urdu: an ode

This is the last poem
I will write to myself
and it’s going to be sloppy
because I do not quite remember
who I am anymore.
And I swear this doesnʼt
have to do anything with negativities
and I will not ask for help
because I need no saving.
See Iʼve learnt, that pain and
expression are two variables,
inversely proportional to each other
from the math I wasnʼt taught.
That everytime it hurt
I knew of lesser words to say
and the numbness made it worse.
My heart is like an exaggerated weird bubble trying
to be blown into the breeze
only this is a hurricane
and Iʼm scared itʼs going to explode.
My name would want to disown me
considering the expectations of living an antonym in a place
where Iʼm supposed to be.
Itʼs like Iʼm reading my favorite book
over and over again
that I know before hand,
which character gets killed
and in which sentence
but still cannot stop the killing.
It’s like the story doesn’t make sense at all anymore
it’s starting to sound like my own.
So I put the book down.
Leave one half
live the other
by writing a poem
to myself.
It’s kind of special
because this is my first.

© Tabassum Sultana



urdu: happiness

I like urgent people who are harmless.
People whose blood contains more impulsiveness than haemoglobin.
People who give in to their spontaneity because that’s how they roll.
People who instantaneously close their eyes and pray when they hear the siren of an ambulance.
People who finish a book in one sitting. People who burst into laughter, unapologetically.
People who are quick to compliment when they spot something beautiful.
Those that are swift to praise over a text that they make typos.
Abba eating a plate of mangoes—like summer isn’t going to come anymore.
My little niece’s with crayons.
Strangers with effortless smiles.
Those who are emergent in their kindness.
Those that hurry to help.
People who do not think a moment to be who they are.
Those that burn with an aura that scathes nobody.
People who have that look in their faces like they can conquer the world, without war. People who are immediate.
People who revel in their chaos and hurt none.

And I like those that take their time.
People who pause and think before they say something nice.
People who let the situation absorb them. Those that delay a little to reply till the right words come to them.
Those who do not pluck flowers but wait,
and string together for you the most beautiful wreath with the fallen ones.
People who are gentle with their love.
Those who are calm and soft.
Those that will look into your eyes for a while before breaking into a smile.
People who hesitate a bit because they’re secretive like that with their stories.
People who’ll stand up and applaud for you after the entire audience has left.
Those that would fill your quiet void when you’ve been expecting it the least.
Those who build the suspense only to make the surprise worth it.
People who shadow their tenderness with silence before they’re ready to reveal their true colors.

I like those that react and those that respond.
But most of all I love it when the rapid natured ones time out, and the cautiously trained ones, rush and spill about.
I mean if I ever sat conversing with both these people at once, then I’d live to see the moment in which they’d switch spots, without rising.

© Tabassum Sultana


Urdu: necessity

Mother recites the grocery list like a poem:
“Dal 1kg, salt 1 kg”,
the measurements
weighing heavy on her tongue
“a loaf of brown bread,
a milk carton
eggs 2 dozen.”
mother numbers all of them
rapidly in one breath
like she would forget if she paused.
Mother’s poem is hardly worded with spaces.
In her head are images of the kitchen
that she sees with her eyes closed
scanning shelf by shelf
mentally undressing containers
to see what is missing and where.
Mother’s grocery list is a poem she recites,
a poem she words,
and I give spaces to
on a piece of paper.
This is mother’s poem.
It won’t be ours.
But mother does not realise this.
She is only intent on delivering the list of things the house is running out of
or lacks,
mother’s poem is a voiced out rescue operation that she wants me to record,
mother’s poem is a hurried response to concern,
mother’s grocery list,
much like a poem, saves.
Mother does not know this.
“Flour 5kg,a can of cooking oil, fruits—apples oranges bananas…did you write sugar? Write sugar”.
I write: Sugar
Mother’s poem lacks rhyme
And some times,
it begins to sound more like a senseless monologue of a woman listing grocery items stucktoeachotherandjustwouldnotseparate,
a woman who knows how much sugar to add while making dessert but doesn’t remember what it tastes like,
a woman who remembers to buy fruits for the family
and forgets to buy iron deficiency pills for herself,
a woman who has given so much into saving others that she has forgotten her own existence,
a woman who has lived not for herself;
that her poem,
her only poem is outofbreath.
Her only poem, has become her grocery list.
Her only poem is for her son’s.
Her only poem is for her daughters.
Her only poem is for her husband.
Her only poem is to take care of them.
Sometimes mother’s grocery list lacks so much rhyme
that I start to wonder if it’s a poem at all.
On days like this,
I feel that a grocery list and a poem cannot mutually coexist in similar terms.
That the only purpose they do exist,
is by necessity.
So on days like this, I stop writing.

© Tabassum Sultana

Post Ramadan Reflection

There are many qualities that I believe we,
as individuals, should strive to acquire. However, there is one value that I’m beginning to understand, out weights the rest in relationships with ourselves as well as the others.
And that value is effort. Because without it, no other value would matter.

You see, we are each born and raised to have different traits. Some of us are athletic and others are academic. Some of us are loud and some quiet. Some of us strong, and some vulnerable.

The simple fact of life is that it takes a combination of skills and attributes in order to survive and thrive.
The wolf with the sharpest teeth would die of starvation if he was a slow runner.
Thus, we find conflict.

Some of us find it difficult to study for tests or to sit still in a class, while some of them cannot let go of their bad habits or push themselves to be more better.
Some of us couldn’t care less about the hardships of others, while some of us worry so much about others’ needs that we forget our own.
Some of us don’t even realize the damage we cause to the people we love and some of those do not even know how to tell them to stop.

See, it’s fine to have personal flaws – that’s what being human means – but if we do not put forth effort to better ourselves in such areas, we end up becoming one of those people. The person who thinks little of others becomes the heartless jerk. The person who thinks only of others gets taken advantage of. Toxic, to ourselves as well as those around us.

It’s a constant challenge to work on our weaknesses and it’s one that we will never completely overcome, but that we must put forth effort into if we want to reach our potential.

Making an effort isn’t for others. It’s something we do for ourselves.
To become better than who we were yesterday.
Without effort, you might end up being someone who you can live with.
But with effort, you will end up being someone who you can be proud of. Forget about the others, do it for yourselves.

All that you do, do with your might. Things done by halves,are never done right. All of your efforts matter and they all add up to the life you are living today.
I wish you a happy start to a new month after Ramadan. You got this! 🌼

© Tabassum Sultana


Urdu: dream

I think what kills dreams
Is not the lack of hope
Or even the lack of opportunities
It’s the realisation,
That you have responsibilities.
I think what kills dreams,
is knowing
That your life is not yours alone to live,
You have the ones who raised you
And the ones you have to raise.
I think what kills dreams,
Is knowing that dreams take much
more than you can give.
I think what kills dreams
Is a personal weakness,
an ache that cannot help.
Killing dreams is easy
because every one knows
living dreams, comes with a price
A price, not everyone can afford to pay.

© Tabassum Sultana

Ramadan Reflection

We must know that all that we experience in life has a purpose. And it is we who choose whether to realize that purpose or not.

Take for example, beauty. Some people don’t even recognize beauty when it’s right in front of them.
They can walk through a sunset or a brilliant forest of orange trees, and not even notice.

Other people see beauty and maybe even appreciate it. They will stop and take it in. They may even feel overwhelmed by it. But it ends there.

That person is like the one who appreciates art, but never inquires about the artist. The artwork itself was intended to communicate a message from the artist; but if the art lover loses himself in the painting—but never sees the message, that artwork hasn’t fulfilled its true purpose.

The purpose of the glorious sun, first fallen snow, crescent moons and breathtaking oceans is not just to decorate this lonely planet.

The purpose is far deeper than that. The purpose is as Allah told us in the Qur’an (3:190) –

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding.”

All this beauty was created as a sign—but one that can only be understood by a select group: those who reflect (think, understand, use their intellect) and remember God in every human condition.

So, even the sunset must be looked through. Even there, we cannot lose ourselves. We must look beyond that majestic beauty and color, to see the message behind it.

For the message behind it is the True beauty, the Source of all beauty. All that we see is only a reflection.

We must study the stars, the trees, the snow-capped mountains in order to read the message behind them.

But what is that message, stuck inside the intensity of stars?

There is a sign—but a sign of what?

These signs are a pointer to Him, to His greatness, His majesty, His beauty. A pointer to His might and His power.

Study, reflect, absorb the beauty and the majesty of what’s created—
but don’t stop there.

Don’t lose yourself in the apparent beauty. Look beyond it and think to yourself.

If the creation is this breath taking, how beautiful must our Creator be?

© Tabassum Sultana



Iʼll tell you about this one time I
picked a delicate petal
that fell from the sky of a bougainvillea tree onto the dirt of the earth
and no one noticed.
No one did,
because what interested them
were the ones that were still
young and alive,
clinging onto
their parent plant in clusters
huddling together so close
with sunlight on their purple skin,
that they made all of them want to take a picture,
just one for memory.
Not a moment frozen in time,
But just another square block in their phone gallery.

I swear I saw no eye ever,
fall upon the solitary, faded purple patch on the soil just beneath,
detached from the family tree.

Oh, there were no eulogies written,
no ballads sung for the tragedy.
Every soul shall taste death,
I know,
I do,
but the fight really matters too.

And so I scooped up the withered finesse in my opened palm,
the veins did not bleed nor did it lose itʼs calm.
Nobody attended the funeral,
it was just me, and of course, my little fighter friend.

Absolutely no tears were shed,
‘dead things donʼt stay dead too long’ Iʼd once read,
and so I put it to sleep inside the darkness of a pocket in my bag
till it needed awakening.

then a lot of moments went by.

Until when I scooped it up again today and held it before the light.
I was amazed, I really was,
and I know you wonʼt believe this tale,
but honestly,
very honestly,
my fighter turned out to be a dragonʼs scale.

© Tabassum Sultana



The Qur’an says that hearts
rust just like iron
and I wonder if itʼs because
of the haemoglobin in our blood
that the process happens
when touched by water.Water, according to science,
makes up sixty percent of my body
which is probably the reason why
the fire in my heart
does not survive.
Maybe this liquid state
is whatʼs making me flow
from high to low
low to lower
and lower to lowest
taking shapes
of everything Iʼm poured into
and everything thatʼs poured into me
creating an identity
through a mould.
Rust associates with iron,
Which the Qur’an and science say,
comes from the stars.
Modern poets tell me
that stardust runs in my veins
that Iʼm a space child
that Iʼve got the universe inside me.
According to Hubbleʼs law,
the universe is constantly expanding
and Iʼm guessing Iʼve been occupying more space than Iʼve been allocated.
I mean this void is too large
and my organs seem like
distant planets floating
in a galaxy thatʼs unknown to me.
I mean that at a certain point
I would forget their existence.
They speak of distance and heartbeats in numbers
and Iʼm bad at math.
Bad mathematicians say they love you
to the moon and back
without taking any steps.
Bad mathematicians have rusted hearts.
Bad mathematicians in a way,
are bad scientists too.
And much worse poets.
Their words are poor weapons.
They donʼt understand
that at a certain point,
the expansion will stop
and the universe will freeze.
They donʼt understand
that when a star dies,
its own weight of gravity
will cause it to crush
and collapse.
Bad mathematicians and bad
scientists wish upon these stars.
Their bodies become black holes
and black holes suck.
It becomes dark.
Fire is a source of light
and all I can see are oceans.
They try to diss my volcanoes
and turn my rust to stone.
But let the water make through,
let it break loose
and devour my sea of flames
because dying beauty
has an aura of its own.
So let the water douse me.
For in my death
shall I be most alive.

© Tabassum Sultana


urdu: separation

Being in your early 20s is like a flash of a polaroid, which passes by like a flash.

I have always believed that some of the major events in our lives happen in a matterof seconds.
You wake up one day and realize
that you no longer feel love for a person;
you are drinking your evening tea
when you finally realize
that you have grown cold.

I believe being in 20s is like one of those events where till the last second
you can’t accept that you will no longer be a college kid anymore
and then it hits you in the face
like an accident in the papers
where the car was reduced to pieces
and no one survived.

I talk about 20s like a disaster,
like a murder of sorts and I am often told that I like dramatising life
and maybe that’s true
but at the end
you feel what you feel.
I think it is more about
looking back at your life until now,
like the end of an age.

The whole movie plays in your head
trying to condense it in a two minutes sequence and there is a whole movie ahead and it is scary or maybe the better word is overwhelming.

I think we become less of something
as we grow old and I don’t know what that something is but we just grow less and less and less.

In the past twenty two years,
I have been full and I have been empty.
I have felt colours sprouting from within me and looked at the world in monochrome.
I have lived and I have felt like dying
and it feels like all of it is coming to a close.

The curtains are slowly dropping.
Closing in to mid 20s is like the final draft and I want to be stuck on the first one when words are raw and vulnerable without any editing.
At the end, I do believe that like all things, we all get used to life,
and turning 20s and 30s and 60s
becomes a habit so you place the gun at your head but make sure you don’t press the trigger.

So you sulk about turning twenty three or four or five
and then try being nineteen
the next day when no one is looking.

© Tabassum Sultana


urdu: love

While talking to my cousin over call
on his 23rd birthday,
I find out he has fallen in love
or so he says.
I ask him the girl’s name and he fumbles
for an answer.

As if the name isn’t already etched beneath his tongue,
as if it isn’t already the pollution of this city;
choking the oxygen out of his lungs.
As if it isn’t his notebook’s last page
that he throws into the dustbin every evening,
As if it isn’t the song on his playlist that he listens to while coming back home.
As if it isn’t the way back home;
as if it isn’t home.

My cousin fumbles for an answer,
and in that brief moment
I think up some quirky metaphors
to throw into the pot of past
and stir up a love poem for my readers.
I remember a friend who had said that “only the people who have never been loved enough can write love poems”,
I remember this because she could never write one,
and it made her bitter as hell.

Finally he lets out a sigh,
but never the name.

I wonder what is wrong with pollution
if you’re used to it
like the three boiled eggs he tells me he eats every morning to grow some muscle,
I wonder what is wrong with love
if you gulp it down your throat
like the tablets that are supposed to help with depression;
which don’t taste bitter,he says.

But I also wonder:
what do those three boiled eggs do?
Is he more stronger the next morning?
What do those two tablets do?
Is he happier the next night?

What does love do?
What does love do?
What do you do?
Do you wear a mask to keep the oxygen in and the pollution out?
Does the mask work?
Do you survive?

Or is your mouth lined with ulcers now?
Is your chest full of tar?

I’ve asked too many questions I guess,
but let me ask you this one last thing:
are you sure,
that the pollution,
the name etched beneath your tongue,
the page that you tear from your notebook,
the songs on your playlist that you listen to on the way back home,
the way back home;
the home,
is it all really love?
Or is it just your loneliness needing someone again?

© Tabassum Sultana