This is excerpted from a short story first published in The Aleph Review, Vol. 6 (2022).
Now, as my name indicates, I am a charsee and a lover of electric current. Working in the state electric company by the name of WAPDA as a pole electrician, I take time out to suck on a few double cigarettes to calm myself down before I climb the poles to keep the electricity flowing. I must also mention that I am a lover of poetry, and every now and then I invent a few couplets and triplets to soothe my buzzing nerves. How inspiring it is to be tethered on top of a pole, stoned out of my mind, working on the wires and glancing at the world down below. Everything slows down, just thoughts and ideas flow with the lightning speed of alternating currents. I must also confess that I am a bashful lover of the hand and stay away from women—or men, for that matter.
They say Shakespeare, who was a famous English poet, while shaking his spear in a moment of poetic fury once, said to the people of London. “I cry in the rain so no one can see my tears.” I personally think it was very well said, but what I have said has even shamed this English poet of the olden times. Before I tell you about my infamous quote, however, I must also provide you the context in which I have super-fused these lines of earthy wisdom.
I hope I have mentioned earlier in the first paragraph that my name is Gul Zamman Charsee, the chronic hash smoker. I tend to be a little forgetful sometimes when I have had too many double cigarettes. In the glory of chars, the famous poet says, “Come, you charsee, keep on dragging, keep on toking, totally openly.”
Anyway, I started smoking up and loving the hand when I was a young man and my father had turned into a rabid mullah. Suddenly, the relaxed atmosphere at home transformed into a tense power line. My mother and sisters vanished under multiple layers of black cloth, as my father ordered them to observe the Saudi Salafi veil and my elder brother ran away to Burma to escape this religious persecution. With him gone, father turned his eyes on me and bullied me to follow the straight path of his new-found religion. Not that I had been treading a crooked road, but in the grip of his religious frenzy he wanted me to grow a beard and to be found mostly on the prayer mat.
I don’t have anything against religion; it was just that his was too overbearing and suffocating for my liking, especially the idea of growing a beard at the age of fifteen when I had barely started sprouting facial hair. So, dear people, I had to drown my woes and sorrows somewhere, and hence I found solace in the haze of chars-smoke and the pleasures of the hand. Yours truly in a verse says, “Now the smoke is my curtain, my misty prism through which I can see the true face of my fellows, my sorrows…”
I was introduced to the pleasures of hash and hand by none other than my class fellow, Shamsa, the Bauna Kasaiee. He was the son of the village butcher (kasaiee) and was short in stature (bauna), hence Bauna Kasaiee. Around that time, Shamsa was reluctantly learning the art of cleaving from his masterful father. Although slaughtering animals and selling meat was in his bloodline, he didn’t want to become a butcher.
His only dream was to read and write and become an officer. He never told us what kind of officer he wanted to be, not that we knew much ourselves about officers and other occupations at that age, but when I think about it now, I realize that he actually wanted to become an army officer and butcher people in impending wars.
The irony is that later in life Shamsa, instead of becoming an officer, succumbed to his bloodline and started dealing in the pleasures of flesh and meat. That is, he became a pimp and was eventually murdered in a whorehouse in the city of Peshawar. The poet says, “I bemoan those nubile flowers that wilted before their time/waned before they could even bloom…”
At school, the ever-popular Shamsa was a colourful, funny and daring soul. He used to be our ringleader and, with his wild imagination, always led us to trouble, mischief and adventure. As far as I can remember, throughout our school years he would get scolded by the headmaster at the morning assembly for the bloodstains on his uniform. Every morning, except for two meatless days in the week, he and his father would slaughter and carve up an animal for their daily sale of meat.
Wajahat Malik reads, writes, dreams, thinks and sleeps in Islamabad and Mansehra. By profession he is a documentary filmmaker, producer and a TV presenter of travel films. He is an avid mountain climber, paragliding pilot, a self-professed social scientist and a keen connoisseur of absurdity.
Salman Toor is a Pakistani-born American painter. His works depict the imagined lives of young men of South Asian-birth, displayed in close range in either South Asia and New York City fantasized settings. Toor lives and works in New York City.