In the Wilderness

A poem from Faiz. Translated by me in Queens language.

In the wilderness of solitude
As I see it, flickering
Drowning shadows of your voice
Vanishing mirage of your smile

In the wilderness of solitude
As I see it, blooming
Flowering oasis of you singing
Beneath the dust, the sand of longing

In the solitude, nearby
As I see it, rising
Blazing fire of your presence
Consuming in its own fragrance
Silently, secretly

In the solitude, far away
As I see it, glittering
Falling, bit by bit, the dew of your essence

As if your long gone presence
Is seeking me to realize again
In the midst of a vacant dawn
That the day has just ended
And the night has just begun

In the wilderness of solitude

It could have been

it might have been
it could have been
is all i can say
it should have been
the dusty road to diverging path
the hallowed hallways, the vanquished wrath
it could have been good
it might have been
the arms, the hands, the voices of fate
the sun, the moon, the stillness of slate
the valleys foregone, for us, forever
the destinies unknown, the destinies clever
it could have been good
it should have been fine
is all I can say
the dangers of deter, the demeanor of defer
the confiding of truth, the fading of blur
it could have been fine
it should have been
is all I can say
though it never was
and it may never be
but all I can think of
(and cannot say in words)
it could have been good
it should have been fine

I was in the garden when it rained

I was in the garden when it rained
Maddening, searching for the fireflies
Brimming with distraught hopes, smiles
Together and unafraid, of nature and what follows
The garden glowed and swayed, in the wallows
I was in the garden when it rained
It dawned to me then, the garden had no end
What matters and what doesn’t, it wouldn’t bend
The pathway across, the pathway within
Converging while distant, I was thrilled
Chilled air, and wide shining sun
Like a dream of two sets, one on the run
I was in the garden, and it had rained

In search of true sheikh chilli

During a casual but interesting conversation with friends, someone used the term “sheikh chilli” in a rather sarcastic manner. This reminded me of my unrelenting admiration of the fabled persona of sheikh chilli, which I immediately pointed out. While our popular culture and folklore looks down upon sheikh chilli, calling him a profound loser; I, on the other hand, consider him an inspiration. A misunderstood hero who deserves to be rooted for and appreciated.

So let me reiterate what I may have written earlier as well. The story of sheikh chilli as it should have been.

In our childhood, we are all told the story of Sheikh Chilli, with a lesson which seems almost forced and contrived. We are told to perceive the main character of the story i.e Sheikh Chilli as a loser, a character living in a world of his self-created illusions. A person who dreams of becoming rich and famous, while all that he possesses is an egg.

Here’s the synopsis of this story. Sheikh Chilli once found an egg somewhere on the street. Instead of just making an omelet out of it, he conceives an idea of using the egg to become rich. He thinks, if I can get the egg hatched through a poultry farm, it will turn into a chicken. The chicken will grow up soon, and will lay more eggs. Soon I will have lots of eggs, dozens of them, which will hatch into dozens of chickens. These chickens will lay more eggs, and hence more chickens. And in no time I will have so many chickens, that I will own my own poultry farm. By careful planning, I will turn the farm into a huge business. One farm will lead to two, then four and soon dozens of farms. I will buy more farm animals, and will become a farming tycoon. Then I will venture into dairy and fishery business. Integration into food distribution will follow suit, leading to industrialized farm products. I will control the supply for big factories that I will own. The story goes on and on, and Sheikh Chilli carries on dreaming bigger and bigger things, while all that he owns at the moment is an egg.

An egg, which could have been used to make a tasty omelet for the morning. We are told that Sheikh Chilli was a futile dreamer, living in a world of illusions, and hence a profound loser. Like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s classic, Death of a Salesman, an icon of futility and nothingness.

As kids, we are told not to follow Sheikh Chilli. Be realistic, we are taught. We are told that if you happen to come across an egg, just eat it. Anything outlandishly bigger than an omelette is frowned upon. In fact, a person in the real world who thinks bigger than what he owns is given the label of being sheikh chilli. And sheikh chilli was a loser.

The story has been told to almost every kid of my generation as soon as he begins to learn how to read and write. At least in our part of the world.

I am usually annoyed with such stories. I believe that such Desi “folk tales” and their morals are forthrightly dangerous. To me, sheikh chilli should have been perceived as an inspiration. Here, there was a man who dared to think out of the box. He didn’t just feel content with having an egg. He wanted to innovate and get more out of it. (and wanting more, children are taught, is tedious, and audaciously hazardous).

I believe we need to be re-told the story of sheikh chilli. It can be the same story, but in a different tone and with a more pertinent moral. Our kids should be told that there’s no detriment to thinking big. In fact, it’s almost human nature, and a necessity to have sheikh chilli’s soul among us. We need to conceive new ideas, regardless of how little we have. If we look at the real world, there are thousands of very successful sheikh chillis around us. People who had an idea, and simply, probably fearlessly, went down to implement it into something big. From a garage based setup to Apple Inc. From a hostel room with a computer to Facebook. From a fisheries business to Samsung Electronics. From a newspaper hawking job to Virgin Megastore, Virgin Air and Virgin Galactic.

It’s the spirit of sheikh chilli that drives big ideas . Sadly, when people in our culture come up with such weird ideas and illusions, they are laughed at, immediately advised not to be, guess what, “sheikh chilli”.

In our part of the world, we are given a set formula to success. Get into a good school. Become a doctor, lawyer, banker or engineer. Think small and steady. Don’t venture out of the box. Don’t run too fast… There’s another folk take of a rabbit and a turtle which is equally dangerous but that’s for another day. We are told that sheikh chilli never really achieved what he dreamt of.

What we are not told is that sheikh chilli, in reality, did become successful. In fact, a vast number of successful personalities in every field, whether business, science, or sports, started off as bare handed, wide eyed, fearless, sheikh chilli. All that they did was to act after they idealized, with honesty, integrity, and willingness to convert their energies into abundant hard work.

We can learn a thing or two from sheikh chilli’s story. If nothing much, just the bit of not being afraid of coming up with big ideas and trying to implement what an enterprising brain dreams up every now and then. Shaikh Chilli can be a catalyst of innovation and introspection… an inspiration.

So here’s to all those kids out there, and elders, who are, or ever were, or will be, Sheikh Chilli. Never stop dreaming!

Today’s Dilemma

I wrote this somewhat depressing poem in a state of mind usually reserved for kings waiting in horror of an imminent stampede. Except that I am no king and there was no horror. Maybe a GoT episode was freakishly straying in my mind. It’s a random thought, not to be taken seriously or perceptively.
If I was born in the worlds of today
With little to say, much to sway
Roaming aimlessly from cliffs to clay
Just like a prisoner gone astray
Carrying a dug-up heap of boulders
On my retreating, shivering shoulders
I would be screaming in silence
Dreading the distant violence
My heart would be a pounding flesh
Panicking at the moment’s stress
Living with fear and trepidation
Anxiety would be my only tradition
I would be afraid of the unknown
Even scared of the sloppy clown
Building far-fetched scenarios
Wandering from worries to woes
My days would be darkened with grey
My nights would be alight with clay
My numbness would not oblige me
A cold panicking mind, would disguise me
I would have no path and no mission
A life sans delight and completion
I would watch the worlds with instant fear
Its misadventures, uncouth and unclear
Screaming to unknown, though I wouldn’t hear
Neither going nowhere, nor staying near
Mine would be a life of fear and trepidation
Not meant this way, but moulded to precision
I would live like that, entirely in seclusion
I will have a comfort, but no conclusion

Today’s Intellect

In the old times, when technology was feeble and officious behaviour was frowned upon, mankind exhibited a remarkable level of intelligence.

The philosophers delved into the intricacies of meaning of life, poets tried to capture the soul of existence, scholars explored the unknown or unheard of, and people in general tended to understand ideas of complex nature outside their own sphere of work. People in general, in that era, were different from the people in general today. They lead a rather unhurried life, contemplated on things of varied nature and discipline, travelled, sometimes for months without the fear of routine, and diving into adventures which only a perpetually liberated soul could fathom. Honour and class were well recognized and appreciated. Frivolous talk was disregarded. Even jesters exhibited uncharacteristic astuteness disguised within simplistic undertones.

Then things changed. Our lifestyle took a sudden and sharp turn, almost as when the whistle blows marking the end of recess in a primary school. Mankind moved away from lakes, rivers and villages and started living in congested, polluted and over populated cities. Houses were reduced to diminutive cabins. Routine took over. Everyone started working hard, resolving, rather pointlessly, to chase an always elusive dream. And everyone started to feel under privileged.

Now, working hard was not a new phenomenon for human beings. Mankind has been known to work hard for thousands of years to ensure its survival in Earth’s cruel eco system. But working hard within the confines of congested, polluted and routine driven city life; that was new. And it immediately took its toll on human beings, both physically, and mentally. Physical appearances began to change. People became short in height, weak in eyesight, lethargic in appearance and weedy in substance. Our muscles were replaced with body fat, and sharp wit was replaced with tiresome talk. It was as if we took it upon ourselves to meddle with whatever soul we had been saving for centuries.
Off course mankind invented ways to artificially deal with this situation. To combat never-ending lethargy, we started indulging in sugar overdose. Soft drinks, energy drinks, caffeine, vitamin tablets, more caffeine, more drinks. To combat loneliness, we invented social media. Real life excitement was replaced with comic books, TV dramas and films.

Soon, mankind became a machine. An age old adage now, but admittedly it happened in a blink of a second. Which leads us to today’s world, where routine is the over bearing rule of life. We wake up, we do the chores, we work hard, usually for someone else, who is working hard for someone else, we do our things, we go to sleep. This cycle goes on throughout our lives. We hardly sit straight. We hardly have time. We don’t travel much. We rarely read. Our discussions with acquaintances are reduced to work-life anecdotes, frivolous jokes and mundane entertainment. A time-out for months to break the routine is never feasible. And it all starts from the very beginning. At schools, we are taught to excel in routine, and follow the scripted instructions. Critical thinking is allowed in patches, only to carve out a few who can advance the technology to the next level. Instead of technology working for us, we now work for the technology.

This leads us to the topic of the day, “today’s intellect”. Gone are the days when an Aristotle would put forward a profound notion which will transform a generation. Now our intellectuals are television celebrities who cannot render a single sentence without hyperbolic overtones, who get dismayed at the slightest of contest or question, and whose understanding of life is drawn from industrialized pop culture rather than uninhibited cognitive discourse. In other words, Socrates is replaced by Ellen DeGeneres. Today’s Waris Shah doesn’t spend an epoch contemplating on the timeless beauty of his beloved, he plainly and briefly introduces the beloved’s superficially moulded appearance and then mulls over the imagined snags that come his way. Today’s intellectuals tend to be politically correct and emotionally mundane. Always delivering carefully crafted sentiments which lack punch and resolve. Our writers do not carve out a complex world of multidimensional human beings. At best, they conceive an array of narrowly structured, often uni-dimensional, characters and feed us with “superhero” oriented simplistic dilemmas, which shouldn’t have mattered to begin with.

Our attention span is as short as 180 characters of a tweet. Social media relies more on pictures rather than words. Plastic is preferred over gold. In other words, a cognitive void has been created, leaving most of the mankind feeling lost and dazed. Mankind needs to find its lost ways once again; the ability to think, ponder, create and excel. It will not be easy, but will surely be an interesting journey from where we stand today.