Natural beauty is fascinating. I mean who can possibly argue against the visual feast nature so generously paints for us. Voluptuous trees laden with green foliage, sprawling verdant meadows, blooms in spring like rainbows on the ground, mighty mountains looking down on us all wearing white halos, puffed up clouds floating with loving disdain, raindrops making love to the leaves, the whispers of a fragrant breeze, sun kissed afternoons of winters and crimson evenings of summers, sapphire blue skies, saffron vistas of autumn, singing brooks and raging seas, and the most beautiful of all creations, the radiant, sparkling youth. God is the greatest, most sensuous artist humanity has known. Perhaps not satisfied with what he had wrought, God created humans, more importantly women, as the epitome of his aesthetic flair. Vladimir Nabokov wrote these memorable lines in his epic, Lolita. “A normal man given a group photograph of nymphets and asked to point out the loveliest one will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them. You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy and despair, to recognise the deadly demon. She stands unrecognised and unconscious herself of her fantastic power”. I can’t possibly better Nabokov.
The world is startlingly beautiful and startlingly impermanent. And it is easier to go Kafkaesque and be despondent and wretched about the fragility and transience of it all. Franz Kafka spent his life embodying pessimism and fatalism, painting doom and gloom and the unsolicited agony life generously bestows. There is, however, so much more to this fleeting existence. But only the grateful would know. And that reminds me of my favourite watering hole, Lahore Gymkhana. The elections are round the corner and two rival panels are all ready to thrash it out. The club election is an event of note and a source of considerable frenzy among the members. Coming back to being grateful, I am a proud and thankful member of a club born more than a century ago. Nestled right in the heart of Lahore on upper Mall, the club has a history to flaunt and a range of amenities to put you at ease and forget the mundane worries. I fondly remember countless evenings, sitting in the verandah overlooking the Golf Course, in the company of friends, pondering existence and weight gain in the same breath while sipping brew, staring at the green that seems to stretch into infinity. The cane sofas in the verandah are worn out but inviting, the fans clank but comfort, menu is limited but fulfilling and that all pervasive, unmistakable air of being at home, being with the familiar is pleasing. And I am grateful to God for this.
My dear friend, Ata Ur Rehman, who also happens to be a poet, laments the ambiguity of existence in a beautiful couplet of his. He questions the idea of time asking if we really know what is moving, time or us. Time is still but we are on the move, inexorably towards the end. I first met Zarik Jamil at the snooker room of Gymkhana. Bald and ruddy, he would speak in hushed tones, in the gentlest possible manner. He also had a peculiar way of taking his drink and would never forget to cover his glass with a napkin every time he put it down. He played great snooker but with a stance that defied text books. Classy and restrained, Zarik bhai was caught unaware by an extremely rare muscle degeneration disease. From partial paralysis to total incapacitation, the disease progression was rapid and he died within months of the onset of illness. His death was as shocking as it was heart breaking, a painful manifestation of our helplessness before the caprice and whims of an unpredictable, inscrutable life. In moments of fond remembrance and grief, I often imagine him in the heavens, playing golf and billowing out smoke while puffing at his cigar. And snooker reminds me of another stalwart, Aslam Sahab, who taught me the art of cueing and white ball placement on the table. He was an accountant by profession who ended up in Gymkhana. Blessed with a booming voice and green eyes, he was small and frail in stature but not in presence and commandeered the markers from his perch. He died of a routine illness due to complications. Death is inevitable and perhaps the only absolute truth and yet we mourn the departed. It is tormenting to see your friends, your loved ones wither at the altar of time. The lights go dim, voices get muffled, but the silhouettes remain etched in memories. And I am grateful for being alive.
Winters have finally arrived in Lahore though without the customary showers. Quite a sight when you can’t see much because of the blinding fog and how it engulfs the streets and roads. Only sometimes it allows you to see more. Lahore turns into Middle Earth as swirls of mist take over and it feels endearingly eerie and mysterious to stare in the mist and reminisce. Now Lahore is not London but then why should it be. It is what it is and is magical. Have I told you about the sinful pleasure of getting lost in the folds of a warm and responsive quilt? The quilt that hugs you right back. How about sitting in the small porch with your kids, their mother and your own as you breathe in the cold air and aroma of charred meat from the live grill. For a moment you feel the world has come to a standstill and this sense of happy inertia, an overwhelming marriage of contentment and happiness reigns supreme. As if there is not a worry in the world and that you have had a sip or two from the elixir of eternal youth. Robert Frost rescues me every now and then when the demons of apprehension and anxiety attack me. I think of Frost’s crow and how it shakes down snow. You can shake down worries if you learn to appreciate what you have and be grateful for it.
The way a crow/Shook down on me/The dust of snow /From a hemlock tree/Has given my heart/A change of mood/And saved some part/Of a day I had rued.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2017.