Desert Soil

A Poem

By Karak Mufti


They cast me into the desert!
So I roam,
Reeling from the rotation of the revolting sands beneath my feet
But why do they revolt?
Desert sand is meant to be kind
A gracious host to the cactus, steadfast among others
It takes the winds an age to craft the most perfect dunes,
But even the slightest, most gentle touch
Can destroy the painstaking work of long afternoons.

Dawn harshly greets me with the sun:
This is not sand.
This was soil.
And for soil to create life, it needs nutrients
And moisture.
Like humans, what makes soil revolt against its nature
Is thirst,
And hunger.

I see him walk towards me,
And I wonder:
Is this reality?
Do deserts of dead soil create mirages?
I hear him:
“Upar di gur gur di annexe di bedhiyana …”
A familiar sound, but not.
Like the soil, has my mind began to rot?

“Sat sri akal sardar ji!”
I say, as he notices me
Bishan Singh, among the nothingness
Mindful babbling, in the callousness
Of this being,
Of this presence.

I blink, and he is now a metre away
He exclaims:
“Kahaan hai Toba Tek Singh?!”
“Where is my home?”, I then say
Bishan Singh takes another step in my direction
Realising that we live the same dejection
I ask him what he remembers of Fazal Din?
Of his lands? Of his girls?
Bishan Singh throws himself to the ground
Then looks up
Bloodshot eyes replaced with pearls:
“Aap samajhte hain?”

Bishan Singh mumbles his sad declarations
As the once alive soil below continues its rotations.
Bishan Singh describes his time and his world,
He berated the “sanity” that he was deprived from
When he was told that it all made sense outside of Lahore Asylum.

I put my hand on his shoulder to comfort him:

“I have read all the books of people,
And I have read all the words of the powerful,
And I promise you, my brother, Bishan Singh,
That most people do not know anything,
And those who know with their heart
Even the most minimal of truths
Are condemned to roam the cities and the towns,
And those who witness the insanity of these lives
Are banished by the men of crowns
To this now-barren wasteland,
Whose soil once created life,
Stolen in the name of peace,
And left to suffer this abhorrent pain.
People like us now bear witness
To the abandonment of peace’s abundant rains
That once fed this garden of the dead”.

I am no more insane than he,
And he is no more insane than I.
We have been cast to this desert
As the world continues to happen around us,
As so-called intelligent men meet in secluded rooms,
As they send people like us to the asylums, to the deserts, to our doom …
The sites of their greatest destruction!
They call us ungrateful, lunatics even!

As they plan to challenge the Earth’s rotation,
Let them forget, at their own peril,
That these ambitions are not great, but feral,
And while this sterile soil may not create life easily,
It at least reminds me,
As the Earth rotates so violently,
That there is no challenging time.

We are still here, I and Bishan Singh,
In this desert that belongs to no man
In this garden that contains no plants
Cursing the futility of clarity
And praying for the arrival of rain.