Thursday, December 8, 2011

Winter stories

December 8

Sometimes I miss the comfort of permanency. Even though I think part of the reason I applied for masters was to step off track and start walking in a different direction, knowing it was going to be a short-term journey.

I know that, but sometimes walking back home in the cold to wonder over which frozen kebabs to have for dinner, I think it would be nice to be settled. To have a good job, a husband, parents close by, friends, cousins, relatives, colleagues in neat concentric circles around me and my perfect house. To know people on the street, wave at the guard everyday as he helps me back my car out of the driveway. To invest in real furniture, rugs, frames – you can tell the difference between students and real people when you visit their houses and see the posters, photographs, and postcards put up on the wall with tape. Real people have nice glass frames. And lots of lamps, and cushions on the couch that match two of the coasters on a non-Walmart coffee table. At least when I’m a real person, that is what my house will have.

I like the transience of grad school because it enables you have the bittersweet longing for a future that is expected to be different, better, not too distant.

I’m planning to have a good next week. Oh. Just a little over a week left before I pack my bags and head home – which has shifted paradigms too.

So going on a power drive I ploughed through my assignments this last week and now I’m looking forward to days spent drinking coffee, reading a good book (must find a good book first!) and spacing out, doodling, scribbling in at least two different cafés, walking around in the sun (or snow! Give me one or the other, don’t give me in between clouds), going to the art museum, shopping, maybe going to see a movie at the quaint cinema just five minutes away, maybe puffing some hookah at The Vine (pronounced with a v and not a w, not something South Asians can do that easily), maybe walking around Civic Center with its cutesy Hard Rock café and little paddling boats under a metallic beamed sky.


It is a cold early winter morning. The day is partitioned into tiny little boxes of purposiveness and each step is checked off – catch the train, wait for the bus stop, pull the wire at the right stop, attend the session, catch the bus again, and then wait for the train – a series of checks and soon it will be noon, and half the day will be over.

If you spend enough days doing the same series of actions, does it become second nature or do you lose your mind because just getting to one place requires so much planning?

It is a cold early winter morning and she exhales wispy little clouds into the brittle air. There is a bright green bench next to a bright green dustbin. Everyone is wearing dark colors, hoods over their heads, they stand alone in corners because it is too early to engage in a friendly conversation about the weather. Almost everyone is puffing a cigarette as they wait for their respective buses, people look weighed down by the dirt accumulated in their sweaters and jackets, their knuckles cracked.

The little boy looks like he has not washed his face in a few days, his tiny jeans are ripped at the knees but it takes her a while to figure out that he is not wearing any pajamas or leggings inside because his knees are so grimy.

The woman on the metro sat with a child in her lap, and two girls with curly hair and puffy jackets asleep with one’s head on the other’s shoulder. They wore backpacks and the mother had a small bag on wheels at her feet. The baby clutches on a red Twizzler as she dreams of clouds and teddy bears while her mother battles her own nightmares. Is she running away from her abusive husband? Is she running away because she hadn’t paid rent for the last two months and could not afford to pay it? The train stops and she nudges the girls next to her, nudges harder till they finally wake up and slowly follow their mother out into the cold, weighed down by their backpacks and sleep.

The boy in the flannel shirt twiddles his thumb as he sits on a table with other young men and women who ran away from home because their fathers drank too much, or because they had no parents at home and were under 18 years, because their older brother took them along on a mugging spree, or because their hearts and heads did not align on who they wanted to be, who they wanted to love. The boy in the flannel shirt had a nice home and parents who taught him good values, but the boy in the flannel shirt left his nice home and walked for sixteen miles in one night, his hands deep in his pockets as he listened to music on his Ipod and walked out of the suburban neighborhood, across the bridge, and into the city where some street lights worked and others did not.


There are so many stories around me. I wish I could go around, watching and listening to people, picking up pieces from different corners and cafes and aboard buses, and then stringing them together into stories and publishing a book.

I want to open a shelter for homeless youth where they can come for a shower, read a few books, sit and have a warm meal. I want to give them a safe environment, clean clothes, teach them how to read, write, apply for a job. How can I do this in Karachi?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Psst...its the past

December 3

There are some memories that are so perfect, like powder fresh snow, that you’re scared to remove them from the shelf in your brain, afraid that if you transport yourself back to the sidewalks that served as your everyday sitting areas, the paper cups of tea that strange bees would attempt to sip and in their attempt to sip they would drive you mad, zipping around your hands in circles; to the green benches, the photocopied reading packages that were perfect for straightening out crooked postcards; to the nights spent playing games and just talking, leaning back to put your head on somebody’s bag, the nights spent fighting sleep to reach that stage of delirium when everything is funny and everything is okay and oily halwa poori seems like the only thing that make sense; you’re afraid that if you are able to turn back enough to see all that is over, your heart will crumble, like a moldy cake, or an over-baked cookie.

Basit Koshul was so cool and so were Peirce and Allama Iqbal in the way they saw opposites as the different ends of the same coin – happiness that was so complete it drenched you like the monsoon rain in Lahore, the everyday joy of being, the series of moments up on the wall of amazing in your mind and your heart, that now stab you with a blunt-edged knife, or pummel at your innards slowly, with the gloved hands of a child, but persistently so that it eventually starts to hurt really bad.

I like the fact that I remember the past in the shimmery lovely light of the afternoon sun but it makes it all the harder to think that it’s kind of over. I say kind of even though it’s definitely and utterly over.

But since I’m an optimist and an idealist, I think of a bright(er) future too. And I know we’re all growed up, and we might not have the time to stand around a slug, draw a chalk circle around it and start an hour long dialogue on which direction the slug would take, where the slug had been, and where it would go – does it really notice the circle of chalk around it? – I think Gollum still dances all the time, Teeru still loves to nibble on sweet and salty stuff, Reem’s face is still like a baby which makes her no-nonsense attitude so adorable, Hera still laughs at all my jokes and almost-jokes, Rouje still has mild trouble articulating her profound thoughts, Dija still snorts occasionally and then laughs even more uncontrollably because of her snorting, Mony would probably eat her children’s share of cheese samosas, Barri still annoys the living daylights out of Gollum and Hisham when he talks about all bloggable things, Billu reminds me forever of how much I suck, Hisham is still the goofball who makes everybody laugh, and the list goes on.

And I can picture it now – meeting up in London or a tiny town in old England, in Canada, observing the desis in Toronto and then taking a four day trip to Montreal, riding the psychedelic waves at Hawksbay, making a hundred lists of things to see in Karachi and ticking most of them off.

Watching a video from senior year of college is as bittersweet as the word gets. I don’t even want to calculate the number of years (three) since then. It feels like it was perfect. And I’m pretty sure it was.

Conjuring perfection

November 29

The skies cleared today and the sun returned from a three-day holiday in the Bahamas. The air warmed up, the colors crept out, over the trees, flinging themselves into the breeze, brightening the blues, the reds and browns of roofs and onto the few lazy leaves still hanging on. I stepped into the porch and country music followed after me. It finally felt like it was day – a bright, beautiful early winter day, crisp and cold. I leaned forward with my elbows on the rickety wooden banister and you came out to stand next to me.

‘Why are your hands so cold?’ you wrap your warm hands around mine.

‘Because I’m about to die,’ I lean my head on your shoulder.

‘There’s gotta be more than this…’ drawls a country singer.

No, I tell her.