Friday, December 13, 2013


This is one of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's great works. A desert of solitude, a mirage formed in a lover's heart. Achingly beautiful words.

Dasht-e-tanhaai mein, ai jaan-e-jahaan, larzaan hain
Teri avaaz ke saaye, tere honthon ke saraab
[larzaan=quiver, saraab=mirage]

Dasht-e-tanhaai mein, duri ke khas-o-khaak tale
Khil rahe hain tere pehlu ke saman aur gulaab
[khas-o-khaak=dust and ashes, saman=jasmine]

Uth rahi hai kahin qurbat se teri saans ki aanch
Apni khushbuu mein sulagti hui maddham maddham
[qurbat=closeness, aanch=warmth]

Dur ufaq par chamakati hui qatra qatra
Gir rahi hai teri dildaar nazar ki shabnam

Is qadar pyaar se hai jaan-e jahaan rakkhaa hai
Dil ke rukhsaar pe is vaqt teri yaad ne haath

Yun guman hota hai garche hai abhi subah-e-firaaq
Dhal gaya hijr ka din aa bhi gayi vasl ki raat
[subah-e-firaaq=morning of seperation, hijr=parting, vasl=union]

I was first introduced to this ghazal through Iqbal Bano's rendition of it. A trait of a great ghazal singer is his or her ability to infuse life into the words and bring out the emotion behind the ghazal. Iqbal Bano's voice captures the haunt of the solitude very well. The way her voice dips and rises in each harqat lifts the ghazal to greater heights. You can listen to it here.

I recently came across another version of the same ghazal. This was rendered by Meesha Shafi in Coke Studio Pakistan. This one is a more modern rendition and has psychedelic overtones at the end. Meesha Shafi had a tough precedent to follow and does a decent job at that. You can find it here.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Veil Of Colors

Pleased to share my latest published short story with all of you. The theme for this month's Spark magazine was 'Flashback'. The story is about how an incident in a man's past affects his life in the present in more ways than one. Read on.

 A Veil Of Colors

She sat on the ground, leaning forward and staring at her creation with great intensity. Smudges of blue streaked her beige pant, one that wore marks of earlier battles too. A bowl of water, muddled with colours her brushes had emptied into it, lay on her left. A flourish of the brush and then she would move onto the next colour, committing to the pool yet another of her choices. On her right lay her instruments of trade. A box full of tubes filled with colours, that had been squeezed out fully or partially. A case full of brushes of various thicknesses. Canvases stacked up behind the box, of different sizes. The top of each canvas peeked out from behind the box. A pair of intense, inquisitive eyes stared out. Above that was a branch of a tree, from which a bird’s nest dangled. A mop of hair was right in front of that nest. It would remain a mystery as to who that hair belonged to and which bird was trapped inside. This room to me was always full of mysteries.

I walked into the room quietly, making sure I didn’t disturb her. I looked at the work in progress and then looked back at her. She was wearing a green sleeveless top. Her slender left hand rested in her lap, the brush poised to strike. The music system was playing strained notes of a sitar.  Raag Kalavati, it must be, I guessed.

I stepped on an empty bag of chips. She heard the sound and turned towards me. The features of that face I had come to love came into full view. That aquiline nose, those lips flush with life, the rounded jaw, even the hair tied into a disheveled bun.

“When did you come?” she asked “I didn’t notice you.”

“Just now.”

“So, how was it? The session…”

“Good, I suppose. We talked about my time at the school. The first three years I spent in Mussourie.”

She gave a terse nod and went back to her painting. It was a habit of hers. Switch on, switch off. It was back to forgetting that I was in the room at all. The evening sun was beating down on her painting. I realised I could see some streaks of colour, but nothing more. I wondered if I should close the blinds.

“Is that it? Are we done talking?” I asked. My voice must have sounded a bit testy because she immediately snapped out of her focus and looked at me.

“No. Please. Go on. Tell me.”

I couldn’t shrug off my irritation that easily. I strolled to the window and lit a cigarette.

“We spoke about my first few years in Don Brasco. My parents always thought getting me into that boarding school was the high point of their parenting efforts. All those details I had forgotten came back to me. Those initial days when I was put in Ludlow House. It was a completely new world for me. I took me a while to get to like that place. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. A lot of the new boys who came felt that way.”

She uncrossed her legs and got up, gingerly walking over to the kitchen. I took a drag of the cigarette and took a good look at her painting, now that she wasn’t blocking the way. A smorgasbord of colours presented itself to me. It was as if someone had painted an ocean of yellows and reds and most of all, blue. Waves upon waves of color overlapped over each other and fought to dominate. Blue, however, seemed destined to win. In the midst of this ocean floated two seeming innocuous, but rather large eyes. They were writhed in sad despair, shedding silent tears that filled the ocean around them. The painting was beautiful and haunting.

I wanted to kiss her, tell her that she was magnificent, that she had breathed pain and life into the canvas, that she was gifted, and that her talent was going to take her places. I did nothing like that. Instead, I went walked right past the painting and grabbed the ashtray behind the canvas dropping heaps of ash while holding onto my words.

“Tell me more.”

“Great friendships were forged in the first year. As they say, adversity bonds people together. So it did with us. Harmeet, Vijay, Anand, and …” My voice trailed off.

Silence filled the room. I could sense her eyes bearing down on me.

“Tell me, how do you know what to paint? Where do you get the inspiration for all these?”

It was my favourite question that I never got a straight answer to. There was pain and melancholy in her work, but the source never revealed itself. I was left to wonder if she had some past hurt that manifested itself. Every time I saw her work, she became more mysterious to me.

“And, Saurin?” she asked, answering my question with a question.

“You know who, Sakshi. Do you really need me to tell you?”

She paused, knowing fully well that I was talking as much to myself as I was to her.

I extinguished the cigarette and said, “Shantanu.”

“Yes, Shantanu, my best friend in school. That very antithesis of who I was. The quiet, unassuming, mysterious Shantanu, who answered in monosyllables, but read in tomes. Always first to class, always prompt with his work, difficult to indulge in our games of mischief. That Shantanu, Sakshi.”

I realised I had walked all across the room as I continued with my soliloquy.

“For months, we sat on the same bench. I copied his homework, grabbed from his plate at lunch, teased him, but he never complained. When our Christmas vacations arrived, I began packing to head home. Everyone seemed to be.”

I stole a glance at her. One look and I realized that I must have been building up a frenzy.
“But Shantanu wasn’t. He had no reason to go back, no place to go back. He had been orphaned when young and was now being supported by his uncle and aunt who had little affection for him. I felt miserable when I heard that. I made a decision then to take him along. No way was he going to spend his time alone here.”

“Shantanu protested as much as he could, but I was too dominant for him. I made him pack his bags and head to the station with me. Being on time was never our strong suit. I went over to the platform with his bags while I waited for him to buy his ticket. The train was already on the platform, ready to depart. The train horn went off – It was time to go. I looked nervously towards the gate. There was no sign of him. I ran hurriedly in search of the S3 coach that I luckily found. Our plan was to take turns using my reserved seat. I threw the bags in and went back to the door.“

“The train started to move. Just then, I saw him stumble onto the platform. I smiled and waved at him. He saw me and doubled his speed. This was not looking too good. The train had picked up quite some pace. A little longer and he was going to be at the edge of the station. I held my hand out so I could pull him in. He ran as fast as he could. His hair bobbed up and down and the spectacles on his nose threatened to fall off. But he was catching up. He was going to make it. I stretched my hand out some more. I closed my eyes to blink. When they opened again, his hand was lodged in mine. We had done it. I smiled at him and pulled harder. But …”

I took a deep breath, steeled myself and continued.

“His hand slipped from mine. I saw him drift away from me and tumble onto the station. The momentum had been too much. The fall made him tumble several times. I was told later that he had cracked his head open with the fall and the internal injuries had been too much to survive. All I remember is that look of shock on his face when he tumbled.”

“I let him down,” I said, realising my bad choice of words, fighting against the silence in the room. No answer came from her.

“Didn’t I? Have you nothing to say?” I went on, the object of my affection suddenly becoming the object of my antagonism.

“For years, I have felt…” I grasped at thin air searching for the right word.

“…. Trapped. And after all this, you have nothing to say?”

Silence as usual.

“You know, you don’t have to solve my problem. But a little empathy wouldn’t hurt. Perhaps you could tell me that my pain means a little something to you.”

The causticness in my tone was meant to hurt. I knew I had little right to be mad at her. I couldn’t expect her to drive my demons away. My helplessness manifested itself in anger over her indifference.

“Who said it doesn’t, Saurin? Not everything is expressed in words.”

She took one long look at her paintings and left the room. I fixed my gaze and looked at the paintings anew. The veil began lifting as I sifted through the canvasses. The bird in the cage, the eyes with the flowing tears, the look of pain and anguish appearing from painting to picture. A rueful smile crossed my lips. I realised I wasn’t the only one struggling to escape.