Gilded Letters


Hijab Imtiaz Ali

Summer Afternoon

Underneath a mulberry tree a bird weighs its wings and from guava branches green parrots unacquainted with the rules of music shrilly sing. It must be afternoon.


I saw my friend's pale face and said: All you gain from love is listlessness and shadows. Eradicate the word from the world's literature. Love spreads sorrow, struggle, conflict: it never gifts a moment of grace. Look, read the poem carefully: where you see love's ink smudging the lines, erase the verse.
      But my words made her shiver and in the garden she looked like a sliver of light cast by the moon on the grass. She answered: How would we live then in this darkness? What would life's upheavals mean to us? You perhaps can bear the darkness in a house without candles: but then you wouldn't be able to read the world's sacred texts, nor even — crazy as you are — would you see that in the book of songs beside your lute there are so many unsung melodies.
      I smiled when I heard her response, and pulled my blue silk shawl with its pattern of painted ships around my shoulders. Tonight she'd compared love to light. It was a charming notion.

Autumn Morning

That morning her face was pale and the sound of the wind was mournful like the echo of a dirge sung by a man sitting in a dark cave. I didn't say a word to her nor did she try to speak because we both agreed that two women in love should never talk to each other on bad-weather mornings. I stood by the window silent for a while counting the sea's mottled waves as she sat quiet on the couch plucking music from broken strings.

translated from the Urdu by Aamer Hussein