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Arts & Culture

Walking The Streets With The Dahta

Lahore’s phosphorescent guts are blurred
at night in November

but this night
Jomay raat
the Dahta walked in green neon
and around his marble epitaph,
a thousand beggars begged
in a unity
insured by a complete
only Hujwiri walked among them
in wide-fingered benevolence;
sight was half-played
on the retina as of
a half-blind man.

Incessant petal-drops
an opulent rain that
drapes in
translucent muslins
around a lung-seducing
the heat-scent of the devout
as he gapes
in cup-palmed awe and a little

Some beggars swayed
gnarled dying tree-trunks meanly clothed in
winter leaves through which dim-glowed
the night-lights of bazaar nocturnality;

some beggars dressed in tiers
of foreign suiting and fat of Lahori ghee
rolled one eye to Arabic calligraphy
one to Swiss watch;
some eyes shone in kahjal darker than
the effacing black burkha
but the lights danced in their
brief pupils.

One crawled on fours—up my hairy calf
in grotesque impossible
contortions of the human mind
that still blinked the misplaced
sanguine smile—so beautifully irrelevant.

The flies had gone for the season
the dogs perennially unimpressed
and didn’t care anyway
soft-nosed they prodded
warm smoky dung;
they had seen it all before:
the dazzling lights
then the dazzling dark
all the professional beggars re-acting
their roles
with first year RADA earnestness
the much-moneyed, heavy-vehicled beggars
sure of their goodness
in this visit to the Dahta
who walked among them all
palm-humoured and light
equating all, elevating all.
He wasn’t frown-minding
that some were deadly serious
it was all in the game
of love.
Not for him—he knew
for when he walked in
his many-varied neons he
also mixed in the minds
of his pilgrims
and amongst them
there were also some
like the whore of the red tit
of the next door mandi
hanging from low garish-painted doorways
crepuscular lives
so like his own locale
but he was contended this evening
A happy child urinated with abandon;
a lal-bearded villager
almost in orgasm
of his onanistic
religious frenzy;
a group-man grown holy
was serious
as serious as Alamgir at Friday asr
in a Ramzan in the Deccan.

“Na koi banda raha na koi banda nawaz.”
Iqbal should have known better
as the cane-waving policeman
smiles at me
and takes care to reply in his English
but the Dahta is unequivocal in his care
and perhaps the false beggar
returns from him richer.


Fires that explode
like festive crackers
at the pit of my stomach
up through me
to a Christmas ringing
in my ears

I sense but do not smell
onion and sweat
on the tongues of the masses
pressing each other through the bazaar’s
that creak with indigestion

The Badshahi now rose
dated splendour
in black lumpy papier-mache.

Blind tangah horses chilled and
blackly farting into the mists;
idle men with fierce moustaches
idling with one hand
into the idleness of their shalwar
and static between rising
of salt-white batashas
sit active pharaohs
in ready expectation of
another Moses—who never comes.

They were all there:
love remains love
however crudely exhibited
faith turns to love
however clumsily expressed
love creates faith
from whatever quarter coming.
I came back that evening
levitated on the horns that tossed me
acute-feeling the goodness and
of the Dahta
flowing in the streets of his Nagri
and in me
where it mattered.

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