the margins we previously loiter on are thinning. the air we breathe is only choking us. the spaces we are placed at are displaced. uprooted. and the promised dawn is no way near.
our cities are turning into cemeteries. with no walls to protect our graves either.
our grief is multiplying at fast pace. her homecoming is often observed through silent protests that scream at the walls around us yet fail to pierce through them.
we are burdened with the loss. we are tired of losing our people. our freedom. our stories. to this wretched land of ours that took away not just what we had but also who we were.
our land has fallen in love with its history. a child of separation has further alienated itself. from freedom. from love. from all the things it lacked and thus created for. its has compartmentalised its embrace. it no longer offers negotiations. treaties. peace talks. it has never known those things.
our land has waged a war. and god as bakhtawar says doesnt live in battlefields. and who wouldnt believe it more than my countrymen?
its also faiz ahmad faiz day. prison. exile. longing. whos better than him to resonate with us?
‘aaj kay naam // aur aaj kay ghum kay naam // aaj ka ghum keh hai zindagi kay bharay gulsita’n say khafa // zard patt’on ka ban // jo mera des hai // dard ki anjuman // jo mera des hai’
one day when you leave your home
it will not ask you to come back
for a settlement
or for a payback
nor will it resist your freedom
it will open its doors
to let you free
the rivers and mountains you leave
will stay there forever
till your return
the home you left
will forever be displaced
i read tragedies
the grief has its way of coming home
and our home
housed it for years
and for years
we sat distantly
reminding the walls around
of the distances we created
are the spaces we needed
and for years we plastered the wall
with sadness we carried
but it keeps cracking
until love is dragged out on streets
until hearts no longer dare to breathe
the sky shares our secret. it shatters a million times on our way to find a home. it shatters a million times more to see us carry the burden of our history alone. to see us rummaging through the maps for places we can no longer have.
and it keeps shattering. over the earths rigidness. that does not open its arms for us unless we show our identity cards. which we lost somewhere in our home. home. that we are still on our way to find.
but it keeps shattering. on our wearied stroll. with an addressbook in hand. and all the letters written waiting for a postage. waiting to be read aloud once. and reread in silence afterwards. waiting to belong somewhere. to someone. but the addressbook carrys no address.
and the sky keeps shattering above.
You open twitter. You feel nauseous for recurring trigger warnings. 6 year old. 22 year old. 40 years old. Infants. Children. Unmarried women. Married women. You still scroll down. The woman in you makes you cautious. And you keep scrolling until it drains you out. You stumble on justifications. You keep staring at the blame. Your neck starts aching. The woman in you is angry. You let her be. She thinks you’re in the wrong place.
You want someone to listen to you. To share your rage and agony and your womanhood. You text to a friend. She says similar things and then the discussion digresses to your own daily life trivialities. You feel remorse for the woman in you. You feel she’s in the wrong place.
You get yourself ready for college. Your mind still wandering at places you don’t want it to be. You try to think something else. You fail. You think of discussing the women experience with your students. You talk a lot. To calm the inner rage. You say things to settle your inner turmoil. No one joins you. You feel alienated with your own gender. You break down things for them to grasp. You want them to walk outside of the prescribed frame. They remain silent. Except for a few heads you see nodding. You feel you’re burdening them with a discourse they might never have. Things they might not be able to say aloud. You feel sorry for the woman in you. You feel you’re in the wrong place.
You return back home. You make yourself tea strong enough to let you have a grip. You want to attend a friend’s wedding. You never needed a permission. But this time you do. Because its not about going out its about reaching back home safe. So your mother decides to give a pick and drop. Because your brother is out playing volleyball. The woman in you is angry. You’re made to feel you’re in the wrong place.
You went for shopping. The woman in you already feels unsafe going out. It has always been a wrong place.
You’re in a rickshaw. You hear the conversation between two elderly ladies about the recent rape cases. Familiar discourse. You don’t want to hear them anymore. But you have to. You see the rage coming. You want to say things. You don’t. You choose not to. Because you’re one of them they’re despising. You see the rage slowly changing in despair. The woman in you feels tired. You think you’re in the wrong place. Yet again.
You want to spit things out. You want to write. Because you can’t read. Even if you try. You write. Then you erase. You write again. You think of euphemisms. You think of neutral terms. Your mind says you’re betraying the woman in you. You want peace. You want to calm the inner rage. You stop writing. You sit alone for some time and think again. You want a distraction. You find it. The woman in you feels betrayed. You feel you’ll always be in the wrong place.
our land has its way of protecting our daughters
from men preying upon them
from names glued to their skin
from history burdening their bones
from honour savouring their soul
our land has its way of protecting its daughters
by piling up graves
in memory of their corpses
found at unknown places
unknown, my mother says, is everywhere
chasing our daughters
dead or alive
it has enough space
for their burial
for them to walk
with heads held high
the last time i rode bicycle was when i was in 7th grade. i remember everything so vividly. so visibly clear that sometimes im amazed at how my memory houses things i no longer want to remember. things i no longer have. things i can never have.
it was a secondhand bicycle. yellow from head to toe. so yellow that one could vomit at first sight. the yellow similar to that vomit. ugly yellow. the ugly yellow bicycle one could easily feel embarrassed of riding to school.
back in school at the cycle stand it would be the first one to catch everyones attention. among all those similar colored bicycles i fail to recall now. they were all same. or looked same from afar. thats what singularity does to you. your flaws scream from distance. youre made to look distant. youre made to look different.
and it wasnt just its apparent ugliness. it was awful. it was terrible. it was awfully terrible. many a times i had to walk back home because of its punctured tire. many a times because of its broken chain. thats what secondhand things do to you. they make you feel deprived. of newness. they make you comfortable with the feeling of being deprived. my parents thought it was perfect. prefect to them is when things serve their purpose. irrespective of the circumstances they put you in.
it has taken me to several places. apart from school. to a friends house. to market. to wherever i wanted. it was the first freedom i had. my first autonomy. it would take me to places my friends waited for suitable time and someone to take them to. it became everything my friends waited for. my commute. my suitable time. my defense. my comrade. my someone.
sometimes i would buy myself ice cream on my way back home from school. sometimes i would change my routes. often to save time. at times just to linger a bit more. my body got accustomed to it. it was conditioned to it mechanically. it feels its absence now. and its a different kind of absence. the palpable sense of emptiness. of detachment. and disassociation. tinged with grief and bitterness of the years i dont want to look back at.
the first thing i have planned to do once i leave this place is to buy a bicycle. and ride it. to compensate all the years i couldnt ride. that has become my freedom prayer. my wish list and everything i plan to give my life for. i reckon i attach sentiments to things i know wont last. but thats how i create space in my heart. i keep putting things inside of it to make it learn love without giving up. without asking anything in return. that creating space is the only way i can occupy myself. its the only way i can fill all the gaps and holes in me.
my ugly bicycle shockingly is one of the childhood remnants i still have. though rusty by the appearance now. a metaphor in its entirety. i have learned that things have their value in their absence. when theyre dying. when theyre lost. when youre lost in your loss. i cant decipher if its the nostalgia that forces me to feel the absence. or my undying love for riding. or the loss of both. that every time i enter the storeroom i see my ugly bicycle resting im reminded of my loss. im reminded how much i loved cycling. how much i loved that freedom. that autonomy.
mothers in our land name their children after things theyve lost. things they cant have unless they name their children after them. Hayat. Mashaal. Qandeel.
Hayaat is for life itself. existence. to a mothers life. a life to a mothers life. Hayaat. a prayer to live longer. for a son. a hope to stay forever. for a son. a word that feels eternity. but our mothers somehow forget that life is always haunted by death. that every hope is bound to crumble. that every word is merely a languages way of showing off. that their sons even if named Hayaat wont live longer here.
Mashaal is for light. radiating from the dark corners. illuminating the darkest corners. of a mothers life. of a land that is so enwrapped in gloom. light that transcends the murk seated on thrones for long. but our mothers forget that light if its in abundance causes blindness to those who are so comfortable with darkness. that a Mashaal is destined to only fade on our nameless streets.
Qandeel is for lantern. a thing inclosing a light. defying the darkness. shunning away everything that comes in its way. thats what our mothers want their daughters to be. Qandeel. but they somehow forget that it needs to be protected. always. like their daughters. from winds blowing against them. from merciless rains showering above them. from whatever comes to their way. that a Qandeel if remains unprotected… withers away.
our land has waged a war on our mothers. for it neither let live Hayaat nor Mashaal nor Qandeel. it keeps eating away their children like a bloodsucking monster. once a child of separation has grown into a sterile monster. that doesnt let our mothers will to stay alive intact.
bakhtawar says God doesnt live in battlefields. that he doesnt live here anymore.
our land has waged a war on itself. for it doesnt let even God stay here. it doesnt make room for him to stay. it doesnt give him a reason to stay. it doesnt feel his absence. it doesnt fear his wrath.
our land has waged a war against God.
every forsaken dream becomes a poem. on stroll. searching for home.
back at home
our daughters weave words together
a silhouette of poem emerges from the corner
words remain silent
like our daughters.
who weave words together.
back at home.
as i type eid mubarak it makes me nauseous. like throwing up. it makes my heart sink. for all those Ismaels who werent invited at the altar but straight away beheaded. for all those Ibrahims whose children never returned. not eveb for final goodbyes. for all those mothers like Ismales mother. whove been gasping at their safa and marwa and yet wait for divine intervention.
as i stare at my mehndi for long it turns into blood. blood spilled while i had my uninterrupted sleep. blood spilled while i had my morning walk. blood spilled while i devoured my evening chai. blood spilled while i backed coffee cake for my nephew. while i painted flowers to adorn my bulging walls. blood spilled in south while i went up to north to witness the beauty nature offers. while i wrote odes to those lands on my way back.
and as i sort out my chooriyan their khanak fades away somewhere. all i hear is the sobbing of my people. their freedom prayers. piercing through their prison cells. i hear the weeping of those who are left alone to fight their battles. battles that are already lost. battles that are made for them to lose. not only what they had. but who the were.
and as i continue to write eid mubarak laughter echos somewhere. as i continue to write eid mubarak i find myself only staring at the bulging wall.