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)