From Moscow to New Delhi — we attempted
To paint the flakes of cloud, intruding in the
Unknown territories, reading Kafka.
Sparrows who had a crisp morning dialogue
For the last twenty years — had been looking for
An empty branch and some action in Sheikh Sarai.
From the trains of night Zafar had come,
And my five-foot frame shook with mirth.
The birds were now looking for a home-exile.
We fell and called each other by all dear names;
Yet his temple burned in sadness. The smoke of a dry cigar
Scented the air. A stranger coughed his burning throat.
“You were the aqua in my thirst,” he said.
We wanted to forget the moment of
Remoteness but could not cry, even across the oceans.
Pain was love’s foremost thirst. The children
Here had quickly made us smile and entered
Our lost cell. (They left). We could not speak a bit more.
When the Call to Prayer reached us — following silence —
We heard our fishmonger calling again, “Rahima
Is a mother of one.” He knew we would
Return no answer to him. Now each night at
Kremlin we look at each other, without a word.
He was alive — he gave signs, but I lit a candle
To zoom into his emptiness every night.
Tears careened down, my smile faded away when I said,
“Why are you still steeped in past?”
I rewind to happier times, the years of
Jewels and monsoons, ancient and recent.
We still watch the seasons, and centuries pass.
Untouched By Blood
She who had come in, jostling, at the end
Of the performance — only eighteen years old —
Was yet to experience a confusion of soaps
And bottles of lavender water! “Zooni, never
Reach out for that house in the suburbs!”
But let us row ourselves, through the bygone
Stardust of that lost soul. Let us forever submerge
And leave. The Night of Joy had pushed him to visit
The ‘city of suspense.’ Yellow ceiling exposed
A roasted appearance, when he waited and she
Came. A red flash ruddied her forehead in doubt.
“Am I to vanish? Or survive?” When the parrot
Died, she left the balcony opened on a brisk night
And the railing gave them a cool feeling of living
Flesh. (Cool limbs of Eileen). “Come now, he wants
To kiss you.” Excited in a shameful misery, he is
Full of three women’s indelicacy. She
Would prefer to wait, and rinse out the basins —
Poisoned with musk. A boy, meanwhile, was trying
To spool his tapes in the crowded lane.
His father — the pastry cook — had given the
Mother a whole week of love and blows.
A monster breathes in every warm cave. “Are
You lonesome tonight? Will you miss me tonight?”
They went on pretending for long. He would fast-
Forward the times, she would rewind the dreams.
Some ruthless words lurked in dark spaces,
Where promises were discussed. (Oh, you are
Still here). A rose stands, dried, for the set of two.
There is a palpable forgotten mound. The staircase threw
Shadows of shawls on the wall. The ‘city of suspense’
Had long gone, ate them up. Rewind to zero!
Pardon His Aid Tonight
Two ambulances — clanging in the distance —
Drew on the outskirts of Kidwai Chowk.
Presently — we heard gunshots. Shadows slipped out.
It was not a happy sound. A blaze
Of shout and two flashes of revolving light
Had gone past. (This is from an archive) — A rumour of voices
Reached me. It’s raining. Faiz, do not follow —
The roar of an angry crowd. My hands will not
Be able to protect you in the city of Djinns!
Let this picture too — melt in an unseen world,
Beyond our visibility. He listens and says,
“It’s over now, let me go.”
My radiance is torn apart; sad and earnest,
I want to wait for you near the Pir Panjal
Tunnel under a leaden sky. The shaheen falcon,
White on the throat, makes a sharp aerial strike.
Have you also become a solitary wanderer smudged in
Black ash? A hopeless trespasser, do you hold back your tears?
Gluing the rose petals on a dry branch —
imagine you in a ruin. Showing your blood stains to the sentry,
you speak in dismay, “I am guilty of no great crime.”
Now on earth, I long for wings to forget God.
Are you still ignoring the two men there, sipping kehwa,
In that undiscovered corner of a bazaar? As land rushes
To land in desolate chances, I ramble —
Would someone prophesize the coming twilight?
I descend — praying encore in Talaaq Mahal,
I close the night… remembering Iqbal: “Nahin
Tera Nashemann Qasr-e-Sultani Ke Gunbad Par
Tu Shaheen Hai, Basera Kar Pahaaron Ki Chattanon Mein”
Shirin Bismillah, who obtained her Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Delh, is a translator at Central Square Foundation.