think, if someone were to be given
a softer heart,
one that was able to feel the soul
we came when called just enough times
that the abode before us consented to transform our lives
a place where love literally throbs,
the heart and soul of the structure that is the centre of our lives
all of us have become so much more and less than we were, here.
the centre has become my centre
and has captured the centre at the centre of me
it spills over its edges into the rest of my life and
makes the rest of my life part of itself too
i am pulled here unyieldingly
as though in the arms of a vortex spinning so fast i can’t even tell
where it begins and where i end
there is nothing i feel that doesn’t get resolved
once i’ve come back to my centre;
not a single worry that isn’t smoothed, a fear that isn’t untangled
once i’ve been here at my core
the people here are like the sound inside a seashell,
telling stories of separate drops flowing together to their ultimate end,
each one making an impression on my heart
this place makes me face those things about myself that i would rather ignore, such as my obvious unworthiness
but of course, that is exactly why i’ve come
brother, you might do it better than me
and you might know something i don’t
but i won’t hold it against you since you are here to show me what i could be, not what i am not
and thank God, thank you, for giving us this place
to come to.
This poem, written shortly after the fifth anniversary of the opening of the Ismaili Centre Toronto, is meant to capture the deep meaning that spaces of community and worship can bring to our lives over time, as well as the newfound meaning we can obtain from the seemingly familiar by engaging on many different levels. This piece is a followup to the original “the centre (2014)”, available to read here.
Said the lover to the beloved, who was consumed by fear of stagnating, of not fulfilling her potential, of wasting her precious time in life:
Look around you!
The apple could not have been picked sooner. The cocoon could not have opened earlier. But neither is sitting still, doing nothing. Both need time to grow.
You are the apple of my eye
and the butterfly of my heart.
I cannot wait until you feel for yourself the wings you are going to grow,
and see how beautiful you are.
At times, we may come to feel trapped within the paths we once chose, or that were chosen for us. We may come to feel that we are idly allowing the mystery, beauty and potential life offers, to pass us by.
This piece takes some words of wisdom that we have all been fortunate to receive at some point in our lives, and adapts them into a brief story.
Some news begins to settle,
in the places where disbelief has left its footprint
you’ve gone, but in leaving you’ve taken me
one, maybe two steps further along in this life
i think i understand why they say, shukhar,
i knew you, once upon a time,
or at least,
i thought i knew you a little bit
i understand there is little that was what it seemed
it’s like a single thread unravelling from a sweater;
one minute, it’s fine, and the next, there’s a gaping hole
except that the hole i feel isn’t in me,
it’s in the fabric of life itself
and life is coursing through,
pulling me upwards in its path
one thing comes over and again to mind:
koi aapse agar kuch maange, to usse dedo, aakhir, yehi to hai zindagi
if someone asks you for something,
then give it,
after all, this. is. life.
this is life,
this is life,
the one time we can love, and breathe, and aspire
the one time we can rise above our human selves
to fulfil the hopes and desires of another being
the one time we can ourselves be
what did i give you,
you, who suffered
unknown to me?
what did i shower on you then,
that i now deserve to pick like fruit
the truth of your hard-lived example?
someone suffered, deeply, quietly,
but we did not know his mind
someone struggled, beautifully,
and we are uplifted with admiration
that we thought we knew him, even for a day.
* * *
A childhood friend has passed away. This piece is a reflection on life, death, and everything in between. Shukhar (among other things) is often said upon a person’s death, by those who follow the Shia Imami Nizari Ismaili tariqa (interpretation) of Islam (and by others Muslims well).
the night sets in deeper as we trudge across these white plains
crisscrossed with patterns of tire tracks
i whisper a desperate prayer: keep my love safe, and warm
it is one thing in theory to imagine being without you;
quite another to make this trek on my own
a few flecks of snow cling to the tear streams on my cheeks
i clasp my hands together, keeping close the hope of seeing you again.
We may be only a few miles from our beloved, and our white plains may be only parking lots, but: the great love stories are happening here, with us, today. Never was there a better time to feel, to love, to miss; to be.
that she never wanted to stagnate,
but she tried not to control things too much
when inspiration came, she flowed with it,
and allowed it to flow into her
and when it didn’t appear,
she didn’t worry about chasing it
she tried her best to have faith in the little things,
and the big,
and to remember that her life,
was not the end.
How often do we think about how we want to be remembered once we are gone? What kind of people do we aspire to be, and who are we, when all is said and done? This is an unedited response to a “create your eulogy” exercise that I was fortunate enough to participate in, presented by a colleague and friend.
These pieces were written while and after visiting the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada. The first, Museum, is a reflection on history, civilizations, art and interpretation. The second piece, courtyard, unedited, was penned while sitting in the Museum’s inner courtyard, and has intentionally been left unedited in order to maintain for the reader, the flow of inspiration as originally felt. It contains English as well as another Hindi-Urdu mixed language that sometimes spills onto the page. Please excuse my rough transliteration attempt as neither of these is my first language.
What will the people from days to come decide to make of us,
what will they preserve in their halls?
Those gone by have become to us what remains of them,
after all tribulation and epiphany fell away into dust.
They have become what we can still understand of them.
There is too much left to know about knowing; not enough left to see.
We fear we are penning lines already penned by those greater than us,
a people that truly saw the truth unfold.
Nothing can be said now that has not been said before;
our efforts, mere echoes of a greater, grander voice.
What inspired these carvers, and what were they trying to say –
can we be certain that we have preserved ourselves against misunderstanding?
Did they create these shapes because those are what they saw,
or were they too, seeking to lose themselves in detailed but repetitive abstraction?
Do these patterns transcend a name?
~ ~ ~
is jahaan mein hum upna sub kuch kho sakte hain, sub kuch seekh bhi saktehain
aisa husn ko bananekiliye, aisi roshni, is roshni, ki zaroorat hai
this light is something like the light of the heavens and the earth; this light has an unnameable quality to it,
a way for all to see all
bathed in it my hand resting on the table becomes something from another world,
translucent, light diffusing outward in the place of rosy flesh
your eyes are from another time here, where patterns repeat themselves to liberate beyond eye’s capacity, where voices rise to a crescendo and we take in,
light, light light,
upon our hands, our face, and every
one is so beautiful here today
yahaan aake kuch bhi likhdijiye, sub kuch shahiri banjayegi
yahaan aake kuch khaaneki zaroorat nahin mehsoos hoti, in hawaaon, saa(n)son, is jahaan ka rooh hi kaafi hai
yahaan rehekar kuch chaate hai hum, kuch khona bhi chaate hain
kuch cheez samaj na chaate hain hum, kuch cheez humko yaad aatihai
kuch cheez hamaari thi, hamaari hai, hamaare dil me se nikalke, humhi ke aage jhoom uthi
agar aapke dil mein koi baat phool ki tarha khilrahihain, to usse khilne do; mat sochiye
agar aapke ander koi baat hai, to aap dil ki zubaan se usse pehsh karo, chaahe koi samje ya na samje
agar koi lafz kaafi nahin lagte, to khudh ke lafaazon banaalo
khudh ki zubaan banaalo,
koi samje, ya na samje
A rough translation of courtyard, unedited:
in this place/world we can lose/forget everything of/about ourselves;
we can also learn everything
to make this kind of beauty, this type of light, this light, is needed
come here and write anything at all,
it will become poetry / anything written here becomes poetry
here, there is no need felt for eating,
these winds, breaths, the soul of this place/world is enough
staying/being here, we desire something;
also, something we wish to lose
some things we understand,
and some things, we remember
some things were ours, are ours;
some things come out from our own hearts
and have come alive/to dance in front of us
if something blossoms like a flower in your heart,
then allow it to blossom,
if there is something in you that wants to be said, then use the language of your heart to convey it,
whether anyone understands or not
if no words seem enough,
then make up your own words
Our apples are golden from your side of the orchard,
but here they are simply red like blood.
We pick what grows and move to make our bread.
When that bread turns beautifully to gold in our mouths,
we know it was only because of a prayer.
What can we rush along, dearest,
not the opening of a leaf, or eyes, or heart.
What of a friend, what of an enemy;
what of someone who is just like us?
What kind of strong will can we rush to bend into an embrace,
the strongest sign of an acceptance of the soul of the other?
It has been a long time since we pained, dearest,
since the fruit we picked so lovingly
turned to sour nothingness in our mouth.
It has been a long time since we rushed around
banging our heads on the walls,
opening books to pages we understand for comfort.
It has been a long time since we withdrew into our own,
since the trickling of ego was felt through the holes
of our pretty heart-basket.
They ask to know who we are right now,
to know what we would tell them, to check for hypocrisy —
to see if we feel any pain.
But we do not recall anything that has happened to us,
nothing that truly affected our minds.
Another grayness dawns, clear and cold.
If there was pain, we learned how to talk to it
long ago, as children. If there was joy
we sent it off to come again.
Won’t they understand that we are nothing right now,
that there is nothing material left to share?
We only wither and unfurl quietly as per our season,
and we are one and no one all again.
This piece is a reflection on our relationships with other people. How do we understand ourselves, and how much common humanity do we truly perceive in others, in “them”? What do we use to define ourselves, and what of those definitions do we use to relate to others? How do others view our blessings and “misfortunes” in relation to their own?