Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review of NEW URDU WRITINGS from India & Pakistan

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Going beyond borders

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New Urdu Writings from India and Pakistan edited by Rakshanda Jalil.
Special ArrangementNew Urdu Writings from India and Pakistan edited by Rakshanda Jalil.

A remarkable collection of short stories translated from Urdu that are both thought-provoking and enduring.

Centuries ago, Urdu was born in the streets and markets of Delhi and became a language of middle-class North Indians. But, in the post-Partition India, it was replaced by Hindi and English. Ironically, it was adopted by Pakistan where the majority of people don’t speak Urdu. In India, though, it survived in Hindi film songs and in poetry symposia. The last few years have seen a renewed interest in this beautiful language but, alas, a majority of youngsters can’t read Urdu in the original Nastaliq script, as they are more comfortable with English. This anthology targets those Indian readers. What I liked most about this collection was the absence of Chugtai and Manto. These two writers have been translated and talked about so often that most non-Urdu speakers think that Urdu has produced just two short story writers.
This collection comprises 15 stories each from India and Pakistan and the editor has taken great care in choosing them. It has an electic mix of veteran writers and young voices. From Indian side, the collection opens with Joginder Paul’s short stories about happiness, war, death and miseries of existence. In ‘Kargil’, “a simple-hearted thief finds two corpses. One was an Indian soldier and the other a Pakistani mujahid. The thief discovers a letter written by a kid in the Pakistani’s pocket and a photograph of a little girl in the Indian’s and is wonderstruck at how the photograph of the mujahid’s daughter gets in to the Indian soldier’s pocket?”
There is a long modern tale ‘Mourner of the Feet’ by Khalid Javed which has some elements of magical realism as the narrator is a shoe. The economy of words and frugal use of metaphors makes his writing different from the typical Urdu afsananigari where use of ornamental language is a common practice. Another remarkable story ‘The Slaughterhouse Sheep’ by well-known writer Khurshid Alam tells of how continuous exploitation of the underprivileged makes the victims justify their own exploitation. This thought-provoking story depicts the stark reality of our times.
On the Pakistani side, the best of the pack is ‘Lest My Breath Disturb Thy Peace’ by Neelam Ahmed Basheer, a prominent voice in Urdu fiction. This story is about the horrifying practice of marrying the girl to the Holy Quran in the rural Sindh. The beautiful protagonist Noor Bano is a vivacious dreaming about her life with her future husband. To avoid the division of their ancestral property, her feudal family has conspired to marry her off to the Holy Book. She also knows that she will have to spend the rest of her life as an ascetic and spinster. She bears this pain stoically but when an accidental encounter with a young man leads to her pregnancy she tells her father and brothers that she was impregnated by the holy book.
‘The End of Time’ is set in the post-apocalyptic world and the protagonists are microorganisms. The story warns against the danger of the nuclear rivalry between the nations, which may lead to the total destruction of human civilisation.
The editor has done an intelligent thing by deploying different translators for each story so that the stories don’t sound similar in their English incarnations. The eye-catching cover is designed by Nikheel Aphale, an accomplished calligrapher. This is a collection worth buying.
New Urdu Writings from India & Pakistan; Edited by Rakhshanda Jalil; Tranquebar Press, Rs.395

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Title of the Book: The Blind Lady’s Descendants
Author: Anees Salim
ISBN: 978-93-84030-79
Publishers: Tranquebar Press
Year 2014
Pages: 297
Price: 599.00

Lyrical Prose
I start this review with a confession. I know the author of this novel in person. And that is why for last one year I have been resisting the temptation of reviewing any of his books for the obvious reasons. But, I can’t anymore. In 2013, when I put my money on Vanity Bagh for The Hindu Fiction Prize, for a fleeting second I doubted my literary judgment. Maybe, because of my friendship with the author, I loved his novel. But, the jury of the Hindu Fiction Prize vindicated my choice, and I felt happy and relieved. Now, I can confidently say Anees Salim is one of the fresh literary voices that continue to surprise us. Don’t believe me! Please read his latest literary offering ‘The Blind Lady’s Descendant.’
Strewn with the dark humour and written in a lyrical style, the novel is crafted in form of a very long suicide note of its protagonist, Amar Hamsa. If you read it closely, you discover that it is an intimate portrayal of human life. You also find that it is also a poetry and philosophical treatise on the complexity of our existence. The book not only tells us a unique story with universal appeal but also alters our perception towards everyday things in our surroundings. It raises a lot of necessary questions about the futility of rituals and the hollowness of religious dogmas. The book also investigates the darker sides of human psyche. Delving in to the idea of family and kinship, it tells us how, at times, the relationship and familial bonding become shackles of our life.
Born into a dysfunctional family, Amar Hamsa develops a depressive attitude towards life from very tender age, thanks to their incessantly (but silently) warring parents. He begins to look at his life with doubts, not knowing exactly what he wants from his existence in this transient world. He also doesn’t know what exactly the cause of his miseries is or what would make him happy. The sadness he has been imbibing for many years has now become a part of his persona which he doesn't want to shrug off or simply he can’t get rid of it. But, all these characteristics don’t make Amar a boring or uninteresting character because his sense of humour is still intact. It is another thing that his sense of humour has a darker shade and a philosophical angle. And his cynical remarks about religion and its rituals make an interesting read. Amar’s abilities to observe things keenly make him discover many dark family secrets and those add into his sufferings and push him towards the threshold of destruction. Then, a death happens in his family and that send him to a road of no return.
In addition to Amar Hamsa, all other characters, including minor ones, are also dealt deftly. From Amar’s parents, Asma and Hamsa, to his three siblings, Sophiya, Akmal and Jasira, they all come alive on the pages of this novel. Even the inanimate objects play important roles in taking the narratives forward. The bungalow where Amar and his family live, for instance, emanates desolation and pessimism from its crumbling façade hinting what lies ahead for the readers. The writer uses similes and metaphors with the exactness of a good cook using salt while preparing his favourite broth. The cook knows that a pinch more or a pinch less will spoil his dish.
The Blind Lady’s Descendants is a perfect follow up novel after the award winning Vanity Bagh. In fact, it is even better than the previous one.

[Originally published in The Dhauli Review]

Friday, July 25, 2014




Abdullah Khan
Photo: Manan Morshed
Photo: Manan Morshed
Shrief told Arif about the Pandooa, the river ghost.
Arif laughed, 'How superstitious people are in this village!'
Arif lived in the city of Patna. He had been visiting his native village Alipura after five years, where his uncle lived. Shrief, his cousin, a tall, fair Pathan, had spent all his 25 years in this village, and was mostly untouched by the general disbelief of the city folks about anything supernatural.
Sharief insisted, 'Arif, this is not superstition. At least two people from our village have seen the Pandooa.'
A few months back, Hasrat Khan had seen her first. One evening, he had gone to the river bank for his customary walk. He saw a woman, dressed beautifully in a bridal saree and blouse, laden with gold and silver jewellery, standing near a banana tree. He stopped near her and asked, 'Who are you? Why are you standing here?' She didn't reply and looked straight into his eyes. He felt a sudden shiver gripping him. He started to walk briskly towards the village. As he was about to reach the outskirts of the village, he saw the same woman standing in the middle of the road a few yards ahead of him. Her face was devoid of any expression. The following day the villagers found him lying unconscious in the middle of the road.
'An interesting story! And who was the second person to see pandooa?' Arif asked mockingly.
'Maulvi Murtuza, the sixty-five-year old Imam of the Jama Mosque.'
Photo: Manan Morshed
Photo: Manan Morshed
On a Tuesday evening, Maulvi Murtuza, had been returning from the neighbouring village. The sun had set. So, he decided to offer the evening namaz at the bank of the river. After performing wuzu, the ablution ritual, in the river, he spread his gamcha, the soft towel, on the sand and stood to pray. As he finished his namaz and bent to collect his gamcha, he saw her smiling.  He had heard from the village that a newly married Rajput girl from the neighbouring village had jumped into the river. And here she was, fully dressed in a bridal wear. He started reciting 'Ayatul Kursi' from the Holy Quran and then started running at once. He stopped only after reaching the village.
Arif remembered his grandma's words about Pandooas. 'See, they are departed souls who have committed suicide by jumping into the river. They try to kill whoever they find near the river at an odd time like noon or after dusk. They do that so that they can get some company.'
Two days later, when Arif asked Sharief to come with him to swim in the river, Shreif first hesitated. Arif challenged him saying that he was a coward despite being a Pathan, he further added, ' Shrief Bhai, this is the holy month of fasting and in this month Iblis and all evil spirits are imprisoned by Allah Ta'la  and we both are observing fast, so we should not be afraid of this Pandooa'. Shreif finally agreed and promised to go with him in the morning.
At the outskirts of the village, a poster was pasted on a defunct electric pole. It warned the wayfarers about the threat of the river ghost. It advised them not to go near the river alone after dusk. Such electric poles were everywhere in the village. But there was no electricity. The Member of Parliament who had won the Inayat Nagar constituency for the last three terms, could do only that much for the development of the village.
Arif and Sharief walked past the tiled houses with mud walls, thatched hutments, and then came to Shohaib Khan's bungalow. An Englishman, an indigo cultivator, had built it almost a hundred years ago. While leaving India in the 1930s, he had handed over the house to his only friend in the village, Sohaib Khan's father. They climbed the embankment of mud and sand, which surrounded Alipura and other nearby villages. As they were climbing down, Arif looked for a suitable place and sat down to pee. The narrow stream of water hit the field and his eyes searched for a dry piece of earth or grit for Kuluf.  When Arif got up, Sharief remarked, 'Arif, always look before you pee. See, you have pissed on ashes. Never do that again. Bones and ashes are the food of Djinns. This can anger them.'
Arif laughed, slightly shaking his head but said nothing.
At the river, they bathed and swam till noon. In the evening Arif fell sick. A fever with a chill came on him. He was trembling and shivering continuously. Hanif the compounder, a retired army man, was called. He had experience of working in military hospitals as a nursing assistant and was the best-qualified doctor in the village. Qurban Ali the homeopath was also called. But, both of them could bring only Arif some temporary reprieve. The shivering kept returning. When Arif's uncle, Abdul Waheed Khan, learned about his visit to the river, he was very angry with Sharief. 'Must have been possessed by the river ghost,' his aunt, Saleha Begum, remarked. On her advice, Abdul Waheed Khan called the Imam of the Jama Masjid. He recited from the holy book and blew on Arif.
During the night, Arif remained calm and slept well. But in the morning the trembling returned. This time it was more violent. Two blankets and a quilt were needed to cover him. A woodfire was kept burning. Hanif the compounder was once again called. Arif's uncle decided he would take Arif to an MBBS doctor in Motihari if his health did not improve by tomorrow.
Asma Begum, an old lady in the neighbourhood, told Saleha Begum, Arif's aunt, that it was nothing but Jarwa-Jaraiya. 'Dulhan! You must call Baso Nani immediately. She knows the totka and rituals to get rid of Jarwa-Jaraiyya. Inshallah! He will be OK by tomorrow,' she advised. Saleha Begum immediately sent Sharief to fetch her. Abdul Waheed Khan was not at home. Otherwise, he would not have allowed this to happen. According to him, this was a Hindu ritual, one a Muslim must not associate with.
Photo: Manan Morshed
Photo: Manan Morshed
Baso Nani was grandmother to everybody in the village. From a six-year-old to a seventy-year-old, everyone called her Nani. She had been living in this village for the last fifty or sixty years. She had come here to live with her daughter and son-in–law who were long dead. There were no grandchildren.  She lived alone in a thatched house, surviving on the charity of the village people. Many of the villagers believed that Baso Nani knew magical things. A few of the village women even blamed her for indulging in witchcraft.
Baso Nani, a frail looking woman with silver white hair and who walked with the help of a stick, arrived. She asked Saleha Begum to bring Arif out in the open air since Jarwa-Jaraiya needed an open space to fly away. She got ready to start the ritual to get rid of Jarwa-Jaraiya. Baso Nani would now tell the story of Jarwa-Jaraiya.
Once upon a time, a widow lived in a village with her only son. Her son was very naughty and mischievous.  One day, out of anger, the widow hit her son on the head with a stick. It started bleeding. The boy, angered by his mother's behaviour, left the house and ran away from the village. He went to a city and was adopted by a rich, childless couple.
After their death, he inherited all their property and business. He became very rich. Since then, twelve years had passed. One day he was passing through the village alone. He felt that the place was familiar to him, and decided to stay in the village for a few days. One evening, he saw the widow and fell in love with her. The widow also fell in love with him. The villagers came to know about their love affair and decided to organise a marriage ceremony. The widow became pregnant. One morning, she was massaging her husband's head when she saw the mark of a gash. When she asked him, he told her that as a child, his mother had hit him with a stick and he had run away from his village at the age of six or seven. He could not recall the name of his village or his mother's face.  But, the woman looked at his face and realised  this man's face resembled that of her first husband so much.
When they came to know that they were mother and son, they were so ashamed and sad that they decided to commit suicide. They prepared a pyre and jumped into it. Even after death, their souls got no rest. The man became Jarwa and the woman became Jaraiya. Now they trouble people by possessing them, making them shiver. Whenever the story of their shameful liaison is repeated before the person they possess, they run away.
'O! Jarwa Jaraiya, if you have shame, go away from here.  If you don't go away, I will repeat the story of your sinful liaison,' Baso Nani spoke in a very loud voice.
Baso Nani was repeating the lines again and again when Abdul Waheed Khan walked in. He was furious with Saleha Begum, 'How dare you call this oldie to do something which is prohibited in our religion. That too in this holy month of Ramzan. Biddat is a great sin, you foolish woman.'  His face blazed with anger while he spoke.
Saleha Begam said nothing.
'Bade Abaa….' Arif tried to intervene but could not muster courage to do so. Frightened, Baso Nani left the chair she was sitting on, drew the pallu of her saree to cover her face and receded in the corner of the verandah. And she was about to turn to leave when Abdul Waheed Khan turned to her, ''who told you to come here and perform this ritual of idol worshippers. Get out from here, and don't come to my house ever. Bloody witch.' Baso Nani began to a sob. Abdul Waheed Khan lifted the walking stick and handed it over to Baso Nani and yelled, 'Get out of here, right now.'
Arif had listened to the story with great attention. In fact, he enjoyed this unusual treatment for his illness. He felt bad when his uncle humiliated the old lady. He was sad to see Baso nani crying. She reminded him of his own grandma whom he loved dearly. But, he remained silent.
Next day was the Eid.  Surprisingly, Arif recovered fully within five or six hours of his treatment. On the following morning, he even went to Idgah to offer namaz with his uncle and cousins.
The same evening Baso Nani was found dead in her thatched house.
Published: 12:00 am Friday, July 25, 2014
Last modified: 2:09 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Friday, April 04, 2014

Anees Salim's Interview in The Daily Star


Under the Mango Tree

Anees Salim is the author of The Vicks Mango Tree (Harper Collins India), Vanity Bagh (Picador India) and Tales from a Vending Machine (Harper Collins India). His fourth novel The Blind Lady's Descendants is expected to be released by Westland Books (India) very soon. This year, he has beaten authors like Manu Joseph and Amandeep Sandhu to walk away with the prestigious “The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction” for his 'dark comic tale' Vanity Bagh. He is an advertising professional and is based in Kochi, India. Here he talks to ABDULLAH KHAN about his books and his life as a writer. 
Anees Salim
Anees Salim
The Star: Anees, congratulations for winning the Hindu Prize for best fiction. How did you react when you got the news? And how important is this prize for you?
Anees Salim: 
Thank you. I watched the live webcast of the ceremony from my cubicle as the office, oblivious to what I was doing, buzzed around me. When the prize was announced I must have exclaimed aloud, because people in the neighbouring cubicles stood up and eyed me suspiciously. This prize is extremely important to me. There is suddenly a fair amount of interest in the book and it has started to reflect on the sales.
The Star: Tell us something about your background. How did you get interested in creative writing? At what age you wrote your first piece of fiction?
Anees Salim:
 I hail from the beach town called Varkala (in Kerala,India), but I live in the port city of Kochi. I started writing when I was about sixteen, and I began with a short story, which I sent to the Illustrated Weekly of India. I was foolishly optimistic about its chances and started planning my literary career around it. The story came back a fortnight later with a stock rejection letter.
The Star: You have published three novels in quick succession. Please share with our readers how was your journey from an aspiring author to a published one?
Anees Salim: 
Yes, three of my books came out in a span of one and a half years. But they were written in different periods of my life. I had great difficulty in getting publishers and agents read my manuscripts. And those who read them were quick to send me carefully worded rejection letters. In the beginning of 2009, a young literary agent picked up one of my manuscripts, and he sold it in a week and then two more in a month.
Under the Mango Tree
The Star: Your books have serious subjects as their themes but your writing carries a comic tone.  How do you manage to do it?
Anees Salim:
 Well, I am told time and again that there is something humorous about my writing. But I don't choose humorous things to write about. My books are about common people and their everyday struggles, about religious intolerance and violence. The comic tone finds its way into my writing no matter how sombre the subject I am dealing with. I can't help it.
The Star: In your prize winning novel Vanity Bagh, you tell your readers that in every city there is a tiny Pakistan? Is 'Pakistan' a metaphor for something? What do you mean by 'tiny Pakistan'?
Anees Salim:
 In most cities around the world, there is a Chinatown, isn't there? Similarly in many Indian cities you will find minority settlements that are branded as Little Pakistan. And the residents of these pockets are often frowned upon, laughed at and believed to be influenced by Pakistani ideas and ideologies. So, it's not metaphorical at all. It's physical and it can be just across the street from where you live.
The Star: Two of your novels are set in a fictional city called 'Mangobagh' but it has striking resemblance with many north Indian cities with sizeable Muslim population. Did you have any city in mind when you thought of Mangobagh?
Anees Salim: 
Mangobagh is a city I carved out of several other cities. In fact I glued together landscapes from cities I like for their history, architecture and ruins. Probably it is the kind of place I want to live in. I think you will find a bit of Delhi, Hyderabad and Lucknow in Mangobagh.
The Star:  You are known for not attending any book launch or lit fest. Why do you do so? Do you think a writer's role as teller of a story ends with the writing of the book?
Anees Salim:
 It is not just book launches or lit fests that I don't attend. I avoid going to gathering of any size and description. Office parties, weddings, get-togethers, workshops, reunions…I stay clear of all of them.
The Star:  How did your occupation as an Adman help you to evolve as a write? Or was it an impediment?
Anees Salim:
 Advertising hasn't had any impact on me as a writer. I would say it has neither helped nor ruined the writer in me.
The Star: What is going to be your next book? Tell us a little bit about it.
Anees Salim: 
The next book is about two boys growing up in my hometown, doing things I did not have a chance to do in my childhood. But it is too early to say if it will develop into a book. 
Published: 12:00 am Friday, April 04, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

تنہائی:ایک نظم

تنہائی ::: ایک نظم 

عجیب شے ہے یہ

ماضی کے دہلیز پہ دستک دے کر
کھول دیتی ہے دروازے تمام
اور یادوں کا سیلاب بھر جاتا ہے
ذہن کے گلیارے میں

 کبھی کبھی مستقبل کے دریچے بھی کھولتے ہے
اور ہماری نگاہیں دیکھتی ہیں
آنے والے لمحوں کی اجنبی سی تصاویر
کیا واقعی ہوتی ہے کبھی تنہا
شاید نہیں
کبھی كھيالو کا سمندر
کبھی تصور کے لامهدود سلسلے
کبھی درد کہ محفل
اور کبھی یہ لے کر آتی ہے ارمانوں کی بارات

تنہائی کی موذودگي اکثر مهكتي ہے
وسال - اے - یار کے بچے كھچے خوشبو سے
اور کبھی جلے ہوئے ادھورے خواب کہ بو سے
تنہائی کا ذايكا
کبھی ہوتا ہے محبت کہ سرگوشيو کی مٹھاس کی طرح
تو کبھی یہ پرانے تلخ الفاظ کی كرواهٹ لئے بھی ہوتا ہے
اگر سچ مچ تنہا ہو
تنہائی اگر واقعی آزاد ہو
گزرے ہوئے کل کے دستانو سے
تنہائی اگر واقعی آزاد ہو
آنے والے کل کے سوالو سے
تنہائی اگر نکل آئے
خوشی و غم کے دائرے سے
تنہائی اگر نکل جائے
امید اور مایوسی کے دلدل سے
تو یہ تنہائی سفر بن جاتی ہے
خدي کا سفر
 اس خدي کے سفر میں
ہم ناپتے ہیں سانسوں کہ رفتار
ہم اترتے ہیں احساس کے زینے سے
اپنے دل کے صحن میں
اور دیکھتے ہیں
ضمیر کے آئینے میں
خود کو اكش
ایسی ہی تنہائی شکل لے لیتی ہے
عبادت کا
اور ہمیں دیدار کرتی ہے
الانوار - اے - الہی کا

ذرا سوچ کر دیکھو
کیا ہوگا
اگر تنہائی
خود ہو جائے
تنہائی کا شکار

Friday, March 21, 2014

तन्हाई ( एक नज़्म)

तन्हाई ( एक नज़्म) 

अजीब शै  है ये 

माज़ी के दहलीज़  पे दस्तक दे कर 
खोल देती है दरवाज़े तमाम 
और यादों का सैलाब भर जाता है 
ज़ेहन के गलियारे में 

 कभी कभी मुस्तक़बिल  के दरीचे भी खोलती है 
और हमारी निगाहें देखती हैं 
आने वाले लम्हों की अजनबी सी तस्वीरें 

क्या वाक़ई होती है कभी तन्हा 
शायद नहीं 
कभी खयालो  का समंदर 
कभी तसव्वुर के लामहदूद सिलसिले 
कभी दर्द कि महफ़िल 
और कभी ये लेकर आती है अरमानों की बारात 

तन्हाई की  मौज़ूदगी अक्सर महकती है 
विसाल-ए -यार के बचे खुचे खुश्बू  से 
और कभी जले हुए अधूरे ख्वाब कि बू से 

तन्हाई का ज़ायका 
कभी होता है मुहब्बत कि सरगोशियों की  मिठास की  तरह 
तो कभी ये किसी पुराने तल्ख़ अल्फाज़ की  करवाहट लिए भी  होता है 

अगर सचमुच तन्हा हो 
तन्हाई अगर वाक़ई आज़ाद हो 
बीते हुए कल के दस्तानो से 
तन्हाई अगर वाक़ई आज़ाद हो 
आने वाले कल के सवालो से 
तन्हाई अगर निकल आये 
खुशी  व  ग़म  के दायरे से 
तन्हाई अगर उबर जाये 
उम्मीद और मायूसी के दलदल से 

तो ये तन्हाई सफ़र बन जाती है 
ख़ुदी  का सफ़र 
 इस ख़ुदी  के  सफ़र में 
हम नापते हैं सांसों कि रफ़्तार 
हम उतरते हैं एहसास के ज़ीने  से 
अपने दिल के सेहन में 
और देखते हैं 
ज़मीर के आईने में 
खुद का  अक्स 
ऐसी ही  तन्हाई शक्ल ले लेती है 
इबादत का 
और हमें  दीदार कराती है 
अनवार -ए -इलाही का 

ज़रा सोच कर देखो 
क्या होगा 
अगर तन्हाई 
खुद हो जाये 
तन्हाई का शिकार 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

वक़्त:एक नज़्म

वक़्त:एक नज़्म 

सच है

वक़्त एक खंज़र है 
 हमें ज़ख्म देता
ये पुराने  ज़ख्मो को कुरेद कर  
हरा भी करता है

वक़्त के तेज़ झोंके
बुझा  देते हैं  ख्वाबों के चिराग

वक़्त की चिंगारी, कई बार
नन्हे अरमानो को खाक कर देती है

बह जातें वक़्त की लहरों में
उम्मीद के छोटे छोटे जज़ीरे 

ये वक़्त रहज़न भी ह़ै
लूट लेता है हसरतों का  कारवाँ 

 यही वक़्त मरहम बनकर
वक़्त बेवक़्त
कई पुराने ज़ख्म़ो को भरा भी करता है 

वक़्त की धूप में
ना जाने कितनी अश्‍क़ आलूदा यादें सूख जाती हैं

वक़्त की ठंडी बूँदों से
ना जाने कितने सुलगते हुये
दिलों  को चैन मिलता है

इसी वक़्त की बेपरवाह तपिश से
बहुत से मूंज़मिद दर्द पिघल जाते हैं

इसी वक़्त कि लपट में 
कई ग़म जल भी जाते है 

कई बार वक़्त , वक़्त पे आकर हमें बर्बादियों से बचा लेता है 
कभी कभी  ये वक़्त ज़र्रे को आफताब भी बना देता 

गोया की
वक़्त रफ़ीक भी है सितमगर भी है 
वक़्त क़ातिल भी है वक़्त चारागर भी है 
वक़्त हर रोज़ करिश्मे करता है 
इसकी हाथों में जादू का असर भी है 

हाँ … 
वक़्त कुछ भी हो सकता है
वक़्त कहीं भी हो सकता है 
वक़्त कभी हो सकता है

पर वक़्त बे-वक़्त नहीं होता

कभी देखा है तुमने दो बजे चार बजते हुए।  



Sach hai

Waqt ek khanzar ki tarah
 Hamen zakhm deta
Aur aksar in zakhmo ko kured kar  
Hara bhi karta hai

Waqt ke tez jhonke
Bujha dete hain  khwabon ke chirag

Waqt ki chingari, kai baar
Nanhe armon ko khak kar deti hai

Bah jaten waqt ki lahron mein
Ummeed ke chhote chhote jazire

Ye waqt rahzan bhi hai
Loot leta hai hamare armano ke karvan ko

Waqt sitamgar hai, Sitam karta hai
Ye dil ke tootne ka nahin gham karta hai

 Yehi waqt marham banker
Waqt bewaqt
Kai purane zakhmo ko bhara karta hai

Waqt ki dhoop mein
Na jane Kitni ashq alooda yadein sookh jati hain

Waqt ki thandi boondon se
Na jane kitne sulagte huye
chak jigar ko chain aur araam milta hai

Isi waqt ki beparwah tapish se
Bahut se munzamid dard pighal bhi jate hain

Goya ki
Waqt kuchh bhi ho sakta hai
Waqt kahin bhi ho sakta hai 
Waqt kabhi ho sakta hai

Par waqt be-waqt nahin hota
Kabhi suna hai tumne Sham ko subah hote huye

Kabhi dekha hai tumne Do baje char bajte huye

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Short Story in Earthen Lamp Journal

The Price of Friendship 

Abdullah Khan

A sharp pain rushed through Arif's heart. I too am responsible for Sukhia's death, he thought. He could have easily saved his friend's life. Sukhia had not been suffering from an incurable disease. But poverty itself is a disease. He felt claustrophobic inside his room with all the windows and the door shut. Getting up from the bed, he pulled a window open. A gust of icy wind slapped his face, and he shivered. Outside, the mist hung like a white silk curtain in the air. The atmosphere reeked of sadness.

As a child, during the winter, Arif remembered, he would visit the outskirts of his village, Alipura, early in the morning, wrapped in a woollen shawl. Sukhia would follow him covered in his threadbare chadar. Sitting on a big boulder, facing north, they looked high up at the gigantic silhouette of Mount Everest. The Himalayas were hundreds of miles away, but during winter mornings when the sun fell on the ice-laden top, it could be seen from Alipura too. The majesty of the mountain thrilled Arif and Sukhia. 'Hey Bhagawan! It's so big!' Sukhia would marvel, almost every time he saw it. They wandered around together, almost always. The village men, seeing these two boys, would whisper: 'See this Pathan boy, a high-caste Muslim, hanging around with a low-caste untouchable Hindu boy.' His Amma and Dadi, however, never questioned his accompanying Sukhia.

Dadi had told Arif that both the boys were born on the same day, or rather the same night. Sukhia's grandma, Ramwatiya, the best midwife of their village, had played a crucial role during his own birth. Attended by a rather inexperienced midwife, the same night, Sukhia's mother (and Ramwatiya's own daughter-in-law), had died minutes after giving birth to Sukhia. Three months later Sukhia's father had remarried. Sukhia and Arif went to the same school, the Government Urdu Middle School. Often, Sukhia visited Arif's house with his grandmother. He sat in the verandah of Arif's ancestral bungalow, on the floor. And every time he came, Amma would come with something for  Sukhia to eat in an earthen pot. Arif knew that the vessel would either be thrown away or kept in some corner, to be reused when Sukhia or somebody from the same caste visited his house. Arif often wondered why Sukhia never sat on the chair or was not offered food on an aluminium plate. He had once asked Dadi. She had replied, 'He is a low-caste Hindu – belongs to the leather workers. Even other Hindus don't eat with them.'

Even in school, during lunchtime, Sukhia sat separately. Arif sat with his cousins and other Pathan boys. The other Hindu boys in their class, Ram Prasad Gupta and Ganga Ram Pandit, also shunned their low-caste compatriot. Ram Prasad said he was a teli, the oil extracting caste, and Ganga Ram claimed that he belonged to the carpenter caste, both much higher than Sukhia's in the caste hierarchy.
At the age of thirteen, Sukhia was a good-looking boy – round face, sparkling eyes and curly hair He always wore the same set of clothes – a striped polyester shirt and white polyester trousers. But, surprisingly, his clothes were always well ironed, and his trousers always immaculately white. Arif wondered how he managed to keep his clothes so neat. Sukhia always sat in the last row with two other Hindu boys and a couple of low-caste Muslim boys. But on the attendance register, his name came just after Arif's. It was some sort of an unwritten rule in that school that roll numbers were allotted on the basis of the students' performance in the last examination. Sukhia had stood second in the class the year before, while Arif had stood first.

Only once in his lifetime had Arif hated Sukhia. And that was in class five, when Sukhia had topped the class. Arif had not done well in mathematics, and that had cost him his first position.
Arif felt humiliated. To add to it, Tazammul Hussain, their mathematics teacher, asked Sukhia to sit in the first row. 'Now, our new maths topper in class is Sukhia with ninety-two marks out of a hundred,' he announced.

Arif was no longer his favourite student, so he felt jealous of Sukhia. He wanted to thrash him, but could not muster the courage to do so. Anyway, the devil planted an idea in his mind. During lunchtime, he approached the head bully of the class, Shams Tabrez Khan, a Pathan, and said, 'Shams, you know ... yesterday, Sukhia pissed towards the west. I told him not to do so because we, Muslims, face west – towards Mecca – while praying. He didn't listen to me, and continued in the same direction. Ever since he has topped in the examination, he has become arrogant.'

'How dare he!' Shams growled. 'Salaa Sukhia, I will show him his place this very evening!' he fumed. Arif smiled, aware that he had been successful in inciting Shams. The same evening, after school hours, Shams caught Sukhia's collar and slapped him repeatedly.

'Shams Bhai, who told you that? Ram Kasam, I have never done that!' Sukhia sobbed, 'Please believe me.' Arif stood a few yards away, looking sheepishly in the other direction.

When he reached home, a fear lurked in his mind. What if Tazammul Hussain came to know about this incident? Then his conscience smote him. 'If you do injustice even to an ant, God will ask you about it on the Day of Judgment. And you'll have to pay for it,' Dadi used to say while teaching him the Holy Quran. 'To make amends, one must repent and ask forgiveness from the person to whom he has been unjust.' Of course, he was remorseful for all that had happened in his fit of jealousy. But the idea of asking for Sukhia's forgiveness did not appeal to him at all. How could a high-caste Muslim boy, whose forefathers were feudal lords, bow down to someone from the leather worker caste? Sukhia's forefathers were servitors to his family. Nonetheless, Arif did it the very next day. Sukhia forgave him in a minute. Arif, to calm his guilt-ridden conscience, gifted his friend his favourite set of crayons, which Abba had brought him from Calcutta.

In the next examination, Arif regained his number one position. But he couldn't relish his success as he felt that Sukhia had allowed him to stand first in the class.

But that incident cemented their friendship further. One Friday, they sat in the verandah chatting when Arif forced Sukhia to eat with him using the same utensils. Arif's aunt, who stood at the threshold of his house, clinging to the curtain, gaped. Abba just smiled and said, 'Arif is a pucca communist.' A couple of passers-by had also seen Arif perform this act of rebellion against the society's rules. There was continuous gossip for many days. A few months later, Arif's family moved to Patna.

Now, Arif had returned to his village in 1993, almost eleven years later. Even this visit to Alipura was forced by Abba. During the rainy season the previous year, the western wall of their house had collapsed and needed immediate repair. His father's income was just enough to meet the basic necessities of his family. So he had withdrawn money from his provident fund and asked Arif to visit Alipura to get their ancestral house repaired.

Once in Alipura, Arif had enquired about his childhood friend. Somebody told him that Sukhia had been bedridden for six months. Sukhia's father, Maiku Ram, had taken him to the Government Homoeopathic Hospital in the nearby village and the doctor had directed him to a bigger hospital in Patna or Muzaffarpur. But where was the money to pay the hospital bill? He shared his problem with the genial-faced caretaker of the mosque, Ali Ahmad, who, in turn, after the Friday prayer, appealed to the congregation in the mosque to contribute for Sukhia's treatment. In response, the newly appointed young imam of the mosque went to the pulpit and screamed: 'Ali Chacha! Have you gone crazy? You are thinking of helping a Hindu, the community who are hell-bent on destroying our mosques! And these untouchables of our village! They are thankless people. I would not advise you to show any sympathy to these people.'

Ali Ahmad sat down, disappointed. Nobody spoke against the imam. Maiku Ram was standing outside the gate of the mosque, listening to the proceedings. Disappointed, as he turned to go, Ali Ahmad took out a hundred-rupee note and pressed it into his hand on his way out. Arif was also at the mosque at that time. He had twenty thousand rupees in his pocket. He could easily give ten thousand rupees to his friend's father. But how would he explain his actions to his father? Abba would go crazy. No, he could not donate such a large amount for his friend's treatment. Ten thousand is too much, and it is not my responsibility to take care of Sukhia.

He looked skywards and returned home.

Ya Allah! Forgive me – he said.

Arif lay in bed for two days, in a state of indecision, and even missed a few meals. Should I send ten thousand rupees for Sukhia's treatment?

Finally, this evening, the news of Sukhia's death put an end to his dilemma. He wept for his friend for hours and then decided to visit his house. He wore a sweater, wrapped himself in a woollen shawl, and put on a monkey cap before stepping out of his house. Then he walked briskly through the chilly alleys and streets, dodging the open sewers.

'Maiku Chacha,' Arif patted his shoulder gingerly.

Maiku raised his eyes filled with tears. 'Arif Babu, Sukhia has left us!' He tried to control his emotions, but could not. Carried away by his emotions Maiku grabbed Arif's hand. Arif began to sob too. Then it occurred to Maiku Ram that he was holding a high-caste Muslim. Devastated by his son's death, he had forgotten his place in the society. Swiftly, he separated himself from the boy, apologising with his gaze. Then they went inside the room. Sukhia's dead body lay on the floor, covered with a dirty white sheet. Sukhia's stepmother sat there silently. She looked more angry than sad. When she uncovered Sukhia's face, Arif could see how his handsome looking friend had become a skeleton. The stubble on his cheeks made him look even worse. Arif's eyes turned moist again as the sorrow mixed with guilt began to gnaw him from inside. For ten thousand rupees he had allowed his friend's to die.

My friend should have a decent funeral, he thought and slipped his hands into his trousers' pocket, extracted a packet of hundred rupee notes, and reached out to Maiku Ram, nervously. 'Maiku Chacha, please take this money.'

'What will I do with this money when I have already lost my only son?' Maiku replied, still crying.

Maiku's wife stood up, walked towards Arif, and snatched the note from his hand. 'If Babu Saheb wants to help us, why refuse him and insult his generosity? He was a friend of our son's. Anyway, we need money for Sukhia's final rites.' She folded the note and pushed it inside her blouse.

Maiku Ram said nothing.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

EK Taza Nazm

कुछ यादें  
माज़ी के दरीचे से
कुछ यादें
उतर आयीं  हैं
मेरे ख्यालों के सेहन में

तबस्‍सुम से लबरेज़ यादे
 ग़म से आलूदा यादें
यादें जो पुरसुकून हैं
यादें जो बेचैन  हैं

 मेरे वॉर्डरोब  में रखे कपड़ो की महक में
लिपटीं हैं यादें
बिस्तर के चादर और तकियों की सिलवटों में
सिमटी हैं यादें

यादें चिपकी हैं 
एलबम के हर पन्ने पे
यादें टंगी हैं पर्दे बनकर
हर खिड़की और दरवाज़े पे

सीलिंग फैन के हवाओं में 
सरगोशियाँ  करती हैं यादें
पुरानी कॅसेट्स की उलझी हुई टेपों से
रुक रुक कर, कुछ कुछ बोलती हैं यादें

मनीप्लांट की ज़र्द होती  पत्तियों में बाक़ी हैं
यादों के निशान
किताबों के सफों  के बीच सूखे गुलाब  की पंखुडियों से होती  है
यादों की पहचान

मेरे घर में यादों के अलावा
और भी बहुत कुछ है
जैसे हर तरफ चहल कदमी करती तन्हाइयां
कोने में टूटे हुये कुर्सी पे बैठी  खलिश
दीवार पे तिरछी लटकी हुई बेक़रारी
और बरामदे मे फर्श पे लेटी  मायूसी
यहाँ पे एक नन्ही सी दर्द भी  हुआ करती थी
लेकिन वो अब काफी बड़ी हो गयी है
और उसका नाम  दवा हो गया है

मेरे दहलीज़ पे
दीवार से टेक लगा कर खड़ी है कोई
और सामने रहगुज़र को  तकती रहती है
वो अपना नाम उम्मीद बताती है