Friday, July 29, 2005

Leaving Toronto

I was supposed to have left Toronto by now. But the blunders of a travel agent, and an ill informed friend resulted in me turning around from the airport. Will try again today.
I am leaving without definite plans, and also, without saying my good-byes to all. I was never good at either.
See you all when I return, and behave while I'm gone.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Poetry - Pablo Neruda

And it was at that age...Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesmal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

Taken from here.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Ke tujh mein hai rab dikhta

I was trained for a world of numbers. Forming patterns, integrating logic, and breaking both down. Feedback mechanisms for self-evaluation, ensnaring randomness and jumping over singularities. For a while, it kept me awake at nights, but I got over it.
For me, the creation of art, and the artist are incomprehensible. How can Art, the particular, be more universal than all the equations and theories combined? And how can someone communicate, without defining in the express terms of numbers?
To witness it's creation is to be completely baffled and in awe; of the process, of its inputs and outputs, and the uniqueness of the blackbox inbetween.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Macho bullshit aside, I need to get back in shape. The smoking part, the not exercising part and the no time for meals part is devicing a whole that's good for nothing. The realization came when I couldn't hold my breath long enough for one length in the pool! A day before, my lungs were about to burst after half an hour of basketball. Ridiculous!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The toonie affair

Made a trip down to the Pakistani Consulate today. The buzz was strong, as opposed to the last time I was there. The counters were full, and the attendees were stumpped with the amount of people inside. Looked like a media frenzy.

I was going to write about the loud and inattentive service person at the information desk. (Once prompted with an inquiry, he actually asked a customer, 'Do you want the passport or not'?) But, forget about him already, and instead, allow me to tell you about another Consulate employee who took a toonie out from his shirt-pocket and put it in with the cash I handed him. I had not anticipated the hidden charges and came up two dollars short of the total payment. He did add, that he would go bankrupt if he had to do the same every day.

Embarassment is euphemism for what I felt at the moment. Shuffling through the change in my pockets, emptying out my wallet on the counter, and wondering how much delay this toonie-affair would cost me. The paper submission time was already over when my number was called. A denial would have seen me heading back the next day, with the required change. I would have huffed and puffed, but as per the friendly-yet-firm code of the customer service industry, what other option did I have?

No need to worry Murlizee, there's good people all around. Cheers to their momentary lapse of reason. I hope I keep running into them, and also, that they never go bankrupt.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

All roads lead to Lahore

Asha'ar Rehman on why Lahore matters.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Heading back from work, I decide to catch up with A. He called me 3 days ago to tell me he's working again. And he also has a cell phone now. I stop by his workplace to find he has already left. Pay-day, I think instantly. There is no way I can get a handle on him on a payday.

I start walking. Its a good mile and a half, but an evening at home is out of the question. Call him from two payphones, and no answer. 'The customer is currently unavailable.' He had mentioned something about running out of minutes, and knowing him, filling up his cell would not be a priority. Still, I walk.

I reach Ardenthorpe with only half the liquids in me, my throat dry as my humour. I take a peak inside from a window, and suddenly stop. His neighbour is eyeing me. Another asshole to deal with.

I stick a note on his door, and start walking back. I am surrounded by suburbia. Green lawns, well kept, some sprinklers still on. Houses with brick work, the same variation of dull red and yellow. Even the patterns are predictable. Every third house is brick, and every ninth house has the same brick work. A garage door cranks up with a lotta noise, a Chevy Impala comes out. Middle-aged men drinking beer, middle-aged man cleaning a car and a middle-aged woman walking her dog. A kid staring out into the street from a sterilized window. All plastic, direct from Home Depot, I'm sure.

Back at the payphone, I try for the last time. One ring. Another. A. picks up. His voice is slurred.
A: Hell-o.
Me: Where are you?
A: I'm... I'm at Feba's place.
Me: Where exactly?
A: Lawrence and Brimley.
Me: Thats where I am, you idiot. Lawrence and Brimley. I'm at a pay phone on the corner.
A: Turn around, I... I think I can see you.
Me: (turn around. see no one.) Where are you?
A: Its a bar. Febus place.
Me: (Spot the blue and white sign) I'm coming.
A: Are you coming?
Me: hang up.

I walk into Febus. A greek bar with an Arabian hostess. I spot A., and after the 'niceties' are exchanged, he orders for me. Looks like he's been at it for a while now. He looks distraught. Says his new job is tiring. The boss is an asshole.

The hostess looks around as if bored, and talks up another customer. A. still thinks the night is young. Its almost nine. He orders again. I wait.

'Oula', he screams at a woman in white and black. If Oula isn't middle-aged then I haven't been born yet. She looks pleased and smiles at us. Must have been a real cutie in her time. She extends her hand for a shake, and I see, her skin is pure gold. The face is puffy white.

Oula makes a face at A.. She doesn't remember him, or maybe doesn't want to. She tells him her foot hurts, she's twisted her ankle. The hostess comes back. Oula exchanges a glance with her, and gets up from her chair. A. stops bothering Oula and walks back.

We head outdoors for a smoke. All the tables are taken. He grabs a seat from one table, and I, from another. We sit beside each other. I point to the moon neatly visible amongst a jumble of power lines passing over us to the left. Its a crescent. What month is this, I wonder. A. looks bored now, and drunk.

He tells me he is appreciated at the new job. Everybody is touting him to be the next manager. I ask him about the current manager, he looks at me as if he's already answered the question. Oops, I think, the asshole boss. He tells me about taking shit on more than one occassion, but in his own words, "He's my boss. If he asks me to jump, I ask, how high!"

I want to tell him that I have a bad feeling about this, but I don't. He isn't talking to me, I know. He is giving himself a pep-talk. A motivational after a long week and a bad boss. Everyone deserves a break, and a dream.

A. looks at his cell. He asks me for another round, I decline. He offers a night out till one. I don't reply, instead I ask him why he's being so spend-thrift? He mumbles something but the only word I catch is 'respect'. He asks the guy on the other table for confirmation. The guy raises his drink, prompting A. to do the same.

Now, A. is calling a cab. He's on his way to a fun weekend- the kind that's half-planned, with a few surprises along the road, and feels grand when someone narrates it. But, thats all that it's good for: narrating.

Many a times I have been the one to call a cab. A few times we've done it together, where I end up feeling whimsical and silly, and A. ending up with a guilt-trip so bad, it wipes out all the progress he makes during the work week.

I get up and leave, and pray that he doesn't run into his boss while he's partying. And this time, God, help him keep the job for more than two weeks.

Friday, July 08, 2005

London after the bombings

Two authors, Ian McEwan, author of the book 'Saturday', and historian and novelist Tariq Ali on London after the bombings. here and here.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Banaa kar faqeeron ka hum bhais Ghalib...

When I was in boarding school, one weekend every month was designated as a long holiday, and I would head to Lahore. The going part was easy; anxiously awaited, and celebrated all the way. Ande jande stationaa toun kulfiaan khawaan gay sorta thing. The coming back part was hard. Calling friends, trying to find out who was leaving when. Fitting it into Mammu's schedule so he could drop me off. Waiting in the heat to buy the ticket, and wondering what movie, if any, would be shown on the rudimentary in-bus entertainment system.
I'd grab anything to read during the ride, which contributed to the exodus of books from my Naana's house. But the roads were bumpy and the buses - don't get me started on the buses. I could have done what the majority of people did: engage in chit-chat, discuss politics and weather, or muse over what was in-store for us all, in the great land of the pure. But I was headed to boarding school, leaving family in Lahore, for reasons I didn't understand and wasn't eager of being reminded of.
On one such trip, an elderly looking gentleman sitting beside me started 'making conversation'. Although he appeared harmless in his starched-cotton kurta shalwar, bulging belly and the fruit basket he'd dip into from time to time, I was instructed to be wary of strangers. As soon as he asked me my name, I gave him a false one. Then he proceeded to interview me about my family, and the reason behind my travelling alone. I told him I was headed to boarding school, which was true, and for the rest of his questions, I made up answers on the go. I can't remember what story I came up with, but it must have been believable. The gentleman asked me to join him for dinner when the bus stopped midway at a small roadside dhaaba in the middle of nowhere. My instincts were to say no, but I was having too much fun conning him into a meal. I was twelve years old and loving it.
The trip ended with me getting off the bus safely at my destination, and relating the story to the rest of the boarders.
Now, those of you who haven't been in boarding should know that inspite of the charm associated with living away from the prying and preening eyes of family members, boarding school gets boring just like all of everyday life. The story sessions after the lights-out deadline, specially ones after a long weekend, were enchanting and entertaining at the same time. Lahore, Multan, Muzaffarabad, D.G. Khan, were all there in that dormitory, ensnared in our imagination, golden in the nostalgia, almost romantic after midnight.
In two days, everyone was asking me about the game. I was the kid who'd bull-shitted his way to a free meal, I was a con-artist. Without realizing, I had made it into a select group reverred for their antics and anarchist behaviour on campus. I had done no such thing, and was mildly amused that they thought I was cool. That evening, when the usual suspects were rounded up for yet another prank, I was there, too. When the nightly session was over, I was brought in into another session, held in a different dormitory where I came to know the people behind the pranks and antics that had remained unsolved. My own buddies, but with a slight gleam in the eyes, bemused smiles and a bring-it-on attitude. If this was the real boarding, where had I been living?
Until I joined university, whenever I travelled, it would be under guise. The rules were simple. I had to get them to pay for my meal when the bus stopped. It could be as small as a coke or pepsi, or as large as a three dish meal. I would take no money in my hand (which was offered once). I'd accept contact information, but never actually contact, and I'd provide no such thing for myself. There were no rules for the story, except that it had to been done then and there. I could be anyone, as long as I had not been that particular anyone before. At various times, I was the rich kid partying without a sense of future, the boy following his heroic uncle's footsteps, the kid with an outrageous disease, the over-achiever from a poor family, the downtrodden restored by destiny, the orphan, the ghazal singer, and best was, a colonel's son on special assignment. It worked every single time!
The victims were fellow travellers. An auntie who held me up as a role-model to her two kids, a German tourist on his way North who said he went there every summer since his retirement. A female student of QA University who tried to convince me that life had meaning beyond love (I had lost my girlfriend in an accident, you see), and gave me her phone number which I sold for cigarettes (This was the only time I was tempted to break the contact rule). Most of them were common people, city folks headed one way or another down life's treacherous path.
Now, planning a trip to Lahore, I wonder whether my improv skills are up to it or not. The only way to be sure is to try, and hopefully, I'll have a story for you guys, too.