An unusually murky Sunday morning in Lahore, Zahir sat on a rusty robust metallic chair in a quiet secluded corner of a local Dhaba. Gently he was sipping his Doodh Patti as Iqbal Bano’s Dasht-e-Tanhai was playing in rhythm with the ambience of this mediocre roadside establishment. In the distance Zahir could see a dense fog emerging, steadily masking the landscape of the metropolis that lay in constant motion in front of his eyes. Inch by inch the fog drew nearer, the cold wind blew hard forcing his eyes shut.
His eyes open, a football is lodged in the net of the goal, Zahir’s peers rush towards it to retrieve the ball. He was sitting alone on a wooden bench at the edge of the football field gazing through the net into the immense field littered with his fellow toddlers playing one sport or the other. Today like any other day he wasn’t in the mood to intermingle with his classmates, there were times when Zahir wanted to flow with the tide but no matter how he tried he was spat out and so he eventually gave up. Hence as a child Zahir was extremely introverted and because of this shy nature of his he had constructed a wall of sorts that would deflect any who would try to make contact with him, the tide could not break through it no matter how it tackled The Wall. Those who tried to breech this wall would torment the poor child not knowing that this further increased the height of The Wall as another brick was added with each attempt. Eventually, these bullies too would grow tired of the affair and move on. Through the corner of his eye the child could a see a vague image forming, as the image got closer he saw that a human was pacing towards him. Zahir begins shifting his weight nervously as this vivid image now comes closer and closer until this daughter of Eve comes and sits beside him. For a moment there is silence and then she breaks the ice “Hii! The name’s Nirvana, and you are?”
Sahab kuch aur laia aun? (Shall I bring something else?) Zahir was forcefully steered back to reality, annoyed by the interruption he motioned at the waiter apathetically to leave him be. He now stared blankly again into the fog that now surrounded him completely and brings the cup near his face to savor the warmth radiating from it. He sat there reminiscing on his old days, Zahir remembered that he was always interrupted by one individual or the other; he was never left alone to himself he thought. ‘Hey you! What do you have there?’ said one kid, Zahir ignores him and continues writing. “You’re ignoring us you chubby little brat?” says the other but Zahir pays no heed to their comments and continues scribbling down his thoughts. In an abrupt move one of the two boys grabs the paper on which Zahir was writing on and quickly goes through it, “Ah! Poems, the lad reckons himself a poet”, “Poems everybody!” the boy announces in a sarcastic tone as the class breaks into a forced laughter, the kind induced by fear of being next victim, not a whole hearted laugh. Zahir is about break into a sob when Nirvana, with messy hair rolled up sleeves and a swagger in her gait breaks in between the two. “Really guys? Can’t you just leave him be? You’re in the 8th grade now for God’s sake grow up”, she said in a clear and forceful voice and the crowd dissipated.
Unorthodox was a word that perfectly described Nirvana. She was not your average female, never was. She owned a pair of fully grown Rottweilers(a breed which is infamous for chewing the heads off their owners like a football) with which she regularly parried with, not even the servants of the house would dare approach them only Nirvana could. In addition she had 9 cats, each of them she had named a different flavor of ice-cream. So you could say that she was a cat person and a dog person. She had many unusual habits; she often brought street urchins to the house to feed them and play with them, not that she didn’t have other friends but she grew to like their company, she would teach them the alphabet in her play by posing as the teacher and making them all sit and listen to her. Once she came rushing home from outside during the days leading to Bakra Eid and announced to her father “Abba! I hugged a guy”, bewildered her father gave her a strange look which was reciprocated by the whole family that sat there, “It felt so warm and soft” she continued. Her Mother responds “Beta, is everything alright?”, “Yes, I’ve never felt so alive before!” Nirvana said. “You hugged whom?” said her father, now clearly outraged, “The guy tied outside by the pole”, “Oh you mean the gaae(cow)” said her brother. She was 17 at that time
It was precisely because of this nature of her that Nirvana was trying a very different approach to get through to Zahir. While others would beat against the icy wall that he had erected by battering it with a constant barrage of insults and obscenities, Nirvana was the only one who was attempting to climb this behemoth by constantly rushing in to bail Zahir out of hot water and keeping the bullies at bay, the bullies who had constantly lay siege to the wall. These people were making the wall higher and isolating Zahir even further and thus making it even harder for Nirvana to reach the top. A truck honked its horn and Zahir’s mind crashed back into his body. He felt the heat of the cup against his palms; he knew he was back in the real world. There was no definite moment in his life when Zahir could say that he was cured his ailment but what he knew for sure was that now he was no more the shy kid who couldn’t stand up for himself. He couldn’t help but think that Nirvana had played a big role in this transition from shyness to freedom. In his school-college days, they had grown closer; after repeated attempts Nirvana had finally made it to the top of The Wall. Only to find to her surprise that a great green garden lay on the other side, its centre was filled by a great lake with birds of all types spreading their wings as if life it’s self spread out from them. The most exotic of birds singing their songs atop exotic trees were littered in an irregular manner throughout this utopia which stretched as far as the human eye could see. And all around there was in abundance; life of all sorts. After that it was smooth gild downwards for Nirvana to reach this utopia, this Shangrilla. And so the two grew closer, they were like Ying and Yang, complete opposites yet in complete harmony. Opposites attract they say and that is why their bond grew deeper and stronger until it was titanium, unbreakable. They were always there for each other in times of great woe or despair, they would always have each other’s shoulders to cry on (though Zahir needed this more than Nirvana), they knew that if the world shut them out and turned its back on them they would always have each other to fall back on. But as Nirvana delved deeper into this forbidden garden beyond The Wall, she burrowed deeper inside Zahir’s heart, leading them both to crave for the answer of the inevitable question that would arise; was the bond between them more than just that of friends?
The vintage cassette player broke, and Zahir’s flow of thought is interrupted as shrill sounds now replace Iqbal Bano’s melodious voice. It had been years many since they last met. Trivial matters now consumed most of their time and so they couldn’t meet up. Zahir brings the cup of Doodh Patti once again to feel the little warmth it could offer. He takes a sip, then another and soon he is lost in his thoughts again, impartial to his surroundings. The ultimate question still occupies his mind; was it more than just friendship? So he sat there searching deep within for the answer that just hung there, static and unvarying. It had been there for a long time now, since his last days at college to be exact.
It was a fine Saturday evening, Zahir’s last day at college, his batch’s farewell. Still somewhat discontent with how society treated him, he was now comparatively less of an outcast when compared to his earlier years at school. There was complete chaos in the event hall and amidst that chaos stood Zahir, leaning against the wall enjoying his Pina Colada, chatting with his friends. Physically he was engaged with his mates but his mind was occupied elsewhere, he was wondering when Nirvana would show up. The hall’s doors open, a woman in a black saari appears, It was Nirvana. What emerged from the doors was not the rebellious unorthodox Nirvana but a daughter Aphrodite, for a second even Zahir couldn’t recognize her. “Excuse me ma’am, I feel I’ve seen you somewhere before”, he japed while walking towards her. “Sorry, but I have never seen you before”, said she faking serious face. “You’re right, I must’ve confused you with my friend, you are too b-b-beautiful to be here” he stammered while saying the last part, realizing this was the first time he was complementing a woman. “Oh you sly dog, shut up” she said while blushing. “Well you do look… different” said Zahir and a long silence ensued as they stared deeply into each other’s eyes. Eyes are windows to the soul they say and in each other’s eyes they found the answer, the answer to the question that had been bothering them for a long time now.
A lorry sped by splashing water over a rickshaw driver by the side of the road who began to curse in loud voice, forcing Zahir to break out of his trance. He noticed that the cup in his hand was now empty and as cold as the surroundings. He noticed that the cassette player was still broke; no one had bothered to fix it or simply turn it off. He noticed that the fog was now thick and all around, he could barely see outside the Dhaba. He set the cup aside now getting impatient whether Nirvana would show up or not. It had been more than 4 years since they last saw each other but that dry streak was to end today. Zahir would’ve chosen a classier place but Nirvana being the rebel she was insisted that they meet here; it was this very nature of the girl which made Zahir fall for her. Yes, he was no longer afraid to admit the fact that he was now blindly, hopelessly in love with Nirvana and today he was going to confess and finally empty his cup. He was finally going to let it all out and find out whether she reciprocated the same feelings or not, Zahir had stalled the inevitable for too long now.
“I took a heavenly ride through our silence,
I knew the moment had arrived,
for killing the past and coming back to life”
Now as Zahir sat idly on his chair playing with his fingers, he notices an iridescent glow in the fog, before he could contemplate what it was the glow grew more intense. A shockwave passes through him, followed by a surge of uncomfortable warmth which throws him off the chair and onto coarse cemented floor, knocking him out in an instant
Dasht-e-tanhaaimein, aijaan-e-jahaan, larzaan hai… (In the desert of my solitude,my love,quiver)
Zahir slowly gained conscious, his vision still blurry as he moved his eyes about to scan the drab interior of the Dhabba. His mind was still numb from the fall, he tried to gather the strength to stand but could not do battle with gravity, he felt weak. What the hell just happened? He thought, as he dragged himself out. The fog outside was now giving off a reddish hue and there and then it him, the Dhabba got bombed! He found out, as his eyes pierced through the haunting mist and see the debris all around him red with flesh and bone. Somehow the shockwave had fixed the cassette player and Iqbal Bano’s voice was now echoing ever so loudly in the sound of silence. Zahir now again attempted to stand and this time he succeeded, still feeling weak he tried to find something for support but he couldn’t so he fell again. This only further strengthened his resolve; he picked himself up again and limped forward, trying to navigate through the mess of bodies scattered around him but his foot caught onto something and he fell again. What Zahir saw now was a scene he never could’ve fathomed: In his feet lay a dead lifeless body, in his feet laid his dearly beloved Nirvana, he felt as if he had been punched in the chest by a two tonne fist, as if a thousand jagged knives simultaneously pierced through his heart, as if a lorry had just ran over him and trampled his soul. He drags himself towards her still in denial, tears start pouring down his eyes as he tries to bring the lifeless corpse back to life but his attempts were in vain. She was gone, his Nirvana was gone, Ying had lost his Yang. The Wall was now beginning to take form again and large boulders were replacing the areas chipped off by Nirvana. Zahir looked up at the crimson sky and let out an intense scream at the top of his aching voice. As he sat there wallowing in desperation he felt a pull on his leg; it was his consciousness recovering from the blast of the shock, yearning to drag him back to an endless abyss of isolation and depression. The very same Nirvana helped him climb out of.