Your life is as long As takes to respond To the welcome iqamah You heard as a babe So weave through your time You’re waiting in line And when you arrive We’ll pray on your grave
How can you claim To praise his name For the rahmah that is his life Unless you knew What he said to The angel of the mounts at Tāif
Once upon a time there was a boy. He was a good boy. He had those eyes that rivalled suns. He had a forehead with little space for anything but overgrown locks of hair and transient evidences of frowns. It was a good forehead.
He was an extraordinary boy. He was bound for greatness. He would come to do great things as a man, perhaps command an army that would win him many wars, but not the usual kind of army or the usual kind of wars. He would come to be a good brother, a good son. He would grow up to be a good man, a good husband, a good father. Yes, he was bound for greatness, if the Lord from Whose Hand such things flow, willed it.
But for now, there he was.
Beside him, there was a table. It was filling up with desserts quickly. They were of different kinds. The boy was watching people bring more and more desserts to the table. He stopped watching the people after a while. He could not take his eyes off the sweets. There were chocolate chip cookies – the crunchy and mushy kinds – and coffee cake, and pound cake and walnut bars and kheer and sheer khurma and gulab jamun. The gulab jamun filled his eyes – like planets revolving around his solar pupil, drawn to it by gravity, destined to circumambulate and succumb to the heat of its gaze.
The boy waited till everyone went away from the table. When they had gone, he walked up to the table, removed the lid from the corning ware that held the gulab jamun and set it aside. He then picked up one sphere with his right hand and put it in his mouth. He pushed it in until the syrup-laden ball pressed into the back of his mouth and shrunk as the syrup drenched his tongued and flowed down his gullet. With his left hand, he picked up a second sphere and stuffed it into the right cheek, pushing it in firmly so that it sat lodged behind the rows of shiny teeth. Then with both hands he picked up a third sphere and placed it in this mouth allowing it to find whatever space it could to coexist with the others. Then he wiped his hands on his shirt and turned around.
There she was. A woman. She was the hostess.
She looked at the boy. Her mouth fell open. The boy looked at her. His cheeks bulged dangerously.
There was no room to move his jaws, but he chewed anyway. A little syrup escaped from a corner of his mouth. The woman stared. The boy tired of looking at the lady and ran away. She stood there a moment. Then she laughed. Something clanged somewhere and someone shrieked in laughter and the atmosphere of the party made them both forget everything.
But I wrote it all down for you.
Taken from my growing collection of short stories with a working title of Hawker’s Point and Other Boyhood Tales.
How can I being myself to count The many forms of love Of mothers tending babies And fathers burning nights Of brothers standing silent watch Over their brothers rights Of sisters gone downriver And queens becoming mothers Or a prophet drawing back The angel wrath above all others I’ll take the simple love of one For whom he’s never met From whom he has inherited A wealth of intellect Just sitting by his stock of fruit Qudūrī in his hands For time is his who fills it with A humbleness that spans Eternity, and angels marvel: Now there’s a love to love
Sin you mustn’t but sin you will So when you do plant a tree Of istighfār then spread your sins And spread them flat around the roots A filthy fertilizing mat For khalid, man you’re better than that
Come time Have a seat Dip your toes Wet your feet On the shores Of Eternity If you could learn To bide me
Take my weary body Dented by the world Shattered by disease Broken by the earth And make it whole again As whole as you decree That I may die a Muslim Your name my final word And I your slave submitting Ya Shāfī Ya Rahīm Take my weary soul Dented by desire Shattered by the whispers Broken by my nafs And make it whole again As whole as whole can be That I may walk in health And follow my Habib To where the fountain flows Ya Shāfī Ya Rahmān
There’s a pumpkin seed in my mouth. In fact, there are three.
There was a time I used to be conscious of hulling them inside my mouth and extracting the coveted kernels using the apparatus of my tongue and teeth. I don’t think about it so much anymore.
Did I mention I’m driving? I keep my hands on the wheel. I use the tip of my tongue to shelf two of the seeds into what I have come to call the attic, the elastic vestibule between my upper lip and teeth. The basement is empty for now.
The first seed has been deposited at the center of my tongue. It is sitting there for me to taste, to feel, to get to know a little better. A mad twenty-second sequence is about to begin as I court this pepita. Allow me a brief detour to give you a taste of what I believe is the primary component of our complex apparatus.
The human tongue. It comprises eight muscles divided into two groups of four each. The intrinsic muscles change the shape of the tongue while the extrinsic alter its position. Seven of these eight muscles are stimulated by the hypoglossal nerve that supplies the tongue with motor control, while only one is innervated by the vagus nerve, which communicates with the heart and stomach. This is a complex nexus of neural activity.
It follows then that seven eighths of this beautiful musculature are actively employed when we speak, and a smaller fraction when we eat. You may wonder about speaking and eating at the same time. If we think about it, we find that we don’t do that well. Even when we do it well, we’re just doing it concurrently, interleaving moments of articulation and mastication so that at any given time, we’re either talking or eating. When we manage to do them both at the same time, we are said to choke.
Daunted by the crazy complexities of tongue dynamics during speech, I have instead chosen to present the magnificence of this organ in all its muscular splendor by capturing the mechanics of something with which I am quite familiar: hulling a pumpkin seed. That is, without manual assistance.
First, I spend a couple seconds tasting the seed. If I encounter the smallest hint of bitterness, which happens one in a hundred times, I jettison the defective seed into my cup of waste with my tongue immediately dislodging number two from the attic. But if it tastes fine, then the next step is to turn the seed over and lap up as much moisture as possible off the genioglossus, the largest fan-shaped muscle that constitutes the bulk of the tongue. Duly marinated, I next test the seed for crackability, first elongating my tongue to press it up against the inside of my teeth, with the longer edges of the seed lined up between my incisors. If I can’t peel off the hull, I shuttle it over to my right molars and lodge it between the jaws to wield even pressure, whatever it takes to engineer that first crack. There are no crunching motions here. Any irresponsible violence and the kernel and its hull will be mashed together into an indecomposable pulp. We don’t want that.
If it still hasn’t given, then it’s time to swing the seed over to the left molars for the same treatment. All the while my tongue stands by, incessantly expanding, contracting, protruding, retracting through exertions of the superior and inferior longitudinal and transverse muscles. It’s like a live swiss army knife of sorts, switching between pick, press, mallet, scraper, vacuum cleaner, and crane. I run the seed by my incisors again, and this time the hull gives in to the persistent peeling. My tongue collaborates with my gums, squeezing down along the sealed edges to coax the kernel out of the opposite compromised edge, assisted by whichever tooth is down for it. The rest of the seed coat gradually tears away. The green treasure slides out.
In the interest of efficient garbage disposal, I stash the empty husk in the basement and proceed to mash the kernel, thereby awakening the vagal neural pathways. But my tongue knows no rest. I find that the second seed has been fetched from the attic and deposited at the moist center even as I consume the first one with relish. There is a lot happening behind the scenes. Let us exit this tour now and get some air.
We work hard in our quest for pleasure, be it in terms of health, wealth or the more rewarding pursuits of knowledge and understanding, the two brightest mile markers on the road to peace. We can’t afford to be rigid and set in our ways. We must be prepared to collaborate, to exercise intrinsic and extrinsic forces, change shape, expand, contract, twist, reach, exert pressure, and lavish love. The soft must work with the hard to produce whatever marvel of physics we may contrive to extract that prized kernel, preferably whole and untainted by husk parts.
The Arabs call the kernel the lubb. It is the thing worth getting, the thing that matters, the essence that lies at the center. It holds the substance. It is the inner meaning. Men and women urged by the Divine to their highest intellectual calling and their most magnitudinous purpose are addressed as Ulul Albaab, the People of the Kernel.
I will be on the road for fourteen more minutes. That means there is a pumpkin seed in my mouth. In fact, there are three.
There is one God Just ask your heart But only after it may start To beat the drum Of lasting Truth For that my friend Will outlast you The prophets came All men you know They came and went Like shepherds go Each looking over His own flock Reminding we’re Of one-God stock The last of them The Lord’s habīb A Rahmah unto All the worlds He came affirming What his brothers Told their flocks Who came before So listen to your heart my friend It won’t betray you in the end Hear its beat and heed its song There is one God and one alone Don’t wait too long
We love them all The immobilized uncle Who shouts his response blaring Salaam over the phone His hoarse tones streaking our ears Like syrup on pancakes The uncomplaining voice Of a dear cousin poorly faring Who does more with less How her words of shukr Lend her a regal bearing And the affectionate aunt Who braves crowds thronging At the rawdah swearing She won’t leave till Her eyes have their fill “Aayiram Kangal,” she said something declaring In Tamil verses of delight: “A thousand eyes couldn’t Take in this sight.” Lovers of salaam Lovers of shukr Lovers of the habīb SallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam