Series 1: “Dreams of Lunacy” Part 1 Dreams

Published: August 28, 2014
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“Father, what do we live for?” PHOTO: STOCK

“Father, what do we live for?”

“What do you mean?”

“You came, you built a family, and now all that remains of you are pictures throughout the house, and memories scattered throughout your family and relatives. But slowly, the pictures will get old, packed in big forgotten cardboard boxes. And the memories will retreat further inside, as room for newer ones is made… So, then if life will wash away all of our efforts, why move in the first place?”

“You have been to an eye specialist, right?”

“Yes, but please don’t change the topic.”

He smiles, and continues,

“When the eye specialist has to decide whether you need glasses, he produces a tray holding a variety of lenses, right?”

“Yes…”

“So, now multiply those lenses by infinity.”

“Okay.”

“Now what you just said about life was the view from one of those infinite lenses. The point of life, my son, is to try on as many lenses as possible. That doesn’t mean you steal his tray, neither that you move in with the eye specialist…”

“Father please, no jokes right now. So, you are saying there is no single point to life?”

“Exactly. For example, the maulvi’s across our street are fortunately quite educated and decent human beings, but do not let them tell you what life is. Same goes for your science teacher, or anybody else, including me.”

“Then?”

“Ghaffar, do listen to them; always listen, and remember what you have heard. But to make it clearer, imagine the point of life as a huge boundless yarn and whatever opinions you hear about life are just minute strands. Explore them, appreciate their softness, slide on their curves and bends, but keep on moving, never stop. Do not get stranded on these strands my son.”

“That’s it?”

“No, far from it. When you travel on the strands, use that knowledge in your life. And slowly and steadily, you will both move forward and simultaneously be able to distinguish the quality of one strand from another.”

“How? What’s the mark of a high quality strand?”

“A high quality strand or opinion is one which does not physically hurt others. But it annoys their set habits, it shatters their existing structures, and it makes them look momentarily at the consequences of their lives.”

“So father, one should explore, contemplate on that exploration and then act upon it?”

“I couldn’t have put it better. But again, you’re committing the same mistake; what you have just said is only my understanding of the yarn, I want you to start from this understanding and look ahead of ideas I could never imagine, strands I could never tread upon.”

“Father, my heart is knocking on my chest, and its saying there is something missing in all of our conversation.”

“I am glad you said that. Now you knock on your chest, and ask your heart what it might be?”

Ghaffar laughs,

“The heart says, I have little role to play in all this scheme of things because these ideas we have discussed are focused too much on the external world.”

“Tell your heart, that when you travel, there would be strands which would entrap you with their seduction, inciting your desires of lust and power amongst many others – this is where your heart will need to show its dominance.

There will be times when you might mistake your physical exhaustion as a sign of nearing the goal, and it is then that your heart will have to intervene to wipe mental cobwebs and threaten to break away from your body, unless you continue.

So, you see your mind will only decide upon the quality of the strand, but your heart will eventually decide how many strands you will be able to cover.”

“The heart is knocking faster now, and it’s asking why you have all the answers?”

At this, father laughs, a good hearty laugh, and shakes his head,

“Ghaffar, I would never want to have all the answers, because then I would no longer be moving.

But son, there is one category of lens I want to tell you about.”

“Yes?”

“That category is of love. Sometime in the future, there will be some individuals who will enter your life and their entry would temporarily wash away the entire remains of the past and produce unimaginably beautiful horizons.”

“That sounds exciting.”

“It sounds so, yes, but you have to remember that you will be required to make tough decisions then.”

“Like?”

“Look Ghaffar, no two people have the same direction or goal in mind even if they belong to the same sect, or the same bloodline.”

“I don’t understand what you are trying to say.”

“What I mean is that the individuals, who will arrive on your shores, will often want different things from you. Some will want you to set camp on the shore, and appreciate the sea’s beauty without ever exploring its depths; others would persuade you to join them on their paths and travel on their ships.”

“I wouldn’t mind that.”

“Of course, you wouldn’t. No one would dislike having not to worry about their direction if others can provide them with all comforts. But Ghaffar, that is the mark of a poor man – dependency; another obstacle your heart will have to struggle against.”

“Wait, so you are saying that I should stay away from people I love?”

“No, by all means no. Never shirk from love, but first assess the strength of your feelings and…”

“No, wait, how does one assess this strength?”

“Time will reveal that to you, but one test is that those who truly love you would never demand anything from you apart from a request to carry some of your burdens, a desire to understand the kempt and unkempt seas inside your mind, and they would never want you to change your direction. Instead, they would want you to move forward, and will politely build a small hut near a corner inside your mind.”

“Father, when you speak with such images, my heart smiles so widely that all the veins and streams of blood inside seem to light up like silent firecrackers.”

“I know my son, I live near your heart, I know its habits very well. But Ghaffar, before you wake up, remember, once you have made it a habit to move along strands, then you can try to bend these strands into small stairs, and construct a winding staircase which leads you from earth into the universe, where your next journey will begin. The point, my son, is not to be remembered by millions, but to be remembered sincerely. Even if it is just by a dozen.”

Ghaffar’s eyes are downcast, relishing each word of his father. When he slowly looks up from a blurred lens, he sees that his father is no longer there, and just as his heart begins to break from his body in order to carry out a search for him, he wakes up.

His whole body was covered in sweat, and for some minutes, he lay on his bed until there was a knock on his door.

“Ghaffar, it’s time for college! Get up, you will be late.”

“Jee Ma, I’m awake. I think.”

In half an hour, he is dressed, and on his way to college. He reaches in a hurry, and begins to walk casually towards the class. When he enters, he is relieved to see that the professor has still not arrived. He takes a seat at the back.

Shakespeare was wrong, he thinks, life is not a stage, but a circus. He looks around his classroom, and sees everyone involved in a struggle; a struggle to impress others through humour, physical strength, physical beauty, indifference, wealth, and through directionless speech.

If all of them could be made to wear the fancy clothes worn in circuses, and given an invisible audience, they would be a hit. No one gives much thought to silence, considering it an instrument of the weak and the oppressed. But, he holds tightly onto it, it’s his biggest asset. Hardly anybody seems to be expressing what they feel; they voice what is acceptable, appreciated, and even if they rebel, they care more about the attention it attracts instead of the cause.

People, he realises, give little time to weighing the amount of truth in words these days; it’s just too time-consuming and earns them notoriety instead of wealth or fame.

Suddenly, the classroom door opens and he sees her entering.

The heart slowly contracts.

The shape of a pushed coil.

The heart a firefly. Alight and dark. Dark and alight.

Breathing becomes scattered. Thoughts on ways to converse begin a wild run. Helter skelter. Words chasing words.

A girl with a peach face looks briefly at him. She has a defined jaw, eyes that shine, arching eye brows that appear to be drawn with a pencil. Hb 21/2. For perfect shading. A nose that almost looks complete. The chin, an ever so small sine wave. The smile a rarity, but each time a delight. Each brimming with too many emotions. When she smiles, streams of wrinkles stretch from the eyes, disappearing in the skin one by one; when she frowns, those streams cross each other. When she speaks, her hands lift and fall, tighten and contract, like a silent wave, a professional guiding an orchestra. Sadia, playing to the different chords inside everyone.

“Hello, Ghaffar!”

“Hi,” he says in a hurry.

“Is anyone sitting with you?”

“No, no, no one is.”

She sits right next to him and the class begins shortly. The professor begins to speak in his monotonous tone, but Ghaffar’s heart has his eyes glued on Sadia. Sadia seems unperturbed by the lecture, or any attention she has gathered, and upon her lips is a slight smile, which he cannot comprehend. When the class is over, they head to the café.

“Did you hear about the guy who was messaging his girlfriend that he would even die for her, and when he pressed sent, he got knocked over by a car.”

He laughs. She always has strange ideas. S.t.-range. Surpassing the range of ideas; ideas that build their sheds on the dark borders between fantasy and reality. Borders with no guards. No searchlights.

“No. Where do you come up with these stories?”

“Okay, but you must have heard about the dog that bit a woman just when she was being proposed to, and she said a loud Yeas! And then when she woke up, the ring was on her finger.”

Again, he laughs, this time louder,

“I wish I had, but no,” he says, and for a moment studies her face.

It has been three months since they have known each other, and apart from his heart’s acrobatics each time she is in sight, he feels an extraordinary level of comfort with her. Sometimes, when he looks at her, he feels surprised as to why someone so beautiful would attach herself so easily to him? He loves the way she dresses, the ease with which she carries herself, the way she does not brush dust from her clothes after having sat on a dusty bench, the way she looks at him and how her gaze effortlessly enters his eyes, and understands the seas of secrets that bounce silently inside.

But what really attracts his heart and makes it shake uncontrollably is the way she treats herself, the way she ignores and downplays the praise that often comes to her on her soorat and seerat (physical and mental beauty), and especially the way she willingly wears glasses of naivety to view reality.

Slowly, as month’s progress, their intimacy of ideas develops into a relationship and they start to see each other outside college, in coffee shops, museums, shopping malls and art galleries. Each time Ghaffar meets her, the world begins to blur, the way a camera is made to focus only on the centre. But Sadia herself has no centre, she recognises the presence of feelings for Ghaffar, but they are diluted by her variety of interests, subdued by her collage of ideas and ambitions.

“Why do I know so little about your family?”

“Well, you have never asked.”

She laughs,

“I think we are pretty much beyond the stage of inquiring.”

“Well, you already know my father passed away when I was seven,” he says with a soft sigh, “he had a heart… attack and never recovered. But what you don’t know is that he is the only man I idolise. I have Holy figures in the scriptures, scholars in my family, but this heart only seems to be filled with his thoughts.”

She holds out her hand, and he meets it,

“How much do you remember of him?”

Ghaffar shakes his head, and a strange light appears in his downcast eyes,

“Sadia, I see him in my dreams,” he says with a mysterious smile, “and the questions I could never understand, the questions I could never ask, are all answered by him.”

Sadia tightens her grip,

“Tell me more about them.”

“My age in them always seems to be around 7-8, and he always appears as he is in the picture that hangs in the drawing room. And often, I’m actually an observer, I’m observing myself asking questions, and he answers each one of them. And he doesn’t only answer; his answers are all in the form of images, images that are now a part of me.”

Sadia smiles and his heart suddenly tries to fit inside the dimples on her cheeks,

“That’s beautiful.”

“It is, but I don’t know, it can never make up for the fact that he isn’t here. I want him to be here, with me, scolding me, shouting at me, but at least be present. At least be tangible.”

Sadia stays silent, but her eyes caress his eyes slowly, gently until their movement relaxes.

“Let’s go from here.”

They pay the bill for the coffee and head out for a walk. The night is strange, full of secrets which the wind carries, and uses to seduce each person’s imagination.

“Ghaffar, can one fight everything?”

“Yes.”

Even death?”

Ghaffar looks at her, and the darkness is not able to hide the implications of her question,

“I don’t know.”

“You’re a fighter, and it’s not this quality that I admire, but you know what to fight for, that’s what makes you special. But you can’t fight death…”

“Maybe. But who decides this? Who decided that he would leave us so early?”

“I can’t comment on that. That’s God’s decision.”

“You can’t comment? What is there to comment?” Ghaffar raises his voice, “God did decide, and he is no longer here!”

Sadia stops in her tracks. Both of them have a habit of criticising religion, but they have never discussed God in such open words, and now the wind too pauses in its march to hear a debate that never gets old,

“Ghaffar, you are talking about God. You need to watch your words.”

Ghaffar laughs, a laugh Sadia had not heard before, one brimming with sarcasm,

“Words? Why do all of you worry so much about bloody words? If He is so powerful, an insignificant being like me should be able to do nothing to His name or stature.”

Both of them now face each other; the lights from their eyes have disappeared,

“Is this some sort of sick joke?”

Ghaffar’s lake of sarcasm silently overlaps with the sea of anger that was previously in hiding,

“I’m speaking about my father’s death, and this is not a joke!”

“Ghaffar! Lower your voice. Please.”

But Ghaffar is already fully inside the sea,

“I don’t give a damn about who is listening. If He really is there, did He listen to the wails of my mother? He is supposed to love us more than 70 mothers Sadia, but when He took my father away, where was His heart, where was His motherly affection?”

“Ghaffar, I cannot talk anymore on this, I never knew you had such polluted waves of frustration inside you,” Sadia says with a sigh, and leaves.

Her footsteps ring inside him.

Part II of the “Dreams of Lunacy” series will be published on Thursday, September 04, 2014. Stay tuned to see what happens next.

Zain Murtaza Maken

Zain Murtaza Maken

A teaching fellow at Teach For Pakistan, he loves to write and read.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.