It was again the wordsmith’s turn to tell a story at the Alif Laila tavern in Virginia. He looked at his audience, which included bearded Muslims, turbaned Sikhs and a temple-going Hindu, and said:
“No story tonight.”
“Why?” someone asked.
“Because today is the first of May and it was in this month in 1998 that India and Pakistan tested their nuclear bombs,” he said. “Every May some in both countries celebrate the bombs. I do not.”
He added: “But I do have a tribute to the blind rage that forced them to learn a method of collective suicide. And here it is.”
Whose name is written on these open skies?
Who were these strangers whose death we have gathered here to celebrate? The sifting wind whispers a name in the desert night. Who hears the whispered name?
See, these footprints on the snow. Hear the echoes of your own screams in the graveyards. Feel your dreams haunt you.
Don’t say we did not know how the death entered our homes. It’s you who mastered this method of collective suicide. So it’s you it will come back to haunt.
True, people still breathe behind closed doors. But see what ghouls, what ghosts dance in the empty streets!
Night, come out of your bunker and kiss us! Kiss our eyes. We are now accustomed to staying wide-eyed at night and sleeping during the day, away from the sunlight.
Come; let’s sweep the sand from these old tombs. Come; let’s mourn together for those who went before us. Maybe future generations will mourn us, too.
Look outside. The entire street is deserted. The lonely electric pole is not enough to resist the night. In a while, the last stop of the last bus of this route will be no more than a memory. Then the old, emaciated owner of this roadside tea stall will collect his broken benches and return to some ancient tomb.
Come, let’s go and write our names on the doors. Tomorrow, when no one will be left to know us, these names may help others mark our graves.
Listen, the mosques call the faithful and the temple bells ring for the worshippers. The old warrior tells his son: “I killed four enemy soldiers, one after another. The fifth shot me in the stomach and I fainted.”
There is a crowd in the crossroads, difficult to see from here who they are! They look alike on both sides of the dividing line.
The blind rage oozes from their pores. They have now learned a new method of collective suicide. Years of mutual hate found a new opening. Like a volcano, it is ready to explode.
So don’t say we did not know how the death entered our homes.
Other people will mark our melted bones and use them to decorate museums. Students will read about our madness in their textbooks.
The crowd on the crossroads chants slogans. “People, mark your enemies. Look, like you they have brown faces, black eyes and black hair. Their traditions, their habits and their desires resemble yours. Even their joys and sorrow are the same. But do not let this mislead you. Know your enemies well,” says the orator.
The crowd chants, “Death to them! We want a long life!”
This continuing hatred, transferred from generation to generation, has reached a new peak. Wait for it to explode.
Whose names are written on the open skies? Whose names do the ghouls chant in the streets below? What is this smoke coming from the earth?
Don’t say we did not know how the death entered our homes.
In my home, darkness defeated the light. In dark, moonless nights the dead come into the city, following the footsteps they left behind.
Do you know who your ancestors were? Magicians of ancient Egypt? Lost craftsmen of the Indus valley? Silk traders from Central Asia or wild, warrior tribes from the steppes?
We may never know who they were, but we feel we must fight in their names. Who owns the land? Who can say they own this land? But we still kill for it. And even if we do own it, for how long?
Have you not seen children blown out of their cradles? Have you not seen young men and women shot through their eyes? Have not seen the old struggling with terminal diseases until they are carried to their graves?
Who lays claim to the earth? Who lays waste to the earth? You, who feel protected behind closed-doors, look up and see whose name is written on the skies.
Tied to our lust and desires, we will move from place to place, dancing on the beat of a pulsating drum. Look, it calls again! Can you see where the kite fell? Yet, we fight for the kite we cannot find, for the place we cannot own.
Let me share my moments of glory with you. Last night, there was a blackout and for the first time I saw the full moon, free of neon signs and electric bulbs. I can die in peace, knowing that the moon will outlive me.
And in the apartment facing my abode, a candle enlarged the shadow of the neighbourhood girl dancing to the beats of her heart.
I could not see her. But I could feel how she, the moon and the winter night were connected to each other. It was a cold night, so nobody watched them and yet they had a soothing effect on all. They made me smile.
This was my glory.
Bombs do not excite me. Death, even of an enemy, I do not celebrate.
Fear, I do not relish.
The moon does make me happy. So does the sun when I see it smiling on the tiny money plant in my window.
Establish a link with your chair, books and the glass you keep beside your bed at night. Connect with your room, your home, your road, the city you live in and the one you do not.
Learn to love them all: your home and your enemy’s, and of those you do not even know. Learn to love before it is too late.
And don’t say we did not know how the death entered our homes.
The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.