Monday, October 29, 2012

Magic Moments

Have you ever noticed the magic in prayer, 'dua'?
The dua that someone makes for you. A genuine, sincere dua.
That is magic.

As the car moved close to his shabby bicycle, the silver bearded baba peddled it faster. The small tiffinbox and a dirty tool bag hanging from its handles, jolted violently. The car window rolled down, someone gently called out, "baba ji, sunnain!"
Baba looked away, clearly terrified. The car, with its hazard lights blinking now, kept its lazy pace beside his cycle. Baba peddled still harder. 
Another window, this time in the rear, rolled down. A six year old's innocent voice rang out most passionately, "baba ji, please baat sun lain!"
This worked.

The cycle slowed down, and the hazard lights parked in front of it on the left of the road.

Baba parked his cycle over its stand and walked to the car. Out of the window in front, emerged two bags weighing not more than two kgs. "Ye qurbani ka gosht hai, ye lay lain."

Unlike majority of the recipients of the evening, he didn't rush to grab the bags. He made a very slow, deliberate move. Held the bags in both hands, and peeped inside the window.

His eyes looked most earnestly at his new friends, fully aware of their interest in him, and equally reciprocating. He looked too tall to be doubled over by someone's kindness. The man knew that he was fully capable to acknowledge the kindness and return it in kind. The dignity with which he expressed his gratitude was astounding. 

And that's when the baba donned a magician's hat in place of his white namaz wali topi. His duas, murmured between his lips like a secret spell, wrapped my heart in a rainbow. 

The magician smiled a smile I'm still in trance of.
It was the smile of pure happiness. Such happiness that is a rarity to find in adults!

Every year around this time, carrying out this same simple ritual driving for a few hours, I meet a magician. A magician who gives me a few magic moments that keep one going till the next Eid arrives. 
Such simple pleasures. Such genuine expressions! 

Incidentally those were the last two bags. The job was done. All the meat had been distributed.
The hazard lights switched off and quickly the car's back lights diminished into the fast approaching night.

While the magic of gratitude remains in the air.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Cup of Coffee On The Wall

Following is the most beautiful thing I came across today (thanks to facebook :) 

I sat with my friend in a well-known coffee shop in a neighboring town of Venice, the city of lights and water. As we enjoyed our coffee, a man entered and sat on an empty table beside us. He called the waiter and placed his order saying, ‘Two cups of coffee, one of them there on the wall.’ We heard this order with rather interest and ob...served that he was served with one cup of coffee but he paid for two. As soon as he left, the waiter pasted a piece of paper on the wall saying ‘A Cup of Coffee’.

...While we were still there, two other men entered and ordered three cups of coffee, two on the table and one on the wall. They had two cups of coffee but paid for three and left. This time also, the waiter did the same; he pasted a piece of paper on the wall saying, ‘A Cup of Coffee’.

It seemed that this gesture was a norm at this place. However, it was something unique and perplexing for us. Since we had nothing to do with the matter, we finished our coffee, paid the bill and left.
After a few days, we again had a chance to go to this coffee shop. While we were enjoying our coffee, a man entered. The way this man was dressed did not match the standard nor the atmosphere of this coffee shop. Poverty was evident from the looks on his face. As he seated himself, he looked at the wall and said, one cup of coffee from the wall. The waiter served coffee to this man with the customary respect and dignity. The man had his coffee and left without paying. We were amazed to watch all this when the waiter took off a piece of paper from the wall and threw it in the dust bin. Now it was no surprise for us – the matter was very clear. The great respect for the needy shown by the inhabitants of this town welled up our eyes with tears.

Coffee is not a need of our society neither a necessity of life for us. The point to note is that when we take pleasure in any blessing, maybe we also need to think about those people who appreciate that specific blessing as much as we do but they cannot afford to have it.
Note the character of this waiter, who is playing a consistent and generous role to get the communication going between the affording and the needy with a smile on his face.

Ponder upon this man in need….he enters the coffee shop without having to lower his self-esteem…he has no need to ask for a free cup of coffee…without asking or knowing about the one who is giving this cup of coffee to him…he only looked at the wall, placed an order for himself, enjoyed his coffee and left.

When we analyze this story, along with the other characters, we need to remember the role played by the wall that reflects the generosity and care of the dwellers of this town.

- Writer: Anon

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Of The Wounds Of The 'Beautiful Soul' (Final Part)

(Part I can be found at Of The Wounds Of The 'Beautiful Soul' )

Charged over the discovery, I darted in to the store looking for her. In a heady rush I must would've missed some basics, because the counter clerk came to me. As per the custom, I had to submit my earlier made shopping at the counter in return of a token. I gave him the shopping bag, and he handed me a token. It was marked 8.

I glanced around. My sister, holding my child's hand, joined in. We took opposite ends of the floor and dived in the racks.

She wasn't there.

We went to the first floor, consciously not taking the elevator. Climbing through the stairs meant to be able to keep in check the ground floor as well.

Strange as it may seem, so is life... Fast paced progress often blinds one to the roots. Ain't it so?

Peeked into the book shelves, in to the secluded prayer area... No luck.
The speeding troupe then made to the top floor. This was Children's reading area & Cafeteria....

All empty.
Had she vanished or what!

Dejected, we finally realized the dead end we were facing. The frenzied search had come to an abrupt, and blue end.
This time we took the elevator. The descend was quiet and heavy, to the the extent that it made the elderly store employee accompanying us in the lift, look burdened.

"Does Roohi Bano come here often?" I asked.


"Roohi Bano, from TV". I said, though the hope had died.

"No, I don't know. I don't watch TV, you see", answered the red-bearded baba patting my child's cheeks as the lift touched ground.

Once at the Ground floor, I suddenly became aware of the watchful eyes of the Store management. I could've shamelessly relaid my question to the Store Manager at the counter, but the disapproving look in my sister's eyes kept me. After all, I too, could not explain the point of such abandon ....

My child had already stepped out of the store, when an idea sparked...

"We haven't checked the basement!" I called out to Mani, my sister.

There was hope!

We hurried down.

Basement was a quiet place; almost a floor out of the Sleeping Palace.
There didn't seem to be many people on the floor either: A visibly bored, salesman behind the counter, and another in the corner of the store. And with him in that corner was that lusterless bleached head that had, probably, once been a canopy to a rainbow no one could paint the colors of. Probably. I mean if it was her... If!

My steps grew heavy. I reluctantly followed my advancing sister, suddenly very unsure of the point of this whole exercise.

We advanced.
The woman was holding a soft, dressed in red cabbage patch doll; asking something softly from the sales boy at her side who didn't seem quite keen to be engaging with her.
Reaching close, and rounding off from her backside to her front, I looked at her face.
And saw her.

I couldn't deny it anymore...

It WAS Roohi Bano!

Something in me snapped. Loudly. And painfully.

Mani stepped to the other rack. I followed involuntarily. The possibility of an upfront encounter, now becoming a reality, was no longer exciting. I grew weary.

"Why!" She asked..."Don't you want to talk to her now?"

To be fair, I no longer did.

There was a woman who had once ruled over media, and people's heart for decades! Her charisma, her style was that of a born diva... Who was, and remains to date, the ultimate reference of class in her field of arts.
However, what I had in front of me was a famished ghost of her! I didn't know this ghost. No one did. The store boy had no idea why he would be entertaining begging ghosts. The costly toy she had in her dirty, paint stained hands, seemed to be growing indignant over such disrespect... A mother who has no family left to her... why must she be here?
This was no place for grubby ghosts.

"Now, this is funny!" My sister was visibly irritated. "At least ask for an autograph, we've been running after her like loons!"
I looked back at her. The surge of remorse for the woman who was an absolute stranger, was astonishing for even my own self ...
"No," I heard myself mumbling, "... I'll ask for a hug. She may be missing some."

I saw Mani smile. We know each other.

Roohi Bano, that's who she was, had put down the doll and was now holding a stuffed white dog from another rack. The sales boy at her side was signalling to his colleague at the counter to call him back.
I cleared my throat, and moved towards her.

"Excuse me, ma'am!" ... She looked at me and there was an awkward smile... "Are you Roohi Bano?"

To my surprise, she didn't react with a shocked "Oh, you recognized me!". Trying at a faint, yet very self conscious smile she nodded, all the while trying to make up her hair with her free hand.

I moved ahead... "Ma'am ... Can I give you a hug please?"

And I took her off guard!

Her old eyes stared at me in disbelief, but she quickly resumed charge of herself. Her wrinkled face laughed a hollow laugh. 
"Of course!"
She was distinctly polite for her utterly uncouth demeanor, and the feigned superior manner in which she gestured her hand filled me with even great remorse.
Why is she taking so much pain? Why act to be grand? I mean how burdensome it is to drag along the corpse of a status that has died since long. And no one even cares about it anymore! 

I moved close to her and in the moments that I was raising my arms to wrap around her, I wondered if I had lost every thought even remotely sane!

Her brown T had innumerable tiny holes... and there were fleas... on her shirt. On her wrinkled neck. Over the right side of her face, beneath her ear...
In those last micro seconds before I touched her, when my embrace could have turned cold, I thought of running away almost a thousand times! 

But nothing happened.

And I embraced her. 
With my arms around her, I squeezed her a little. That old, unkempt, frail woman, who probably had no one to herself... There was this sudden pressing desire to make her feel loved. Owned. 
Even if for a few fleeting moments!

My hug grew longer. She stood still. Her arms by her sides. She didn't try to respond the warmth. And for once I felt like the ice was breaking somewhere. She was not acting to be on the higher platform now. She just received.

A few seconds later I released my grip, and looked at her face. The pale of her face retained its paleness, exactly the tint of of her bleached hair. Maybe this could impart her a rosy memory in her forlorn seclusion. I thought.

There was an awkward silence, and suddenly I realized I've been acting too bizarre for her old nerves! We needed some cliche's! 

I offered her a few sentences on the lines of "Ma'am, we've grown up watching you. All these years we've associated the word drama with you", I gestured towards Mani and myself. She beamed. 
"So, you still watch my plays?"
I affirmed enthusiastically, and to my horror, I realized I couldn't recall even a SINGLE play of hers. Before she could ask me the inevitable question of which play I liked the most, I looked for an escape! 

Distraction! We needed distraction. 

Image By The Blog

"Are you painting something?"

"Your home?"

"So you are doing it white?"
She smiled a little and nodded.

I have to cling more, to make her feel owned. I thought.
"Can I have a picture of you?" 

She agreed.

After a little awkward silence I asked

"Are you buying toys?" silly question!

She smiled.

"For whom?"


I realized my mistake. All know that Roohi Bano had only one son, who moved to the other world in the prime of his youth when she was under treatment in the Fountain House. I had no business poking into a make believe world if she had any.

"I meant, what age group? Maybe I could suggest you some toys. Are you looking for toys for young kids?"

Her eyes welled up and she looked away. "They've grown up... "  Pause "But I will give them." 
"They will keep these. Or they will not."

"These are beautiful toys. They could keep a good cuddly company"
 I had touched a raw nerve. This wasn't what I had wanted. 

Stepping back a little I asked her if there is anything I could do for her. This was a genuinely well meant query, but seeing her formal decorum, I knew for sure that she would turn me down.

"Please talk to SuiGas walas. They don't listen to me." 

I blinked. She had proved me wrong. There was a dent in that seemingly concrete indifference!

"What do they say?"

"They just tease. They say you first clear your electricity bills"

And in that moment of complaining, that lost soul of an old, seasoned actress, transformed into a frightened child of tender years. The look on her face was that of a child who has just found his mother and hasn't been over the trauma of having been lost. Such a child doesn't seek facts. 

"This is very unreasonable! Don't you worry, I'll talk to them."

"You will?"

I nodded. 

"Give me your number. I will call you when they will pester me next time"

I was perplexed for a few moments. Then I opened my bag, and found a pen; but I didnt have a piece of paper. I turned to Mani if she had any. She produced her hand-carry baggage tag from her flight earlier during the day. With a purple pointer I wrote my cell number on a PIA baggage tag. 

"Whats your name?"

I wrote that too next to the phone number. 

She wore the tag in her wrist already full of multitudes of colorless bangles.

"I will call you. Will you talk to me?"

"Sure. Just drop me a word when they come and bother you. I'll get it fixed for you", I assured her. Falsely.

"I'm a little short of money, could you buy me this?"
And she picked that red dressed cabbage patch doll we had earlier seen in her hand.

The sales boy, now realizing that finally there is a scope of some business in this ridiculously awkward meet up, showed up on our side. I handed him the doll.

We started moving. 

Mani ahead of us, keeping my son with her.

"Buy me this dog too ... Look, it doesn't have legs," she said. And she looked pained.

I picked the toy up. "Its very cute".

"No. It's disabled. I like disabled people. Special people."

Do you see it? The irony.

She made various stops on our way to the counter, picking up toys: stuffed as well as mechanical. Always asking me if the toys were expensive.

When we reached the counter, we had a number of items on us. There was an old looking child accompanying an emotionally charged me.

While the bill progressed, she took a full look at me for the first time.

"What do you do?"

"Umm... I work in marketing"

"Oh ... what do you market?"

"There are many things. People, items, companies. All need marketing."

"I'm writing a new play", she informed me.

"I'm sure it would be awesome. Can't wait to see it"

"But, you seem to know interesting things ... Whats the most IN business these days? The one that gets you lots of money."

"Which one do you want to do?"

"The most IN one. Would you do marketing for me?"

I agreed. 

"I'll meet you again. Give me your address."

I asked her to give me a call and I'd come to visit her. 

"You would? Promise? You will come to meet me?"
And the lost child beamed.

We began climbing the stairs.

"You know what? Now I will need a pretty phone... 'cause I will have to call you", she said.

"And you know what, people as beautiful as you, don't need pretty phones. Whatever they hold, they do, becomes beautiful." I replied.

I saw her going quiet. 

She remained quiet for the rest of the climb. 
When we reached the ground floor, she turned to me and with her first full smile of the evening asked me, "Acha?"

I laughed. "Of course!"

At the main cash counter while I made the payment, she kept playing with my son. 
I heard her laugh.
She poked at his belly. Tickled him. And laughed. 

"He is so cute!" and added hurriedly, "MashaAllah". And then giggled like a carefree teenager ... "motoo!" 

The counter guy looked at us aghast.

She took all her bags, far too many to hold in two hands.

"It was very nice meeting you", I initiated the ending.

"Will you talk to me, when I will call you?"

"I will."

She flashed me the most brilliant smile and made to the exit door. Mani and my boy had already exited.

I followed. A store clerk rushed to me holding a bag ... 
"Baji, your items! You had submitted this bag with us. You have the token."

I had that token still in my hand. Number 8 token. 
A twisted closed circle. Eight.

He gave me the bag and said, 
"Baji, whats her name?"

"Roohi Bano"

"What has happened to her?"

"I don't know."

I walked out. 

Mani was waiting outside. She saw me coming and extended me a tissue. 
I was about to cry.

We know each other.

(The End)

Following is an excerpt from an article that published in Dawn shortly after this post. I felt it might be relevant to share it here for people interested in knowing about Roohi Bano. Source:

Roohi Bano

A 1975 portrait of Roohi Bano.
‘A real genius,’ this is how famous author and playwright, Ashfaq Ahmed, once described Pakistan’s TV and film actress, Roohi Bano.
Bano was the most sort-after TV actress in the 1970s. Along with Uzma Gillani, late Khalida Riasat, Madeeha Gauhar, (and, to a certain extent, Sameena Pirzada), defined and almost perfected the art of serious TV acting for a host of Pakistani TV actresses that followed.
But Bano remained to be the finest in this league because even though she acted (as a heroine in a few films), and also took some light roles, producers and writers struggling to bring to the mini-screen plays by intellectual heavyweights, always chose her as their leading lady.
The reason was simple: She could seamlessly immerse herself in roles that were constructed to express awkward psychological and emotional complexities.
That’s why her most compelling moments can be found in TV plays scripted by Ashfaq Ahmad in the 1970s – a time when the author himself was struggling to come to terms with his own intellectual and existential crises, trying to figure out a path between the free-wheeling liberal zeitgeist of the period, populist socialism and Sufism.

A video grab of a 1974 Roohi Bano play on PTV.
Very few of Bano’s fans knew that the psychologically scarred roles that she was playing so convincingly were also reflecting what was going on in her own life.
By the early 1980s, Bano, who had been such a popular and respected mainstay on TV in the 1970s, was only rarely seen on the mini-screen.
It transpired that she’d been having serious psychological issues throughout the 1970s and had to be committed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
She was still only in her 20s when she began suffering serious psychiatric problems that hastened her disappearance from the screen.
Her condition only worsened when TV plays began facing heavy censorship during the Ziaul Haq dictatorship and she kept turning down ‘sanitised roles.’
And when (in 1988), she did return to the screen (after the demise of the Zia regime), her fans could hardly recognise her. She seemed to have aged rapidly and looked exhausted.
Her great comeback never materialised. After just a few plays she went back on heavy medication and suffered another series of breakdowns.
Today, she leads a reclusive life in Lahore, while her fans still long for that great comeback that she was expected to make many years ago.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Of The Wounds Of The 'Beautiful Soul'

It was a cursory visit to a leading book store in the heart of Liberty Market, Lahore. Wrapping up my things, I was at the cash counter collecting my payment receipt when she came and stood by me. Speaking in one of the most refined English accents I've heard from my countrymen, she waved her hands quite a couple of times. Even if I could ignore her for a charming, low key accent, or the unpleasant odor that she was giving off, the loud clinking of an arm load of cheap looking bangles resisted me. Sounds like a character! I thought. 
Grabbing my young boy's hand and moving him away from her to my side, I stepped back to discreetly, steal a look at her.  

Her feet! 
The first thing I noticed were her feet ... No, not her feet, it was actually her shoes! 
Beneath an excessively long hem of a very unclean, colorless shirt I could make the bottom of a big brown dress pants folded over many times, covering one leg. The other leg, from beneath the shirt hem, was unclad and visibly belonged to an old and weak person. But what took me absolutely off guard were her feet - Paint stained... And a perfect graphical synopsis of a tragedy they were supporting...
On her right foot, she supported a men's black Pashawari chappal; in her left foot she was wearing a broken, off-white plastic slippers. I couldn't take my eyes off it. In the couple of seconds that followed, I spotted far too many splashes of white paint on her dust laden, 1.5" high, black chappal; her black-grey-nameless colored shirt, and the brown T she had over the shirt, her hands, all bore that stamp of paint. 

I had moved a couple of steps back and she seemed to be done with her negotiations with men at cash counter, and was probably about to exit the shop. Not eager to be found staring at her with such interest, I held on tight at my child's hand and rushed out. 

However, as we left the shop, the student in me refused to go further. I turned to my sister accompanying me and asked if she would mind waiting here for a couple of minutes till that woman in the shop comes out. 'Are you going to talk to her?' She asked me. Of course I wouldn't! Who goes and talks to crazy beggars on roads? ... All I wanted was to have a good look at her face, to read the half written truths scribbled by a merciless life; to decode the working of Time; to, maybe, feel the soul of a character I've since long been stuck at developing in a script of mine. Though, it didn't sound a very convincing reason from someone who ritually behaves as a practical person, we nonetheless decided to wait. 

'You saw her hands? She is painting with her fingers!' I nodded. 
'There was a play over Roohi Bano's life, Samina Peerzda played as Roohi Bano', said my sister again, and I wondered at the exactness with which she could read my mind! How would she know that I was thinking about Roohi Bano! The woman's accent was just as polished as hers. 'I was thinking about Roohi Bano as well. This character in my mind HAD to be hers if she were still acting!' I said.
Sister looked at me incredulously, 'Are you kidding me? Of course we are talking about Roohi Bano! Who else are we waiting for here if not her?' She looked at me and added, 'She was Roohi Bano.'

I dashed to the store. 

(End of Part I)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Instance Of Eternity

You may,
You may remain silent,
Remembering the friends,
placed to rest on the ground.
You shan’t speak before the dawn.

You may,
You may remain silent.
Remembering though, the hopes-
sliding down, against the walls of stone.
You shan’t speak before the dawn of the sun.

You may,
You may remain silent.
Recalling the fears and the wrench-
of the soldiers trapped in their trench,
of the martyrs left behind in blood-drenched.
And, you shall not speak, you shall not speak.

And if a while of your hour-
forsaken by the sound of your voice-
can take you to my rage and your remorse,
then, may your silence is tamed by my words.
And, you shan’t speak, you shan’t utter a word.

- Ahmad Shamlou

Poet: Ahmad Shamlou
Translation from Persian: Mariyam Dilmagani

Dedicated to today's incident: Malala Yousafzai, a 14yr old Pakistani peace activist was on her way to school when her school van was stopped by the Taliban who then asked for her by name and shot her. Till the latest news, she is badly injured as are two other children and in hospital.
And there remain many more, whom we may never get to know by names!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Roo'ay Shab'ay HijraaN

The first god man creates is always inside. A divinity, a deity, perched at the highest pedestal within the confines of one's own being.
This is probably why the concept of a structured religion mostly brings with it an outlandish, invader's cry of war. It tends to reduce man's majestic divinity to that of an undignified subject; and the Throne is anchored at a place so remote from access, that many lose their path in approaching it... swaying somewhere in between the abysmal abyss, belonging to neither the Conqueror, nor the conquered. 

Surrendering to the shift of holiness from within their own core of self, is then followed by another dilemma. Love.

Intoxicated by the Wine of Love.
From each a mystic silence Love demands.
What do all seek so earnestly? ‘Tis Love.
What do they whisper to each other? Love.
Love is the subject of their inmost thoughts.
In Love no longer ‘thou’ and ‘I’ exist,
For Self has passed away in the Beloved.
Now will I draw aside the veil from Love,
And in the temple of mine inmost soul,
Behold the Friend; Incomparable Love.
He who would know the secret of both worlds,
Will find the secret of them both, is Love.  

(Farid ud Din Attar, from The Jawhar Al-Dhat)

The tyranny of love, when subjects are exposed to it, is gagging. It unleashes its whip, and spares none. It shatters, it brands, it crushes. The crumbled, walloped, ashed subject is all there is left of the once lofty lord. The burns, the scars, the bruises, all but diminish the subject further. However, surprisingly, the abyss lying at the pit of the gulf separating the minuscule subject and the Divine Majesty begins to shrink!

Some say that there does exit a Silk Route that leads one across the abyss, that enjoins one battered lover with the lofty Lord. But none is sure how to read the Emerald Tablet that bears the map of the route. Rumi, perhaps, had grasped something of the scripture when he exclaimed

Drunkenness and emptyhandedness brought Thee to me;
I am the slave of Thy drunkenness and indigency!

But in the tradition of lovers, no one recognizes another's seal of kiss. Each wants his own seal...

And they keep searching. Some falling to the abyss, a few making it across...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Forgo The Frivolous

اي ناطقه بر بام ما ور در تاكي روي در خانه پر
  نطق زبان ترك كن بي چانه شو بي چانه شو


Roughly translated to
 (In the company of the Beloved),
Over the roof, under the sky, talk your heart out
Talk, and not beg for words,
Be restless. Embrace craze

Verse: Rumi
Inapt translation: mine

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Zulmat-e-shab say barh kay bhi daikha jo andhaira,
Resham say kham-o-kakal ki siyahi say ghanayra,
Dil kay sulagtay daghon say uth'ta hai jo dhuaan
Teergi-e-chashm ki surmahat say hai gehra!

~ April, 2008
- leenah