a good poet, a good human being …

Riffat Murtaza

Last night I was reading an Urdu newspaper, published from NY and saw a news about someone who every now and then when talking about the places we had lived in, would come in our conversation. Shkeel Aazad. He died a few days ago in New York. We don’t know when did he come to US but I remember he got our number from a friend and called once. After that he was lost to us. Also, there was never a friendship to keep a follow up. He was someone we knew from a place, and remembered him but for a beautiful she’r.

dat Brelvi and two others on the penal would discuss. I remember Shakeel Aazad standing on the other side of the glass door and listening. When we came out, he stepped forward and expressed his appreciation.
He was a good poet. Really good poet, but never got his due recognition. The newspaper reported that he was a famous naat reciter. He was; but he wrote some excellent ghazals too that I heard him reciting in AD mushairahs. Though the only she’r by him that I remember is naatiyah

اِک شب کے لئے یا رب ،تو اپنا قلم دے دے
لکھنی ہے مدح مجھ کو، کونین کے مالک کی۔

ik shab key liyay yaarab tou apna qalam de dey
likhni hey mdah mujh-ko konain key maalik ki.
Rest in peace Shakeel Aazad!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013.

musings …

December 2015

Last night I was lost in reading and forgot to look at the time. Finally, when I raised my head, it was 2 in the morning. Another late night despite my repeated promises to sleep early, I get lost in time. Collecting my things, I went to my room and while I was connecting my phone and the tablet to their chargers, the window opening on the east side, lit up for a moment. Car lights? But if it was a car, it was super silent. Then there was something else too. This window opens to our backyard and between our house and the houses on the other side, there is a big lake in between. No one has yet tried to drive a car on this lake … I looked through the blinds and was blinded by the brightness of the moon. “ kabhi kabhi aakhri tarikhon ka chaand chodhven key chaand sey ziyada roshan hota haiy” My nani ma said once while telling us a story. So how my window was illuminated? I will not even guess. Maybe there is a thing going between us – the moon and I. And on this night the Moon was in the mood for some friendly baat cheet !! I strongly believe that the universe is in constant dialogue:

کائینات میں کوئی بھی شے خاموش نہیں
کائینات بولتی ہے ، سنتی اور سوچتی بھی ہے
زمین اور آسمان کے بیچ کون کس کی بات سن رہا ہے ،
ہمکلام ہے ،
کوئی نہیں جانتا
مگر وہ جو مکالمے میں ہے ۔


We all are responsible for our deeds – misdeeds. If I do not like something , can I blame someone else for my dislikings? Again, if a Moulvi does something bad, can I say that it was because of religion so I will stop practicing this religion.! Going back to the example of Mahmood and Ayaz, I would say that the beauty of religion was to bring a king and his slave standing shoulder to shoulder. After the congregation, how a king treats his servant is his individual behavior.
And if it was below dignity , or the servant was treated inhumanely, how can anyone blame religion for this misconduct?
A short, short story .
Desire at heels.
I wanted to say, yes I feel, I feel all that you say, whisper, or send to me on the waves. It turns my knees to jelly. No, you do not know how I feel or what it does to me.
He laughed.
That booming, hearty laughter that always sent the birds in the trees to terror stricken flight.
Can these be good opening lines?
She didn’t reply.
Are you sulking?
At what ?
I do not know.
He kept thinking .
They both went after their thoughts.
Riffat Murtaza
Orlando night

An existential moment

It was a rare existential moment. A sudden realization of mortality, seizing to exist. washed away , gone – with no forwarding address. Jenny was almost in tears with disbelief. Al was sitting on the far end of a sofa in the other corner of the room, head bent and a lopsided smile on his old goat face.

maybe we are sitting in a transit lounge waiting for the bus to take us to the next stop or the destination. Yousef said with a nervous laugh. Then he got up and picking his car keys from the table he went to the door. I am out of here. Too depressing. Whatever time I have , I would prefer to spend it the way I want to spend it. and when the time came, I will embrace it quietly and annihilate. Simple as that. What good is talking about something not in my hands. . then opened the door and was gone swallowed by the night. we three of us sitting, quiet and lost.

hey, don’t worry kid, There are so many other worlds out there in space. maybe we have a home waiting there for us.

Without you, there is no home. Jenny said quietly. Al, who was getting up from his perch, sat back again. This can’t be it, for heaven’s sake. she said in a hushed voice – like whispering

Good Neighbors

Good Neighbors

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a small village named kasoor, there lived a sparrow called choon

choon and a crow called kaan kaan. Choon choon lived in a sheesham tree and kaan kaan lived in a

mango tree. You can say that they were neighbors. One day when the sun was out and shining bright

and the air was nice and cool and the bees were humming and collecting nectar to make honey and the

butterflies were flitting from flower to flower, choon choon called kaan kaan.

“ hi neighbor, are you at home?

Kaan kaan called from his mango tree.

“yes choon choon, I am here, sitting on a branch and enjoying this beautiful day.

“yes kaan kaan, isn’t it a lovely day; a lovely day fit for fun. Why don’t we have a picnic. Just sitting in

the trees is nothing but waste of a beautiful day. Yes why don’t we have a picnic.

“I think it’s a good idea choon choon. Lets have a picnic.

Okay kaan kaan, I’ll bring rice and you bring some lentils. We will mix rice and lentils and cook

khichri. Then we will go out to the river bank where there are beautiful trees growing and their

branches are almost touching the water. We will have our picnic there, high up in the branches and

maybe later on we will fly around in the sun or swing on the branches or take a bath in the river.

“sounds good to me. He said. “ then lets go to the market and get the stuff for our khichri. Choon choon replied.

They both flew away to the market. Choon choon went to the rice shop and kaan kaan to the shop

where all kinds of dry beans were sold. He bought some lentils from the shopkeeper.

When they were back, they decided to go to the backyard where there was a fire pit called chulah to

cook the food on. Choon choon brought a little pot from her house and started cooking the khichri in it

while kaan kaan sat nearby watching her and telling her about his neighbors – a tota family – living in

the oak tree next to his mango tree and how they always try to come to his mango tree when it is the

mango season – how noisy they are, always flying around, talking loudly.

“ and you know choon choon, they start flocking to my tree the moment tiny little mangoes start

peeking out of the mango ‘boor’ flowers. Of course being a kaan kaan myself, I do not eat mangoes but

it is my mango tree for crying out loud. Oh they are such free loaders.

Choon choon listened to his complains and at times laughed at the funny parts of his stories about the

tota family. They were actually parrots with beautiful green feathers and red beaks

“maybe you should make friends with them. They are your neighbors after all. Like you are my

neighbor and we are friends too.
“ we are different” he said.

“ of course we all are different but this does not mean that we cannot be friends.

“ Okay, okay is khichri ready yet?”

Choon choon laughed. “Yes it is ready. And now we can go to the river bank to enjoy it. But before

that I have to go to my house to wash my hands and comb my hair and maybe put on a little lipstick.

Then we shall take our pot of khichri and picnic basket to the river bank to enjoy our good food and

have fun in the sun.

“All right choon choon, go and tidy up yourself and maybe it’s a good idea to change your clothes as

well because you smell like khichri yourself. I have a very sensitive nose, you know.

“Okay, I think you are right. Anyways just wait here. I’ll be right back.

But when she came back, there was no kaan kaan and the pot was empty — all the khichri gone.

Choon choon was surprised to see the empty khichri pot. ‘What happened while I was gone? She

wondered. Maybe the shaheen eagle from across the road, living high up in the sweet gum tree ate our

khichri. I hope he didn’t eat kaan kaan as well. But then she remembered kaan kaan once telling her

that he was friends with Shaheen eagle. Can someone eat a friend? She thought. ‘No no, how can that

be? Friends don’t hurt each other. Then what happened? She sat beside the empty pot and kept


Finally she said that it was kaan kaan himself who ate the whole khichri and ran away.

She went to the mango tree and called him a couple of times but no one answered.

The next day she went to the market again to buy a few things for herself and saw kaan kaan sitting in a

shop talking to the owner. She went right up to him and stood in front of him.

“now there you are kaan kaan. Why did you eat all of our khichri and ran away? That was not nice you

know. You spoiled our picnic.

“I didn’t eat any khichri, he said and looked away.

Now please don’t tell lies. If you had told me that you were hungry, I would have told you to take a

little bit. There was plenty for both of us. Why didn’t you?

“I don’t know. Kaan kaan said.

‘I think I should teach him a lesson so that he never cheats anyone again. Choon choon thought to

herself then talked to kaan kaan.

“you are my neighbor and neighbors are like family. I want to stay friends with you. So kaan kaan, I am

inviting you to my house one more time to come and have dinner with me. lets forget what happened

and renew our friendship

“Really? Oh you are so nice. Okay so when do I come? Kaan kaan was really excited that choon choon

was not mad at him any more. “Come to my oak tree at 6’oclock and we shall eat together.”

“what would you cook?” he asked.

“That is a surprise, but I am sure you would like it. She said and smiled at him.

Then she said goodbye and did some grocery shopping and went home.

So the next day she made khichri again but this time she put a whole lot of red chili powder in it. Right

at 6 o clock there was a knock at choon choon’s door. She opened the door and welcomed her neighbor.

“Oh welcome, welcome. Please come in my good friend. I have been waiting for you. you came right

on time.”

“Thank you for inviting me choon choon.”

“You are welcome kaan kaan. Now have a seat and I will bring out the food”.

Kaan kaan sat down waiting for the food. He was – as always – really hungry. choon choon brought out

the food and they both sat down to eat. But one mouthful and kaan kaan cried out.

“Oh my God, oh my god. What have you put in the food, my tongue is burning. Oh my god. He grabed

a glass of water and drank it in one big gulp. “Oh my mouth oh my tongue. He was jumping all over

and his eyes were watering. Oh choon choon why did you do that to me.

“To teach you a lesson kaan kaan. You not only stole my food but told a lie too. Of course you ate all

the khichri and disappeared. I was worried. But then I called you and you didn’t answer I knew it was

you and not the shaheen eagle. And when I saw you in the market and asked you, you denied every

thing that makes you a liar as well.

Now you know what happens if you steal from other people or you tell lies. Your mouth will burn and

you drink lots and lots of water to make the burning go away. But drinking lots and lots of water will

make your stomach a water bag — see, this is what is happening to you.”

“Oh choon choon I am sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I promise I will never lie again.”

“And never steal the food again?” … choon choon said.

“Yes never.” he said.

“Okay kaan kaan I am sorry I put chili powder in the food but now I will give you something that will

make the chilies go away and you will feel good.

Then she went in again and came back with two bowls full of ice cream and gave one to kaan kaan and

took one herself. She sat down beside kaan kaan. They ate ice cream and talked and laughed and told

jokes and laughed some more. They were friends again.

They had many picnics after that and they invited each other over to their homes all the time. Kaan

kaan even allowed the noisy tota family to visit his mango tree to eat the mangoes, though he still

didn’t like their spoiling the tiny little mangoes coming out of the mango-boor flowers.

So the story ends with every body living happily ever after.

Riffat Murtaza

Copyright © July 2006

memories ….

Riffat Murtaza
July 1, 2014 ·
My day and the faces it bears

Twisters in Nebraska, scary sights and all the well wishers messaging to stay safe – don’t go out – find a shelter near you. Message after message from good people not even knowing who in particular they are talking to; just sending good wishes to total strangers. I have seen the same thing happening when tornadoes hit Florida. The support pouring out from all over the country. Not just stay safe messages but actual help with money, necessities, clothing, sheltering homeless families …. total strangers !

But are we really strangers? Doesn’t humanity bind us to each other. One person in distress in any other corner of the world and a chain of human links suddenly comes alive. But if we as humans are linked then why this is only limited to the western countries? Aren’t we humans or human enough in the East? I have seen a man in the East going out of his way – I mean really going out of his / her way to help, to accommodate someone with white skin and golden or brown tresses, and if the eyes are blue, then it is like ‘ wajib qurbatun…’ to be a carpet for that ‘god or goddess’ ! Well if we go to the north of our country, we would see plenty of green and blue eyes, fair skin and golden tresses . So? Is it because they are usually in tatters? And we take them as poor brats, fit for a noukar /noukrani job in a SAHAB’s posh home and God forbid – if breaking some crystal vase then getting hacked or burnt alive !! Once I even read a semi famous poet writing about his wait for his ticket in a foreign transit lounge, like he already had a long standing love affair with the woman at the ticket counter. He was almost feverish with anticipation that soon he would be talking to the “ma’shooq”

Oh, I was on twisters, and sirens. Basements and shelters and human chain. That day has passed. There was no news of any big damage. Relieved to read that!

The next page! “ Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Ferozsha Baag “by Rohinton Mistry – the best fiction writer in present day writers.
________ “ The World can be a bewildering place and dreams and ambitions are often paths to the most pernicious of traps “ Mistry writes in … Ferozsha Baag. I have to have this book, I wouldn’t rest till I have this in my hands and with a pillow behind my back, reclining on my recliner, lost in its pages. My friend Parvin and I meet once a month and talk about books we have read, book we are on and the new addition in our list of books we plan to read one by one. She thought I was an “ aflatoon” in the world of lit before we met. But now I think she is even a bigger “aflatoon” Our love of Rohinton Mistry bonded us right away.

I march from room to room … my little girls are off to Canada, visiting their nani and khala.
I do not like an empty house where every little sound makes an echo and silence stands still. I like peace and quiet, – specially at night; but love and enjoy their playful talks and peal after peal of laughter resonating in this big house during the day. Sitting in my far side of the house, I am always aware of their lively chatter, their laughter, their playful teasing of each other or running around on their soft , padded little feet! I think there is something magical about little girls.

Another page.

Sometimes ago I ‘LIKED’ a page. It is “ Rain Gutter Grow System Group Page “ because I love plants and trees – fruit trees , vegetables , herbs, flowers and shrubs. Love of greens is in my blood; inherited from my mother. So I liked this page where everyday people show their daily crop of tomatoes, peppers , buttercup squash, berries. They even grow herbs in water bottles. They cut the bottle in half, fill it with soil and ….

Ah the soil!!

And one afternoon, forgetting my ordeal – five years ago – with a certain skin problem, caused by rain water collected in puddles and I stepping in that, I dirtied my hands with potting soil. Now I am paying the price for being lazy to fetch my garden gloves. My hands are itchy; sooo itchy! I wash them with dead sea salt mixed in water, dry them, put medicine on them and then pull on cotton gloves; in this Florida heat! Even my soap is some special kind for washing them. PLEASE HELP ME ALLAH. I cannot go on like this … I beseech Almighty day and night …. medicine does not seem to work – yet.
I got this gardening bug from my mommy dearest. But then she went a step further and gave me a soft, delicate and extremely sensitive skin. Thanks mama and now I can only say – rest in peace!

A page ahead is Kafka casting a shadow on my day.

“No” said the priest, “you do not need to accept it as necessary.” ”Depressing view “ said K . “the lie made it into the rule of the world “

So true and I still have not finished the essay I promised I would write. Problem # 1 is my hands. I cannot write even a page in one sitting.. My poor fingers start itching and if I make the mistake of scratching even a bit, there will be no end to it

Problem# 2 is – I am losing my Urdu vocabulary.
Why so?
Because !.

Criticism is not bad. It actually helps people learn or improve; sometimes both. But when criticizing is just for criticizing , its not beneficial to any one. Its called bashing. Bashing for some hidden agenda.

Pakistan is going through a very hard time and this, in my opinion is the time to help this ailing country but I see people just sitting on the sidelines, watching and issuing political fatwas and the nincompoops they have collected around them, doing wah, wah at every absurdity that is uttered. These are no friends of Pakistan. One of my friends thinks they are the worse kind of enemies ….

” jis plate mein khatey hein osi mein sorakh krney mein lgaiy hein … jis darakht par baithey hein osi ki jarren bhi kat rahaiy hein …”

The energy they are wasting; bad mouthing the people in the government or some – not in the government but a political figures none the less. Any mention of any name and their hate machines would come in action. Other days, they would just ridicule just about any body and anything ; heck they never are supportive of anything..

So I turned away and started growing organic herbs. I know working with soil is kind of risky for my hands but if I be careful the soil will become friendly too. Soil is one’s destiny. We grow roots in the soil we live on. Wouldn’t it be better to nurture than hurt those roots.

I hope one day their conscience would question did they do anything to help build the country? Did they do anything positive? Making fun all the time, of everything is so easy but getting off of the haunches and extending a helping hand needs effort and a will to help move forward. Don’t tell me that your fore fathers sacrificed their lives to make this country because in turn I would ask you to think that their sacrifice made sure you had a safe and secure independent place to live and raise your children. What are you making sure for your children and their families?

Please don’t take this country for granted!!

July,1, 2014

Nay Af , a ray of sunshine …

“Dedicated to you”, A Ray of Sunshine

by Nayyar Afaq
Sat. March 23, 2019
10:27 PM
کہکشاوں کے پُل سے
چاندنی کے دھارے پر
کئنات کےسب سے
آخری کنارے پر
روشنی جگاتی ہو
تم جو مسکراتی ہو

Oh wow Nayyar, this is beautiful.
بہت شکریہ

nargis kay phool …

This day last year!

An overcast sky is hanging over the lake. Every now and then there is a sprinkle of tiny droplets. It was the same last night. I could hear the rain falling softly. There was no other sound. Being acutely aware of a familiar tug at my heart,I put the book on the table and let myself go adrift on overwhelming wave after wave of times that once were.
I had a long talk with my son before he headed back home. Every week, when he comes visiting us, I always have this special time with him. Family dinner, gup shap after the table is cleared, tea/ coffee. then the girls, their baba and chacha play board games. I still remember the awe on the chacha’s face. When the games ended and saying good night both the girls went into their room for the night, he came and said “she beat me three times! never letting anyone win! what kind of an eleven year old is she” I laughed.

So, everyone calling it a night went to their rooms leaving us two sitting and talking.

We had an enjoyable talk with him, and after he left, brought my book to the family room and reclined with book in my hand. There was no way I was going to read anything tonight. Our conversation had stirred something in my memory and now the old log was open and demanding my attention.

And the rain was falling. Thinking about Pakistan, thinking about Wah and Islamabad, I fell asleep. When I came up again from the depths of a spell, it was three in the morning. I remember the last image flashing before my eyes closed again was my mother,s blooming garden in Wah and someone working in the flower beds. Zarrin Khan, no doubt. Who else could it be?

In the afternoon, I was at Lows garden section, buying flowers, then went to Home Depot to buy more plants, potting soil, special fertilizer for Bougainvilleas. Trellises. And a special something that I had thought about last night … the Daffodil bulbs. We call then Narcissus. They grew in abundance in my mother’s garden!

Yes, Narcissus – Nargis kay phool!!



moments …

moments …

Is being spontaneous good or bad? Sometimes I want to do something instantly. Without thinking or planning. I mean one moment you think about something and the next moment you are doing it, with full involvement.
Like – want to go some where?
okay, go, hit the road, face whatever meets you on the way. Maybe something not nice, maybe something extra nice… you never know. It’s the surprise element that is exhilarating…. not knowing becomes all the more fun. That used to be me – to some extent – still am 🙂
When I got married, my husband had already planned a honeymoon in Nathiya Gali. I told him I had thought we would cross the country on a motorbike stay at hotels on the way. Have breakfast at the truck stops. Make new friends. No it never materialized. We went to Nathia Gali, alright !

But why a motorbike? Well my older brother – a lot older than me had a Vespa. He once, to celebrate the Eid with the family, came to Lahore from Islamabad on his blue Vespa. He reached Lahore in the early hours of the night and not wanting to disturb anyone, took out his night gown from the bag and pulled the Adirondack porch chairs, face to face, slept the remaining night wrapped in his warm gown, on that makeshift bed. Was it December or some other cold month, not sure. I thought it was so adventurous and romantic. and one day I would also do that.
The following year we went to Karachi. Traveled a thousand miles in our car. It was fun but well planned fun. Then came the children and spontaneity was history.

In my married life, so far I have met just one couple who thought about something one moment and were doing it the next moment. That was another time in another country.

I met them in a party. Nice friendly couple, recently married. I invited them over for dinner the next day. We told them where we lived. I asked the girl wouldn’t she want to write it down? her husband smiled and said no need, we are born navigators. True to his words the next day at the appointed time, the bell rang. The door was opened and there they were. As they told us later , they had already come to our house previous night. At midnight when the party broke, they followed the address they thought they understood from the conversation; and came driving to the door to confirm. They wanted to do that to test their qualification of reading a map – just for …. fun? And then go back home.
The same couple was suddenly missing from the scene. No one had a clue where they were. Finally someone went to their house to talk to the house help. ” I don’t know janab, but they are coming back tonight and want their room cleaned and dinner ready. ”
It so happened that one night they were watching some documentary about Hunza Valley, the people, their way of living, traditions, their longevity, health, food etc. and they became so enamored with what they saw; they just up and left for Pakistan and from there to the Valley, they said.
Well, when there is a will, there always is a way.
All that we need is a will.
Got it ?
Yes. Got it.

Oh, I didn’t mean that if you have got THE WILL. I meant did anyone get what this story is saying ? Or maybe it is the same 🙂

Riffat Murtaza

a sad day …

I hope mood improves tomorrow.

A real sad, melancholy day. I stumbled on a page and froze.

میں اک شہاب ِ شکستہ تھا ا فتخار مغل
بجھا ضرور مگر خوب جگمگا کے بجھا

Because of him I could not write for one whole year.. He liked my stories, claimed that he always read my story before looking into other writings. But about one story he wrote that it just blew his mind and heart away and after that one story, it had become hard for him to appreciate stories by other people. I had never met him, not even seen his any photo anywhere but this claim and then in each issue of Funoon, he would talk about it. I was happy, I liked what he said but then I developed a kind of احساس ِ کمتری .I started doubting my ability to write. Every time I started a story, I just panicked, and threw it in the bin. I finally Wrote about this ابتلا to Nadeem Qasmi sahab . He published that letter in اختلا فا ت . I don’t know what made him to publish it but that became the turning point and I slowly came back.

The year I was planning on going to Pakistan, I had decided to see him in Abbottabad where in a monthly mushaira he used to go to recite his poetry.
I called to find out when were they having mushaira and make sure Iftikhar Mughal was there. There was a long silence and finally. ” I am sorry Riffat, but he is no more. He passed away two weeks ago

ہمارے دل میں کہیں درد ہے؟ نہیں ہے نا
ہمارا چہرہ کہیں زرد ہے ؟ نہیں ہے نا

سنا ہے آدمی مر سکتا ہے بچھڑتے ہوئے
ہمارا ہاتھ چھووؑ، سرد ہے ؟ نہیں ہے نا

سنا ہے ہجر میں چہروں پہ دھول اڑتی ہے
ہمارے رخ پہ کہیں گرد ہے ؟ نہیں ھے نا

this ghazal is written in his own hand and looks like it was not complete yet..

I spent my day just reading him the more I read the more heart broken I felt.
A profound feeling of loss. A regret and so much more!

Rest in peace Iftikhar Mughal Your words would keep your name alive.