We bowed our heads and moved forward to surrender. But we were not ready yet. So when we stretched our hands, we only hit the wall. It was hollow, like us. We could hear our empty hearts pounding against the cage. We were sent back.

Walking backwards, we moved away from the fire that warmed the room but lit only half of it. The other half was dark. We entered the dark side and paused.

“If you are in love, you have already earned what you wanted. And if you want more, you do not belong here. Go out and fulfill your desires,” said a booming voice coming out of the wall.


“Only if we had freedom of thought and action when we were in our 20s, life would have been more fun,” wrote Fauzia.

“At college, we watched every move: Whose bosom is not covered properly with the fourth layer of clothing, who looked at men, who talked to them, and who took the ultimate step of actually going out with one.”

“Wearing see-through shirts, we all enjoyed and condemned. A wholehearted laughter was frowned upon and admired. Our talks revolved around good and bad, right and wrong, hip and old-fashioned.”

Yet, we all learned to enjoy within these constraints or did we?

Joyce looked at the man she was paid to sleep with. He had fainted after handing over his wallet to her. She looked inside and noticed some hundred-dollar bills. It’s four times more than what she was to get at the end of the night.

But she only took two bills and went to a chemist.

Jamal, who had hired her for the night, suddenly had an acute back pain. He told her before he fainted that he had experienced this pain in the past as well. He immediately needed some painkillers and some sleeping pills. “I will die of pain, if I do not,” he said.

Joyce said she could try to get the medicines for him if he gave her some money. He was not willing to trust her. “How can you get those medicines? I do not have my prescription with me,” he asked.

“Remember, I am a call girl?” she said. “I can get things others cannot.”

Jamal still hesitated, fearing that she will take the money and go home.

“Sands on the beach, so close to water and yet so thirsty,” wrote the poet. “Desert trees, shelter so many. But they have no shelter. The sun burns them and they die.

“Look at the flower, how they spread fragrance even while withering away. Hear the drum, so loud and yet so empty. This is my story. I am like the sand, the flower, the desert tree and the empty drum.”

“Dad, hold my hand,” said the child. “Hold your uncle’s,” said dad.

“No, he can let it go and I will fall,” said the child. “What if I do the same?” said dad. “No, you cannot. You are my dad.”

“There were few, very few, among us who actually had a boyfriend and occasionally spent a night or two with them. They were considered big time sinners. We were sure they will go to hell and yet we never tired of discussing their adventures.”

“What is love? What is sin? What is forgiveness?” we asked.

“Move close to the fire,” a voice said. We did. “Now stretch your hands and touch the flame.” We did not. So a force pushed us back to the dark side. This was another corner where the warmth of the fire had little impact. We were cold. We complained but our voices hit the wall and returned. “Echo,” said one of us. “But why only this time? Why not before?” asked another.

“Can I touch the fire first, dad? Can I?” asked the eager child. “It will burn you,” said dad. “But you are going to touch it,” said the child. “I will not. I am just warming my hands,” said dad. “Can I? Can I?”

Ishq kita su jag da mool mian. We earned love; we earned all.”

Joyce took Jamal’s money but did not go home. Instead, she went to the chemist she knew. Then she went to an all-night restaurant, bought some food for herself and some soup for Jamal.

Jamal was half awake, when she returned to the hotel. “I thought you will not return,” he said and tried to smile but an excruciating pain snatched the smile away from his face. He moaned.

“I cannot be that bad. I am only a prostitute,” Joyce said. “Here, I brought some soup for you.”

Jamal tried but could not hold the spoon straight. So she spoon fed him, wiped his face and showed him the medicines.

“Take what you need,” she said.

“They are the right type,” he said.

“Yes, I got them from a chemist,” she said.

“But how?” he asked.

“Told you, I am a prostitute,” she said.

He took the medicines. Then she showed him a water-bottle and some ointment she bought at the chemist. “Let me give you a massage. It will help,” she said.

She took off his shirt and asked him to lie flat on his belly. He did. She spread some ointment. And then massaged his aching back, very gently. It felt good. Soon, Jamal fell asleep.

Joyce got up, warmed some water in the microwave oven, poured it into the bottle and placed the bottle where it hurt Jamal the most and covered him with a blanket.

Then she pulled up a chair, took another blanket and went to sleep, holding his hand.

“I will never forget my first date,” said Fauzia.

“You actually had a date while you were in college?” asked her friend.

“Well, we stayed together in a room for two hours, lots of very passionate hugs but nothing more,” Fauzia said.

“That’s not a date,” said her friend.

“He could not take his eyes off me while we were having tea at a restaurant. So you can imagine how passionate those hugs were.”

“We are cold,” we said, “it’s very cold here, in this corner.”

“Let your passions warm you up,” said the same booming voice that we heard before.

“But how?” we asked.

“Focus on the fire and it will come to you,” the voice said.

We tried but it did not. So we moved to the fire. No force pushed us back.

We stretched our hands, this time touching the flames.

Somebody laughed. We only heard it, did not see who was laughing. Actually, we saw no faces that night, not even each other’s. There was not enough light in the room to see anything but the fire.

“This time, you did not immediately withdraw your hands from the flames, did you?” the booming voice asked. “See, how a little cold ignited your passion for the fire.”

We were too occupied with the fire to respond.

When Joyce woke up in the morning, Jamal was still sleeping. She toasted some bread, put some jam on it and ate it with a cup of tea.

She took Jamal’s wallet from under the pillow where he hid it last night and pulled a 20-dollar bill. Then sat down and wrote a note:

“I am taking $20 from your wallet. I need it to return home. I am not charging you for my services as I was not hired for them.” And left.

The next morning, dad took his son out for a walk. They ended up in an area where they were not supposed to be. It’s not clear what made them different from those who lived in that neighbourhood. Religion? Skin? Language? Nobody knows. Nobody wants to know.

But they knew they were different so they were attacked. The son died. And when they were putting him in the grave, the son asked his dad for the last time: “Dad, how did you let this happen? I trusted you.”

Nobody else heard him except his dad.

The next night we returned to the room of divine love, the fire was still there but there was no light. We did not hear the booming voice either. But someone was crying behind the wall.

Ishq kita su jag da mool mian”.

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Comments (16)

mohsin
September 21, 2013 4:00 pm

Is that Muslim country paper ??

Feroz
September 21, 2013 4:20 pm

This one was tough to digest. Too many stray thoughts without a coherent link to string them. Next time try writing an article immediately after a visit to the Tavern. Cheers !.

Sue Thompson
September 21, 2013 5:42 pm

Very nice story Anwar. Is a bit different from your usual subjects but I found it very interesting & took it very personal. I relate especially to the part about the father & son. Every parent goes thru the extreme of going beyond themselves to hold onto their child, to protect their child. Our children know this & expect it instinctively. It is truly amazing what we can do to save them but in the end, in the end, we have no power over death when he comes to call. We become impotent & unable to full fill that God given task & that it why it becomes a living hell for us to remain here after they have gone on. I believe at the end of our lives it will be love & kindness for each other that will rule over all other judgements for when we are dying (at deaths door) it will be the gentle hands of love & warmth of compassion that comfort us. We will not have time to judge them, or the passions they have enjoyed before, we will only thank God that they are there.

mehboob shah
September 21, 2013 7:14 pm

you will never ever see the bad of death and nothing will make u sleep if u have a heart loving so great, i believe love is just a title but what does thats all the magic which is known the passionate....

naveed Baloch
September 21, 2013 9:43 pm

after reading your piece of art, i was lost in its lines.. but son found myself in your profile picture where a Loner was talking to lake ...

Rukhsana
September 21, 2013 11:25 pm

It was a wonderful piece of writing, keep it up.

Anees
September 22, 2013 6:43 am

If you are not confused, read this to be confused. If you are, read it to add to your confusion.

Zeeshan
September 22, 2013 12:58 pm

I love the way you have combined different incidents and touched the very sensitive and pertaining topic of the time. The fire entice us every time and we don't stop, untill we later realize, and hurt ourselves. Often its too late and many fail to over come, except few. The only suggestion is that you could have highlighted those 'few' for those 'many' to have some hope left in time.

asif jamshaid
September 22, 2013 4:26 pm

Having read the article and of course the comments, I feel the writer should be requested to elucidate the glaring points raised by the readers, it will help. The contents of the article are too good to be put aside, and as usual wait till the worthy writer comes back with a new write up may be next week. Hope Dawn people permit this to happen. I for one would wait for Mr Anwar to come back on his article. Let us see.

Jamshed Khan
September 22, 2013 7:12 pm

@Feroz: In fact, this article was obviously written immediately after visit to a public house. Unimpresed with Dawn that they have started publishing such aimless rubbish just because it came from a powerful journalist living in US.

Anwar Iqbal
September 22, 2013 7:34 pm

There is confusion because you are reading it as a piece of fiction, which it is not. All my pieces are based on real events. I change names, addresses, etc., to hide real characters because they do not want to be identified. Three real characters mentioned in this story also commented on the piece, here and on my Facebook page. I cannot say more. A piece of fiction has a beginning and an end. Real life events do not. They are prominent dots on a large canvas, which begins with the birth of a person and ends with his or her death. But is birth the real beginning? We have habits that others have had before. We speak languages that have been spoken before. We acquire knowledge that has existed before. So where do we being? And is death a conclusion? I don’t know. Do you? So if the life itself is so abstract that you cannot even define a beginning or an end, how can I give a conclusion to events that have not concluded yet? If you stop looking at things in black and white, there will be no confusion, only continuity. Go with the flow of the life, and see its shades. We all have those shades, although sometimes they are overshadowed by our habit of seeing things in black and white. But don’t we all know there is so much between those two extremes? The main motivation behind this story is the death of a child. Every time I met this friend, I noticed how the presence of this child has become even more prominent since her death. The profoundness of a mother’s love and the intensity of the loss motivated me to write this story. Then I met a man who lost his son and joined a meditation group to overcome his grief. Did he? He does not know. But he does have a feeling that the divine force that he is seeking shares his grief. He has not moved beyond that point, so I had to stop there too. Now the man with the call girl, he is still struggling to understand how a call girl could be so passionate. He has posted a comment on his Facebook page that I can share with you: “Those of you, who know me intimately, know this story.”
I wonder if he can afford to reveal a little more!

N-S
September 22, 2013 9:57 pm

Reading your content's fist paragraph, it kind of seemed o me that you are confused of few things and are trying to explain yourself those things. No one must hide the excellence we feel while reading you content, it was an excellent piece of writing! O yes. But you need to know that love is a divine feeling. The stories that come into being in this planet earth has its karma, has its determination or let's say has its way of going depending on what the actor in it does instinctively and transcendentally.

These topics need to be addressed but not in this way. They seem me a good work for matures who had passed their this period of life and can and are capable of addressing the topic. I would say address them, put your point of view but don't just portray it in a way to make it alluring for youngster to take it as something which is so called 'cool'. Otherwise, cheers!

Aana
September 23, 2013 12:12 am

Touchy article...

khanm
September 23, 2013 11:41 am

@mohsin: it is a Hippocratic country's news paper.... it shows that we are divided as a nation. this article is written for moderate people, the enlightened one. not for the extreme one

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan
September 23, 2013 2:52 pm

What's this SAW thing that you guys write after mentioning Muhammed's name?

Khurram
September 24, 2013 11:21 am

An amazing piece of writing.

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