Tag Archives: Mehreen Ahmed

The Portrait by Mehreen Ahmed first published by Straylight Literary Magazine (Magazine Currently Offline). Republished with Spillwords press.

12 Apr

 

The Portrait
by
Mehreen Ahmed

Synopsis: A portrait of an artist’s thoughts while she paints a building. It’s not just the building she paints, but life as conceived in the abstraction of cosmic colours. A full spectrum of rainbow colours depicted to create life, and other forms of transformations.

On the crossing of Victoria and Harriet Street stood a massive block of grey apartment building. Up in the front of each flat, balconies jutted out like open matchboxes, creating a blind spot for the incoming traffic. It posed an undeniable threat to the traffic on the road. Notwithstanding, the building had much to offer in the way of charm.

It would have looked quite stark, had it not been for the indoor plants and furniture. Some balconies had synthetic black chairs placed around a white table of six. Others had two strong wooden benches to seat eight people abreast. Or maybe a couple more could squeeze in too. Commonly, all the flats had plants of many shapes and colours. Bunches of scarlet geraniums, white and yellow chrysanthemums hung over the balcony rails. Rows of vines and ferns trying to reach out to the sky. The beauty of the building was enhanced by such motley colours of each of these early blooms. The blind spot made the traffic slow down, that’s true, but they could not take their eyes off the balconies’ vibrant beauty either. Each driver that passed by had a peak through the windscreen, gazing at it at least once.

An artist spotted the building at the right time. She took up her brush and decided to paint it in nuanced detail. From a distance, this building looked surreal. On the canvas, she brushed a uniformly cold structure first. Then vastly varied human stories as they percolated within its walls. On a rainy day, when the clouds descended heavily, the building had an awfully dull perspective, which gave the building a grey, surreal look. Particularly, with an untrodden path running by it, vanishing midway out of vision. What little remained to see of the path was a few wet bamboo trees aligned on the edge of half a path, drooping tender shoots and emerald green leaves. Either way, through rain and fall, cold and heat, the artist’s rendition made it pale or bright, as wild as mood swings. However, the structure remained solidly rooted to the ground.

When her painting was just halfway through, the artist sat down cleaning her brush. And then something struck her incognito. She put the brush away and picked up cans of paint one after another of pastel green, rhubarb red, “alentejo blue,”and lavender purple and splashed them vigorously on the canvas, nearly suffocating the building in a sea of callous colours. She panted as she did so. Sitting down afterwards, she reflected upon this idiosyncratic behavior on the canvas. It was a complete devastation. She painted a child’s look of horror penetrating through the riotous colours. A mother holding the child’s hand and desperately trying to make a quick getaway in utter panic. The artist conjured up an image. She took up her brush and moved on to the next canvas. The hilltop of Harriet Street, where she stood, gave her a vantage point to look through the workings of the minds of the residents. Freakish thoughts of mad desires were being reshaped on the canvas. These appeared in the coloured waves of fuchsia pink, blood orange, and translucent lemon. As though she was painting the essential gases: nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and the silken aurora borealis in the full spectrum of celestial colours to represent human love, rage, and sorrow.

Her eyes opened up to each apartment in a unique way. Mothers cooking at the stove; girls watering potted plants on the balconies; lovers’ entwined bodies kissing at dawn break; readers engrossed in pursuit of philosophy; couples arguing over silly things, causing domestic violence and eventual break-up; children going crazy at the computer games; musicians engaged in playing pianos at evensong. All events happening at once, everyday, each on its own orbit as viewed through the windows of her mind. There was no dearth of colour as she indulged herself in colour upon colour. An inner reality of abstraction superimposed unhindered. And then the artist thought of the figurines on Parthenon of the great antiquity. Possibly, she could paint real people and bring them to life. And she did. She painted little figurines, residents of the apartments and brushed them with every stroke heavy with colours, infused life into them. They took their places now on the pantheon of life’s theatre. Within the cold marble of each insignificant apartment wall, human tales played out their own significant dramas. Stories of happiness and misery, one too many, each told earnestly in various ways.

The artist now heard them speak, cry in passionate outbursts as life’s veritable tales unfolded in casual conversations. “Why was she called that, ‘Mogli’s mother,’ a male figure, demanding to know why a certain person would be called so all through her life some four hundred years ago on this very soil? Who was Mogli after all? Has anyone seen him that she should be called so? He addressed a crowd of people, whose cold muteness suggested that even they did not know, who Mogli was? Maybe Mogli was an illegitimate child of this mother, whose identity was to be remained a mystery forever so that no one would ever find him; yet, Mogli would be the one to have survived the test of time in a bizarre irony, even after four hundred years had passed. He would be remembered through a mother known only by that, ‘Mogli’s Mother’ nothing more. No one ever saw this boy. What was this mother’s story after all? Mother of an unwanted child. In a four-hundred-year old figurine, the artist was drawing a dancer, performing a dance for the Lord of a clan on a moonlit night. With a flimsy cotton wrapped around her barely covered body, she was taken by the young Lord as his paramour. A baby boy was born over a period of time. She was now seen breast-feeding it. The next depiction was of the Lord’s men marching into her hut and snatching the baby away. The helpless mother cried out in pain; the seductive dancer of the young Lord was sent to exile. Here in the new land, she called herself,“Mogli’s Mother.” To this day, she was known as “Mogli’s Mother.”

What was the portrait all about? Tales, old and new, finding their way on this canvas of life, whispered into the artist’s ears; everyman and everywoman going about their daily chores, as always since the inception of human history. Old replaced by a new wave of life on this resolute earth. Within these walls of one own’s apartment, plants grew, by the minute, at every turn of the season. Balconies were seen in different shades of colours. From God’s eye-view, seen from an outer space, the artist painted everything including changes. In one of the balconies, a change had occurred indeed! Flowers from one of the pots had died; in the event of this, in the same soil, a resident decided to plant tomato seed to foster the growth of a different life, in a different moment.

 

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Waheed Murad: “Emotion recollected in tranquility,” – A prose by Mehreen Ahmed

8 Mar

Waheed Murad: “Emotion recollected in tranquility,” – A prose by Mehreen Ahmed.

Who isn’t smitten by the dashing Waheed Murad? Despite his meteoric success in the stardom, Waheed is a fashion metaphor, class, culture and romantic nostalgia to boot, as Elvis Presley is in rock and roll. When I pay a visit to his filmy website to catch a glimpse of him, I am both intrigued and intimidated just being here. Because, this world is much beyond my comprehension. Yet, I am here. Come to think of it, that’s exactly the kind of effect Waheed Murad has on people. And trust me, as someone who knows nothing about the movie world, let alone Waheed, I am just as enchanted as anyone else, drawn into his aura. Far apart we maybe, but he seems to be hovering on the outskirts of my mind’s eye, whom I now try to fathom. Is he unfathomable? Most likely, but at the cost of being laughed at by all of Waheed’s associates, and perhaps against my better judgement, I set out in a bid, to explore his artistry. The best that there is by a long shot in the Himalayan peninsula.

Not inconsequentially, I cannot but help thinking of the obvious. Very rarely, does one come across a personality of Waheed’s stature in the movie world. Regardless of age, he strikes a chord even with the fourth graders, particularly one girl that comes to mind, who watches his movie, Armaan in grade four and takes a fancy to him. She cannot be made to wake up the next morning to go to school, because, her eyelids are laden with lovesick potion; he, who is a senior by 30 years at least, the same age as her parents. This “chocolate” hero, gives her a flavour of his maddening charms, like he does to millions of crazed, intergenerational women, back in the day, and today. A zesty king of the hearts, this tall man with slightly drooping shoulders, is but not rugged necessarily. He stalks them in their dream and day dream as though Venus, Cupid and Aphrodite with the entire pantheon of love deities have colluded to shoot random arrows with this love message that it is expressly vital.

In the meantime, as the time passes, that fourth grader notably, continue to suffer from love affliction at the risk of being precocious. If this sweet sensation is corrupting in Socratic measure, then so be it. Because, this puppy love, which no hemlock can slay, grows and flourishes like a secret garden in her charmed heart. She does not outgrow this any time soon, although she may have grown out of her dresses. It sinks deep, and freezes in the moment’s rockbottom, with many historical chain of events piled up over it. Primarily, the bad blood and tensions between the East and the West Pakistan, culminating into a brutal civil war, ending in a severed relationship. I don’t want to go into the gory details of the war or its causes. I only want to celebrate the magnetic, Waheed Murad, to prove a point; that he is rightly an atypical idealist.

Having said this, it is not an easy feat. Being a Bangladeshi, it is not easy to put only Waheed with his ideology in a bubble without the historical rubble. Because his fans, even in the aftermath, think of him as just that, uncontaminated as the raindrops, pure as the driven snow, who never betrays a poet’s imagination. For many years after the war, when I rekindle my frozen memory of the somewhat snapped link with my dark hero, since I am that precocious fourth grader, I retrieve him from a memory storage in a holographic projection, as it were, with awful clarity. Curious as it is, this shocking revelation isn’t a case of a novelty wearing off, rather one of idolatry, to the point of awakening him from his crypt. Emboldened by this blind loyalty, I place him in the forefront of my thoughts; this dandy, debonair hero, pulled up from my memory bank. With little hope, or none at all, for all that is worth, and much for his fans’ sake, as well as mine, this figment of my imagination lends itself to a legacy within a legacy. Like Hamlet’s ghost, it haunts to goad me farther to the brink of God-knows-what, to unravel a mystery about him that the world knows not. This spell, fogs all my critical thinking; an insane craving resurfaces, strong and ravenous that cannot dispel my thoughts about him. Even better that I retreat into a fantasy world to shape him as whatever I wish in my story, a full-blooded lover, or platonic, as decreed by our circumstance.

Platonic, now there’s a thought. At best, this can clue me in to seek out a new dimension in Waheed’s gripping love scenes. That which may assist in eliciting his personal thoughts on romance through his movies. He is not an incidental hero, who perchance takes Lollywod by the storm. What is it after all, that makes Waheed’s love scenes a cut above the rest, thus far special? Watching Waheed, in circumspect and maturity, I say this, that even in his most flirtatious roles, there is a fascinating underlay. An aspect, of a shadow reality, which elude the viewers. In essence, an urgency to define love as fulfilling and an undying emotion, which Waheed the persona, exudes almost involuntarily. His nuanced performances of intimacy, the touches, the facial expressions, the linguistic flourishes of sweet endearments, poured into the ears of his leading ladies, are all accomplished with such dexterity that the self and the art bond indistinguishably. Hence, Waheed the mask, and Waheed the man, converge into one whole inseparable entity, alluding to an unscripted streaming.

To tie up the loose ends, his romantic roles translate, by far, into a fusion; a fusion of the physical and the spiritual which dictates the former to be a stepping stone to a higher ground of love. And in his passionate pursuance, this zeal for love is akin to bandagi and zindagi. Something, not sought after by the majority of actors, but all too uncommon a concept; an idea of resolute love, which resides in the soul to mean that he is never really in love with the person, but with the idea of love itself in the spirit, which he strives to conceptualise and perfect in its abstraction.

What’s more? To understand Waheed, I delve deeper into his fundamental ideals. It dawns upon me that Waheed’s movies unveil not just his artistic endeavour, but his life and death, and a potent philosophy all entwined in one seamless composition. It is very convincing that the man that he is, the lover that he acts, are all but in pursuit of love for humanity, truth, beauty and fairness. And as I stumble on the newspaper, Dawn: In Memoriam, The Mystery Behind Waheed Murad, my inkling is corroborated; that the coded messages conveyed in Zubaida, Bandagi, Samundar, Mastana Mahi, and Naag Mani are all but well thought out allegories, central to his core beliefs of religious equality, and mutual bonding in a country torn apart by ravages of the war and zealous stupidity. This uncompromising situation obstructing to find a common-ground for union, empathy and egalitarianism, disturbs his equilibrium profoundly. The irreconcilable wave of religious apathy, social and political disparity, precludes him to achieve poetic justice to a fatal consequence; an irreparable loss pushing his fans to the edge of inconsolable grief.

He plays his finale well as he departs backstage after the last curtain drops. As he dies in carelessness, for all it may seem, a death most tragic, but certainly not in vain. Because, he has never really rendered himself off-limits to his fans. His remains burn aflame in their tender love for him, as he appears and disappears in a stream of consciousness, as in his innovative stream-of-consciousness movie, Isharaa, an example of his artistic prowess.

In fact, Elvis has never left the building. His signature writ large on the silver screen, the appealing smiles of youth, moody, blues looks, and croaky, sexy voice-overs with a marked air of romance, set him apart from casual ordinariness; a cast, not from the same mould, as the other actors of his time.

Lest the world forgets, he is that Sufi steeped in love. That poet lost in lyrics. And that postmodern visionary drunk with idealism. But also an actor who lives to die another day. He, who offers himself to posterity in all earnestness, not in the sense of a celebrity hero, but as a question for those, who pine away for him, to wonder, and to ponder timelessly about Waheed Murad, the man. Hence, his fans remember this powerful enigma, as mei aisa ak sawaal hu; he is that unanswered question; he is that unfolded mystery.

It may very well be that Waheed is none of this, but exceptionally talented entertainer, made larger than life. However, to think of him as an iconic figure, I retrace this journey at the behest of my muse which hints at all these possibilities. To conclude Waheed Murad’s inconclusive tale, one may gauge him to be a sentient human, existing within the subliminal cinemas of his mind, and essentially, in the futuristic outreach of his arts.