrance wafting in the fumes. Do they do that? To make the valleys fragrant. There are no breezes here, its all smoke and unpleasant.

The next bus is ten minutes delayed. The man on the phone is still talking.

Quietly he boards the bus and leaves. The city wails behind him. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Shall we?"

I had no idea what lovers in Kashmir did in winters, when it snowed and everything was cold and wet and hard. Till Spring came and moods turned. This year the storm died somewhere in the mod of April. It is becoming an annual thing now. Winds. Rain in March. The tulips being washed away. The Botanical Gardens must be a sad place, despite the rains and lovers.  But the rains will stop, punctually before the almonds bloom. Like always. It’s a relief Nature grants, the last one before summers.

I mean just look at it! Winters – of jackets, a couple of sweaters, gloves and red noses. Of walking on wet leaves. The smoke from street hawkers’ stalls. Cold and cough. And frozen pipes.

Love is a pointless emotion. I am so convinced of it at this point that in my memory of that spring all the blossoms of Badamvaer have been blown away. He had told me so, many times. But that was too many months ago. Years, even. It was spring and we were young and bored with Kashmir’s normal monotony. 

But that was 2008 and it was all about to change.

It lasted exactly a season. The next season we spent in curfew.

I turn to his memory of looking out of the gazebo in Botanical Gardens. In my mind he is always staring at the almond blossoms. Always smiling. The fading sunlight glinting off his eyes. He is  not interested in me. Not more than I am interested in the blossoms. Suddenly I laugh. This foolishness – of having found a person and imagining falling in love. Its all movie stuff. Until its real and then it doesn’t happen in Botanical Gardens, of that also I am sure.

I turn to his memory and ask, “Will you dance with me?”



.... to be continued....

Friday, May 16, 2014

Homage to Faiz - Agha Shahid Ali

“You are welcome to make your
adaptations of my poems.”
1
You wrote this from Beirut, two years before
the Sabra-Shatila massacres. That
city’s refugee-air was open, torn
by jets and the voices of reporters. As
always you were witness to “rains of stones,”
though you were away from Pakistan, from
the laws of home which said that the hands of
thieves would be surgically amputated.
But the subcontinent always spoke to
you: in Ghalib’s Urdu, and sometimes through
the old masters who sang of twilight but
didn’t live, like Ghalib, to see the wind
rip the collars of the dawn: the summer
of 1857, the trees of
Delhi became scaffolds: 30,000
men were hanged. Wherever you were, Faiz, that
language spoke to you; and when you heard it,
you were alone—in Tunis, Beirut,
London, or Moscow. Those poets’ laments
concealed, as yours revealed, the sorrows of
a broken time. You knew Ghalib was right:
blood musn’t merely follow routine, musn’t
just flow as the veins’ uninterrupted
river. Sometimes it must flood the eyes,
surprise them by being clear as water.
 2
I didn’t listen when my father
recited your poems to us by
heart. What could it mean to a boy
that you had redefined the cruel
beloved, that figure who already
was Friend, Woman, God? In your hands
she was Revolution. You gave
her silver hands, her lips were red.
Impoverished lovers waited all
night every night, but she
remained only a glimpse behind
light. When I learned of her I was
no longer a boy, and Urdu
a silhouette traced by
the voices of singers, by
Begum Akhtar who wove your couplets
into ragas: both language and music
were sharpened. I listened:
and you became, like memory,
necessary. Dast-e-Saba,
I said to myself. And quietly
the wind opened its palms: I read
there of the night: the secrets
of lovers, the secrets of prisons.
3
When you permitted my hands to turn to
stone, as must happen to a translator’s
hands, I thought of you writing Zindan-Nama
on prison-walls, on cigarette-packages,
on torn envelopes. Your lines were measured
so carefully to become in our veins
the blood of prisoners. In the free verse
of another language I imprisoned
each line—but I touched my own exile.
This hush, while your ghazals lay in my palms,
was accurate, as is this hush which falls
at news of your death over Pakistan
and India and over all of us no
longer there to whom you spoke in Urdu.
Twenty days before your death you finally
wrote, this time from Lahore, that after the sack
of Beirut you had no address. . .I
had gone from poem to poem, and found
you once terribly alone, speaking
to yourself: “Bolt your doors, Sad heart! Put out
the candles, break all cups of wine. No one,
now no one will ever return.” But you
still waited, Faiz, for that God, that Woman,
that Friend, that Revolution, to come at
last. And because you waited, I
listen as you pass with some song,

A memory of musk, the rebel face of hope. 


- Agha Shahid Ali