They sent me a salwar kameez
glistening like an orange split open,
I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.
Barely distinguishable from other dots,
it's true, but quite uniquely placed.
I envied my wife her nightly visions.
She'd lay each one proudly on the bed
like a plump, iridescent fish,
We had waited through so many lifetimes
for the stone to speak, wondered if
it would make compelling pronouncements,
anything worth writing down.
Then after the war of wars
had ground to a shattering halt, the stone
emitted a small grinding sound rather like
the clearing of a throat.
Let us be indifferent to indifference,
the stone said.
And then the world spoke.
I observed that her knuckles were raw
with the effort of knocking on doors.
And if they opened she'd have difficulty
passing through - the awkwardness
of easing in with her world intact.
More than once I implored her to give up.
But I admired my wife, in a way -
the single-mindedness, her fierce pursuit.
She worked attentively, whenever she could,
at her listening skills, honing them
by day and night
on the creaking of a far-off door.
Part 4: Ever After
she heard it as an echo
in her inner ear, disembodied,
as, in a sense, all voices are -
We'll take him, Shakira.
He can travel with us.
You've enough on your hands
with the other four.
There are places still
on the second bus, inshallah!
At that swollen moment
there was a shadowy unburdening
because at that time, perhaps
any child was a burden.
How she would wish
as the weeks and the months
and the lifetimes churned on
to undo Take him,
to force back the heavy, rusted
hands of the clock -
God's clock held by God's hands
in permanent view.
Say your goodbyes, ticked the clock.
No time to lose.
But who was left for goodbyes -
her Hindu friends, the friends of friends?
A stream drying up.
How to say it?
It was hard to sit on a cane-seated chair
on her old verandah and sip tea,
the conversation curdling
like milk for the weekly paneer.
Tomorrow we will be gone.
The risk of departing
and the risk of remaining
weighing much the same.
Was the worst goodbye to the house?
The house was her second skin,
hardier than her first,
an island in the deafening, tumultuous sea.
She was married to its daily rhythms -
the kneading, the sweeping, the praying . . .
it was dauntingly calm.
And Ludhiana itself, the Old City
and the New -
the Civil Lines with their flowering trees.
The Christian Medical Hospital.
The cloth factories and the temples.
The neighbourliness of the lanes. Her lanes.
Bleeding internally, the city
tried to appear whole
for a final goodbye -
as, they would gather and wait
under Hindu sun and Moslem rain
Hindu rain and Moslem sun.
Nothing was wrong with the clock.
The clock ticked on.
He hardly spoke any words
only two —
or you could call it one
the last thing
veined and hairlike
with interlocking barbules
the bye-bye trapped
a breath of air
the two linked words
on a calm lake
that lay there
with a single purpose —
to receive ﬁnal words
and allow them
to drift on its surface
out and further out
on the lake of thought
encircled by mountains
the simple phrase
to the highest peak
where it would be planted
like a ﬂag
would eventually be enshrined
each identical word carefully
balanced either side
of the invisible join —
like baby talk
he put equal emphasis
on each word
his face was pinched
and his bird beak
there have never been
two joined words
with so much space around them
pack up all my cares and woes
light the light
I'll arrive late tonight
blackbird bye bye
Pakistan! the crowd roared.
Pakistan Zindabad! Long live Pakistan!
This country - her country.
A nation in its instability,
one that could change lives
with the suddenness of a blow to the head.
And Jinnah - his photograph was everywhere,
in the newspaper, on crumbling walls.
Jinnah, in his elegant Western-style suit.
As handsome as Nehru, she thought,
but too thin. He was ill -
some said he was dying.
Jinnah who'd had his doubts,
had once striven for unity,
but who now stood supreme,
the Father of the Nation
A state in which we could live and breathe
as free men…
Mohammed Ali Jinnah. And her lost son.
At rest in the afternoon, or on waking
she might picture them both,
one superimposed on the other.
Her country, and the other. The border
At first easy to cross, no passports required.
Then increasingly hard.
The ever-disputed border.
They called it the Partition of Hearts,
this dark side of Independence.
Blame the British, blame Congress,
blame Nehru, blame Jinnah.
But what was the point?
They called it the Partition of Hearts.
Yet connections had not been broken,
not quite -
between Pakistan and India
the living and the dead
the families and the missing
the people and themselves.
They called it the Partition of Hearts -
this Partition of reinforced glass.
Inside my mother
I peered through a glass porthole.
The world beyond was hot and brown.
They were all looking in on me -
the cook's boy, the sweeper-girl,
the bullock with the sharp
the local politicians.
My English grandmother
took a telescope
and gazed across continents.
All the people unravelled a sari.
It stretched from Lahore to Hyderabad,
wavered across the Arabian Sea,
shot through with stars,
fluttering with sparrows and quails.
They threaded it with roads,
undulations of land.
they wrapped and wrapped me in it
whispering Your body is your country.
Presents From My Aunts In Pakistan
They sent me a salwar kameez
glistening like an orange split open,
embossed slippers, gold and black
Candy-striped glass bangles
snapped, drew blood.
Like at school, fashions changed
in Pakistan -
the salwar bottoms were broad and stiff,
My aunts chose an apple-green sari,
for my teens.
I tried each satin-silken top -
was alien in the sitting-room.
I could never be as lovely
as those clothes -
for denim and corduroy.
My costume clung to me
and I was aflame,
I couldn't rise up out of its fire,
unlike Aunt Jamila.
I wanted my parents' camel-skin lamp -
switching it on in my bedroom,
to consider the cruelty
and the transformation
from camel to shade,
marvel at the colours
like stained glass.
My mother cherished her jewellery -
Indian gold, dangling, filigree,
But it was stolen from our car.
The presents were radiant in my wardrobe.
My aunts requested cardigans
from Marks and Spencers.
My salwar kameez
didn't impress the schoolfriend
who sat on my bed, asked to see
my weekend clothes.
But often I admired the mirror-work,
tried to glimpse myself
in the miniature
glass circles, recall the story
how the three of us
sailed to England.
Prickly heat had me screaming on the way.
I ended up in a cot
In my English grandmother's dining-room,
found myself alone,
playing with a tin-boat.
I pictured my birthplace
from fifties' photographs.
When I was older
there was conflict, a fractured land
throbbing through newsprint.
Sometimes I saw Lahore -
my aunts in shaded rooms,
screened from male visitors,
wrapping them in tissue.
Or there were beggars, sweeper-girls
and I was there -
of no fixed nationality,
staring through fretwork
at the Shalimar Gardens.