Dialogue Times
Literature

Urban Solitude by Kamran Awan

Woke up with the chirpings of the birds, although I was half-awake, half-asleep for the last one hour or so since the muezzins of the mosques in my vicinity belonging to the different schools of thoughts started their respective morning callsto prayer. Then despite a clear ban on the use of loudspeakers other than the call to prayers, one Imam lead the entire morning prayers congregation turning on the volume to the full and followed by a sermon highlighting the importance of Huquq-ul-Ibaad (the rights of one man over another)for full one hour following the prayers.Sometimes I wonder, we got independence from the Brits (and Hindus) just to test our vocal chords on the loudspeakers in every possible way each day in the morning. As the sermon ended, the chirping of the birds became audible and more persuading to get up and get going. I got out to the terrace to welcome my feathery friends and fill-up the bowl kept outside for them with water. All my routine visitors, i.e. a band of rowdy crows, many house-sparrows, two pairs each of white and grey pigeons, a pair of doves and a solitary baya weaver were all there. There was another visitor that comes to my house occasionally; a hoopoe bird which is supposed to bring good luck. In these maddening times it is lucky indeed if you don’t die and live to see another day of your life. While all the other birds usually behave in a dignified manner, some other bird, may be an old and wise owl need to teach the crows a lesson in the mannerism badly. Not only they resort to a mysterious silence the moment they see “the Birdman” coming out to the terrace, they also spill over all the water in the bowl, turning it upside down whenever they come to quench their thirst. Anyhow, I just couldn’t put a ban on their entry just for the reason,and I welcomed them too along with the other birds.

After tending to my airborne friends, I went to the kitchen to make myself a nice cup of tea. I have manyvarieties of tea stacked in my house. From Kenya to Shinkiyari[1], you’ll find every variety in my small kitchen but I personally prefer the Sri Lankan variety, popularly known as “Ceylon Tea”. Where Kenya tea fills you up with a strange sensation, as if prompting you to step into the bush come what may, the Ceylon variety soothes you and tranquilizes you as if you are surrounded by the clouds that are usually found hovering over the green tea slops of the island. Sometimes, I also take a cup or two made from Shinkiyari variety, whenever I feel like being patriotic. It fills me up with a rare feeling of nationalism which can only be seen and heard in the old black & white patriotic songs these days.

As I put the water over the stove (I don’t like electrically heated water for tea), I picked up the newspaper from my porch. In the era of maddening techno-advancement and information blast, having a newspaper in the morning brings a little calm to you as if one got to an island after a shipwreck in a shark-infested sea, althoughthe newspapers too have nothing new to offer but still I like to go through its pages leisurely while sipping the sweltering tea from my pyala (drinking bowl). Drifting from the claims of “Naya Pakistan[2]” being uttered tirelessly by the loudmouth information minister of the incumbent government, a chronic turncoat who has no match when it comes to persuading the listeners in favor on some issue one day and against it the other day with the same zeal, to the honor-killings and the incidents of child-molesting in every nook and corner of the country, I wondered why do the newspaper houses go for a fresh copy each day when they could simply paste “ditto” on the older copies and distribute. But I endured all this daily just because the newspaper somehow linked me to my yesteryears, albeit for some time. Putting the newspaper aside I turned on the TVon which all the news channels were showing the same news and the anchors were repeatedly saying, ‘our channel was the first to break this story…”. Sipping my Ceylon tea slowly, I kept on changing the channels until I came across some sort of a reality show in which one white man and a black woman were lying in a bed close to each other. As I was about to go to the next channel, a screen hanging across the bed flashed, ‘undress each other’. I immediately stopped to see them getting undressed with the help of each other. They removed each other’s T’s and then stood silently flashing their teeth. After a pause, the black girl took the initiative and opened the buckle of white man’s belt and then unzipped his Khakis. They stood in their undies facing each other;the black girl in the purple bra and panties while the white man in red briefs. The size of the bulge in the man’s briefs and the woman’s bra looked pretty similar in size to me that made me laugh abruptly.

Bemused, I turned off the TV and put the empty pyala of tea aside (to wash later on). In the meantime, children’s school vans and auto-rickshaws had started honking their horns mixed with faint voices of protesting children and angry mothers. My neighbor on the third right was also pressing the horn of his car as if in a fit of fury; he had to get ready himself for his office after dropping his kids off at their respective schools. Soon after this madness came to a halt, a new kind of commotion set in, i.e. the yelling of street vendors selling different fruits and vegetable of the season as well as the motorbikes of the milkmen sans-silencers. Some vendors had opted to use the technology instead of exhausting themselves yelling with their full strength and were playing pre-recorded yells through the sound-system installed on their vending carts powered by the car batteries. Still, their hullabaloo failed to persuade me to purchase anything green as I happen to be a voracious carnivore and my deep-freezer was well stocked with every variety of red and white meats. As it all appeased down, I prepared myself a semi-English breakfast of two half-half fried eggs (I like the yolk in eggs barely cooked despite the apparent threat of salmonella), 4 pieces of bread loaves, peanut butter, a glass of carrot & orange juice and in the end a mug of coffee with milk. Despite being a Lahori to the core, I do not like traditional desi breakfast that Lahore is known for. Once I accompanied an old friend on a breakfast at a renowned eatery in the infamous Heera-Mandi[3] area on a cold Sunday morning. Where all the others including my friend and many foreigners were feasting upon the desi delicacies, I was the only one who was eating the homemade sandwiches that I had brought along and even the foreigners were found curiously staring at me every now and then. One tall Italian beauty had particularly caught my attention as I wondered how she was holding up so much weight up there on a slim waist. After finishing off my breakfast I did all the dishes piled up so far in the sink and started surfing the TV channels again, leisurely. There, on a channel most popular among the ladies, the morning show host was trying to run a four in one show in front of a seemingly bemused audience. In one corner of the set, a chef was cooking something while in another, a local underground band of god knows whatever genre was testing their vocal chords as well as the patience of the audience which was not paying any heed to the repeated requests of “raise your hands” by the lead singer… In yet another corner an aerobics instructor was waiting for her turn to show off her curves and angles already oozing out of her sexy fit to the skin out-fit. In the fourth corner a religious scholar was continuously clearing his throat, trying to fix the angle of his high Karakul cape which drifted off the place every time he tried to cast an angular glance at the aerobics instructor, who immediately turned ‘on’ as well as all the viewers including the maulana[4], the moment the underground band stopped their painful rants that sounded more like an Apache mourning song instead of any contemporary genre. Among all the audience present on the set, the maulana was visibly shaken and sweating despite the cool ambience of the studio and continuously wiping the sweat off his forehead and neck with his handkerchief as her moves gained momentum, clearly indicating that he was really turned ‘on’. The viewing pleasure lasted for about ten minutes but the cameraman took quite a while to move the focus away from her mid-section and followed her until she got settled cross-legged on a settee. The maulana wasn’t the only one who was “on”.

Bemused again, I turned to my cellphone while the maulana started his lecture on why modesty is good for the Muslim women (as if it is not good for the Muslim men). I opened the instagram first, and kept on double clicking robotically on the snaps of those I have been followingand posting a comment or two on the pics of some natural or a feminine beauty on the way until I hit the dismissing line, “you are all caught up”. Though I had started using instagram just a few months ago, the app had apparently started getting hold of me as Istart feeling guilty conscious if I do not check the posts out thrice a day as if prescribed by my GP. After completing the first ritual on my social media regimen I turned to the tweeter, the medium that used to be a place for saner voices and a bit aristocratic in its outlook, hadstarted getting polluted too. Going through the tweets of the people I was following, I noticed that many people had made their tweeter handles just to scorn others. It occurred to me just then (and I laughed out aloud) how ridiculous the Punjabi slurs like, Madarchod (Mother Fucker), Bhenchod (Sister Fucker), and Gashti da puttar (Son of a Bitch/Pimp) and Randi (Whore), etc looked written in the roman script. I guess that’s why it is said, “English is a funny language”. Then I turned to the final (and day long) ritual of my social media altar by opening the Facebook.I embarked upon the virtual tour of the world along with over 2000 friends of mine. People from South America to the Far East and whatever existed in between and from South Pole to the North and all the countries and territories hanging in between were sharing their stories, right after from being born to the brink of death; inspirational quotes that were hardly inspiring, their favorite songs and movie clips, the clips of their favorite religious and political deities and memes of those they despised, non-believers’ quotes, poetry, excerpts from fiction and non-fiction, pictures fully clad to the nude to the inner skin and all that existed between the Earth and the heavens was there on the Facebook. Interestingly, I noticed that the most emotional lot was that of my fellow countrymen, as far as the political arena was concerned. Not only they were emotional they were a strange lot too. They claimed to be monotheist but they were actually idol-worshippers to the core. Their forefathers used to worship the idols made of clay and stone while they worshipped the idols who were living human beings and the collective cult in which they worshipped their living deities were called the ‘political parties’. The clay and the stone idols were far better than those meatball idols in the sense, they were equally incapable of doing anything bad to anyone as much as they were incapable of doing something good to anyone. On the other hand the living deities were potent enough and loved doing to their worshippers that was sure to be labelled ‘obscene’ if narrated here. The worshippers loved it too what their respective deities loved doing to them. They had become sadist sex-maniacs.

For almost about 3 hours at a stretch I kept on liking (wish there were a dislike option too) and posting a comment or two on the way occasionally. Suddenly, I felt like posting a scene from the Quinton Tarantino’s masterpiece “Pulp Fiction” on my timeline; the infamous “eenie meenie miney mo” scene but I refrained on the fear of being labelled a pervert and posted the “Goodbye” scene from the Merchant-Ivory’s “The Remains of the Day” as it was sure to boost my image as a suave and cultivated gentleman among my Facebook friends, especially the new comers to my friends list. Suddenly, the loudspeakers of the nearby mosque came to life again and the Imam[5] cleared his throat and started the announcement about the sad demise of a neighbor and the time of his funeral prayers. I immediately posted the same information on the Facebook before going upstairs to take some rest after a hectic session on the social media.Gone are the days when someone’s world used to be confined to the bounds of their rooms. Now the world was in their hands… confined to a thin box of 2 by 5 inch; a world that needed an electric bar to be shoved up its arse every couple of hours to keep it alive. The world had become a poor little thing! Likewise my arse also needed some rest before I started off my post-lunch sessions of TV and social media.

Stepping out of home is getting more and more difficult day by day due to scarcity of time, even to go to the bank to deposit the pay orders sent by the tenants of a couple of hereditary properties, which thankfully have saved me from the humiliation of working 9 to 5 in some office. O yes, there was another fatigue that needed my attention but I just couldn’t find the time for its redressal as well: the Khula[6]papers sent by my estranged wife.


[1] A hilly area in KP province of Pakistan

[2] New Pakistan

[3] Old red-light area of Lahore

[4] Common salutation for a Muslim Scholar/Cleric 

[5] Custodian of a mosque/prayer leader

[6] Divorce claimed by a Muslim woman, giving up her certain rights.

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