Dec 24, 2011

Black Magic

By Zoha Jabbar

The American awoke with a groan. The bed-covers were sticking to him, drenched in sweat. David thrashed wildly till he escaped the sarcophagus of heat, cursing loudly. He picked up his phone violently and left a message with the Embassy, "I hate Karachi. Get me out of here!"

The humid night pressed against the windowpanes, fighting to come in. He walked over to the windows and threw them open, but it was even more balmy and humid outside. A quick movement in the garden caught his eye, a little boy leaped over the wall and ran off into the plot next door.

David bolted down the stairs and out the front door to see what was going on. He tried to climb the same wall that the boy had leaped over, but it was too high. "How could he have...?" David ran his hands over his face, thinking that he needed to stop imagining things. Just then, he saw something white lying near his feet. He bent and picked it up, it was a skullcap, too small for an adult. He threw it over a wall, muttering, "Damn squatters!"

He made his way back to the house, thinking about the family of squatters that the Embassy had unceremoniously thrown out of the guest-house a few days before David had arrived in Pakistan. He made a mental note to tell the officials about this incident with the boy. He now wished he had kept the skullcap as evidence.

A shadow moved across the lawn. Startled, David looked up and saw something hanging from the porch light. As he neared it, a nauseating smell hit him with full force. Trying not to gag, he examined the strange thing dangling from the light. He reached out and touched it, immediately drawing his hand back as he felt warm feathers under his fingers. The object spun to reveal itself to be a dead crow, with a long horizontal cut across its middle, its intestines spilling out. David fell on all fours, vomiting copiously before he blacked out.
                                                                                 * * *

"David baba, wake up!" Someone was slapping his face lightly, he opened his eyes and found himself lying on the porch, his old Pakistani maid and her small daughter crouching on each side of him. "Get him some water," Gulshan said to the little girl in Udru. David slowly raised himself off the ground, and rubbed his face, sore from lying on the hard porch. 
"What happened to you, David baba? Why are you lying out here?" Gulshan peered anxiously into his eyes. 
"I don't know," David replied, "what happened to the crow?"
"Crow? What are you talking about? Let's get you inside."
He allowed himself to be led into the house.

"What happened to your hair?" Gulshan's daughter asked him shyly. His hand shot up to his shoulder length hair, and he found himself grasping at nothing. It was gone, snipped off at odd angles. His nails, too, were missing; untidily cut into twisted half-moon shapes.
"I didn't do this!" he said, panicking. 
Gulshan smiled at him, "You Americans and your drinking."
David shook his head vehemently, "I don't drink,  something's wrong." He narrated the little boy and the crow incident to Gulshan, whose expression of disbelief was quickly transformed to one of horror.

"Baba, you're a victim of black magic. That explains the hair and nails. In order to cast something upon you, a person would need your hair and nails. " She looked terrified. 
"Black what? No, they're just squatters messing around. They're angry about losing their resting place." His voice took on a tone of practicality.
"Do you have lemons in the house, David sahab?" the little girl spoke from behind them.
"Lemons?" he asked, confused.
"It's a simple way of checking," the girl replied, "you cut open a lemon to see if it looks normal. If it does, then you don't need to worry."

Gulshan and the girl went off to look for the fruit, while David collapsed onto a chair with his head in his hands., trying to process all that had happened. A scream pierced the silence. David ran to see what had caused Gulshan's daughter to shriek in such a bloodcurdling manner. She pointed to the living room window, from which they could clearly see a cat hanging upside down from a tree. It's head on the ground.
                                                                            * * *

They all gathered around as David sliced open the lemon, and all of them fell to the floor at the sight of it's blood-red interior.

Dec 21, 2011


By Alisha Sethi

With Christmas approaching fast, the scene at the North Pole was one of havoc and hysteria. Reindeers were excercising to build up strength for all the long journeys they would soon have to undertake ; Santa's helpers (the elves) were busy manufacturing goods in the factories; and last but not the least the Santas were sorting out their Wish Lists.Wish Lists were mailed to them early November and now the Santas were busy planning their itineraries, which house to visit first which to visit last and all that. However in the midst of all this madness, sat Martin, a most unhappy Santa, sulking in the corner of his cubicle. He had been in service for twenty years now, twenty long years of delivering presents and having kids pull his beard but not once had he been appreciated. Not once had he been made Star of the Year. He was fed up of his job, his life and the same monotonous routine that took place every year. Each year Martin's mind would race through the endless career alternatives that waited out there, he was not quite sure what they were but he knew that there were many and he knew that they HAD to be more exciting than being a Santa. He had been thinking of resigning since quite a while now but because of the severe consequences of leaving the profession, he just couldn't bring himself to do it. People didn't just become Santas, either you were born into the profession or you weren't, and he,Martin, was born a Santa. His ancestors had been Santas too, he couldn't just pack up his bags and leave. It was Forbidden.

On the 26th of November 2011, a miracle happened. His colleague,who had been with him in service since the start, couldn't remember his name.Ralph, looking around for an intern to deliver files to the office of the Head,saw Martin sitting at his desk and asked him if he was new. Upon looking at the appalled look on Martin's face, Ralph realized that he was mistaken and then made several attempts to recall Martin's name. Morris, Mickey and others were tried in vain before Ralph finally slammed the files on Martin's desk and told him, whoever the hell he was, that he wanted the files delivered to the Head right away. 

Something snapped inside Martin.

Suddenly all of the reasons why he couldn't, why she shouldn't, leave his job flew out of his mind and a wave of anger and determination took over. Fury raced through his veins and clouded all sense of reason. He marched up to the office of the Head, but not with the purpose of delivering the files.

Without knocking on the door, as required by unspoken and unwritten rules he banged open the door.

" That's it! I've had enough! I'm done! I want to resign NOW!", yelled Martin.

The Head, Sir Christopher Jones, looked taken aback at first due to the hard,blazing look on Martin's face, but then within a few seconds of the outburst, he regained his usual calm demeanor. 

" Excuse me? ", Sir Christopher said.

Martin retorted that what the Head had heard in the first go was right, that he, Martin was sick of being a Santa and wanted an out. Then without waiting for any further questions, Martin went on to narrate how much he loathed being invisible and doing a meaningless job.  The Head listened patiently and waited for Martin to finish, however after all the endless complaining was done all that came out of Sir Christopher's mouth was a simple ' No '. He told the elf sitting in the corner of the room to escort Martin out of the room. The elf, copying his boss' smug and sarcastic smile took an entirely bewildered looking Martin out of the room and then slammed the door on his face.

Though it was clear that the Head wanted Martin to forget the conversation ever happened, it was very difficult to do so. Not only had Martin not given up but also the constant whispering and muttering that always surrounded him these days made it very hard for him to put that little outburst out of his mind.He was greeted by stiff looks wherever he went. He could sense people pointing at him behind his back, referring to him as the traitor' or the rebel , the person who dared to go against tradition. Every Santa felt honoured to be part of a family which had for years engaged in a 'noble profession' and since Martin on the contrary loathed his ancestors for forcefully deciding his future the moment he was born, he was the Oddity. A disgrace to all Santas. Rumours quickly spread suggesting reasons why Martin could possibly want to leave service, some, the wackier ones, involved him wanting to be a disco dancer at a shabby pub instead.  His reindeers, who he thought for years to be his loyal friends, had also turned their backs on him. One of them actually assaulted Martin.

However Martin's sense of determination had not left him. He turned a blind eye and deaf ear to all the disapproval that surrounded him and worked on his plan with renewed vigour. His plan involved the father of the only kid that Martin had grown to like over the years. The father, Rupert, was a nutty scientist. When they had met last Christmas, Rupert had told Martin that he was working on a machine that could go anywhere in the world within a few minutes. The machine,which was called Rocker 007, was going to be complete roughly around the end of 2011. One phone call was all that was needed to put his plan in action. 

Exactly a week before Christmas when everyone was so busy that they had even forgotten to gossip about Martin, something rather starnge happened. The elves,busy in loading prepapred packages into trunks, noticed the sky grow darker.  The sudden lack of light was felt by many others who left whatever they were doing and turned to look up at the sky to discover a possible source of obstruction for the sun. And then they saw it. A flying rocket, atleast thats what it looked like, was coming down upon the North Pole fast. The moment it touched the ground all went dark and there was lots of screaming to be heard. The darkness though left as quickly as it came, and once the crowd had accustomed themselves to the sudden light they saw something which made their eyeballs pop. Martin, with a man on his side, was sitting in a machine full of what appeared to be suitcases. Then suddenly, a puff of smoke emerged from the engine of the machine and left a message in the sky:

                                                           SO LONG LOSERS!
The sound of Martin's evil laughter, echoed loud and clear in the ears of the baffled community of the North Pole.

The Cage

By Zoha Jabbar

They throw you in, ignoring your pleas of innocence. All they have is a shadow of a doubt, but it's enough. You land face-down on the gravel floor, pain jolting through your entire body. You gag at the pungent stench of urine that hovers over you, envelopes you like a shroud. The lights go off, plunging the tiny cell into darkness, interrupted by the pale light of a single, naked bulb that hangs overhead. You go over to it, like a moth, desperately in search of even the tiniest flicker of hope. You pace around the miniscule cell, a caged animal, trapped.

You long to rest your head on a pillow, but all you have is a hard bench, and you lie on it, looking up at the pitted, pockmarked ceiling. You close your eyes and try to pretend you're under the open sky, but not even the strongest, most vividly imaginative mind can escape the putrid stench that permeates every cell of your body.

You need to empty your bladder, but refuse to use that revolting urinal in the corner of the cage. Eventually, sleep, your temporary saviour, takes you in its embrace. A wetness rouses you. It's still dark, so you haven't slept too long. The smell is more intense now, you've wet yourself. You jump off the bench and huddle in a corner of the cell, iron bars, cold and hard, pressing into your back.

You're shaking, and sweating. You lean back and rest your head against a wall, but a smear of brown catches your eye. Hoping it isn't what you fear, but knowing that it probably is, you curl up into a foetal position on the floor. You breathe through your mouth, tasting the salt of tears. 

They find you like that the nest morning. A guard unlocks the door and struts in, jangling the keys, and evil glint in his eye. He says something you don't understand. And when you don't respond, he kicks you in the ribs, hard. You shrivel under his malicious gaze and he strikes again. You hear something crack.
"Answer me, you bastard!" He yells derisively.
All you can manage is a low moan, you try to move but the pain is unbearable. He kicks you again, this time in the stomach, and leaves, slamming the cell shut. His laughter, your rushing blood and pounding heart form a steady beat that ricochets off the walls of your mind. You slowly sink into darkness. 

You spend your days sitting by the door, fingering the metal bars, watching your fingers flex and unflex as you stroke the cold lines that separate you from humanity. You no longer wish for the things you yearned for all your life. You only want a pillow, and the open sky. You long for fresh air.

The light-bulb flickers and dies, throwing you into darkness that presses down on you like soil on a coffin. You weep silently at first, and then the deep, heaving sobs ripple through your body. You cry with luxuriant abandon. You surrender yourself completely to your tears.

You hit your head on the wall, and scrunch your eyes against the pain. You must continue on. You rear back and hit your head again. And again. You repeat this like a ritual. It is religious in nature, of course it is. You will keep at it until you see heaven and hell and the gods and stars. You feel pain flowing through you, but you know it will not last. Soon, the comfortable numbness will take you away. This is the only form of escape left, you must keep at it. You will keep at it. It's the only option. You hit your head on the wall, laughing at how simple it is to escape. You laugh and laugh, and hit your head on the wall again. So simple, it's a wonder you didn't think of it before.

Q) You are in Hell. Describe what it is like.

By Farwa Haider

The cold, steel walls of the elevator vibrated for a millisecond as it stopped on Level Nine.
The doors separated as a saccharine voice emerged from the crackling intercom.
“Welcome to the Ninth Circle of Hell. We hope you enjoy your stay no matter how long it may be. Thank you for riding Edison Elevators. ‘Edison- Nobody’s perfect!’”
I stepped out and immediately wrapped my arms around myself. It was freezing! I should have listened to Alighieri and instructed that I be buried in my fur coat.
The elevator vanishes, leaving only some disturbed snow behind.
The area looks barren and empty. I guess when it comes to the Ninth Circle of Hell people are fashionably late- and perhaps better-dressed as well.
All around me is a white and blue wasteland with mounds and mountains of snow and ice, higher and larger than Mount Everest itself.
The wind keeps blowing in my face. I touch my nose but it’s cold and solid. My nose is frozen!
In the distance, over the mournful wailing of the wind I hear someone scream “Avalanche!” The scream is very similar to the way that mountaineer screamed in Vertical Limit, the voice filled with terror and boldness- of all the words to scream, he screams the obvious. I guess we’re all here because we were bold, because we dared! Dared to rise above a world filled with concerns for others. Dared to live and win for ourselves and ourselves only! I wonder if Ayn Rand’s here too.
The thunderous sound of the avalanche is getting closer. And closer. And closer.
I keep tripping and slipping over ice. I don’t know where to run! I can’t see! This cold wind is like a sharp knife that’s been jabbed into my eyes. I feel a powerful tug on my shirt.
“Follow me!” says an urgent, husky voice.
My hands hang loosely by my side as my rescuer pulls and tugs and swears. I don’t know if he’s swearing at me of the avalanche or our luck.
“There is no luck in Hell. You make your own luck the same way you made it back home,” says a familiar voice.
Suddenly, the wailing of the wind, the thunder of the avalanche and the stabbing pain and numbness of my face disappear.
“You can open your eyes now”
I do so. The avalanche disappears down a glowing, gaping abyss. From afar it  looks like the ice floor cracked. Awful groans emerge from it.
My eyes! I can see again! They feel great, as if a jug of warm water was poured over them.
The terrain is still the same except that there are two people standing in front of me. One is a heavy-set, bearded man wearing a beaver and a brown leather jacket. There are dark circles under his eyes and he seems like the kind who can will a person to shoot himself.
Beside him is a tall man, lean with a wide forehead and a big nose. He has a gun slung over a shoulder and looks bored- Charleton Heston! He’s here too!”
“Are you going to stand there with your mouth open like a retard or praise my acting in Ben-Hur,” he said in a monotone.
Before I could stammer out a reply the other man says gruffly “Where the hell are we?”
“Why in Hell, of course. The Ninth Circle if you want details. Really! The fools they send down here are increasing by the number lately. I should complain to the big guy about this!”
“Big guy? You mean the Devil?” I say quickly. Heston just cocked his eye-brow and started walking.
“Let’s keep this nice and short. I have a spa treatment to return to. Welcome to Hell. Yes, there will be tests of your strengths, endurance and patience till you’re left pulling your hair out and begging God for forgiveness. Don’t worry. It’s not so bad here. We have therapy and spa treatments and Roman Polanski puts on a show every weekend. You’ll get used to it.”
It sure seems nice. People smile and nod at me as I walk by. Most of them have parts of their bodies missing but seem least bothered. I could get used to this.
“Oh Farwa, you’re here too? I always knew you were a bad egg!” a voice squeals in my ear. I freeze with horror.
Oh no! Kulsoom Khala’s here too? This truly is Hell!


By Nayab Tufail

A tray of “zarda” has always visually appealed to me like our very own desi version of the rainbow. Delicate, almost heavenly, saffron-hued basmati rice, boiled, sculptured by the soft, loving fingers of my grandmother into a flawless mound on the tray.Zarda at home was always decorated with as much care and perfection as the bride of our family. I remember once seeing the women of the house prepare zarda in the kitchen. After the mound was shaped, Ammi stuck in neon green crunchy pistachios and fragrant cardamoms, Chachi sprinkled flakes of snowy barfee, after which dadi plopped in the sticky miniature gulab jamuns. Once they were done , they looked at it with the pleasure of having created a work of art, and I looked at it with greedy anticipation, licking my lips.

The delight of popping a voluptuous, gooey gulab jamun into my mouth, from the untouched zarda tray is incomparable to any other mischevious pleasure I ever relished as a child. That pleasure was closely followed by the pain of Ammi twisting my ear , but then and even now, a gulab jamun is worth it all. When we were finally allowed to taste the coveted zarda I found surprises resting on my fork in every bite I was about to take. Sometimes jewel-like red jelly or a soothing clove, or a luscious sultana raisin and at times traces of the shimmering silver foil that garnished it. Zarda was the queen of foods, resting on the exclusive crystal tray,its throne. It exuded redolences of homemade rosewater and melting gulab jamuns- aromatic ecstasy. Every bite felt like heaven on my tongue. It was like the various diverse flavours mingled in my mouth, tickling my tongue playfully. It is now that I realize zarda might have really been a piece of art. A tray of zarda still always smells of the delicious love of my dadi jaan, the magic of eastern spices and my innocent childhood temptations.

Dec 15, 2011

The sunset? Or a mere reflection of my life?

By Ilsa Rashid

Q. Describe a sunset from the perspective of a sad person.

Have you ever noticed that hair-thin, black line on the horizon?
I never did either, until today. I had noticed the white sand reflect the sun’s rays. I had felt the water kiss my toes and shy away. I had felt the wind stir up melodies to which the gulls danced. Today, however, the horizon has my attention. It’s vivid, it’s defined—yet, it’s untouchable.

The expanse of graphite or deep Malva, as Rochelle put it, boasts great strength, vim and spirit. Like a raging beast it charges towards me, but merely strokes my feet with a frothy blanket. It’s like the storm within me once; full of anger, pride and argour. Who knew that my fate was like
the water’s; that after years of struggle I, too, would be as enervated as a tide on the shore.

The water is calm today. All I hear is the distant slosh of waves, the cry of a few gulls and from somewhere inside me, resonant silence. I’m amazed how much the ocean and I have in common. Of course, the only exception is that the ocean is home to billions, where I myself am homeless. Lost. Rejected.

The sun castes almost fluorescent rays of crimson that travel all the way to me, casting the spotlight I never got—or deserved—as they said. My eyes follow the golden trail the sun has laid for me, inviting me to it… No, I’ve burnt enough. I’d rather not walk it.

By now, the sun itself is defeated. I feel better knowing that I’m not the only sinking, grieving and descending into a Stygian death. Nevertheless, I’m jealous. The fireball has everything I don’t; fame, respect, notoriety and life. It will rise again with energy and vitality where I will immerse into the gloom of these murky waters.

It’s hard to ignore the sky in the background. The backdrop is painted in lively shades of yellow and peach where it meets the water and merges into strands of purple of the thin veins on my hands in winters. It finally opens into that blue everyone associates with hope and peace and freedom. Don’t you think it’s the most haunting of all colours? It’s empty, it’s hollow and it’s intimidating. It’s the sad colour of dismay, betrayal and of a lingering threat behind a beauty. Rochelle sure looked beautiful in that colour.

Soon, it will be dark.
Soon, the sun will surrender to death, and so will I.

Nov 30, 2011

The Taste of War

By Khurram Ali

The thick tomato sauce as red as cherry spills over the knobby elbow macaroni. Coats them like the white patches on the mountain peaks. The puddle of crow black soya sauce on the layers of dry pasta slowly seeps deep through the narrow depressions. A few pinches of lemon pepper seasoning hails. Beat down the battle-ground like the arrows from the crossbows of the opposition.

The peas camouflage themselves with stains of war in a musty green colour like earthy emerald stones. The chopped pieces of potato lay as spectators, or rather obstacles in the midst of confusion. The perfect blend of spices and cloves with freshly cooked shreds of beef serve as fortifications. The steamy mist engulfs the landscape like the fumes of battle; the haze obstructs your view.

The threat still lurks as you invade the territory with a piece of chromed cutlery. Destruction strikes and you pick your first prey. As you lift it the tantalizing aroma sneaks up; takes you by surprise and throws you back. It reminds you of your home, the dinner table; the whole family for once in a blue moon enjoying the same voluptuous meal.

You smile and take a mouthful. The softness of the starchy macaroni, as smooth as velvet and you feel a loss of control as it slips out of your grasp. Oh, the crunchiness of the crispy peas, full of comfort. And you definitely yearn for more as they adhere to the mouth like gooey caramel. You indulge yourself with the slices of potato as fluffy as pillows.

It’s near the finish line, your taste buds sense something acrid, tart – fine powder corroding through your tongue like acid. Ooh, the bittersweet delight that carries you away. Your eyes gleam with excitement. And with eagerness you’re ready to launch your second attack.


By Sana Noor


The sun rises with a yawn, taking laboured steps towards the sky. The clouds start to dissolve and disperse to make way for their king. She can not help but admire the beauty of the beginning of a new day.

The sun shines in its eternal glory, like an angel rising towards the heavens encompassed by a fiery red halo. A yellow brick road reflects on the serene ripples of the ocean and she can not help but wonder if she will be taking that same road when she dies. Will her body float down the road and reach the kingdom of the sun? Will she sleep in the sun’s warm bed? Or will her body drown with the weight of her worries into the nothingness of the inky blue depths below?

The night sky has yet to completely disappear and it reflects in her mood. The grey clouds tinged with pink represent the sorrows of her life and it seems as if they promise to stick around, waiting for the descent of the king in slumber, to attack again.

She wants to hit ‘pause’ for a minute so that she can enjoy the picturesque beauty of the sun one last time before she goes through with her plan. But it’s almost like the sun is winking at her, gesturing her, daring her to go through with the plan. Like it already knows the outcome.

The ocean appears to be on fire, much like her emotions. Only there is less anger and more sorrow and guilt. And instead of emitting warmth, the air around continues to remain cold. If only she could forget and he could forgive.

She shuffles the pills in her hand, standing an edge away from the cliff end. Then he shows up. The pills fall and drown under the toxic blue hue of the water and she runs to take her place in his arms. The sun smiles down on them, encompassing them in its warm tangerine glow.


Ali digs his hands into the sand and relishes in the cool feeling. He sits near the shore so that the water laps at his feet and he has a clear view of nature’s phenomenon.

Everything is quiet. Not a single sound as the golden orb shows its crown. The whole ordeal is like the birth of a baby. People hold their breath in the anticipation and when that beautiful perfect child comes into the world, their faces glow with happiness. Much is the case with the sunrise.

Ali watches on in amazement. This is his routine for everyday. Auburn tinges appear everywhere in the sky and black nothingness of the night disperses in fear. Flecks of pink can be seen on the clouds, as they blush in the presence of the majestic ball of life.

The blazing star pushes back the darkness of night to the western horizon, painting the sky with pinks and purples and blues, shedding the land of its two-dimensional grayscale cloak.

A sigh escapes him and he cannot avert his eyes from the sight before him. It is the lion of the sky, its mane in the shades of golden yellow that halo the sun. The otherwise rough sea too cannot help but calm down. Its ripples reflecting the radiant smile of the sun. Staring would only slip one into oblivion.

The horizon is encompassed by the never ending glow of the sun and almost appears to be on fire. As the sun rises it twinkles and winks, unabashed by its nakedness. It basks in the glory of all who look at it in admiration and awe, but flares in anger when they shun him out of their lives when he slightly raises the temperature during the day.

Birdsong erupts in a dizzying daze, nature's personal alarm clock. The sunrise is a very intimate thing. One you cannot share with everyone.

A Nostalgia Called Pakoras

By Sana Noor.

When it rains, all is well. The aroma of water and grass after a dry spell wafts in the cool air and instantly makes you sigh. You walk out in the garden while the world around bathes under the natural shower. You open your mouth and drink the sweet nectar of heaven. Even the world slows down and pauses to admire the beauty, even if they silently curse the rain from within. All you can do is let your hair down. For Karachi is not known for its frequent rains.

Only when you walk in shivering and wet, do you notice the pakoras waiting for you. There is a slight sizzle to them and their glistening bodies, drowned in oil, lie under the fluorescent light lit above. The scent of mint and yoghurt are ever present because you know that pakoras without chutney are incomplete.

You run to grab a golden jewel before they all finish. Dunked in the chutney you pop the first one in your mouth and relish in the taste. Your eyes close and a dreamy look crosses your face. Then you remember to chew.





The cumin tastes nutty and earthy with a pungent smell, which makes you salivate further. The potato and onion churn around in your mouth and the gram flour accentuates the savory taste. But, there is a familiar zest to it. And you immediately know what it is. Nani. Her hands are magic when it comes to pakoras and you can very well taste her love in them.


Rainy days at your grandmother’s house are treasured memories. The pakoras may be bittersweet but the only missing ingredient is your grandmother and those rainy days that greet in numbers so small. Once in a blue moon.

Nov 28, 2011

The Taste Of Home

By Zoha Jabbar

During the Partition of the Subcontinent, my mother's parents migrated from Jetpur and Dhoraji, while my father's parents emigrated from Bantva and Kutiyana. Upon first hearing this, I asked my grandfather what I was, and where my roots lay. He thought for a long time, trying to simplify Pakistan's ethnic history for an eight year old. Finally, he led me to the kitchen and handed me a plate of steaming Nihari. "This," he said, "this is what you are!" He looked proud of himself as I eyed him skeptically.

Since then, I have associated Nihari with the taste of Pakistan. A rich stew, with smooth curry and shanks of beef. This one dish is a delicious blend of all the spices which smell of home. A single bite of naan-bread soaked in Nihari can transport one to the royal kitchens of the Nawab of Lucknow.

The zesty stew sings of monsoon skies and mango trees as it boasts an impressive mix of piquant garlic, fiery chillies and prickly cloves. It speaks of Winter dawns, with the feel of chapped lips and warm socks, on a rooftop with plates of Nihari served in metal trays of boiling water to keep it warm. The hot fragrance of cinnamon and ginger enveloped us as it hovered in the dense Winter fog.

It reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen, redolent with the refreshing aromas of cumin and aniseed. She would smile at me from behind the stove, covered in flour.

It is the hands of generations of subcontinental women as they sprinkled coriander leaves. It is the dupattas they used to wipe flour off their arms.It is the ardent prayers said over a spread dastarkhwan. It is the kites flown by boys in Basant. It is the brightness of glass bangles on Eid. It is the henna that meant the boys had to feed the girls on the night of the moon-sighting.

It is home.

Nov 27, 2011


By Reja Younis

Q. Write a description of a sunset/sunrise from the perspective of a character who is happy.

Anticipation bubbles in my stomach, eager to feel the salt-water breeze that would soothe my jangled nerves. I am entirely consumed with excitement. My toes dig into the warm, sparkly golden sand. Each grain is beautiful, like precious gems adorning my feet. I slowly tread across the beach, watching others giddily scamper towards the water.

I lick my strawberry ice cream cone and notice a magnificent sunset occurring over the water, far off in the horizon. The ocean glimmers as still as a mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays. I race towards the shore and plop down with my feet dipped in the caressing, foamy waves. The water is crystal clear and the air as soft as milk.

Lilac and rosy picks tumble across the horizon and mesh together masterfully. I gaze at the cascade of colours highlighting the sky. The sun seems to smile as it descends lower into the water. I graciously smile back and bathe in its final moments of lingering light.

My heart feels jubilant and fuzzy. I want to sing, splash in the waves, climb on top of the setting sun and announce, “Saad has asked me to marry him today! And I said YES!” I chuckle softly at the visual I imagine and sigh peacefully.

I finish my ice cream cone and watch as deeper colours transcend the sky—bold shades of burgundy and violet. I feel passion surge through me and I hypnotically stare at the sky. An aura of security and tranquility washes over me with every wave that crashes ashore. I rhythmically swing back and forth to the gentle lullaby of the sea and take a deep breath.

“The best day of my life is about to end,” I think, as the sun winks one last time and plunges into the depth of the world—leaving us in the darkness. But even in the dark, my dreams soar and my hopes glow bright. With Saad by my side, my world will be illuminated forever. He is my sun that never sets.

Q. Write a description of a sunset/sunrise from the perspective of a character who is sad.

“No, please no. Don’t leave me in the darkness here alone,” I silently whispered to the sun that was setting and dissolving into the horizon. My heart was weighed down, buried under gravel and trampled. I gazed at the ocean waves as they mechanically washed ashore. It was a bitterly cold evening and the beach was deserted.

I clenched the coarse sand and it pricked me like a thousand tiny thorns, but I did not let go. I wanted to physically feel the pain that was withering me away. I slowly released the sand, relishing the agony and the blood droplets trickling down my palms.

My gaze shifted to the streaks of fiery orange and deep purple lining the sky. It reminded me of a portrait, painted for someone beautiful and loveable.

Tears flooded my eyes as I looked at the ocean through blurry vision. I dreamed of jumping into the water and forever becoming a part of the ocean blue. It looked inviting now, compelling almost… “No,” I said to myself and wrapped my arms around my legs, “No more suicide attempts.”

The sky was a deep red now, with tinges of violet as the sun was further down. I put my head back and let out a slow, agonizing moan. Deep red. I could feel my life flashing before my eyes. The deep red I wore on my wedding day, those red roses Saad bought for me on our first anniversary, his red, angry face when we would fight.

Sunlight reflected off of the water and made it glisten with a blinding glare. That’s what I was now, blind without Saad by my side. I realized then that our separation was inevitable, just like the sun that sets every evening, whether or not we want it to.

“I hate you!” I suddenly whispered ferociously as my voice returned with growing strength, “I hate you!”

I did not know then if it was Saad I was angry at or the departing sun, but my sorrow was controlling me. I picked up a few pebbles and hurled them towards the sun. They landed in the water and created a slight ripple. Soon I could not stop throwing stones.

Suddenly, I tripped and landed face-first into the water and tasted the salty sea, felt the stinging burn, and sensed myself and my tears get lost in the darkness of the icy waves. The sun had set.

Knor Noodles

By Asma Afzal

Q: Describe a food and the memories associated with it.

Long, cozy, never-ending nights. Sneaking out of our rooms quietly into the kitchen, because if Yasmin Mami woke up, all of us would get into serious trouble. These are the flashes of brilliant memory that appear before my eyes as soon as I so much as SMELL Knor noodles.
Ah, the smell! Whether it's the spicy, zesty aroma of the "Chatpatta" noodles, or the somewhat salty smell of the chicken noodles, it transports me to my uncle's house and lazy summers spent with my cousins playing dark room, corner corner and kedi kedi (prisoner: basically involves throwing a cushion at each other. The person who catches it makes the one throwing it his prisoner.). It reminds me of our group of six; me, Beea, Wajiha, Hassan, Furqan and Uzair bhai, and the nights we spent awake. A whiff of that redolent, savory smell, and I am ten again, fighting over who gets to eat the last pack. I am sitting back in the hot kitchen at 2 a.m in the morning, watching Beea and Uzair bhai cook for us. It was only sensible that they did it; aged twelve and thirteen respectively, they were much better equipped at handling it - plus the rest of us didn't particularly want to do the work.
One whiff, and I can almost hear the hum of the pink panther tune, interrupted by giggles and laughter as we snuck back into our rooms, each with our own separate bowl. My mouth waters, before I even take a bite, at that peppery smell. The first bite...yum! The way the succulent, juicy noodles (long because we never broke them into half) snake their way into my mouth. That first burst of flavour; a mix of red chilli and black pepper and fiery orange paprika.

I remember the euphoria of having successfully gotten a snack without waking anyone up. The talks that we had as we gobbled down those divine noodles, about everything that was important in the world; "Shh Koi Hai", and cricket and what we were going to do the next day.

It's surprising to jolt back to the present, and find the sweet taste of nostalgia mixed with the spice of the noodles. A honeyed taste, that requires only a whiff.

Nov 23, 2011


By Nimrah Nadeem

The boy crouches in the dark of the giant’s broom cupboard, waiting with bated breath. The pins and needles in his cramped legs grow almost unbearable, and he longs to change his position. His heart feels like it’s beating a tattoo against his ribcage. He feels a ripple of panic as the giant’s voice booms, heavy with suspicion. He shrinks further into the shadows, grateful that his face is smeared with dirt.

She winks at her husband and points and the broom cupboard discreetly.

“How big is this one?” he mouths.

She shows him with her thumb and forefinger. He can hear the boy’s heart thudding violently, and his mouth twists into a slow, cruel smile.

“Fee, fie, fo, fum…” he begins, grinning at his wife, who shakes her head in mock disapproval.


By Farwa Haider

Q. Write a description of a sunset/sunrise from the perspective of a character who is sad.

The sun is sinking the same way my heart did when I realised she wasn't coming. It almost looks like it's being swallowed by the iron-grey water. I laugh sardonically as I imagine a giant hand stirring this sea with a dirty, used paint-brush.

I hate the sand on this beach. Like the sea, it's an ugly dark-grey colour and is the kind that sticks to everything no matter how hard one tries to remove it. Well, I couldn't care less what it'll do to my shoes.

I was supposed to meet her on this beach two hours ago. Instead of hearing her footsteps on the pavement, all I heard were the piercing cries of the gulls and the thunderous sound of the sea.

The sea itself looks heavy with human misery. It takes so many lives, causes such a lot of pain. No wonder the colour is so disgusting. The decomposition of all the bodies lost to it must have caused the colour to change. That explains the smell too- it is also putrid.

The sky is a suffocating blue. Just looking at it makes it harder to breathe. Ironically, the dusty clouds of brown, ash-grey and white make me want to sneeze.

Sneezing- such a simple, ordinary thing to do now that I've been rejected. Nothing will ever be normal again.

The clouds actually make me wonder whether a flock of birds got lost up there whilst migrating. The absurdities one comes up with in times of grief!

The horizon is the sickly colour of sulphur and the sun itself looks like a giant light bulb with an orange-coloured, bland lampshade. The light it casts around the burnt clouds surrounding it makes them look like an inferno. However, if one leans forward and squints just a little, then it appears to be a barren desert landscape, just like my heart is now.

The light bulb burns a path of light across the uneven surface of the sea. I know it's for me. I know what to do.

Q. Describe the same scene from the perspective of a happy character.

I say good morning to my baby son as he stirs in my arms. He has woken up just as the sun has risen over what I like to call 'the rim' of the huge tea-cup we call the world. He seems bewildered by the spectacle. He's going to be looking at it for quite a a while so I make him wear the tiny sunglasses we got for him before we set sail.

In all my years I have never seen such a spectacular sunrise, let alone at sea. The sea itself is calm and placid. Its effect is similar too. It looks like a vast indigo-coloured velvet shawl, much like the one my wife wore the day I first saw her. If one looks closely then one can see the warm, subtle reflection of pink and orange in the water.

The sky! It bears a stark resemblance to the murals in the Sistine Chapel. That Michelangelo truly was brilliant to paint such an almost-accurate image of this sky.

Up high, it looks like the cobalt blue is fading away to make room for baby blue. I know the colour because my desperate-for-a-grandson mother knitted a woollen blanket of that shade. Speaking of babies, there are adorable flecks of baby pink in the wisps of clouds. They remind me of cotton and cake icing.

Cakes! Two hundred days till my son gets his first. Parents always speak of how their proudest days are when their children graduate or get married. I don't want to think that I have to wait years for my proudest days to arrive. Every day that my bundle of joy breathes, blinks and smiles is my proudest. And I'll be over the moon on his birthdays.

Speaking of moon, the silver white sickle is slowly fading into the blue around it.

Interestingly, like the sea the clouds are perfectly still. That's comforting because clouds sailing by always remind me that I have to be somewhere. Presently, I'm happy where I am, with my son whose adorable yawns are becoming more frequent, I guess the hum from the engines is making him sleepy.

The clouds near the sun are dark chocolate-coloured, and with their golden lining one wonders whether there's really Heaven behind them.

The sun itself looks like a glowing orange ball, making the horizon saffron-orange. Its halo looks as if from a dream.

I glance down at my son. He is fast asleep, his little chest rising and falling as peacefully as the waves of the sea.


By Aiman Fajr

Q. Write a description of a sunset/sunrise from the perspective of a character who is sad.

The depth of that ocean is taking you in with it. So much darkness within, so many creatures unknown. That ocean will eat you up just like a giant monster; it will fill your lungs with its poison till you won’t be able to breathe. The only source of warmth there is that ball of fire, is going away, is going down. The monster is engulfing it slowly. And in no time what you will be left with is just darkness and and gloom. No sunshine for you, no warmth. It will just be a dark, empty world. Those clouds, all illuminated, seem to laugh at you. At your loss and pain. They turn all kinds of shades, from that irritating orange to an illuminated dark one to just clear blues. They confuse you, they play with your mind. One time the sun is staring directly at you, its light almost blinding you and the next it’s gone. At least you had someone before but now you’re left all alone with nothing but the dark skies above and the deep blue ocean below. Those dark puffed up clouds give you a sinking feeling, of loss and doom. You feel trapped by the scene, you want to get out but it won’t let you. But there is a hope. In those clear blue skies above. Yes they too will soon be gone but they will leave you with a hope, something to look forward to the next day. Yes, after every storm comes a rainbow and my rainbow will come someday soon too.