Reflection: The Stained Glass Window (Stories of the Pandemic From Pakistan)

(Part I)

The Fourth Day by Navid Shahzad is brimming with imagery that leaves the reader drenched in their own imagination. The text indicative of a life scented with fragments of an imaginary character, a life in isolation even before the pandemic, brings to life a stark contrast with the lives of the neighbours, the grocer, the office workers as well the landlord through the protagonist’s death. Couldn’t help rereading the story to hear echos of a conjectured character brought to life through the protagonist’s imagination, while the writer was busy bringing to life the universe surrounding her.

The Garden Spy: A Diptych by Aamer Hussein brings fore dullness amidst the colours of flowers. An existentialist’s painting in words, portraying the world in its extreme abstract and absurd form. Inability to pray, suffering, uncertainty, life and death, distance in space and time, relationships both freezing and thriving, words against the painting (Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe); all presented against the flowers, hinting at hope blooming in the present, and as in the past, or as in the future if there is one.

‘What a Time to be Alive’ by Rumana Husain is a story about an extrovert finding peace in recluse and selective company. Having the external world shut down with the lockdown due to the pandemic, needing to let go of superficial routines and meet ups, lets one contemplate on one’s internal voices previously silenced. The dizygotic twin protagonists sharing confinement in their separate areas is reminiscent of their human existence, a beginning in the womb. It is a new world that they must look forward to, hopefully a better one.

Reflection: Zeenat Haroon Rashid Writing Prize for Women 2020

Womanhood is to each their own! Beautifully expressed in her prize winning essay, Rania Hosain, writes about what womanhood is for her. I have come across numerous presentations and philosophies concerning what womanhood is, agreeing with many, disagreeing with more, either part or in whole, but this is the best possible explanation of womanhood that might actually be. To each their own!

Having believed myself to be a feminist in my college days, and then later converting to humanist, with respect being my core area of concern, I still often wonder if there is a woman in me which holds a more dominant existence as compared to the human one. How often do I react to incidents of catcalling as mentioned in the essay? It’s not being hurt but another powerful feeling that does affect me directly. May be it spreads a little venom into me, harmful for me as well as people around me. May be I wish to not read or hear about such incidents, to believe these don’t exist. An escapist may be. All is well! A perfect world. But if all is not well, then it is not just for the woman in me, it is for the human part as well. Wasn’t my husband equally disgusted by a motorcyclist who had shut the side view mirror of a female driver? What? Why? So it can’t really be about women or men.

But yes we are more than just conscious of our genders. And as Rania concludes in her essay that gender is only a small part of her identity, I feel relieved in feeling that yes mine too.

‘Bad House’ by Ayesha Alizeh Arbab reminds me of something I had learnt a long time back, that postponing things in wait of ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ is not a wise thing to do. It is the same with happiness; it cannot be dependant on if I have a certain set of things.

And so as Hamlet explains how Denmark was a prison for him, ‘for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so,’ I wish the thoughts are modified to give happiness, an illusion at least.

Memories specially if they are sketchy and belong to others are definitely hard to write about, and yet ‘Inheritance’ by Yumna Baloch portrays a picture with vivid shades overlapping to cover the grey areas.

The humour in ‘Hairy’ by Sara Khan is both subtle and well timed. Forgetting the doctor’s name and calling him as cookie and toffee not just add humour but also hints at the superficiality of the entire process and people involved. The burning of the skin also hints at how conforming to the stereotype has a stinging feeling attached to it, that it actually is painful. The ice pack dripping on the carefully ironed laps brings out the character of the ladies wanting to defy any resemblance to manhood. Also, her description of the waxing was so accurate that one could feel it happening. Well written piece!

‘Moti, Saand’ by Angbeen Abbas is something that I started reading only as a part of the ritual of reading all the work, but I actually loved it the most. Body shaming often leaves out the dilemma of the skinny girls and yes it wasn’t here as well but the entire idea was so eloquently put forward, that it had a music to it, a true voice straight from the heart.

Old Tales

Some old chapters in some books brown,

Better forgotten and let drown

In waves of time and tides of hour,

Left alone in centuries afar!

The weight of memories like anchors

Harboured along the calm waters;

The current flowing steady and smooth

Hiding beneath the pearls of truth.

But like treasure that is cursed most,

Hide it with none ever to boast.

Bad luck is what it surely brings,

Turning to ash just everything.

What’s gone best be lost in times old,

With unsung tunes and tales not told!

2020: Revival

Revival, yes that’s what it has been;

Erasing and eliminating

And reconstructing the facade

With open windows to let in the breeze,

To float in self realization

And sometimes confusions,

Creating in chaos,

Making sense

Of nothing,

A dot

Without dimension

Without direction

Aimless and limited.

Moving about

Leaving traces,

The shadows of a feat!

High Tide

I’m my own human friend

The sane and trusted one

The one who knows me

The only one

And I say

What I know I want

The want and need

To detach and isolate

To burry deep within

What’s not true;

Suppress and hide

The froth that corrodes

The souls,

It’s the full moon

With high tides within,

I say, “Don’t let it drown!”

I hope I hear,

The only sane voice I need!

“Don’t let it drown!”

And the voice repeats

“Don’t let it drown!”

“Don’t let it drown!”

“Don’t let it drown!”

If only this would sink in!

The Dull Bark

Pinocchio is what you all know well,

I’m as well what Pinocchio was once:

With love and art, with craft and heart immense,

My master carved me out in perfection;

A wooden doll that moved and danced and schooled

And Pinocchio unlike, I listened

To what he warned me with and what caution,

Daily I went to school in my dull bark,

Till one day, he himself, to a fair bright

Showed me all that I had heard but not seen;

The lights, the colours, the sound, the music;

Under a trance I felt and overjoyed,

I wished for me like Pinocchio did,

To leave all my dull, and shun my person,

To be now one, within that I was none,

And asked to be allowed to leave with them;

Although, not knowing yet what all it meant!

Seeing the gleam in my eye, my master smiled,

For a good puppet I had always been,

My master let me go and be with them,

But just before I left adrift, he gave

Me once more, more love than ever before.

He cut himself and tinted me with few

Bright red drops of his own, the brightest hue!

Ever obliged, moved on in life anew,

I sought a puppeteer with vibrant dais,

He looked at me and smiled but disapproved,

He said I lacked! so dull! with colours few!

I, intent and bent to please and content,

Agreed to drape myself in borrowed rags,

In mismatched and striking shades, tied with strings,

And danced my days in and out, all the way

To destinations unknown, till I got

Weary and yearned once more the days of dull,

So I let myself be left out in rain,

To rid me of the glossy shiny paint,

And when it did, the red that shone was one

That my master had painted me with once!

Then one by one, I left the rags behind,

And stripped then ripped the strings that had me tied!

Once more I shone in my own, the dull sight!

What If!!!

If the world were to end tomorrow

What would have I done?

Nothing but just sit and wait for it,

As I always do

When I know that everything happens

By the will of God!

…..

But what if only I were the one

To leave and let go,

To move on into another world

With errands left to do,

To leave and never come back again,

And do the undone;

…..

Then I would call and hug my son,

And let him really know

How much I’ve always loved him so;

That when I see into his eyes,

I read his mind and see his love;

That he’s my world and so much more!

…..

I’ll call my dolls and hug them too,

And let them really know

That when I breath, I breath just love,

The love that grows with every breath,

It has no bounds and no ending;

It circles in my veins!

…..

I’ll tell them all to keep their faith

So close and near their heart;

To stay together, no matter what,

And never fall apart;

And I’ll tell them all how much I loved

To see them smile and laugh.

Sparrows on the Grass

Around a hundred little birds

Mostly sparrows

Scattered on the grass

Hardly visible in the sun-burnt grass

Camouflaged most of the time

But a sight when someone walked past

All together, all at once,

With their low flight and chirping

All a little too present

To all who were oblivious otherwise

Of their existence!

Words!

When words start to lose meaning,

And I have to read again and again

To let them make sense

I realise that it’s not the words,

But me.

These words are like vibrations,

Sounds that don’t make sense,

Incomprehensible;

My ears neither listen nor hear

But feel.

And then these words change into

Huge tides and waves;

It’s like I repel the waves

That are drowning me,

But not!

Nothing makes sense,

Alphabets scattered on papers and screen,

A struggle to make anything mean

With words all jumbled and sounds all mumbled

Between!

Just a Moment

It haunts me!

Haunts? That’s negative connotation,

Why negative, it’s my ghost, there is only positive about it,

I climb the walls,

And walk on them,

I have a perfect balance,

And then jump down,

Light footed,

Like a cat,

Yes like a cat,

Very light,

Just a soft thump,

And then mount again,

And jump again,

Just to feel the thump,

Yes the thump,

So light and soft,

Like a cat!

Entrapped in a moment!

Unable to exit,

Living and reliving,

Perfect bliss!

It’s that what it is!

It haunts me!

But there is nothing negative about it;

No, not at all!

Just bliss and ecstasy!

Happiness!

In a moment!

A moment!