for Aali Areefur Rehman
I met a fellow hot as chilly peppers,
dawdling barefoot, hair anarchic, dress patched up,
waving his right hand
like a railway signal-man with a green flag,
waving as if he were fluttering gestures of departure.
Ravings came out of his mouth;
his whimsy put a dread in me.
I was in a hurry trying my best not to listen to him;
yet he burst out laughing:
‘You are going somewhere, which means nowhere;
thinking life there bubbles up,
fool, life everywhere ends in a dying fall.'
Then it was my turn, and I hooted with laughter;
now after many years have gone by,
I don't know if my laughter was foolish.
The rains had set in,
pouring crystal spears from above,
the Sunday sun dozing beneath the dark clouds' blanket,
the mole-black sky resembling an upturned cup,
a huge crowd trailing down the Church's slimy track.
Another chance encounter:
a humpbacked roamer came up to me,
after lodging much too long in a state of chaos,
first whispering, ‘When does this rustle as of dry leaves in Fall end? '
then booming out,
‘I am not a born hunchback you know,
always reported as seeing gleams of light swell like waves;
out of roaming come my experiences.'
This time the roamer's claim more enigmatic:
‘Nowhere in the Guinness Book of Records
can you find such a case of roaming
as mine to seek life sprouting in a thorny bush.
And sleep clocks in
when I lay my head on a pillow of barbed wares.
Our skin cannot endure much, though,
I'll pass my whole lifetime in a moving castle of thorns.'
But I thought it another case of chilly peppers only.
Now I remember this encounter
as an act of throwing matches into a fire-pit.
I went past a heap of weeds dug out;
and heard a clatter of tools coming from some field,
and ceased humming a tune.
Then rambling along the mud-path
I saw peasants tilling fields with their ploughshares
as if children were wrinkling ironed-out shirts,
and came across a peasant tottering home.
I stopped him, ‘Let's kill some time together.'
He started fidgeting like a child.
‘What have you done all day? Clearing weeds out of the fields! '
He glared at me, ‘Weeding out's not the only thing we do.'
I found him fidgeting again,
and asked him what had gone wrong with his mind.
All of a sudden came silence over his face. Scarface!
‘Perhaps visiting your old kinsmen, right?
Cityfolks only do that, 'cos they become Angrez shahibs,
cut old ties as never to get them glued back;
yes, reliable creatures in your documentary we are.'
Taken aback, I groped for the way onward.
And at last I came home to the city.
Now that bitterness squats on my back like a hump.
from IMPASSE (2003)