i carry this one notebook with me with a plastic cover and yellowing pages. you can’t find that kind of notebook around anymore. it is the precursor to what in our early school days was called ‘kitabcha-e-sadwaraqa’; the 100-page notebook. i recall lamenting even then that one cannot find those old notebooks anymore. it is filled with exquisite drawings and sketches – mostly of nature and flowers – with a most impeccable shading. and all done with ballpoint pens and with utmost care. (i am sure one of those original good old ‘bic’ pens – which you cannot find around anymore either.) years ago, she once told me that she had other notebooks like that also filled with drawings and selected verse. i never found those. but this one notebook is a treasured piece of family heirloom now – and in contest between me and my youngest sister. we have, however, developed a good arrangement over who should have it when. who needs it most. a good understanding that if one of us goes into the other’s room looking for it, we know better than to ask or to want to grab on to it. the other of us must be needing it more. and so it goes. the older it gets, the more precious it seems to become. and with every page that fades, every corner that falls off because it is so old, the distance in time and space seems to grow. i am afraid of forgetting. of years washing away the memories. of new layers replacing the old ones. this is why i cling on however i can. a few weeks back i was in the kitchen fixing a snack and saw these old, sturdy pieces of silverware. the kind that you cannot find easily anymore. you could see they had been used well. i collected all of them and folded them in a clean napkin and put them away in my room. i came back down and saw a dish in which we used to keep the yogurt – at least that is how i remember it. i am not sure what function it served anymore. i picked this up and brought it to my room and put this away too. what for? i am not sure. it was impulsive and almost involuntary – and something in me longed to extend the lives of these ordinary household items, and thereby preserve my own memories for a bit longer. then i remembered another old bowl i used to dine out of when i was young. it had travelled with us all the way around our various moves. by some miracle, it was still around until a couple of years ago. but i could not find it any longer. and again that feeling of free fall, of distance and time stretching out in space and taking us apart overwhelmed me. there was this one granite and marble stone ashtray – remnant of another era -which i tucked away too. now i have a treasure trove of these tiny heirlooms that serve as my only links to her, my aide memoirs, my connections and roots. maybe i am being a pack-rat. maybe i am being overly sentimental. i am not sure. yet, i know i do not want to forget. i do not want to move on, move along -whatever you name it. it’s the mother’s day today and i remember her as someone who had an insatiable thirst for life, goodness, and happiness. that she did not get to witness some of the happier moments for which she of all people toiled so hard and long, is something i cannot yet fully wrap my head around. nowhere in the grand scheme of divine wisdom and heavenly justice have i found a way to -satisfactorily for myself- reconcile this grand dissonance. i am not sure if i ever will.
In literature and writing (and broadly in our cultures) we always associate the desert with deprivation, harshness, droughts and scarcity, and some sort of natural violence. A natural instance of violence. Violence and harshness manifest, incarnate. We use words such as ‘forbidding’ to describe the desert. It takes little to observe the lives of people who inhabit the desert and see that it is full of color, life, passion and good music. They sing well, they stitch well. They use color far better than you and I, just as they use sound and water and food better than you and I. This is because they understand the economy of it, and appreciate the beauty and preciousness of it. Going through the desert and its vastness and blankness, you come to notice the smaller things that populate this otherwise desolate and grey world. A blade of grass becomes more highlighted. A drip of water is more noticeable. Sounds stand out far better – as in the silver stream of a solo flute that travels for miles. And you see that desert is not blank and desolate and empty. It is bountiful and generous and giving. It is maternal almost. You just need to be prepared to see it, to ask. The desert has helped many a seeker find. And find both within and without. There is a rugged and depraved beauty to the desert. A certain passion in its seeming calm and vacuum. Given enough time, one can lose and find oneself anew in a desert. People in the desert lead simple lives full of meaning. They sing and dance well. They stitch and embroider well. They love with passion and abandon of the sort that comes with life only in the desert.
Sending this from a moonlit night in the middle of the thar desert on a mobile phone. Hot wind blowing and foir once it is not unpleasant in the slightest. Tea annd good conversation flowing too. True desolate desert of the sort I have never been to
with all its romance and solitude.
arrived karachi this afternoon from lahore. last visit to city 10 years ago. cloud remnants of phet overhead. less hot than lahore. 6-hour journey into the desert heart of rural sindh tomorrow. maupassant wandering madman.
greetings from lahore, the beating heart of pakistan!
(where i have come to read guy de maupassant short stories with greater concentration)
ای جوانانِ عجم
جانِ من و
after an interlude of 4 years or so, i am sitting in a classroom again, and remembering what that old familiar feeling feels like. my mind is reviving its lost neuron connections, and sparks fly galore. my mind is on fire.
a friend sent me the link to a lovely photo-essay on fp by mohammad qayoumi titled ‘once upon a time in afghanistan’. nostalgic, heartbreaking, and beautiful. a memento of what the country was once like.
or was it?
not to be a party spoiler, and not to come across as agreeing with those lunatic 13th century broken country comments, (and yes, i also loved the grainy black and white photos of a yesteryear afghanistan that was better at least on some accounts than the mess today and where skirt-clad young girls browsed through records of the ‘jackson five’ in kabul’s music stores) seriously, am i the only one who thinks that things like the following quote are more than a little ‘airbrushed’ version of what indeed was the reality?
“Afghanistan’s racial diversity has little meaning except to an ethnologist. Ask any Afghan to identify a neighbor and he calls him only a brother.”
afterall, the setting of the kiterunner was in approximately the same era, and there at least afghanistan’s racial diversity holds wider interest than the closed circle of ethnologists – to say the least.
and just to be perfectly clear: in asking this, i am not being gratuitously distasteful, but rather concerned above all with historic accuracy.
we need not hoodwink ourselves into a makebelief version of history if we are to make a better country.
we ought to have the audacity to admit what was, in all its detail -both pretty and ugly- in order to allow ourselves to aspire to what will be.
آیینه چون نقش تو بنمود راست
خود شکن آیینه شکستن خطاست