I usually spend my Saturdays with my mother. Work eats up the week days and we only get to talk on phone. She looks forward to the weekend and so do I. The good thing is that we only laze around indulging in what Keats lovingly called, “delicious diligent indolence”. Rambling conversations with my father and mother while munching on pretty much anything I can lay my hands on, interspersed by periods of comfortable, gratifying silence, fresh orange juice with a can of John West Tuna, benedictions and reprimands here and there, some talk on the political developments, some fishing of memories from days gone, finally huddled in the cold porch under a blanket, breathing in the crisp winter air, staring at the wisps of steam curling up from hot tea, remembering in hushed tones the good days and the not so good days as the evening haze and sepia light marry to bring home a wistful conclusion, a painful realisation of the fleeting nature of it all.
Sundays are different. But then winter Sundays always are. On some I sit down, turn on my favourite music and let go. I write my pieces for Tribune and I must say it is almost always an emotional, almost cathartic experience. On some I sit with my friends in that quaint veranda at Lahore Gymkhana overlooking a spectacularly green, seemingly endless vista, hemmed in by old trees. One lonesome tree stands out, distinct from the rest, as if revelling in being gloriously single. Like a distinguished elder, plump with foliage and a trunk creased with the marks of years, it seems to watch over the golf course and members with great affection. Time wasted enjoying is not time wasted at all, Bertrand Russell mused. Can’t agree more with the great mathematician and philosopher who also had an unparalleled aesthetic flair for breaking the shackles imposed by the symmetrical numbers and looking at the world through the eyes of a romantic. Can you imagine the pleasure of floating in a gentle brook once liberated from the fear of drowning? You just throw yourself in water and lie still and move as the water moves. The journey is utterly unforced and you undulate with the rhythms and moods of the brook. Spending a lazy Sunday with friends while sipping from that heavenly brew, feels no different.
Sudden downpour on a winter night feels like a surge of rage or desire that literally explodes its way out. And then it all fades as quickly as it comes. Refreshingly cathartic as the rainwater washes away quite magically the load you refuse to lay down. And you walk unencumbered. I live in my own world as did Keats, as do poets. I am no poet but fancy myself as one for I craft the world I live in. My world offers me refuge when I wish to run away from the mundane fears and insecurities and disappointments. Shuttling back and forth is hardly easy when blasts and dead bodies and gushing blood pin you down. I am baffled at the endless debate on the semantics of the national narrative against terrorism. I am equally disappointed by how civilian courts happily stay submerged and by the sheer inertia of our state as terrorists paint the landscape red with the blood of the innocent. It could have been simpler for all of us. The usual struggles and pitfalls in life, like worrying about weight and cars and kids grades and suspecting wives. It could all have been routine and predictable minus the explosions in cafes and markets.
Age is catching up. Not that I am no more greedy or ambitious or lustful, but I have definitely slowed rather mellowed down, an inevitable blessing of the wisdom father time bestows. I am a lot more appreciative of what I have and thankful to the Lord for it. And I count Lahore among one of my blessings. Karachi is off putting, its fast paced life and professionalism intimidating. Everybody seems to be on the run, the humdrum of life dizzying. Lahore on the contrary walks a tipsy gait, high on its veritable history, warmth and hospitality and an unabashed love for the simmer, the slow. Sadly, Lahore has changed too and the Lahore of my childhood is both inexplicably and explicably different from the present day version. There are, however, pockets of sanity littered all over. Lahore also reminds me of Tashkent. I have fond memories of Uzbekistan where you genuinely feel to have been transported back in time. The Russian legacy of grey, metalled roads and undergrounds stations with vaulted, frescoed ceilings, the cafes where families eat and dance without a worry, where the air is pristine and thick with history, where the shrines are striking for their quietly ecstatic worshippers, where there are grape vines in every suburban house and where ‘charpoys’ beat at the heart of the household allowing huddles of loved ones on meals.
Go easy on yourselves and others, I say. Live and let live, I urge. Love thyself, I insist. “Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and little music played out of doors by someone I do not know”, gushed John Keats. He died at 25, having created some of the world’s finest romantic poetry. He dreamt and lived his life on his own terms, unmoved by the horrors around him and impermanence of it all, focusing instead on the sublime and beautiful. Poets are dreamers with this uncanny ability to paint our desires and articulate our fears. World would be happier if there were more poets. I would love to end on another Keats’ quote. “I have been astonished that men could die martyrs for their religion—I have shuddered at it, I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion. Love is my religion and I could die for that. I could die for you”.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2017.