The circle

Quiet and empty; the sand is strewn with glass and shells in shades of violet and teal, crystal water softly laps at the shore and the sunlight is broken into a million mischievous fairies by the spreading palm branches. All one hears is the quiet song of birds, the orchestra supported by the whistling wind and the deep timber of the sea. The sand is as soft as feather and rocks gleam as they emerge from the receding frothy surf.

The dream recurred frequently. Always the beach and the shells. She took the nautilus in her hand and rolled it in her palm feeling the divine ratio define the way her fingers wrapped around it ensuring its continuity. What a wonder this was. The starting always defined the ending, if there ever was an end. And if there ever was a start. What if the start and end merged into one another and we only went round and round and had created time to keep ourselves sane. Age a delusion our body created to support the mind’s feeble attempt to make sense of this circular existence.

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Riding the wave

So it’s like this. You are walking on the shore, thirsty because you’ve been walking for too long in the heat. The waves lap at your feet and you’re tempted to go in, you want to take a dip and be lost in the water’s coolness. You wade in and the tidal waves come at you, they push you out and pull you in, they push you out and pull you in again. If you want to make it to the deep end at your own pace you have to ride the waves otherwise you will be swept off and thrown in a place you don’t want to be. It is only when you are shoulder deep into the water does it become stable and gentle. It is here that you have to decide; is this where you want to stay? Or was the dip all you wanted as a respite from the heat and the shore is beckoning to you again? And It is till you make it to this point, when are you deep in the water and when you have let realisation hit you, you don’t talk about love.

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The Dance of Existence – A trip back to Anatolian history

I am sitting on the right side of the small square shaped courtyard. There are around twelve people in the dark hall. I look up and around me. Walls of volcanic hewn stone roofed with high domes that sit on tall pillars mark the setting. The town is Sarihan and the hall is the inside of an old thirteenth century caravanserai; made in 1249 to be precise. We are waiting for the Sufi Dervish group to arrive.

From the alcoves

From the alcoves

The cold Cappadocia wind howls outside and thrashes against the walls of the historic building creating havoc within the silence of the hall. I am suddenly mindful of the fact that I am in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers; whose names I do not know and most of whom do not speak any language I may understand. No one knows where I am, not my family and not any of my friends. The feeling is at once intimidating yet freeing. At this point in time I could be any one I want to be from anywhere I could imagine in the world.

tile art depicting the journey of the Dervish

tile art depicting the journey of the Dervish

Sarihan is a small town 15 kilometers from Goreme and stands in a valley surrounded by the wondrous cave hills of Cappadocia dating back to 17 AD. As surreal as this landscape is during daylight, it feels like another world altogether during the night. At night, you are the outsider, the one thrown into a different dimension of time where fourth century cave dwellers still live, hiding from their various enemies and traversing the many levels within the hills and the underground cities without having to come out into the night air.

Actually, I sort of know one person for 45 minutes now; the man who drove me here; Sheehan. He is a gentle looking Turkish with a clear English accent and infinite patience with all my sub–intelligent touristy questions. Right now, he waits outside with a tea glass while I sit inside to experience the Sema.

Suddenly everything goes quiet, even the wind takes a few minutes off, and in come a line of solemn looking Dervishes all shrouded in black cloaks.

They settle themselves in their positions; five on the side with their instruments and five on the platform.  They first bow and kiss the ground and so the ceremony begins with a Naat-e-Serif. I will not go on and describe the ceremony for two reasons; one, you can search up on the ceremony easily to know what happens but more importantly two, it is something to be experienced firsthand. It puts your eyes to sleep and awakens your heart. While you follow the whirling of the dervishes, you lose yourself in the dance of existence at its very core.  And while the Dervish sheds his ego; you also feel yourself drift far away from everything and everyone you know into a place where there is only you and the One.

The Sema ceremony at Sarihan is a tourist attraction and so holds much less of the spirit an original one would have. To experience that, I shall have to wait till next time for a trip to Konya and the final abode of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Nevertheless, the caravanserai is a perfect setting for a short dive into the wonderful religious history of Sufi Islam gilded with Turkish culture and traditions.

The Dervish

The Dervish

When I come out and am offered a tea glass as defense against the ruthless mountain wind promising a storm next morning, I take a good look around and can almost see medieval groups of people and their horses take rest and ponder the journey ahead.

Following a light show on the walls on the caravanserai, it is almost midnight when we leave Sarihan for a half an hour drive back to my cave room in Goreme. I am sleepy; not only because the heater in the car is creating a warm cushion around my frozen nose and ears but also because I think the spirits of centuries past may take offence to my intrusion into their lives so late at night.

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The Silence

SO it happens that I am mystified by stretches of unconquerable sand dunes. The silence and the simple nonexistence that lies at the edge of your own, were you to be sucked in is in its very essence magical.

I have finally gotten to Dubai; the much hyped and ooh-aahed over capital of capitalism. I am done with business for the day and we’re in the car and my very hospitable friends (actually a relative and her friend) are taking me to a spot near Ras Al Khaima for Dune Buggy and we’re having a great time. Bad jokes and stories galore! She mentions one of her other friends who had come to see Dubai and was taken for the same adventure. We’re all laughing at her description of him not knowing the brake from the accelerator and crashing into every possible tree / desert plant present. I mean really, how stupid could one get?

We finally find a place still resisting the cleaning sweep of the Arab authorities in favor of wildlife (the infamous camels) protection. I choose a vehicle; we slowly make our way to the sand dunes. The dunes have high peaks and deep troughs and there is only one bush I see in the wide span of endless sand in front of me. We’re good, and we’re so ready to go. It’s the first time for me and I am thrilled.

I pump the fuel and we’re off… only, WHAM! I have crashed straight into the lone-for-miles tree and turned the dry white branches to powder. I am sitting on my buggy seat rattled to the bone, with a twisted wrist and eyes squeezed shut. My friends come running over and I am silently shaking. I am laughing so hard I am not making a sound and the look of utter incredulous expressions on their faces is not helping! They finally realize I am alright and the irony of the situation in light of our car conversation has us rolling in the sand for a few minutes.

After, we get up, breathe a little, I rub my wrist and we’re off, this time with no bush to block our path. Its awesome! But my dune buggy keeps getting stuck in the soft sand and what with the 1:1000 weight ratio I probably have with the vehicle, my friend has to ramble over every five minutes to get me out. So it’s established I am probably not going to go too far on my own anyway and that thought has eaten its way to my brain and willing it to prove it wrong.

Half an hour later, after a fifth failed attempt to get up a dune without getting stuck, I take a turn and head for flatter ground. My speed feels great and I keep going, dodging bushes and building up the momentum to conquer the bigger dunes. Suddenly I am surrounded by quite huge ones and in an attempt to conquer one, my buggy is stuck. I look around to realize the sand looks a little different and I can hear no one and nothing. Not the rumbling of other buggies behind me. The sun is setting and my vehicle does not have lights.

I am optimistic, I walk a little here and there, I try to get the tires out of the sand myself and don’t even make a dent of difference. Fifteen minutes later I am a little worried. It is starting to get dark very fast and my mobile is not with me. I have walked quite far having no idea of the direction I am going in, or whether I am actually heading farther away in the desert, and I can hear or see no one. I shout and there is no echo. The silence is piercing. The air has gotten suddenly cold. I am at once very thirsty and acutely aware of having no water on me. There is nothing but the sound of grains on wind around me. Of all the things,

I remember Paulo Coehlo and his description of The Steppes in Kazakhstan, in one of my favorite books, The Zahir:

“I saw the endless steppes, which, although they appeared to be nothing but desert, were, in fact, full of life, full of creatures hidden in the low scrub. I saw the flat horizon, the vast empty space, heard the sound of horses’ hooves, the quiet wind, and then, all around us, nothing, absolutely nothing. It was as if the world had chosen this place to display, at once, its vastness, its simplicity, and its complexity. It was as if we could—and should—become like the steppes—empty, infinite, and, at the same time, full of life. I looked up at the blue sky, took off my dark-glasses, and allowed myself to be filled by that light, by the feeling of being simultaneously nowhere and everywhere.”

The silence and the vast expanse of nothingness makes me feel small. Smaller than anything, smaller than the amount of air I take in as I breathe. I can hear my own heart beat a pulsating rhythm and for one fearful yet magical moment I am only the beat, only the pulse that resonates with the ebb and flow of the far away sea and high and lows of the dunes that stretch before me. I understand what it must be like to be on The Steppes; to really understand the fragility of one’s own being and yet to be absorbed in the unity of existence, to feel as if you are a grain in an ocean of trillions. Come a night and a day, you may be only a memory. The thought actually makes me want to stop breathing altogether.

As quickly as the feeling comes it is replaced by apprehension, fear, thoughts of my parents. It is replaced by wonder of what it would be like if I really were to be lost as of now. Surprisingly, it is more wonder than fear that I feel. I realize that beginnings and endings are mere transitory moments and not epic events at all. They are effortless; I remember the butterfly effect. Only, I imagine even an end would be a flutter and not the storm.

It’s only been twenty minutes but my mind has gone through a lifetime of thoughts in the 1200 seconds. I also realize that if I am to get out of here before the sun takes away its light, I have to find my friends. So I leave my buggy stuck in the sand with the engine running and take off my shoes to hike through the sand the other way. It’s hard to walk for someone who is used to solid ground and I trek for another ten minutes and make it to the top of the tallest dune I can find.

Finally, I hear the tiniest sound of my name being called. Faraway on the ground, there is a little mouse standing and shouting my name. I go into my survivor series mode and start jumping and waving my hands while pushing my vocal cords to give their best performance yet. Finally, he turns and spots me and starts to drive towards me. I gesture for him to go around the dune as it is too steep to climb but he can’t understand. He leaves his buggy running and somehow manages to climb onto the dune on his hands and feet. I am so relieved I can hardly stop smiling and apologizing for my adventurous take-off. We hike further back to where I left my buggy running, he pulls it out for me and since there is no way I am driving this thing through soft sand, he asks me to sit on the back facing the other way while he drives and I have the unique experience of seeing receding dunes, not knowing when to brace for a trough or a climb and hoping to not topple over his head as he takes the plunges.

Later when we’ve safely given back the buggies and are in the car, the three of us burst out laughing at the entire episode. For some strange reason, It is the most alive I have felt I n a long time. I guess seeing the edge from a nearest distance that one normally sees everyday makes one aware of solid ground beneath the feet in a way only the enhancing effects of adrenaline can enable.

At night during the boat ride across the Marina, I look at the sea; it is like a black velvet quilt that throbs and moves to a secret orchestra playing far below in its profound depths and I am reminded of the sand again. There is no better poetry than in divine creation. There is no greater humbling than to see the subtle power of nature up close and very personal. And no better way for one to question the compartmentalized conception of beauty, fear, wonder and joy. And to understand that existence and non-existence stand together at the peak of being and without one, there is no other.

Even one of the most materialistic places on earth has its philosophical teachings.

Among Solitary Sands

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Soldier oh soldier, my darling knight!

Will you not fight this battle with me?
Will you stand back and watch; o thee,

With valor in heart and grit on face,
Leave me alone to run in this race?

While a stone’s throw away my friend falls,
Will you wait? See him in festooned halls,

Of unsure chivalry and hazy wins
And still the yarn of my hope does spin!

Soldier oh soldier, my noble knight!

The ground’s distraught with alien tread,
My heart is heavy with a settled dread

The eyes don’t see, my spirit’s abate,
Let thy shining armor mark my fate.

Don’t leave me to fight this battle ‘lone,
Abandoned; borrowed sins to atone

My penance is naught; not least is for,
I know my love is to be thy war!


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And He Said He will Come

Tonight is cold and dark
The rain brings light from the stars
The earth is thirsty for more
Reminiscing her bounty of yore

And he said he will come
A few moments and some

Sadness clings to my heart
How many tears in a quart
The hourglass turns to sand
Wanderers abandon the land

But he said he will come
A few hours and some

The water’s addicted to fall
Rapt by obscurity’s call
The coast beckons so does the sky
My house in the mid does it lie

So he said he will come
In a few years and some

Thing about the dark, you see
It shows the dying embers to me
So amidst your long silences I’ve
Heard his footsteps come alive

Because he said he will come
In a few eons and some

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He stares listlessly at the darkening horizon; the threatening mass of clouds march forward slowly but surely, ready with their divine weapons of either mass devastation or revitalization, depending on what land they invade and how empty is its cup.

He turns to watch as several crows nearby take defensive positions against his presence. They have their home on the nearby tree and their young ones nest in it. As he stands near the ledge, several more fly in and call to each other ready to attack if this stranger dares to come nearer. “But I have no intention to hurt you!” he shouts at one and then ducks as a pair of black claws try to tear off some of his hair from the scalp. “What is wrong with this place”, he thinks with a wry smile on his face. “Even the birds believe in preemptive strike!” One look again to the horizon and he knows he has to wait some more to catch the first raindrop on his tongue.

There is a pregnant pause in the air around him, as if the world has suddenly stopped in desperate anticipation of a rebirth. Since morning his mind has been in turmoil and his heart troubled and he is grateful for the engulfing silence. He breathes in the thick air and a sudden light breeze surprises him. It smells sweet; it smells of promise. He smiles and wishes for the promise to come to fulfillment. But the clouds are yet far.

He shuffles his feet and spots a piece of charcoal nearby. He picks it and twirls it in his hands; its sharp edges pricking the soft mound on his palm, hurtful but not enough to bleed. He begins to run it over the cemented floor of the courtyard. As black lines break the cement, a form emerges; he cannot tell if it’s a man or a woman, it is just human… at least he hopes it to be. His hand puts the coal in the figure’s center, “Right where the heart would be”, he thinks, and begins to draw a circle. Absentmindedly he fills the circle with blackness, a dark deep blackness that transforms the flat circle into an abyss. Empty and void… or perhaps its depth has hidden too much in itself, he cannot decide which the case is.

Thunder claps and a fat raindrop lands in the middle of the circle darkening it even further. Then another lands beside it. He watches in fascination as the cement floor welcomes the wetness, drop by drop until a gradual polka dot pattern intensifies into solid color, or lack of color for that matter. It takes a full three minutes for the muddy white spaces to disappear completely beneath the insistent drumming; an effort from a thousand drops that fall from grace into nothingness. But leave their mark, if only for a few moments.

He looks up and thinks, “Such a long hard journey… to be part of an ocean and be lost in its vastness. To be one with its world and then be picked up by the cruel heat; selfish and tyrant. To be trapped in cold and darkness with the unpredictability of a million volts running through its heart. All this. Only to fall from the magnificence of existence and be absorbed by the earth and fade away as if to never have been.”

“Isn’t this all in vain?” He asks himself and his heart replies, “No. Isn’t this the mark of true heroes? Their end is not of the glory they seek, it’s the difference they make, however little, in sustaining the idea they believe to be true. Just like a drop adds to the earth’s moisture giving life to new seedlings, willing them to break the hard crust and face the sun and the harshness of hailstorms. Just like it fills the empty cups of the springs, which in turn feeds the rivers and the rivers carry the drop’s sacrifice back to the ocean.” His thoughts bring a smile to his face. The rain washes away more than dust. He looks at the human form he drew a few minutes ago, the abyss in the middle has leaked color. It has spread to the limbs, to the head. “Turns out it wasn’t an empty one, its profundity was too much to be understood at first glance.” He decides.

There is no end to a story. Only a beginning; once the ink leaves the nib of a pen, the story writes itself and you will not know how it ends until you read it. And in reading it, you become one who brings it to life.

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A Call for Dawn

Mid Jan Sunrise in Karachi, YSB, watercolor, Jan 2010

Original: notes dated late 2005. Edited: Aug 2011. It couldn’t be more pertinent as it is now. dedicated to my city.

Lips are sealed, my wounds unhealed
Pathways dark, stay unmarked.
Can’t make out what awaits me,
In darkness’ velvet profundity.

The burning fires of sin,
Have blackened my skin.
But they haven’t yet marred,
The true color of my heart!

So still, there’s light,
At the end of each plight,
Just out of my reach;
Barred by boundaries, I can’t yet breach.

Dusk settles on my doorstep,
Black hides their footsteps.
The cycle persists; it holds no surprises,
And yet again, the sun rises!

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Promises of Forever… and the Vanity of Time

Notes Dated: July 2011.

And all of a sudden it all comes rushing back. As if someone has suddenly drawn back curtains hanging heavy with years of loneliness.

Depth, YSB, June 2007, Watercolor

In the human heart love flows like an enchanted river, its never ending waters making tiny tributaries at every vulnerable spot they find in the moisture-less hardened crust. Churning this way and that in obedience to time’s vain whims, It’s courage and strength breaks against barrages and dams; cracked earth and droughts in the soul. But it takes a single thought, one smile, a mere flutter of the butterfly’s wings…a tiny flicker of a long lost memory, for it to break free and cascade over everything; the past, the future, what was and what will be. It knows only one shore, one lake-bed on which its waters take a deep breath and let it out into eternity; that of what is. That, of the Now.

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Noted Dated: March 2009

Sometimes you’re old when you’re young. Sometimes there are stories inside you that even you cannot understand. Maybe their time to be told hasn’t come yet. Maybe, everyday, you watch the sun travel from east to west and wait for that one moment when it will stop and its light will shine directly on you, and there will be the end… and the beginning. You will see. You will find your kingdom and you will set the sail on your boat. No one will know that moment. Their journey will continue uninterrupted. But that light will penetrate deep within you and break into a thousand colors in your heart.

Sometimes, you’re young when you’re old.

Autumn, YSB, 2004, Watercolor, 8.5" by 11"

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