Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Fakers & Fakirs...

Let us be together,
You & I,
And weave a web
Of wispy tales
And huggable lies;
Of truth and deceit;
Of two faces we have
And the worlds
In between – whirling.

Let us be together,
You & I,
In this flimsy world
Of words and feelings;
In this space
Between dream and awakening;
In these tit-bits
That nibble at hearts
And leave us – dangling.

Let us be together,
You & I,
In a conversation
Ridden free of deceptions,
Imbued with hues
That paint
Our respective milieus;
Persistently chaffing
Fakers from fakirs
But then our eyes meet
Your smile – redeeming.

© Dan Husain
February 8, 2005

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I Love You, I Hate You

“I Love You!”

Her euphonious voice rang in my ears. I hugged her tight; her soft cheeks against mine, smelling her freshly shampooed hair. Her little arms clasped me. Her voice was sad but I had no way of knowing how she really felt. What did it mean to be seven and leaving your father? Did she understand the repercussions of a life away from her father? Hindsight teaches us valuable lessons but at an age when the world is an unfurling dream, what did it mean to say she was leaving?

I kissed her cheeks and said, "Baby! Daddy, in some way, will always be with you…” but what was I saying? Wasn't it too abstract for a child to understand? If I wasn't going to be there with her then what did it mean to say that I was always going to be with her? She saw my eyes welling up and an indescribable expression broke upon her face. An expression of hurt and helplessness mingled with an untarnished love that reflected her sensing of my pain and her inability to do anything to assuage that pain. She was silently pleading, "Daddy! I Love You! Please don't cry!” and I realized I couldn't burden this moment with stupid adult sentimentality. I broke into a smile and spoke the opening lines of her favorite bedtime tale, "Once there was a mouse with a verrrryyy looooong tail…" She broke into a giggle and I hugged her with all the love I could muster in my heart.

My estranged wife stood there, with moist eyes, perhaps? We both averted each other's gaze. Why now? After everything why this mushiness now? I stood up and, without looking at her, shook her hands, and said, "Take care and have a nice trip." She replied looking straight at my face, "You too!” I was taken aback by her directness. Nonplussed, I looked at her. She had a sad but determined look in her eyes and a pleasant smile on her face. I couldn't play macho in this moment…what the heck! I stepped forward and hugged her. "Take care!"

But this was 12 years ago. I had promised then, that I would visit them, in the US, the following summer. I had all the intentions. But the swirling eddies of diurnal struggles sucked me in. Dad's health was failing. He had a liver disorder. And the doctor had said that the only solution was a transplant. I had been at my wit's ends. Our resources were dwindling. A business venture I had launched with a friend had gone sour. I lost heavily on that. I had mortgaged our house to obtain a loan for my wife's education abroad. So that option was no longer available to me. The uncertainty of my financial situation kept me from seeking financial help from my friends. I didn't know when I would have been able to repay them. However, Dad had some savings from his lifetime of toil in the dank, musty corridors of the government secretariat. His savings, at the very least, were able to avert the everyday crisis in our lives. But more than resources, I guess, it was Dad's failing will to survive that made things worse. Mom breathed her last two years ago. A massive heart attack; she collapsed in the middle of the day doing what she had done all her life. Preparing lunch for family and guests. We rushed her to the hospital but it was too late. Dad was broken man after that. Whenever I suggested a transplant he would say, "What for, son? Let me go in peace".

Then, in the early hours of the morning, one scent-laden April, two years later, Dad said good-bye. I felt numb as I sat in the hearse next to his body and drove to my village 500 miles away from Delhi. My mind was blank. I liked my Dad, then why, at times, did I feel guilt-ridden? Why don't we ever grow up to be the sons that our Dads want us to? In those dying moments we had looked into each other's eyes as we quietly acknowledged each other - no words were uttered, no statements made, no will dictated - just a sinking, all-pervading silence. A father acknowledging a son and vice versa.

Now began the struggle to earn a livelihood. A bank balance that allowed me to walk across the counter and buy a round-trip ticket to US…round-trip? Why? Why would I want to return to India? Why couldn't I just acknowledge the hidden truths of my heart and cross the bridge? Ok! Something to think about later! First, the money. I didn't have enough to start a new venture. I had been out of jobs for too long. I was sure I couldn't get swanky assignments anymore. I had applied to couple of newspapers but they told me I wrote well but given my lack of professional, journalistic writing experience, they were afraid they didn't have a position for me. I tried enrolling as agent on one of those commission-paying jobs - the mutual funds and insurance kind, you know - but soon realized there was no ace salesman within. It was too humiliating to call people up only to face their curt refusal.

I finally applied to a school for a teacher's job. Mercifully, they liked me and gave me the job of teaching the senior secondary class. But the salary was pittance. I kept writing to them, telling them I would visit the following summer, but I barely had enough to survive. Meanwhile, my wife finished her doctorate. Now she had to repay the loan that we had taken. She knew I wasn't in a position to do that. She needed to earn it back. Her Ph.D. secured her a respectable job at a decent middle rung school in US. She started building her life afresh - her immediate objective being the repayment of the loan. Over the next few years she worked hard and, without faltering even once, repaid her loan. Finally, the last installments came up for payment. She flew down with the lovely one to settle the loan and sign the documents that would necessarily free the home. I was seeing them after a long eight-year period. I was overwhelmed by the occasion. I had asked a friend to lend me his car. I was there at the airport all dressed up with flowers. And when I saw them walking down the aisle I was… Anyway, this charming young lady next to my wife floored me. I drove them to my humble abode but soon we had very little to share. I guess, somewhere within, the chord had snapped. Except for exchanging pleasantries and odd bits of information we didn't have anything to share. She was warm, cordial but distant. And my daughter, she seemed loving but unsure as to how to deal with a father who had been absent for eight years.

It was a short visit and, after three weeks, they packed their bags and left. This time I didn't make any promises about visiting them the following summer. We both knew I couldn't make it there. Our initial correspondence soon dried up. She had more and more responsibilities at hand. And, I felt, she had finally found her mooring in life. Perhaps love had blossomed again. My daughter had grown up and was in university now. She was into theatre, music, boyfriends, etc. and an aging father was not a top of the mind thing anymore.

Then one day, I realized that the communication had dried up completely. It had been six months since I last heard from them. By now our marriage was a joke. I didn't know whom to write and what to write. I just wished they were fine.

As I stepped into my flat today, I saw an envelope in the mailbox. I picked it up. The US postage stamp on it put my heart in overdrive. I opened it and found a card inside. But what was this…my heart sank! I think she had come to know of my philandering past. The reason her mother and I had become estranged in the first place. It was one of those cards on recycled paper. Save the environment kinds. Inside were the words,

‘Mom is tying the knot again on Xmas evening. I don’t know you as a father but as my mother’s husband - I Hate You.’

© Murtaza Danish Husain
February 1, 2005

I Hate You, I Love You

'I Hate You!'

The words pierced my soul. I just stood there holding the I-care-for-the-environment card, smudged with my daughter's gruesome, heartfelt emotions. My world was crumbling inside. The last vestiges of filial relations were getting blurred as I stared at it. I suddenly noticed the motifs: the Hallmark Cards Inc. in bold black print, the sedate Ms and the flourishing Ts…aww... kid of the new age… bad handwriting (I remember Mom was so particular about our writing with a fountain pen on that four-lined 'English Copy'… What had my wife been doing? Didn't they have those four-lined notebooks in the US?), the rough texture of the handmade paper, the bamboo splinters meshed and grinning through the texture - I noticed everything. Everything! The stage the card had transformed into, the words, as characters prancing on them and once in a while a word unmasking itself to show eidetic images of a life that couldn't be, that was never meant to be, that didn't exist. I stood there, a spectator, an outsider.

I didn't have the strength for anything. I went straight to bed, falling supine on it.
My eyes closed - events, faces and emotions, whirling in my head. I don't know when I drifted from the real to the surreal, from the physical to the metaphysical, from reality into a dream…

In an uncertain dream
An apparition stares at me,
Blood on his temple, his lips stretched,
Perhaps smiling.
May be he is an angel, may be its me
I don’t know.
He says something
That I don’t understand
Wrapped in a dissolving realm
He’s gone before my stretched hand.

I sit before her
As she talks at length
Her experiences with love
As if she has understood men.
She speaks of devotion, matrimony
And of conjugal bliss
But I think she has missed
The excitement – the defiance, the madness,
The ability to love
When love’s labor’s lost,
The infinite suffering, and
The morning after’s limping.

In another dream
I have suddenly tripped over
A murderous thought
That ruthlessly clobbers
Claws, rips apart
This child like innocence
And then it vanishes
Like a beautiful woman
Mocking at my pedigree.
I try to break free
But she binds me – her smile
Ravishing, carefree.

In a different afternoon
Amidst friends & coffee sessions
I have suddenly lost
The thread of the argument.
There are voices raised, agitated,
High-pitched drama mixed with intellect
But in our hearts, as the argument rolls,
We become detached more & more.

Amidst rising smoke
And half-burnt conversations
I wish to get up
And walk away.
May be you wish me to stay,
You hold my hand
And smile.
There is still the ache in the heart,
There is still the simmering urge,
There are still unexplained abandoned sentences,
There are still moments unspent
But I have made up my mind
To get up
And walk away.

Walk away? No! I got up with a jerk. My throat parched, my eyes red, perspiration on my forehead as I stared at the clock - three 'o' clock in the morning. I emitted a long sigh and fell back in bed. I wished I could have betrayed this cold heart for once. I wished I could be a child again, crying.

Days went by as my health deteriorated. However, my family was oblivious to my condition. I managed to send a cryptic, congratulatory note to my wife. A few friends came forward to keep tabs on me and to ensure I wouldn't slip into an abyss. I would often joke with colleagues that I now knew, from first hand experience, what psychosomatic meant!

Then the monotony was broken one day when I came home to a message on my answering machine. My wife, sounding a bit distraught, informed me that our daughter seemed aloof, had been behaving rather oddly and that she had suddenly decided to take a trip to India. But given the nasty card she had sent me, she was a bit embarrassed and even felt awkward about getting in touch with me. She asked if I could help arrange her trip and ensure that she would be well looked after when she visited. I was thrilled. This was heaven sent. A smile broke on my face. I picked up the phone and immediately called up my wife. We were perhaps speaking after 4 long years.


"Oh Hi! So you got my message! This is a pleasant surprise!"

I smiled. "Yeah! I just couldn't help calling after hearing this news!"

"Yeah! She's been behaving strange. Just kind of take care of her and see that she gets back to her normal self. She just doesn't open up with me. And because of that balderdash of emotions; she is too embarrassed to get in touch with you straight."

I let out a nervous giggle. " Nah! Don't worry. I'll fix everything."

"Will You?"

The pun jabbed me hard. I suddenly lost color.

"Oh! I am sorry! That was mean. Anyways, please take the flight details."

"No! That's ok! Yeah please."

"And do keep me informed…"

"By the way! Congratulations!"

"Thank you! Will you please take the details…"

So, I was back at the airport to receive her. She looked gorgeous but a tad too sad. She smiled at me and said, "I am sorry Dad!" I hugged her, "Daughters don't need to say sorry to their Dads." And so we began building upon those 14 odd years of lost time. Some personal exile this has been!

But the floodgates opened when I took her for a movie. I guess it resonated her personal life and she wept copiously, in the hall. I found it strange. When we got home I politely asked, "Is everything fine sweetheart? Why are you so tortured? What is the grief that gnaws at you? Didn't we both agree the other day that we are best friends? Won't you let your best friend into that soft, velvety heart of yours? The harshness of my world has made me sore.”

She hugged me and broke into tears. Wailing. I could feel the pull on my shirt. My collar and shirt, wet with her tears. She was crying inconsolably.

"Daddy…Daddy… please help me! Please help me Daddy! I am pregnant! I can't tell Mom! I can't tell anyone! I have no one to turn to! Please…"

Oh Lord! Why did you make the poor soul suffer? I hugged her tightly.

"Don't worry child! Daddy is here! You've got nothing to worry now! There can only be smiles now. We will take care of everything. We will weather the storm together and no one will know except the two of us… Often I find happiness… At the corners of your smiling lips …"

She looked up at me, incredulously, her innocent eyes searching my face, "Will you Daddy?" I was transported to that scene on the airport, 14 years ago. My little girl hugging me but this time I was pleading silently, "Baby! I Love You! Please don't cry!"

Oh! I didn't want to burden this moment with my stupid adult sentimentality. So I said with a smile on my face, "Once there was a mouse with a verrrryyy looooong tail…" She broke into a giggle and hugged me with all the love she could muster in her heart.

"Daddy! I Love You!"

©Murtaza Danish Husain
February 4, 2005

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A July Night

On a humid July night
Your breath caresses my cheek,
A sweet symphony traverses through my body
And it suddenly begins to speak.

I stealthily stretch my hand
Under the soft melting moonlight.
You coyly begin to open,
Urging us to transcend to a greater height.

I press my lips against yours
And you slowly begin to dissolve.
My body begins to ache for you
My soul yearning, wishing to evolve.

Amidst a seducing silence
And your tender embrace
I slowly enter you and a strange peace
Transcends on your face.

Our bodies move rhythmically
Entangled in a divine communion,
I whisper softly, “ Come my love…
Stretch till eternity this blessed union.”

©Danish Husain
April 27, 2001

Mortuary Blues

Through her soul
Are few uneasy thoughts.
A blob in her throat,
Her voice choked,
She stretches her hand,
As if a magic wand
Will bring it all back,
The unfurled glory,
The murdered dreams,
Her son that lay, perhaps, dead
(She doesn’t even know it!)
Amidst the decomposed heap,
She stretches her hand
To reach out for what,
I don’t know.

She may be a Muslim
Or a Hindu, who cares
In this urban milieu.
Haven’t we all died
In our own mother’s eyes
So many times, whenever she wished
For a son or a daughter
To hold her if she falters.
But we all had our reasons,
Perfectly justified reasons.
It’s no different here,
She only looks for a son
Who is not there.

She wades through
Broken dreams,
Dreams that have
Macabre faces now.
She stumbles,
Gets up, only to stare
At a charred face.
Maybe he’s her son,
Maybe he’s not.
She lost her reason
Long before she lost her son.

I stand quietly
With a list in my hand
I don’t know who’s who
All I have here are few names.
A stink greets us
My soul silently pleads
Silently pleads to her
To quickly confirm
That this room
Does not have her son.

I am just a municipal clerk,
Doing an honest work,
Diligently counting the dead
To earn my humble bread.
Arrey…this is just a mortuary!
I’ve seen worst crimes
Just at a spin of a coin.
The crime where one kills
One’s own conscience.
In this age of karseva and jehad
I wonder whether people ever heard of a word called ittehad.

She straightens up, sighs
Looks at me with moist eyes.
Her face though sad
Is at peace. She says,
Does it matter? Does it matter that this room has her son?
Even if this room had her son,
It means nothing.
I quickly extend my hand
Expecting her to grease my palm.
See I’ve been kind enough
To let you in, and
To let you search for your son.
She replies despondently
They took it all away in the riot.
I shrug my shoulders,
Ok! For once I shall be magnanimous.

©Murtaza Danish Husain
August 26, 2002