Our cities are the backdrops against which the drama of life unfolds. Our streets are episodes, revealed in bits and pieces.
I remember the street my uncle lived on. It was narrow, with houses packed on both sides. These houses had steep ramps covering their plinth levels. At one particular moment, there couldn’t be more than a single car in that narrow space; people usually had to step aside onto those ramps to let the cars pass.
The street had houses clasped together, there was barely any breathing space. I discovered that sudden stretch of flat land the very first time that we were there. In the midst of all those continuous, almost identical looking boxes, came a flat land; a space where it seemed like someone had shifted away and the walls had slowly just fallen apart. There was rubble and dense vegetation along the edges. In the middle of that flat land, right in the center was a grand tree, years and years old, with roots that stretched out like veins over the ground and branches that gave immense shade. Under that shade was a grave. The branches had hanging an array of colors, in the shape of torn pieces of cloth that were elaborately knotted at intervals. There were flowers and that bench that seemed carved out of a rock. The vegetation was growing slowly onto the grave that was still muddy, with a single gravestone resting at its head. There were carvings on the stone, there was a single snippet in urdu that went along the following lines,
“Aaj ki raat, saz- e-dard na chher”
“Awaken not the chords of sorrow tonight”
It was a normal flat land that was abandoned by its users in the middle of the city. The land was used as a burial ground for someone who then became a very important person for that particular area and his devotees. No one really knew who he was, whether he was religious or not. The only awareness was that wishes were fulfilled here, prayers accepted. It fascinated me, that somebody without a concrete identity, buried under layers of earth could be so influential. I was told that the snippet on his gravestone was by the famous Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
The street went on after that like nothing had interrupted its rhythm. Right at the farthest end was a kiosk, indifferent from others in the area, selling the same everyday items, sweets and biscuits we always saved money for. We peeked through the glass at those mouthwatering candies and jumped to take a better look at the ones on the top. The kiosk was like no other. Yet it was like every other.
The episodes on that street made it special for me. The idea of how a long stretch of its kind could reveal its treasures in bits made the place unique, when in reality; it could have been exactly like any other set of houses clumped together.