It’s Publishing Editor Mehvash Amin’s turn to curate the website for a fortnight. She has put forward automatic writing, pieced together from random forays into Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, her own poetry written earlier, a piece of art work—all within the space of an hour and without moving from one room.
It is a languid afternoon. Long.
I sift through text. Just because the afternoon is long.
Twitter: “Speech rather.”
Instagram: “Frugal dawn.”
Facebook: “If Adele can lose 150 pounds.”
WhatsApp: “Got a call from a friend. Her father was admitted to the hospital for Covid.”
The text I am transcribing: “In the mid-fifties, the BBC Urdu Service regularly broadcast half-hour plays”.
I go into my poems folder on my PC: Come across a ghazal that I had written. These lines:
“The patterns that you see in this particular shawl”,
Said he, “are the whorls of pain in Kashmir’s sad tale.”
I walk down the corridor. A calligraphy on the wall. It says:
“HasbunAllahu wa Ni’mal Wakeel.”
Those limpid words, like pebbles, I lift out with the dragnet of this languid afternoon. I will make something out of them:
Today, I see the frugal dawn squeezed out of the toothpaste of an insomniac night.
During the night, I skim through the Internet. Like a dolphin diving from picture to picture, text to text. Trump saying something so stupid it makes me laugh. But his stupidity has voted him in, might do so again. We have all seen words, speech rather, turn a crowd into a rabble… Look at Modi, I thought, look what he is doing in Kashmir.
That makes me think of when the shawl-wallah comes, laden with his bounty. He talks about Kashmir like a poet: “The patterns that you see in this particular shawl”, said he, “are the whorls of pain in Kashmir’s sad tale.” He sips from his tea. “But…“HasbunAllahu wa Ni’mal Wakeel.” I know what he means: “Allah is sufficient for us, and he is the best disposer of our affairs.”
I think of Bhutto, and his rabble-rousing words. Then I think of the lawyer for the prosecution at his trial, Ijaz Batalvi, a good friend of my parents-in-law. His tall tales; how he loved acting in plays, like Jinnah. “In the mid-fifties the BBC Urdu Service regularly broadcast half-hour plays” I remember him saying once. “They used to pay five guineas for ‘acting’ in one.” Actors and lawyers both wield words. Learnt words or words spewing like lava from the brain.
I flip through Instagram again, come across a svelte Adele and think: If Adele can lose 150 pounds, well… so can X, a friend. It is perhaps easier for the singer, though. After all, she can hire chefs and trainers.
It is almost morning when I see a missed WhatsApp message: “Got a call from a friend. Her father was admitted to the hospital for Covid.” It is from someone I know in Karachi. Damn Covid, I think.
“HasbunAllahu wa Ni’mal Wakeel. HasbunAllahu wa Ni’mal Wakeel….” I start repeating. After a while, the prayer becomes denuded of meaning. It becomes a chant from another time and place, a comforting psittacism. I fall asleep.