سردیوں کی وہ رات

اس رات بہت بارش ہوئی تھی. میں جلد سو گیا. جب آنکھ کھلی تو میس اور کینٹین بند ہو چکے تھے. میں نے باہر سے کھانا کھانے کا ارادہ کیا اور ہلکی بارش میں کوٹ پہن کر نکل پڑا. کھانے سے فارغ ہو کر جب ہاسٹل واپس پہنچا تو بارش تیز ہونے لگی تھی. بجلی منقطع ہو چکی تھی اور ہر طرف اندھیرا تھا. سردی کی وجہ سے سب جاندار اپنی پناہ گاہوں میں تھے. میں بھی جلد قدم اٹھاتا اپنے کمرے تک پہنچ گیا. اندر کلاس کے کچھ دوست لالٹین جلا کر اس کے گرد جمع تھے. میں نے کوٹ ایک کھونٹی پر لٹکا دیا اور کمبل میں گھس گیا. کچھ لمحوں میں نیند آ گئی. مجھے نہیں پتا کہ میں کتنی دیر تک سوتا رہا لیکن جب آنکھ کھلی تو لالٹین جل رہی تھی اور کمرے میں میرے سوا کوئی نہیں تھا. اب بھی رات کا وقت تھا اور بدستور بارش ہو رہی تھی. کبھی کبھی یوں لگتا ہے کہ میں اب بھی نیند میں ہوں اور کوئی خواب دیکھ رہا ہوں. زندگی کا ہر لمحہ جو اس رات کے بعد سے اب تک گزرا ہے وہ ایک خواب ہے. ایک ایسا خواب جس سے میں جاگ نہیں پایا. لیکن ایک دن آنکھ کھلے اور میں ہر سکھ اور دکھ پھر سے جی سکوں. اب کی بار وہ غلطیاں نہ کروں جو اس بار مجھ سے ہوئیں.

The Rainy Night

October 1st, 2020 / 12:25 AM

It was raining that night. The day was full of energy. I came back from college at around 3 pm. Normally I would be back an hour earlier, have my lunch, and then get some sleep. The mess had already closed when I got back. I went to a friend’s room, made a few calls, and left the place while the winter sun was still shining. It wasn’t the charms of the city that made me go out. Perhaps the spirit inside. A couple of hours later, the sun had already set. Clouds had already wrapped the city. The pre-social media and pre-hyperconnectivity days were distraction-free. Everyone around you looked at you when the phone rang for a call or it was an SMS notification. When I came back, the power was out because of the winds that were already making the shops in the neighborhood close. I rushed to the room only to find it locked. I had the key. I went in and moved to my bed hoping to get up in a while and grab myself some dinner when the mess would start serving. The quilt was warm and the downpour made the temperature fall. The dark room with no other occupant amalgamated into the perfect recipe for a dreamless sleep. When I woke up, it was already past midnight. I reached for my phone to check the exact time. Every place I could depend on to get something to eat would have been closed. When I rolled over while still in the bed, I saw some more people sitting with my roommates. They were all sitting around a gas heater. I could not recognize them properly as the only source of light that shone on their faces was from the filament of the lamp. The warden whom I had never seen had posted a warning letter at the entrance of all blocks against the use of heaters of any kind. A few seniors whom I had met so far talked about a fire in a room that had resulted in one casualty. It, as they narrated, started because of a faulty heater. Since then no one was allowed to keep a heater.

I got up from my bed, rolled my quilt in a way that when I came back, there should be some heat left on the insides at least, said salaam to all of my classmates who were in that room. They replied and offered me some tea. I grabbed my thick jacket and decided to go to a famous food bazaar, an area close by. There were no cabs or rickshaws and I had no bike of my own in those days. The roads were wet but luckily there was no water accumulated on the sides. Some cities are designed to withstand rain. It was not like Karachi at least. After twenty minutes I was sitting in a restaurant. It was crowded. There were tourists, families, drivers, daily wagers around. The owner had made a tent-like covering that covered the area on the front allowing rain lovers to enjoy their food without getting wet. I ordered some roti and spicy daal with a bowl of kheer afterward. Even after all these years, the flavor of that meal lingers on the taste buds. Flat televisions were not a common thing back then and one fat machine was encased in a metal frame right above the counter where the owner was sitting ordering the servants and chefs. I paid my bill, listened to that historic piece of news that television was showing. The kheer was too intoxicating to waste any energies on world news or on walking back to the den. So I grabbed a rickshaw from that crowded bazaar and reached my place which was still submerged in eerie darkness. The watchmen were stationed at the main gate. I could not find any other being sitting outside although this was the time when all the flames of love used to burn bright and through the night with the help of late-night calling packages. Every bench in every corner of the lawns had a farzand-e-majnu or jaan-nasheen-e-farhaad laying on it calling some Layla on the other end. That night the benches were wet and the weather was cold. All lovers were under their blankets deciding the names of their future children. I was thinking of where to put my jacket to have to dry before I needed it again by tomorrow noon. I walked the stairs of my block to reach my room. The laughter inside was a signal that the boys were still wide awake. I sat with them for a few minutes before moving to my bed. I cannot remember how long it took me before I dozed off. The winter sun comes up late and I remember waking up while it was still dark outside. The skies had started to clear up as I could see a few stars twinkle through the broken clouds right from where I lay in the bed. The sounds of the canteen staff were the only sound I could hear. They were gearing up for their morning routine. I wrapped myself in a small blanket that used to lay at my feet and went out of the room. Everyone was asleep. I reached a window that overlooked the entire place. It had a ledge onto which one can sit. Someone had been sitting here already as they left a cardboard sheet on which he had been sitting, calling his Layla perhaps. I wrapped the blanket around myself and sat there looking at the rays of the morning sun. The window faced south making it impossible to see the sun directly. But it made me see everything the sun-washed in its light.

At times, I feel that I am still asleep. The mess had closed and I had missed the dinner. It is raining outside and all forms of life are indoors. What I have experienced from that moment onwards is a very vivid dream, including this writing and the screen on which it is typed. All the friends, foes, turmoil, arguments, laughter, celebrations, funerals, escapes, pleasures, pains, gains, travel, and every other thing is unreal and nothing more than a part of a vivid dream I cannot wake up from. When the dream would break, I might relive these moments again. At least then I can talk sense to myself and avoid mistakes I couldn’t in this dream.

(A “mapped” writing)

The Old Man

October 24th, 2020 / 01:49 PM

The warden of the hostel was rumored to be a hot-headed person. We had never seen him. When the hostel was constructed many decades ago, it was designed in a way that the only entrance to the warden’s residence was from within the hostel premises. As anyone with a Government job in this country is a tiny God in his self, many Gods who were appointed as the wardens kept adding their own colors to the structure. That is how a gate at the backside of the warden’s bungalow was made. It was an ugly design choice but it made all those who remained in authority escape at the time of need. They used that gate to come and go instead of the main gate which the students expected would be used but wasn’t. That is how we never saw our first and third warden. They had corrupt, money slurping clerks who helped students in exchange for money, a portion of which landed in the warden’s pockets. One of the warden before my time at the hostel was rumored to be a strict pro-religious fanatic who was strictly against the use of VCRs in the hostel premises and anyone whose room was found to have one was expelled from the hostels. VCRs were replaced by DVDs and by the time phones became the hub for videos on demand, my hostel days were over. The first warden was too irresponsible. That is what I feel even today. When the rooms were allotted to the freshmen, he pushed four boys in one room. We were told that it was a temporary move and it would last until the seniors would leave the hostel in the coming days when everyone was supposed to be reshuffled. I, however, was lucky enough to have just two more roommates in those days. The fourth bed in our room remained empty that we started using to place our food mat on. Most of the meals were had at the mess. That bed served as our make-shift dastarkhawaan. We always wondered what our fellow would think and feel if one day we are dining on that bed and he suddenly arrived. A few weeks passed and we forgot that we were supposed to have a fourth roomie.

We were asleep in our room on a Sunday morning, after our Saturday night movie spree that happened inside our room on a rented TV and a rented DVD player. Do you remember those three in one movie DVDs? Yes, we slept to watching two back to back. Someone knocked on our door. It took us a minute to get into our senses. The first feeling that hit us was dread. We thought it was the warden who would catch us red-handed and then he would send formal letters of expulsion to our families and then our parents would come to save us. They would be disappointed in us and their trust would be broken. A lifelong disgrace for us waited on the other side of the door.

The door was knocked again.

We looked at each other. One of us who was a hafiz-e-Quraan too gathered his wits and courage and opened the door. There was no warden there. It was an old man in a formal dress. He wore glasses, a round golden frame. He looked around the age of sixty. He had a small beard that was whiter than his hair. There were some strands of grey hair on his head. His beard had none. He wore a decent dress. At that time he was not wearing the coat which was folded and rested on his arm. His shoes were polished. There was a steel pen that stuck out of his shirt pocket. He was carrying a grey colored suitcase which was made of some thick material. We watched our roommate welcome him inside. In a few minutes, we understood that he happened to be the father of a student who recently moved into the hostel just like us. As everyone is asleep on a Sunday morning, that’s why the uncle was having a tough time locating his son. He told us that his son lost his phone some days ago which is why he had been to three rooms before knocking on our door but only one of them opened before he reached our room. He told us about his son, how brilliant and how hardworking he was. He told us a description of his son but we could not guess which class fellow of ours was his son. Pre-smartphone days and he had no printed photo of his son either or the whole thing would have been easier. He told us that he brought some clothes and stuff for his son as in a few weeks it would start getting colder and his son, being a lazy son, was too careless to bring the needed stuff along with him from home. The old man had a plastic shopping bag with him too. It had some very delicious mithai that he brought from some famous shop in his city. We sat and chatted and discussed random things and ordered breakfast from outside. It was a good day. We offered the uncle to enjoy a movie with us until lunch, after which we offered to go to every single room in the hostel with him until we found his son. The third film from the three-in-one collection ended at lunchtime. Just like breakfast, we ordered the mess servant to bring the lunch into the room, which he did. Filled tummies made us sleepy and so after lunch, we slept. In a few hours, the uncle woke us to inform us that he had a call from a relative in the city and he would be going there until the evening when he will return. He asked us if any of us wanted anything from outside, he would happily bring that. It was his good manners. Then he left. Around the evening, we came to our senses. Uncle was gone. He left no contact number. We became a bit worried when the realization hit us that he left his luggage in our room. It was the era of General Pervez Musharraf and the country had seen a fair share of exploding things. The suitcase was locked. It had no name or address or any phone number on it. We three were very mixed. Our anxiety was rising by the passing time. One option was going to the warden to inform him. But then in the narration, our movie night’s consequences would come into existence. One option was to leave the room for a few hours until we find all boys from that city that uncle mentioned he hailed from. Then we would find his son based on the description of the son and the father. Or we could open the suitcase by breaking the lock. He was an old man. We could simply throw the tables on him that there was no lock in the first place. So if anything frightening was inside, it could be diffused. Another option was to take the suitcase and hide it on the roof, behind a chimney-like structure which I don’t know served what purpose. Maybe that was an extension of one of the pillars of the building they forgot to trim. If inside there was anything that could explode, then it would cause the least harm if placed behind that pillar on the roof. It was dinner time already and we were still discussing. The mess was to open right after the isha prayer but we went early to the empty mess and just sat there to kill time. Each of us was hoping that the old man would return by the time we got free from there. The hafiz said that he wanted something from the room and he would come back in a while. After mess, he left us in the hostel lawn where the farzandaan-e-farhaad and jaan-nasheen-e-majnu spent their long nights. In less than a few minutes, he came running back, his facial expressions of shock. He said nothing and asked us to follow him to the room immediately. When we went inside, the suitcase was open.

Hafiz had opened it as he could not resist the itch. Even I was confused and shocked to see the contents of the suitcase. There were crumpled newspapers and cloth pieces and some red bricks and two or three stones. There were no clothes or items of personal usage as we hoped. Our fears were getting real. That was a clear indication that the old man was not who he claimed he was and obviously there was no son of his who was to be our class fellow. What about the mithai we had eaten? Had he poisoned us already? And when we were thinking all that had occurred since morning, the poison was already in our circulation pushing us to our untimely deaths. Restlessness was gripping us tighter. We decided to ask our next-door senior to hide the TV and the DVD player and then we could go to the warden and tell him about the ordeal. After placing the stuff there, we were about to leave the room, when the door knocked again.

It was eleven o’clock at night.

As we had not seen the warden before, we could not recognize that it was him with the old man. Standing next to them was a hostel guard. Both the warden and the old man were talking as if they knew each other quite well. It meant that the warden would call us soon and take some sort of disciplinary action against us. But he left with the old man after the old uncle grabbed his suitcase, which we had already repacked just before hiding our Saturday night. The old man thanked us and asked us to visit him. We felt that he had already found his son. Then the warden asked the hostel guard to escort the gentleman to the gate and get him a rickshaw or a taxi so that he can reach the lorry adda or the railway station. The guard took the uncle and left. Then the warden asked us to go with him to his residence. There he, against all the rumors and fears, served us tea and told us the fright that still haunts me to this very day.

The old man was indeed a parent, contrary to what we had started to assume by that evening. His son also studied in the same college and lived in the hostel. But some years ago, the boy had an accident and died. After that, the old man kept coming to the hostel thinking that his son is still there somewhere. He used to knock on the doors of people and explained that he could not connect to his son as he had lost his phone some days ago. The suitcase really had had his son’s clothes at the beginning which only God knows how they got replaced by stones, newspaper rolls, and rocks. We could not take another sip of the tea. After coming back to our room, we phoned back to our homes and listened to the voices of those who define our lives.

اس واقعے کا ایک ایک لمحہ اب بھی اتنا ہی تازہ ہے جیسے کچھ گھنٹے پہلے گزرا ہو. اس بوڑھے کا چہرہ میرے ذہن سے نہیں نکلتا. محبت ایک سرطان بن کر ہماری زندگی کا حصہ بن جاتی ہے اس سے جان چھڑانے کے لیے صرف جان سے جانا پڑتا ہے. میری لاکھ کوشش کے بعد بھی میں اس قصے کو نہیں بھلا پایا. ہاسٹل کے دنوں کی یاد سے جڑی دروازے کی دستک اب بھی یہ احساس دلاتی ہے کہ شاید اب جب کوئی دروازے پر دستک دے گا تو شاید دروازے کی دوسری طرف وہی بوڑھا باپ اپنے بیٹے کے کپڑے دینے آیا ہو.

(A “mapped” writing originally which has its strings bound to Lala)

Dusty

January 13th, 2021 / 11:52 PM

As I lay back on my bed looking at the ceiling fan which hasn’t moved since winter set in, it reminds me of all those dreams that don’t progress once the seasons of our interests change. And just like these fan blades, they keep collecting dust somewhere in the deeper corners of our subconscious.

(From a “mapped” writing)

Ugly

April 23rd, 2021 / 08:06 PM

An accidental teacher once called a girl ugly and rejected her from a role of a princess in a school play. The event traumatized her mind and left a mark. She lost all confidence in her dark beautiful skin. Years later, she learned a few tricks of the world one out of which was to wear skins of others and live behind personas. A recent of the identities she has taken is of Lisa Gherardini. Only if I could tell her that beauty is nothing but a relative realm. Some would find her ugly. Some would find Miss Gherardini ugly. Some find me uglier. But they still come here to read.

Fanatics

April 23rd, 2021 / 05:28 PM

They call for strikes. They call for shutdowns. They claim to be men doing God’s good work. They would come after your life alleging blasphemy. They burn things that come across their path. They want an ambassador to be expelled. They hate a sect whose holy city happens to be on the banks of a river. But they never march towards it. They never staged any protests around it. Their power shows happen only in Islamabad. Why? Is it because God lives in Islamabad? Or is it because the machinery that can make churn their politics into profit exists in Islamabad? Hell too has its heroes.

Wishes

April 23rd, 2021 / 04:32 PM

“What wishes of yours are still left?”, she asked.

Two things in life are increasing as time is progressing. The wishes that will never come true now and the number of screenshots I take. Both are cherished treasures in a way of their own.