[it takes] All kinds of kinds

A collection of short stories in response to the works of artist Numair A. Abbasi

First published in the catalogue of  [it takes] All kinds of kinds for the artist’s solo show at Sanat Gallery, Karachi, in October 2015

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Sell it till your last days

Sell it till your last days

He is a balloon seller. He peddles balloons on his unicycle, straining to steady himself on the childhood device that he still puts to use. He feels his newly-acquired skill of absolute balance befits him; balance, not only of his body, with his perfect posture and uniform distribution of weight on both sides, but balance also of two very incongruent tasks: the quick-witted promotion of his colourful ware, while straining his eyes and body on a single wheel.

Cars whizz past, the roads are rutted and people ogle at him as he passes by. But he knows he will not give up till he sells every last one.


The ocean doesn’t want me today

The ocean doesn’t want me today

 And then, suddenly, there emanated a flash of lightning, and thunder roared across the skies. A moment of silence, and then, as if to mimic the sound of a radio jockey’s voice fading into an exuberant song, the gentle pitter-patter of rain evolved into a deafening downpour. Rain lashed across his umbrella as he waited. Minutes, days, weeks and months passed by as the puddles on the floor transformed into lakes, then rivers, then seas, till he finally found himself standing in the middle of an ocean. Still waiting.

He stood his ground. He understood it would be seasons before the water dissipated, but he knew he would still be here to see it when it happened.


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All work and no play makes everything f* suck

 All work and no play makes everything f* suck

He can’t do it anymore. He’s worked miles away for years; helmet strapped on, riding his motorcycle to the filthy warehouses, returning home only in the wee hours of the night. He’s done so because he has a family to feed. But he cannot take it anymore. He longs for something more from life. He seeks freedom, wishes for something more meaningful and superior, and burns for an existence that exposes his individuality. Something that allows him to breathe.

And so, as his brother hands him the keys to his brand new car, he tosses them into the air, straps his helmet on and, on his child’s scooty, rides away into the moonlight.


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He’ll do anything for the limelight

He’ll do anything for the limelight

“Of course, they’re all better than you. You’re a filthy scoundrel!”

“No one loves you.”

“Look at your older siblings; don’t you feel bad when you see what they’ve achieved in life? And look at you, such a nobody!”

These words are all he remembered from his childhood. He knew that today, he was a successful writer; quiet in his ways, yet loved for the bitter honesty in his words. He now had fame, fortune, and love.

And happiness? He didn’t know. What he did know was that when he put on his garb for those trysts with strange men and women in the blackest of nights, he felt a balm sooth the deep recesses of his soul.


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Honey I think the internet’s broken again

Honey I think the internet’s broken again

He wanted to be her: the voluptuous, sensational body, the bee-stung lips and the soot-black hair.

She was an icon, revered by the world, loved for her beauty, admired for her brilliance, celebrated for her existence.

He was a man, feminine in his desires, loved by no one, admired only by himself when the mirror reflected a red-lipped, pouting man with stockings on.

As the noose hung from the ceiling, he deliberated for a moment. His sweaty hands quivered and eyes shifted. The video camera was on, recording. Next to it was her poster, in her iconic pose that had caused such a stir on the Internet.

Tick tock, tick tock.

He now had to choose. The time had come.

And so he decided.

The camera captured him replicating her iconic pose, with the noose still hanging, but this time just as a prop.


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Not easy to spot a no ball delivery

Not easy to spot a no ball delivery

All his friends loved watching cricket. So did he. But he was never good at it. It was a shame to see them make run after run as he struggled with his no balls, LBWs and empty overs, being ridiculed and laughed at for his lack of skill. Recess and games class were uncomfortable for him, and he would find ways of avoiding them. He would spend long hours in the washroom, pretend he was sick, or use that time to do his friend’s homework in an empty classroom in exchange for some cash.

Time passed; he grew up and had his own kids. Luckily, like him they loved watching cricket, and better, they were also very good at playing it. They longed to hear stories of their father’s cricketing childhood. He obliged, crafting flowery stories of matches he never won, appreciation he never got, and titles he never received, just to see the delight in their sparkling eyes.

Then one day, the fathers organized a charity match in the school. The children insisted that he play; after all, all their friends knew about their father’s super sportsmanship. He agreed, but was nervous, not for himself, but for how his children would feel when they found out the truth.

Soon, the match began, and his children looked on, excited. He strove to do his best just for them. And for the first time in his life, he played remarkably well.

As he bowled and his children cheered on, the Umpire suddenly gestured-

*no ball*

The crowd went quiet. His insides churned, as he searched for his children’s expressions in the crowd.

In the next few seconds, after a slight commotion, a child’s voice was heard on the microphone,

‘We love you, papa!’

Tears in eyes, he played on.


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Lat uljhi suljha ja re balam

Lat uljhi suljha ja re balam

People asked him how his hair was always so perfect, how it was always in place, and how he never needed to brush or gel them. He boasted that he was blessed with good genes, having taken after his grandfather whose name had appeared in the Guinness Book of World Records for the sheer amount of hair on his head. He knew this was utter crap, but for his fellow simple-minded construction workers, anything said with confidence was taken as gospel.

One day, while working on an electricity pylon project, he lost his balance and fell miles down to the floor. People were shocked to see what had happened, even more so as they collectively lifted him up to see a shiny bald head instead of his usual thick tresses. Nearby, lay a wig.

Many months later, after hearing his story and helping him pay recovery bills for the terminal illness he had been hiding, his friends saw crops of hair growing from his scalp. And thence onwards, he always carried a mirror to work, feeling the prickly bristles on his head as he brushed and admired his new hair, grateful to his friends for giving him a new life.


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Little puppet don’t die

Little puppet don’t die

When he was a child he wanted to be a doctor like his mother. Everyone knew it was his life’s calling. Stethoscope plugged in, he would imitate her, going around the house pretending to check people’s heartbeats with his tiny hands.

When he grew up and became a renowned surgeon, he ended up having to remove his now-severely-diabetic mother’s leg that was dead with gangrene. Little did he realize, then, that a part of him died inside as well.


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Working out at the gym to fit my underwear

Working out at the gym to fit my underwear

He didn’t like the way he was looked at. His earliest memories of childhood were blurred, but they involved some sort of cornering, rough handling and strange behaviour by servants who worked in his house. He could not remember exactly what had happened with him, but what remained transfixed in his mind were the unwavering stares they often gave him as a little child that still made him feel sick.

When he grew up to become a handsome young man after years of training and taking care of his body, a fashion agent approached him to become a model. During his first shoot, as the photographer determined his poses while people and technicians stared on and a number of cameras clicked away, he felt the familiar nausea and turned away.

The next minute, he was gone.


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Hurry up now ‘cause I can’t wait much longer

 Hurry up now ‘cause I can’t wait much longer

He really loved her. She was the only one he adored. He would try to impress her by showing her how strong his biceps were, how deftly he could work as a mechanic, how many people swore by him as the best one in the area. She would smile at his words.

He really loved her but he didn’t have enough money. So it would break his heart every time she’d ask him when he would earn more so that they could finally get married. “Hurry up!” she’d say, “Before my father gets me married off to someone else. I can’t wait much longer.”

He really loved her, but love wasn’t good enough. So when he heard the news that she was betrothed to a much wealthier man, he cursed himself and wailed. He threw his dumbbells aside and did not work out for months. After all, he only did so to impress her.

He really loved her, but it was only when he caught sight of the shopkeeper’s daughter that he decided to give the dumbbells another go.


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The week ends the week begins

The week ends the week begins

As he hung his washed linen on the clothesline: orange, purple, faded yellow, black, underwear, socks, shirts, bed sheets, pillowcases, he had a strong sense of déjà vu. He stepped back to perceive the articles of clothing hanging limply; they were metaphors for his limited existence, and as he looked on, the clothesline seemed to stretch as far as his eyes could perceive, elongating farther and farther as it created lines and paths of its own, squiggly and varied and jagged and convoluting and audacious. But when his vision slowly cleared, the same line appeared to glide back into place, this time short, straight and to the point.

This was the difference between where his life was, and where it could be.

He decided he liked squiggles better.


[To see more of Numair A. Abbasi’s work, visit Behance.net/numairabbasi]

Unsolicited Ramblings II

Warmth. A moment of peace, as I feel the subtle heat of the keys beneath my fingertips. I inspect them- each key denoting a different letter, so geometrical, so precise. All laid out in neat rows, separated by crevices of silver aluminium.

There is an interruption: the untimely beep of the cellphone. I fight off the impulse to check it, but cannot. I check it. But as I put it down, it happens again. *Beep*. Irritation. This time, once it sounds, it does not stop. Stop! My brain repeats the beeps, duplicating them in my imagination; sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes, in successive repetition to mimic the urgency of an alarm, sometimes, after a pause of a few seconds. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

The beeping quickens into a single tone. It creates a unified, harmonious sound stretching and stretching further, till it becomes a continuous, constant note; fixed in its proportions, yet taking no rest. It reaches my ears, and I can hear it still, yet only in my imagination.

Is this the sound of the universe? 

How strange is it that I can see it? Indeed, it is not possible to ‘see’ a sound, though sounds can stir memories and conjure up images in ones mind. But is it possible to ‘see’ them in a real sense? Perhaps not.

Then what is this I see- that fixed, glowing line shooting up into the galaxy? Crossing planets of inextricable proportions, travelling through dimensions not yet discovered? It is pure light, of stubborn nature, determined to cut its way through vortexes and black holes, temperatures of unimaginable ferocity, and distortions of unaccountable definition.

Indeed, this sound is resilient. It is not part of its nature to do such things; yet, it perseveres to reach its destination.

Indeed, it will not stop till it dies.

Unsolicited Ramblings

I throw caution to the wind as I let my hair loose and see the blue ribbon flap against the sky. Outstretched, in linear rows are blooming flowers of white azaleas and daisies planted in the fall, now ready to give off their fragrance and die. Two paces ahead, I see children playing hide-and-seek, and as the older brown-haired boy lifts his arm up to keep the toy out of reach of the younger child, a gust of wind blows it out of his hand into the fallen leaves on the bench in the corner. As the scrambling ant traces its way back to its home over the bumpy toy, it gets lost in circular motion on the tyre, going on and on, completing cycles, in a futile attempt to move forward and reach its destination. The morsel it carries falls, and as I bend forward to pick up the blue ribbon that has flown away from my hand, the spaces I have traversed flash before my eyes in kaleidoscopic fashion; red and green dots dance to and fro, zooming in, zooming out, borrowing colours and discarding them, till my vision sharpens into the expanse of land that lies before me; first lush, now bare.

We are a society that does not forget. And as time passes and people and things grow old and wrinkled, the stories we remember alter and transform. What remain are the feelings we attach to them when they are sown into our minds. It is these emotions, coherent or vague, which remain fixed; settling deep below like a sunken ship into the dark expanse of the sea.

Thank you, Sabeen.

As I think of T2F (The Second Floor), I think of a sanctuary: a protective sphere that nurtures creativity, that fosters freedom of expression and that questions, breaks and reinvents the rules. An incredibly homely, yet dynamic place tucked into a corner of Phase 2 that one can visit just to read a book, to sip on coffee while strumming a guitar or playing a board game, or to chat with other creatives while enjoying the cafe’s delicious brownie. It is a place where creative ideas are born and enthusiastically put into action, away from the politics and materialism of the outside world. One can safely say that it is the only (and much-needed) space of its kind where poets, artists, photographers, activists, writers, musicians, singers, authors, art enthusiasts, students, basically all kinds of people seek creative refuge in Karachi; a city where the voice of the people is gradually being silenced, one step at a time.

Which is why it breaks my heart to know that T2F’s founder and director, Sabeen Mahmud passed away; gunned down for her activism and for providing a voice to those addressing pertinent issues of our nation. It is an unreal, hollow feeling. There are few who chart their own path and dare to dream; Sabeen was one of them, and the space she created and run with her team is a testament to that. And while my interaction with Sabeen has been limited, I have so much to thank her for over the past few years.

Thank you Sabeen, for T2F. It is a place that has opened my eyes to various kinds of music, films and art. I remember my first email to you as a second year student when I inquired whether my art school friends could have a fund-raising show at T2F for our school trip; you very kindly obliged and asked me to send in a proposal. I do not think I have felt as part of a creative family as I did when I took part in the various Jumma Hafta Art Bazaars, where numerous artists of all kinds successfully exhibited their work together in an environment that felt so inviting, open and carefree. Where there was no discrimination between what kind of artist could exhibit, and what their background was; if you were a creative individual who could make something good, you were welcomed.

Thank you Sabeen, for ‘Hero Worship’. When I was a third year student doing my BFA, it was you and your team who conceptualised a tribute to Pakistani cricketers, and gave me the opportunity of educating myself on the history of our cricket team, revisiting stellar moments from the past and putting them onto canvas as part of a solo exhibition based on them. Your team stood by me and supported me when resistance came from elsewhere, and made a budding artist believe that creativity is not, and should not be limited to institutions, galleries or art school graduates. By providing your space for my work and promoting it, you made me confident about my skills and encouraged me to do what I felt is right. Moreover, T2F played such an important part in teaching me, as a student, the practical aspects of art-making that institutions often ignore. I am surely better equipped now.

With Sabeen and Raania at JHAB 2.0, 2013

“Yeh kursi kaisey gir gayee??” With Sabeen and Raania at JHAB 2.0, 2013

Thank you, Sabeen, for having such an amazing team. The team of T2F two years ago that I often interacted with- Raania, Rabeea, Talha, even Chand Bhai (who greets you at the counter)- are such lovely people who have in one way or another, added something positive to my life or taught me something.

And lastly, thank you, Sabeen, for teaching me that breaking the rules is good. While I learn a lot about you from what others are writing today, I am inspired by your free spirit and courage. And while this sad, sad, incident makes me more sharply aware of the dangerous metropolis that my city is becoming, I think of the space you have created that, in its little way, is such a powerful force in a positive direction. T2F is where you will always remain alive, and I hope to forever be part of the continuum that takes it forward over the following years.

Hello world!

Writing is my no means a breezy task. Having completed a little more than a year writing reviews of art exhibitions in Pakistan, occasionally international, I would know. However, here lies the difference between writing about something you are paid to write about, and self-initiated blogging; figuring out what you truly want to write about just doesn’t come easy. Here I am, sitting, typing away, not knowing where to begin. However, what I know is this; something compelled me to come here and write.

What I do feel about why I chose to write is because there are just some things, experiences, moments or feelings that can not be expressed verbally. Perhaps I am afraid to express them to people for I feel they may not want to hear; they could find them irrelevant, uninteresting. Perhaps what I feel is unclear to myself. Or perhaps this blog is an escape of some form for me.  I’m not sure yet.

However, I am mighty glad to be here. While keeping a diary has never been my thing, it is exciting to know that my words will be read by many souls who may find something in them that they can connect with.

Here’s to the beginning of many more blogs to come!

Cheers xx

Made this in 2012