Memories Yanked From A Voiceless Throat
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He spent his evenings amongst shairi,
scattered like dust around him—
Ghalib, Mir, Shakeel Badayuni,
some of his favorites, I remember;
his diary, his favorite blue shirt,
and his smile from one
cup of tea to the next.
I remember him paralyzed in bed,
MND decimating him,
his breathing through the ventilator
that went beep, beep, beep,
like a terminal clock winding down,
and the fierce concentration
on his face as he asked me to articulate:
“Aaye kuch abr kuch sharaab aaye
Us kay baad aaye jo azaab aaye”*
He explained to me the layers of its meaning;
how for him, it meant a challenge.
His eyes shone, determined,
like he was saying to God:
I am braving this, I am braving this,
what next, what more?
In room 39 of that hostel
by the Lahore canal,
where we once lived,
he sang in the night,
after raging winds
disrupted the power—
his voice rang out,
rupturing the dark,
and has lingered like a ghost for years.
I tried to feel his presence again this morning
by playing that song—
Khizaan kay phool pay aati kabhi bahar naheen**
I tried to remember him this morning
and all I could think of was him
wilting, a rose
left alone in the desert,
just like he sang in that portentous song,
words faltering on his tongue,
like rocks rolling down a mountain.
These memories, these voices
I have yanked out
from his voiceless throat,
rendered dead a few months ago.
Perhaps when he lost his voice
was when he gave up.
Shumail: if you knew now,
how I am writing in your memory
on pages taken from
a lady’s scented hand,
I know you would have smiled once more
at the quaintness of it all.
*A verse by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
**A song sung by Kishore Kumar