The Ghazal 230822 212412 (1)

The Ghazal
“I see us giving love to each other in a time of quiet between storms. It’s what we were
meant to do.” ---Frank Herbert, Dune.
Soban Sanaullah looked at his multiple phone messages, and the screenshots pouring
in, with a grimace of distaste. In what was an exceptionally rare move for him he
reached into his desk drawer for a pack of light cigarettes. Crippled since childhood
by a speech impediment, he hardly ever smoked; it was rough on the vocal chords.
But this occasion warranted it.
Respected Jazbaite Shehryar Shamsi answered the phone at the first ring. ‘Yup?’
Soban’s voice was cold and controlled. ‘Why is this maderchod1 underclassman
Kohsar Shaikh making merry,’ he paused, ‘on social media about Dr M’s private
disparaging comments about me?’
There was a long pause. Soban’s voice took on a steely edge as he puffed at his
cigarette: ‘Even I don’t pause that long, ass-hole. Answer me.’
Shamsi sighed. ‘Jazba high command and I are trying to control it.’
‘Jaisay tum apni t-taharat kartay ho2,’ snapped Sanaullah. ‘I want this guy thrown
out of Jazba,’ he paused. ‘Now!’
‘We’ve been discussing it for the past couple of hours,’ sighed Shamsi. ‘But he’s
under Wamik Ashraf’s protection.’
Soban emanated a sound between a laugh and a bark. ‘That’s rich. The blind leading
the very blind.’ Sanaullah spoke about handicaps with the casual callousness which
only those who have themselves suffered exhibit. Shamsi, sensing his friend and
The way you wipe your ass.
party-mate’s rage, wisely refrained from commenting that Wamik Ashraf was far
from blind when it came to Jazba matters.
‘Khatam karo haramzaday ko3,’ Soban snapped at Shehryar. He hung up, and took
a deep drag of his fag. Damn this is good, he thought.
Sighing, Shamsi complied.
Dr Madeeha Sulaiman smiled at the extra, generally unsung, couplets of Behzad
Lakhnavi’s lovely ghazal ‘Aye jazba e dil’ displayed on her phone screen. Beside
her, seated on a bench under the magnolia trees of the SSB’s expansive Warraich
Courtyard, Soban Sanaullah smiled back and peeked at her screen.
‘There’s this amazing couplet, the second last one,’ she said gently.
Soban loved to hear Mama Madeeha talk. ‘Read it to me,’ he said encouragingly.
She obliged: ‘Aye barq-e-tajalli kaundh zara; Kiya mujh ko bhi Musa samjha hai…’;
Soban smiled sweetly at the reference to the legendary prophet who had led the Jews
to freedom and was himself a stammerer. She continued softly: ‘Mai toor nahin jo
jal jaoon; Jo chahay muqabil aa jaye.4’
‘Nice,’ grinned Sanaullah. He hesitated and seemed to be reflecting on something.
Then spoke: ‘I found Hazrat Musa (AS) to be very,’ he paused, ‘inspirational when
I was growing up.’
Dr M mused for a moment then laughed. ‘You were almost defiantly confident
during the Public Speaking Society interviews. Stronger than a ‘toor’ in some ways.’
She thought wryly of Wamik Ashraf who was as grim and forbidding as a mountain
at times.
Soban kept grinning. ‘I prefer the sea to the mountains,’ he added simply. Then
looked over Madeeha’s shoulder at the phone screen. ‘The makhta of the poem notes
that: Kashti ko kh-khuda par chor bhi day; Kashti ka khuda khud hafiz hai,’ Madeeha
smiled at him encouragingly, and he continued: ‘M-mushkil to nahin in maujon mai;
Finish off the bastard.
Oh lightning, crash thunderously/ Do you consider me a Musa-figure?/ I am no burning mountain/ Let
any competitor who dares to approach confront me.
B-behta hua sahil aa jaye.5’ He reached for his phone mischievously and heartreacted to one of Madeeha’s recent messages. As it flashed across her screen, she
Soban now laughed out loud. Then sobered up, while Madeeha gazed dreamily at
the poem.
‘Dr M,’ he inquired hesitatingly. She turned her attention to him. ‘What did that
guy,’ he paused, ‘Orpheus do? You r-refer to him in one of your r-recent stories.’
Now it was Dr M’s turn to laugh out loud.
She reflected for a moment, then put her phone down and passed Soban a piece of
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk on which he chewed ruminatively.
Madeeha sighed. ‘According to Greek myth he was an amazing musician.’ Soban
finished his piece of chocolate, and she handed him another. ‘He lost his young wife
so went down to the underworld to retrieve her, charming everyone and everything
along the way.’ Her academic instincts kicked in: ‘William Congreve wrote of this
myth with a thundering lyricality in the 1700s.’ Soban finished his chocolate and
gazed at his teacher spellbound. She sighed. ‘The souls of the wicked were
condemned to perform everlasting tasks for all eternity but they were able to pause
and enjoy his music as he pleaded to get his wife back.’ She looked at Soban
seriously and he looked back at her with winsome earnestness. ‘To quote Congreve,
jaan: Then first ‘tis said, by sacred verse subdued/ The Furies felt their cheeks with
tears bedewed. The Furies were harsh, unforgiving goddesses. Not prone to tears.’
Soban gazed at her wide-eyed. ‘Wow. Did he get his beloved back?’
Dr M grimaced. ‘Well, yeah. But he wasn’t supposed to look back at her until they
were out in the daylight. He did unfortunately, and lost her again.’
Soban blinked and looked out across the courtyard. What a damn loser this guy was!
he thought. Looking back always means trouble.
But even Soban Sanaullah, although ‘small but fierce’ (to quote Shakespeare) could
not control fate. A couple of days later Madeeha went to the SSB’s smoking zone,
dragging her hapless and long-suffering teaching assistant Mayisk along with her.
Leave the boat to the mercy of God/ He is its caretaker/ It isn’t impossible for these waves/ To part and
reveal dry land.
‘Is my presence here absolutely necessary?’ groaned Mayisk. ‘I hate cigarette
smoke,’ he added rather pointlessly.
‘I wouldn’t take you if it wasn’t,’ she noted grimly.
Respectful nods greeted her as she entered the Zone. Seated by himself on a sidetable Kohsar Shaikh rose respectfully to greet her, and nodded at Mayisk. Sighing,
Mayisk pulled out a red plastic chair for Dr M and then seated himself once she sat
and faced Kohsar, whose long frame settled itself into a lounging position.
Kohsar lightly pushed his pack of Dunhill Internationals across the table towards
her. Madeeha took one, ignoring Mayisk’s dour and disapproving expression.
‘To what do I owe this unexpected request for a meeting?’ drawled Shaikh calmly,
lighting Dr M’s cigarette for her and feigning ignorance, although he had a very fine
idea of what was coming up.
Typically direct, Madeeha got straight to the point. ‘Why were you thrown out of
Jazba, Koko?’ Beside her she felt Mayisk go on alert, like a faithful Alsatian.
Kohsar shot Mayisk a quick glance, then turned his attention back to Madeeha. ‘I
assume you trust him?’
‘With my life,’ rejoined Madeeha. Even if he keeps things from me, she thought
Kohsar sighed and lit a Dunhill for himself. ‘There were multiple reasons but the
most significant one was that I approvingly joked about you insulting Soban
It was difficult to determine who looked more aghast, Madeeha or her TA. Kohsar
grinned inwardly, but maintained his customary external sang-froid.
‘Wamik didn’t mention that to me!’ gasped Madeeha.
‘Sanaullah and Sheroze Sattar made sure you were protected from having knowledge
of the full extent of things,’ Kohsar exhaled calmly, trying not to let his melancholy
become evident.
Dr M looked accusingly at Mayisk. ‘Did you know this?’
Mayisk hesitated. Then sighed deeply. ‘I had some idea, but didn’t know that you
were going to be told this right now.’ He continued while Kohsar smoked silently:
‘In all fairness you didn’t know Soban then as well as you do now.’
‘And Sanaullah had been provocative himself, to be perfectly honest,’ rejoined
Madeeha felt physically sick. The hand holding her cigarette trembled as the flame
ate away at the paper the way an inward cancer feeds relentlessly on the body. ‘So
all of Jazba made note of what I had unguardedly said about a vulnerable boy?’
Mayisk sighed. This really feels like the underworld, he thought.
‘He can take care of himself,’ responded Kohsar calmly. He gave a slightly sardonic
laugh. ‘And of others. To say I’m blacklisted is an understatement.’
Madeeha tapped away her ash and took a drag of her cigarette, a predominantly
psychological taste of cinders and ashes in her mouth. Then rallied, her desperately
stricken expression replaced by a grim determination. ‘It was far more my fault than
yours,’ she rapped back. Kohsar’s eyes widened, and Mayisk groaned inwardly. ‘I’ll
have to apologize to Soban.’
‘Not on my account or behalf ma’am, please,’ said Kohsar evenly enough, although
his expression was grim. Mayisk knew Dr M too well to even utter a faint protest.
‘Abjectly,’ added Madeeha stubbing out her cigarette and tossing it to the ground,
her disgust at herself less aesthetically pleasing than the butt-strewn, dried grass.
Kohsar checked his watch. ‘Major Jazbaites are at Fireworks Cafe right now
speaking to Laiqi Abdul Karim Roomi about a sensitive situation. You can gatecrash
if you want to,’ he added briefly.
He sighed, looking sad and weary: ‘To quote from your favorite ghazal these days,
ma’am, I guess you stand relative to Sanaullah as follows: ‘Iss jazba e dil kay baray
may; Ik mashvara tum say layta hoon…’ Madeeha gazed at him intently and he
continued: ‘Uss vaqt mujhe kiya lazim hai; Jab tujh pay mera dil aa jaye.6’
She nodded. ‘The operative word being ‘lazim7,’’ she said emphatically, and Mayisk
gazed around him unhappily at what he currently considered to be a bleak arena of
Regarding this passion of the heart/ Let me consult you/ What is required of me/ Now that I know I love
Necessary, required.
Madeeha rose, as did Mayisk. Kohsar’s expression denoted evident melancholy at
this juncture. She nodded her thanks to him and exited the Zone, a silent Mayisk in
her wake.
‘Dr M?’ said Mayisk gently. She turned to him with an expression of anguish in her
eyes that he had never beheld before.
Undaunted however, he pressed his point. ‘Do you want to do this publicly?’
‘I wasn’t planning on taking you,’ she noted with the ghost of a smile.
‘I don’t mean that,’ he added softly. ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to try to
sort this out at Fireworks.’
She exhaled. ‘I don’t have a choice. The apology will carry no weight if I delay.’
She does think like a man at times, thought her TA. Then nodded his assent.
Dead woman walking, thought Madeeha, as she entered Fireworks Café. At a
relatively private table she perceived a thoughtful Sheroze and Shamsi, Wamik
Ashraf smoking coolly alongside them. A spirited Abdul Karim Roomi was
launching forth into yet another of his magnificent arguments. Perceiving Soban
seated next to Sheroze, Madeeha’s heart sank. Then cracked in two as Soban gave
her his loveliest smile and his eyes lit up.
He rose rapidly and moved towards her impulsively. ‘Wow, what are you doing
here? Care for some chai?’ Shamsi and Roomi gave her polite nods, while Sheroze
and Wamik grinned warmly.
She shook her head and Soban’s eyes narrowed at her stricken expression.
‘Something wrong, Dr M?’
‘I just need to speak with you privately for about ten minutes,’ she said in a low
He looked perplexed but motioned her gently to a nearby table for two. Sheroze and
Shamsi now frowned, and Wamik looked thoughtful. Roomi kept going without
missing a beat. Soban gestured to them to continue without him.
Iss rah e mohabbat mai koi; Darpaish jo mushkil aa jaye,8 thought Madeeha wearily.
In this passage of love, what if an impediment arises?
She sighed and looked at an increasingly concerned Soban. However, her directness
did not fail her. ‘Sweetie, Kohsar told me precisely why he was let go from Jazba.’
Soban’s expression went from concern to intense rage in the blink of an eye.
However, he remained silent. I’ll happily smash that bharwa9’s head with a crowbar
myself, he thought grimly.
Madeeha sighed and continued. ‘He was thoughtless. But I was reprehensibly
Soban exhaled and began placatingly: ‘Oh ma’am, you don’t need to---’
To his consternation, she cut him off fiercely. ‘Yes, I fuckin’ do. I should have
known better. My age and status work against me the way Kohsar’s don’t.’ Soban
sat back, half-wary, half-perplexed.
At the other table Sheroze and Shamsi’s frowns had deepened. In spite of his
legendary self-control Wamik was looking distracted, although an unaware Roomi
gave everyone around the noise-protection of loudly declaiming his grievances with
‘I have the greatest respect for you, ma’am,’ Soban resumed gently. He sighed. ‘No
apology is needed.’
To his horror, Madeeha began to sob. ‘I’ve made the apology, tattay,’ she wept
desperately. ‘You need to accept it.’ Tears were flowing fast down her cheeks now.
She thought wildly of a couplet of what now seemed to be the most wretched yet apt
piece of poetry she had ever encountered: Iss ishq mai jaan ko khona hai/ Maatam
karna hai rona hai10. ‘Please,’ she begged.
This is a greater challenge than most I’ve overcome, thought Soban slightly
desperately. He felt an all-too-familiar surge of treacherous adrenalin course through
him and swore inwardly. ‘M-ma’am, t-this is n-not necessary.’
Madeeha stared at him stuttering, and felt her spirits plunge into an abyss. ‘Take a
deep breath,’ she gently said through her tears.
‘S-stop p-patronizing me, p-please,’ responded Soban, slightly flushed.
One needs to efface oneself due to such love/ And mourn…and weep.
Much to his dismay she sobbed harder. ‘I’m not, I swear I’m not. Please forgive me.
Just forgive me.’ Her eye make-up had smudged, and she was a veritable picture of
At the other table now even Roomi perceived something untoward was going on and
paused his monologue. At a nod from Shamsi, Sheroze rose and moved towards Dr
M’s table. Wamik stubbed out his Marlboro thoughtfully, frowned, and lit another.
‘Bro?’ said Sattar to Sanaullah gently.
Soban turned his head towards Sheroze, a savage and anguished expression on his
face. ‘M-m-move!’ he snapped, the tone of command in his voice unmistakable.
Sheroze shrank back. Shamsi looked perplexed and bit his lip.
Soban turned his attention back to the anguished Madeeha, who reached blindly for
the paper napkins on the table. Before she could take one, she sensed a swift
movement, and then felt slightly rough paper on her face as Soban wiped her cheeks
‘Chill, ma’am,’ he said gently. ‘Chill.’ He sighed. ‘Think of…,’ he smiled, his
demeanor relaxing, ‘Think of p-poetry.’
‘Forgive me,’ she whispered.
‘It’s okay,’ he whispered back softly. ‘It’s okay.’
‘It’ll never happen again,’ she said more firmly, recollecting herself.
He placed the crumpled paper napkin on the table between them, and sighed
inwardly. I’ve never had to forgive anyone this way before, he thought.
Composing himself, he gave her a slow grin. ‘I have a meeting to return to,’ he stated
calmly. ‘And with all due respect,’ he paused, ‘you look like a raccoon, ma’am.’
She smiled at him through reddened, wet eyes and rose. Soban got to his feet.
As she turned to go, he placed a hand on her arm. She turned back.
‘There’s a line from the novel Love Story, which you teach,’ he said, his equanimity
restored, ‘…applies to all types of love.’ Especially mother-son, he thought drily.
Her eyes widened as comprehension dawned.
‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry,’ said Soban Sanaullah softly.
Roomi frowned. Soban had asked him to stay behind at Fireworks once Madeeha
and everyone else who had been part of their gathering had left. He began to vape
reflectively, and gave his full attention to the cherubic Jazbaite as the latter sipped
his hot chocolate ostensibly serenely and briefed Roomi as to why Madeeha had just
created a scene reminiscent of the best B-grade, tear-jerker movies. In spite of being
one of the SSB’s finest speakers, Karim Roomi was also an inordinately good
listener, which explained his success as a senior Laiqi.
Roomi ceased vaping as Sanaullah paused.
‘So you forgave her?’ he asked laconically.
Soban snorted. ‘For once in my life I was confronted by a situation where I had no
‘I’ll take that as an affirmative,’ said Roomi with the ghost of a smile. He paused,
then began to vape again. ‘So what do you need from me?’
Soban glared at him. ‘Do I need to s-spell it out?’ he snapped. ‘It’s rumored that that
ass-hole wants to revert to your party…,’ he drained his cup of hot chocolate; a
distasteful expression crossed his face, not at the drink but at the thought of having
to take further trouble to persecute a guy whom his favorite teacher was now hellbent on shielding.
Roomi nodded slowly. ‘Yes, Rehman Tabani mentioned something to that effect.’
Soban rolled his eyes at the mention of Roomi’s best friend and fellow Laiqi, who
in his opinion had little more than a brawny body and a heart as soft as butter.
‘What part of blacklisted d-do you not understand, Karim?’ he riposted softly.
Roomi gazed at the angelic-looking Jazbaite and sighed. ‘Kohsar isn’t without
influence and supporters. Laiq could use those.’
Soban contemplated Roomi steadily. ‘I thought you were interested in making your
people look more principled and less like prostitutes.’
With admirable self-restraint Karim Roomi checked the rude retort that rose to his
lips. Instead he said mildly: ‘What’s that line from Macbeth that Dr M likes to quote
to us politicos: I dare do all that may become a man/ Who dares do more is none.’
‘And who’s listening to Madeeha?’ came Soban’s swift rejoinder.
‘Well, you just did,’ smiled Roomi, not unreasonably.
Soban shrugged with impatience. ‘D-doesn’t matter.’ He hesitated, then collected
his thoughts. ‘I suppose everything has its price. I’ll make room for some of your
junior Laiqis on the Public Speaking Society.’ Roomi’s eyes widened and Sanaullah
smiled. ‘Satisfied?’
Karim put down his vaping device and looked at the vengeful angel before him with
a mixture of frustration and mild despair. Then nodded: ‘Fair trade.’
Soban checked his phone and grinned. ‘Madeeha’s flooding my WhatsApp account
with thanks and daisy emojis.’
Roomi sighed ruefully. ‘She sends flowers instead of hearts to people she loves. I
never get daisies. Just roses.’ He shrugged and grinned back good-naturedly. ‘Just
affection as opposed to love.’
Soban refrained from telling the Laiqi that he had insisted that Madeeha reserve
daisies only for him. He frowned at his screen, then smiled. And she’s sending me
the last stanza of that ridiculously pretty ghazal.’
Karim raised his eyebrows inquiringly. Not in a mood to speak further, Soban
silently passed his phone to Roomi who read the Urdu softly and elegantly in his
well-modulated voice: ‘Aye shama qasam parvanon ki/ Itna to meri khatir karna/
Uss vaqt bharak kar gul hona/ Jab bani-e-mehfil aa jaye.11’ He paused, then sighed:
‘That’s beautiful.’
‘P-politics is ugly,’ responded the Jazbaite with scary coldness.
Roomi did not disagree, just contemplated the daisies wistfully.
Oh flame, by the moths that encircle you/ At least give me this consideration/ Ignite into flower-form/
When one enters the gathering.