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Author Interview: Mary Smith

An instructive, educative, and revealing interview with Author, Poet, Journalist and Blogger: Mary Smith.
Mary Smith - web ready

FP: You describe yourself as an author, poet and journalist but, from all these three designations, which do you think defines you most of all?

Mary: I think it all depends on what I am working at the time! It’s probably the combination of all three which defines me. 

FP: Can you please give my readers a short biography about yourself?

Mary: I grew up in south west Scotland. When I left school I went to work in a bank. My mother had a dream I would become the country’s first female bank manager but I very soon realized this was not for me. I hated working with numbers. I travelled in Europe for a while and, on my return I started working with Oxfam in England.

My job was a combination of fundraising and trying to form public opinion on issues from the sale of arms to the adverse effects of promoting baby milk powder. During this time I visited Bangladesh on an official work tour and fell in love with the country. As I have not returned, I don’t know if my reaction was because it was the first country outside Europe I had visited and I hope one day to return to see if it still makes me feel the same.

A few years later, I went to Pakistan on what was a life-changing holiday. While there I visited the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Control Centre in Karachi, with an introduction from someone in Oxfam. I was deeply impressed with the work I saw and wanted to be a part of it. I went out to Pakistan on a three-year contract. At the end of it, I signed up again, but this time to work in Afghanistan. I had already started writing articles and was working on the non-fiction book when I returned to Europe.

FP: How was your experience in Pakistan and Afghanistan? To be very frank, I am curious about this because indeed you were present in these countries at a very crucial moment in their history. Can enlighten my readers about your work there and experience?

Mary: I have lived through interesting times in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. I was in Pakistan when General Zia lifted Martial Law (which he imposed) and when he later died in mysterious circumstances in a plane crash. When Benazir Bhutto was first elected Prime Minister in 1988 I remember watching the celebrations with women dancing in the streets. I lived through times of civil unrest and curfew in the city.

I went to Afghanistan a few months after the Soviets left so it was a time of huge unrest as the mujahideen groups fought to oust President Najibullah. When he stepped down the various factions, previously united in the face of a common enemy, began a power struggle to take control of the country. We opened our office in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif which was under the control of General Dostum and relatively peaceful.

My work in Pakistan was to set up a health education department in the Leprosy control program’s headquarters in Karachi and to find and appoint a local counterpart to take over at the end of my contract. I worked to spread the word about leprosy through various media including newspapers, television, leaflets and posters. I also worked with para medics who were working in the field. Once I had my very able counterpart in place, I turned my attention to establishing a fund raising department which could tap into the wealth in the city. I spent most of my time in the city of Karachi but was able to travel fairly extensively around the country.

In Afghanistan I established a low-key mother and child health care program, training village women as health volunteers. I loved this job because it meant working closely with women, some of whom became good friends. I was impressed by how quickly the women learned and how well they retained information. While I still often had to refer to my teaching manual to remind myself of things, the women absorbed new knowledge like a sponge and never forgot anything they learned. I guess my own prejudices were shown there and I realized illiteracy does not indicate unintelligent.  I spent several months at a time in the area where I was teaching and over the years was made to feel very much part of the community. It was such a remote area the fighting over Kabul seemed very distant – people concentrated on growing sufficient crops; keeping their families healthy; sorting out local problems in their own way.

FP: What made you return to Europe after spending so many years in Afghanistan? Do you think you would want to go back there any time in the future?

Mary: I decided to come home for a couple of reasons. Taliban was becoming increasingly powerful and moving towards taking control of the country, which meant security was more of an issue. Secondly, my son was five years old and I had to think of his education and future. I felt he should be allowed to put down roots and belong somewhere. Although he was bi-lingual in both Dari and English and never thought of anywhere else as ‘home’ I knew he would always be regarded as a foreigner in Afghanistan and the longer he lived there, the more difficult it would be for him to adapt to the culture of Scotland. We have been back once and it was wonderful to meet up with many of my Afghan friends. I would like to return some day, but I can’t see it happening in the foreseeable future.

No More Mulberries - web ready

FP: Your critically acclaimed book No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan and it is a fiction book. What I would like to know is that, how much of ‘fiction’ and how much of ‘reality’ is contained in it?

Mary: The story of the central characters – a British midwife married to an Afghan doctor – is fiction, born of a ‘what if question’. What if a British woman were to marry an Afghan and live in Afghanistan? What difficulties would she face, would he face? Could the relationship survive the huge cultural differences? Their story is rooted in the reality of life in rural Afghanistan and many of the episodes which are described are based on things I witnessed or heard about. The scenes at the medical teaching camp are disguised accounts of how it was and the leprosy story is also based on something which I heard about.  

FP: Did your other non-fiction work titled Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women influence you to pen down No More Mulberries or was there another catalyst that made you wish to write No More Mulberries?

Mary: I had written the non-fiction work first and originally published under a different title. The publishing company went into liquidation and when I found another publisher I wanted to add some extra chapters to tell of what it was like when I went back after ten years. In the meantime I was thinking about writing a novel because as not everyone reads non-fiction I hoped to reach a wider audience.
drunk chickens - web ready

FP: Many people from the ‘developed’ nations have a lot of stereotypes about people from ‘developing’ countries like the ones which you spent almost ten years of your life in. Which is the weirdest stereotype that you come across?

Mary: There were lots. I remember a European doctor telling an Afghan mother her child had died. As she sat there, stunned, disbelieving, he turned to me and said: “They have so many children I don’t think women here feel the loss of one in the same way as women in the west.” I couldn’t believe he could have so little empathy or understanding of what that woman was feeling. Really, I wanted to hit him.

I wrote to someone back in the UK telling her of a weekend I’d spent in Karachi with Pakistani and Afghan friends going to the beach, to the funfair and eating delicious ice creams and she wrote back saying she would never be able to cope with all the poverty. I hadn’t mentioned poverty but to her mind – and many others think the same – everyone in Pakistan was poverty stricken and lived in shanty towns. She couldn’t conceive of there being so much more besides that, including opportunities to do fun things.

Often stereotyped views include people from ‘developed’ countries (certainly from mine) confuse arranged marriage with enforced marriage; assume all Afghan husbands beat their wives and all Afghan wives are deeply unhappy – which I suppose they would be if it were true! I am often asked to give talks about my work in Afghanistan and take along artefacts and photos. Invariably someone comments that the women don’t look poor when they wear such brightly colored dresses. On one occasion someone asked about opium production and I said in the region where I worked I never actually saw poppies being cultivated. He didn’t believe me because he ‘knew’ that they were grown all over Afghanistan and were the cause of the heroin problem in the UK. I don’t think he had any idea of how vast a country Afghanistan is.

And then, of course, people assume all Muslim men have four wives when, in fact, the majority have only one. Yes, they can have more and some do but certainly not most.

Of course, it works the other way, too. Some Pakistani and Afghan men have the idea that all women from the West will be prepared to jump into bed with them.  Or, that we all star in porn films.

 FP: Most of the books that are printed about the area which your book No More Mulberries is set in are about either:

  • Terrorism
  • A fanatical organization who call themselves the ‘Taliban’
  • About the degraded state of the women in this area
  • About its fanaticism etc.,

How different is your book compared to all this? 

Mary: My book is very different and your question really hits the nail on the head as to why I wrote No More Mulberries. Almost everything I read before I went to Afghanistan, while I was there and since coming home focuses on those points you’ve made, which makes it understandable why there are so many misconceptions about the country and its people. I wanted to write something which gets behind the headlines to focus on ordinary, everyday life. I feel very strongly that the people of Afghanistan, especially the women, deserve more than to be defined by the headlines and stories about fanaticism and violence against women.  Stories which focus on these things – whether in books, newspapers or television – are actually NOT stories about women but about men. I wanted to show that, however difficult life can be for many women, they are not all passive victims. And I wanted to do it in a quiet, low-key way.

FP: What is your view about the growing fanaticism and militant disturbances occurring in almost every part of the world? What can stop the madness and bring peace to every troubled nation including ‘developed countries’?

Mary: Oh, my goodness, those are big questions. I only wish I knew how we can stop the madness. If only we could turn the clock back and stop Bush and Blair from bombing Iraq. The world has become a much more dangerous place since then. I wish we could somehow shout ‘stop, let’s talk’ and find a way to allow countries/governments to find a way for everyone to back off from military engagement without losing face. In No More Mulberries quite a lot is shown about the importance of not losing face and a number of readers have remarked on it. They are surprised at how important it is, seeing it as a peculiarly Afghan thing, while I see it as something which has led many nations into war because backing off will make those in power lose face – and that seems to be much more important to our world leaders than the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

FP: ‘Her characters are complex with layered pasts’, says Janice Galloway about your novel No More Mulberries. Do you agree with her on that point? Are you also at times a person who can be termed ‘complex’?

Mary: Yes, I do agree with Janice Galloway on this. I think at first the reader probably finds Iqbal fits their stereotypical view of an Afghan man – dictatorial and misogynist – but as the layers are peeled back they realize things are not as they first supposed. He carries a great deal of baggage which contributes to how he behaves. Miriam, too, is more complex than she first appears. She has always felt herself to be a misfit in her own country, which is partly why she is so determined to make a success of her life in Afghanistan where she feels a sense of belonging. I guess we are all complex characters, myself included. 

FP: When you left Asia and returned to Europe, what did you do with your life next?

Mary: Soon after I returned to Scotland the University of Glasgow opened a campus in a town close to where I live and, as a mature student, I finally went to university to study for a Liberal Arts degree. I also began to carve out a career in journalism, as a freelance, later as a staff reporter and then feature writer. After my degree I did a Masters in Creative Writing, during which I worked on my novel, No More Mulberries.

Thousands - web ready

FP: Who encouraged you to write your collection of poems titled Thousands Pass Here Every Day? Do you still continue to write poetry?

Mary: Well, it’s quite funny how I came to write poetry. During my degree course there was a creative writing module offered. I told the lecturer I would take the course as long as I did not have to write poetry. Although I enjoyed reading it I did not feel I could write it – probably a leftover from my teenage years when I scribbled very bad, angst-ridden poems about love and death! He said I would have to write poetry as the portfolio must include at least one poem. We had quite an argument about it but I decided to take the classes and I can still remember how I felt when I read out my homework and realized I’d written a real poem. The lecturer, a very fine poet called Tom Pow encouraged me and I began to write more and send them out to magazines. Eventually, there was enough for a collection. I still write poetry and am slowly building a body of work about my father, who died in 2014, and looking after him when he had dementia.

FP: Are you working on another book(s)? What are some of your future ventures?

Mary: I would like to write a follow on to No More Mulberries. Readers often ask me what happened to Miriam and Iqbal and what are they doing now. I have made a start on this but my first priority is to work on turning my blog (My Dad’s a Goldfish ) about caring for my dad into a book. So many people are now caring for a parent or a spouse with Alzheimer’s.

FP: To whom have you dedicated your book No More Mulberries to and why?

Mary: It’s dedicated to Jon and David – my husband and my son because they are an important part of my life. I also give thanks to Andrew Radford my supervisor and author Janice Galloway one of my tutors on my Masters in Creative Writing course and to Liz Small who was my mentor and asked questions such as ‘why would Miriam do that?’ or ‘what made Iqbal to feel this way?’ which were hugely helpful.

FP: From all your three books that is No More Mulberries, Thousands Pass Here Every Day, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women which one was the most difficult to pen down and why?

Mary: All were a joy to write and equally difficult!

FP: What message would you like to give your friends in Afghanistan and Pakistan right now via my blog

Mary: I can only say I hope one day there will be peace.

Thank you Mary, for enlightening, and its followers about your work as a writer. Continue the good work and all the best for your future ventures. I do hope that we may be able to speak through the medium of my blog once again in the near future. Warm regards from Fiza Pathan.

Author Mary Smith books are available on Amazon. Her latest book with Allan Devlin:

Dumfries Through Time web ready

No More Mulberries: a novel set in Afghanistan:
Poetry collection: Thousands Pass Here Every Day
Non-fiction: Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women


Blog: My Dad is a Goldfish; dealing with dementia

Social Media: Facebook  Twitter

Copyright ©2016 Fiza Pathan

#Story Don’t Go There Lyosha: by Fiza Pathan



Don’t Go There Lyosha: by Fiza Pathan

Vadik and Alyosha were in their woolens kicking the football in the snow just on the road leading to the woods. Alyosha’s baby brother, Lyosha, was sitting on a moss covered rock watching the game intently. The elder boys cursed in their native tongue whenever the ball did not do what they wished it to do, and this was disturbing little Lyosha quite a bit. His mama had always told him never to curse or swear and he followed her strict instructions to perfection. As for his elder sibling Alyosha, he was brash and couldn’t care less. In fact, he regretted that he had to babysit his little brother that day while both his parents were selling their goods in the community market.

They would only be back by nightfall, just in time for dinner and the rosary. However, it was getting colder and Lyosha was squirming on the rock.

“Alyosha  brat – Alyosha brat,” squealed the uneasy Lyosha, “I’m hungry and cold. Can you please stop playing and let’s go to the Vladmirs’ for a meal?”

“Shut up Lyosha,” barked back Alyosha as he stole the football from Vadik, “I’m busy playing.”

“But I’m hungry Alyosha brat…”

“Shut up Lyosha or I’ll come over there and beat you hard.”

Lyosha sniffled, squatted down on the snow covered earth and continued to watch his brother play while his stomach growled hungrily. Why did mama have to leave him alone with Alyosha brat when she knew they never got along? She took Sobaka their dog, but not timid Lyosha.

The game started to get more intense. Although Lyosha was too young to understand the integrities of football, he knew that his elder brother was one up on Vadik, the son of the village school teacher. Soon Lyosha’s hunger disappeared and he started innocently to cheer for his brother, the way those people on television used to cheer Messi, Alyosha’s favorite footballer.

“Come on Alyosha brat! You can do it!” cried Lyosha excitedly.

That did the trick. Alyosha smiled at his younger brother, nodded his head and yet again stole the football from Vadik. Vadik cursed loudly as Alyosha kicked the ball hard out his reach, but Alyosha kicked too hard.

The ball flew into the air and landed with a muffled ‘thump’ in the snow covered backyard of a ramshackle cottage from where a single yellow light bulb emitted its artificial rays.

Alyosha cursed very badly while Vadik stood frozen in place.

“I’ll get it Alyosha brat,” cried Lyosha as he toddled towards the lonely unkempt backyard. Alyosha dived towards his brother and grabbed him just in time before the lad could slip under a rather large hole in the fence to get the ball.

“Let me go brat – let me go!”

“Don’t go there Lyosha you idiot,” admonished Alyosha as he held on to his brother tightly, “That is the old koldun’s place.”

“What is ‘koldun’ Alyosha brat?” asked Lyosha who was not that well versed in the regional language, because of his tender years.

Alyosha turned his brother’s face towards the cottage as he answered,

“Lyosha don’t worry about what I said, and don’t worry about the ball. By tomorrow the koldun who lives inside there will place it back outside his fence. But don’t you dare go there now or God knows what will happen to us.”

“But what is the meaning of ‘koldun’ Alyosha brat!” said Lyosha in an irritated tone of voice, “I want to know or I’ll go under the fence.”

Alyosha slapped his little brother several times, “You will not go anywhere there Lyosha you hear me – you will not go to that wicked koldun’s cottage or he will….”

“Or he will what?”

Alyosha shrugged, “Or he will …I don’t know but papa says he is not a good man. He never goes to church and no one has seen him work in his back yard for the past 30 years. Yet his light bulb will always be on. He pays his bills and if anyone drops something like a ball or a kite into his yard, he throws it back at night and you find it outside the fence the next morning.”

“Alyosha is right,” whispered Vadik with fear in his voice, “My papa too says that he isn’t a nice man. Papa once saw his face at night while coming back from a neighboring town.”

“What did he look like?” asked Lyosha timidly

Vadik shuddered at the very thought, “Papa said that he had the eyes of a devil.”

“Oh,” muttered Lyosha. He stared at the snow covered ground, deep in thought while the other two boys looked fearfully at the cottage. They both saw the koldun’s lightbulb through the single window in the cottage, and Alyosha held on to his younger brother tightly as he remembered the time once when he and another friend were playing with a baseball when suddenly the wretched ball went over the fence. They found it the next day outside. Alyosha’s father told him that the ‘koldun’ threw it back at night…the ‘sorcerer’ threw it back at night.


(Inside the cottage)

The fragile frame of an old man with a long grey beard and an even longer pepper salt hair with eyes so piercing it had transfixed many a man, looked outside from the corner of his tiny window. He would deal with the ball later, but such handsome children….

He stared at them with his vicious eyes. He stare went past them and he saw a young maiden in light blue jeans and a white woolen sweater passing behind them…such a beauty, if only he could have her for dinner. Oh! Her breasts…such beautiful breasts! However she walked out from his line of vision and there the three boys stood, still staring at the window.

One was really small who was being held by an older one with a lot of redness in his cheeks, while the third stood with dark brown hair paralyzed with fear.

Alexis, come closer to me. Do not be afraid little boy, I will take good care of you.

The wizened old man raised his left hand in the form of a blessing towards the direction of the three boys. All his fingers were bent in a grotesque way that even lifting it made the old man wince in pain, which he delighted in. Another woman passed them again with a man by her side. He must have been her husband, the protector of her virtue, but who could ever protect her from the wicked stare of this filthy skeleton of a man in the cottage.

I’m your confidant my lady. Do not listen to those others, they are jealous. Listen to me only.

The ancient man without blinking at all turned his face to the cross of the Christ on his wall which was infested with a whole army of white ants. He wore only a long tattered ebony black robe which had by now stuck grossly to his flesh like his own skin. He tried peeling it off him once, but he tore his tender skin in the bargain and bled for a whole week.

He made the sign of the cross with his left hand reverently, without blinking. His face was wrinkled and his flesh seemed to have turned grey along with his hair. He walked slowly, his eyes fixed on the yellow cross, never blinking even once.

I speak the word of the Lord Himself my lady. You must give me pleasure and I’ll heal Alexis.

The cross that the man stared at was his favorite one. Instead of the sculpted body of Jesus, in His place on the yellow cross, there hung the small rotting body of a dead rat with his dark eyes transfixed…the poor animal had died of fear.

The old man they called ‘koldun’ again made the sign of the cross with a grin on his face. He then after whispering a sort of chant, sat down at his study where there lay many pages written upon in a neat hand. No – not by the old man, for he had never learnt to read or write, but yet he could cite scripture and could read everything he laid his hypnotic eyes upon.

Bring me the fairest women of the land my lady and Alexis will be healed I promise you.

There were many photographs framed on the walls of the cottage which had yellowed with time. A picture of a regal family…a picture of a monastery…a picture of a younger version of the old man with many young women surrounding him…a picture of an orgy…a picture of a middle-aged version of the old man with his eyes fixed on the camera and his left arm held above his head in the form of a blessing…

Lust is not a sin my lady. It is a way to salvation. It will not bring the calamity upon you.

…a picture of a well-groomed man in uniform with a mite of a boy by his side in a uniform as well…a picture of a naked woman…a picture of a dead body with bullet wounds all over it, especially on its face….

Give me power and your family will live my lady. Kill me and in two years…and in two years….

The old man whispered a word to the ceiling. Immediately from the ripped portions in his robe, maggots emerged, and the old man smiled wickedly. The maggots crawled towards the desk and began to make impressions on a fresh sheet of paper, which looked a lot like words written by a human. As the maggots stained the sheets, the sinister old man dusted his robe and then got up slowly.

He went towards a glass cabinet next to the study table where the maggots were doing their business. There inside the glass cabinet were placed a number of disgusting and nauseating things. He glared at them with fondness. He had collected them over the years, one by one. It had made him the most mystical man of the kingdom of old. Ah! Those were the days. He could have collected more but weren’t these quite enough?

If you fail me my lady then I promise you, your family will die in two years…so give into me…

In the cabinet lay in separate liquid filled glass jars…ample of human blood now clotted over time…a pair of a dissected woman’s breasts…the purple head of a new born infant…dead maggots…nail clippings…the dead body of a large vampire bat with its fangs still intact…

If they kill me my lady, then let that foretell the grief that shall befall you and your empire.

…a king cobra’s mangled body…a number of bullets stained in blood…a great number of human fingers…semen of a man…a heart of a swine…the tongue of a frog…and much more…

See, I’ve cured Alexis. He bleeds no more even if I cut him. Now for my reward my lady….

The man chuckled to himself and opened the sliding door of the glass cabinet. From there he pulled out a vial of holy water from Jerusalem. He pulled open the plug and smelt the water which smelled of wet earth. So many memories were brought back to the old man. He remembered his mother, poor soul who saw from the beginning the growth of a licentious nature in her son. He therefore took refuge in the Lord Jesus to cure him and he was blessed by the Lord with healing powers…‘koldun’ they call him…no – he was a monk…a servant of the Lord!

We have laced his cake and wine with poison but the devil still is alive. How can that be?

Servants of the Lord don’t speak a falsehood. They thought they could kill him many years ago, but yet he lives. He lives with the wounds they inflicted upon him and in return, the Lord Jesus blessed him with maggots, his comrades.

Shoot the devil! Don’t look into his eyes just shoot him – Shoot him!

But if he is alive that means, all the royals are not dead. Someone must be alive, but who? For his prophesy was always right. He tried to search for the missing royal but he could not go on without causing pain to his maggots. They needed to live…they needed to feed on him. He needed them and they needed him.

My Lord! After so many bullets the Satan’s heart still beats. Put him in a sack and drown him.

The old man went back to his study table. The maggots had finished their writing for the day. He allowed them to re-enter him and he read with the eye in his chest what they had written.

He rises! By God he is fighting for his life in the water! Make him stay under water!

The maggots had written:

It has been a hundred years since my so called death. But I have lived and will continue to live until I find the missing Romanov. It is 2016 and I have still been faithful to my vocation of lust. But beware people of Russia for a storm heads your way. An evil head has risen among you to ruin your nation, just the way you ruined my beautiful Alexandra. This being will be shaped by your own hands to be the cause of your own destruction. So take heed and pray to God by lusting after sin for only that shall save you, my people of Russia. For sin does not openly admit it’s failings like I do. Sin arrives stating he has no failings. Take heed my people of Russia.




Copyright 2016 Fiza Pathan

Image courtesy:



#Poem I Loved Her Too: Fiza Pathan


Congratulations dear groom on your marriage day,

I’m a girl from your newly wedded wife’s side of the family;

You ask me what relationship I share with your wife.

Well the answer is simple manly groom for just like you I loved her too.

So what if I’m a girl myself honorable groom of my lovers final choice,

I am faithful to her just the same for your clarification;

But the day she said she couldn’t hurt her family anymore,

She chose to marry you and then closed the door on me.

You say it is preposterous and you turn your back on me dear groom,

Yes they said the same of a man who was nailed to the rood some years ago;

And just the way His love was true even after death,

You better know that where your wife is concerned that I love her too.

You catch me by the collar with both your hands and slander my name,

Then you tell your bicep goons to throw me out of the church;

The priest looks on this with pity in his aged eyes so grey,

For the whole neighborhood knew indeed that I was to her someone dear.

She doesn’t look back at me and continues to say I’m a liar,

But look into my eyes and tell me fancy groom what do you see?

So what if I’m a girl everyone here knows it is a fact,

She was in love with me and I loved her too.

Your goons drag me out and beat me up till I bleed,

Then my poor old papa gathers me to safety in his weak arms;

We both receive the flogging we neither deserved as the church bells rang on,

The ancient curse of my status with my God was laid on me with spit and swears.

I take papa’s hand and we go on home to the cottage behind the church,

My lips are torn and my body aches in pain for the girl I love;

Fortunate you are muscular groom that your body and soul is intact,

It’s not so for me but still I rather not have your pity.

I hear my love take her vows while I’m weeping at home on old papa’s lap,

My papa tells me I’m a brave lad just like him indeed;

He says with time the wounds will heal especially the one in my heart,

For Mister Groom your wife was indeed my lover too.

It’s all over now and I have nothing left to live for,

Just this cottage and a woman’s painful memory eroding my chest;

Don’t say I’m a queer or a scum for I was ever pure in my love,

You will claim her body tonight but her heart will be mine only mine!

Many years pass by and now old papa is gone back to mama,

I now live in the cottage by the church all on my own with sweet memories;

Then one day someone knocks on my door and I get a shock,

It’s my love with her girl child whom she named after me.

I carry the little one in my arms still strong,

My love cries and then I see the grey strands of hair which were not there before;

Then you walk into the house Mister Groom of old with a defeated stride,

You say that I was indeed right and that she loved me too.

You all are immigrating forever this day,

So she pleaded with you to say a goodbye to the one who loved her;

A love I’m sure we both will carry in our souls till eternity,

At least you now know friend groom that I loved her too.

Copyright ©2016 Fiza Pathan

Image courtesy:




#Poem Paint Me A Picture: by Fiza Pathan


They said you wanted a job while you were in town,

You could write, paint, and sculpt as your customer pleased;

I want you to come over to my studio and take a look at me,

And paint me a picture on the basis of what you see.

I don’t want a masterpiece on a big snowy while canvas,

Just a daub or two will be good enough for me;

Use a bit of blood red for my tired eyes,

As I sit motionless for you to paint me a picture.

So intensely you gaze at me painter man,

I would like to know what you found good to paint;

Can you see the wrinkles near my mouth?

Can you see the shine which has disappeared from my eyes?

You are an industrious boy painter from the west,

And I like the way the painting is coming through;

 I like the way you have caught the dimple in my smile,

It is my only physical inheritance of my grandmother long dead.

Now you wish to paint out my emotions upon the picture,

But will you ever glean the feelings passing through me?

About happiness in a school boy’s gaze so tender to me,

About pain mingled with the smudges of my tears.

Now why do you stop your action?

Look at me and continue to paint what you see;

I’ve got a lot of work at hand dear boy,

So don’t waste my time just finish off my portrait and then leave.

Now you are getting too personal with your questions,

About why I’m so unkempt and so stout;

If only you knew the real face behind this mask,

A face hiding from the world its sadness and disgrace.

No I don’t want to talk about love anymore,

No I never have kissed a boy;

Stop all these questions and paint right on and on,

Look at me and paint what you can see.

Don’t forget to catch the dark circles below my eyes painter boy,

And my short fingers covered with many colorful rings;

Don’t part my lips or ink them bright pink just leave them as they are,

Finish your picture dear youthful painter for me.

The picture has come out pretty good,

So here is your money and a tip for the trouble;

Don’t ask me when I will see you again,

Forget me like some of your old paintings in your garage in your land.

You wish to kiss my hand so I allow it,

Then you swiftly sign your name on my portrait;

You are waving a goodbye as I hold the picture in my arms,

The picture you dear painter painted for me.

Copyright ©2016 Fiza Pathan

HIM: Priyadarshini Basker


As I sat uncomfortably, with knots in my stomach on the seat of my plush car, in my 100,000 dollar wedding gown, I directed the driver to take me to the airport as soon as possible. The driver pressed the accelerator and sped away. On the way to the airport I began to see the selfish person I was. I prayed that I did not throw away the one person who showed me love and affection, which I did not deserve.

I remember the day he had turned up on my doorstep, completely unannounced. It was a Friday. I did not give him my attention completely as I was busy closing a business deal with a company. Ignored, he did not mind me, and went ahead and made himself comfortable in my flat. The following night he had arranged all my designer cushions like a pillow fort and had ordered pizza and told me to bunk my vegan diet because according to him I looked “thinner than a coriander stick”. That night we tucked in and had a movie marathon. I never realized when I dozed off, but the next day morning I found myself between the sheets of my bed and him sleeping on the bean bag in the room. I supposed he carried me inside and tucked me in, just like the old times. That weekend was the best time I had in years. I thought I had forgotten to laugh, but when I was with him, I was all smiles. I did not bother to inform him about me getting engaged or the job promotion. I realized this person, who had sacrificed his own education for me, was cut off from my sophisticated life. A tear trickled down my cheek as I thought about my insensitive nature.

As the days passed by, the smallest of matters, like him dropping tomato ketchup on my vintage Persian rug, changing the contents of sugar bottle to salt, keeping the house dirty after I came back from work or changing the place of my toothpaste tube with his shaving cream, got on my nerves. It struck me now that after the fun weekend I never gave him my attention or talked to him about things. Little did I realize that he too would feel lonely by having dinner all by himself and would like to talk to someone about father’s death. I never was really there for him, however silently he was there for me all the time, just like how a mother is always there for her crying child.

He was not my brother by birth; he became a part of my life only after father married again. He took care of me when my so-called peers tried to bully me or if I fell and got hurt. If I were to start crying he would say, “Now you don’t want a red nose do you?”

My mind ran back to the time he told me he was dropping out of college. He firmly told me that I had to go to school, get good marks and go to a good college as he stayed at home to take care of my father who had recently then been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And so I did. He also worked overtime, so that he could pay for my tuition at Brown University. I graduated with majors in Business Studies and a minor in Micro Economics. Over the time my phone calls with him became less emotional, a duty and my job an utmost priority. When the news of my father’s death reached me, I cried only fifteen minutes, in the bathroom for a wheel-bound stranger and then went to my office to finish reading a contract.

Yes, fifteen minutes was all it took to mourn over my father’s death. I did not go down for the funeral, nor did I follow up on how my brother was doing.

It was during my wedding rehearsal that he took things to heart and fled. Before the dinner started he wanted to make a toast and so in his nervous excitement he took the champagne bottle from the ice bucket opened the bottle with such a force that the cork hit my fiance’s chest and the juice fell all over my Gucci dress and his suit. Embarrassed in my circle of my friends, I shouted at him and ticked him off. The entire night I could not sleep, so I went to his room to apologize to him. How could I be so mean to a person who had taken care of me? I knocked at his door twice, but there was no answer. Understanding that he might be angry I left without saying anything. It was only in the morning when one of my bridesmaid’s told me that my brother was not in his room and he had just left a note, which said-

“Dear Mia,

I’m sorry if I have been a trouble for you over this week. I wish you and Robert a happy married life!

Your brother forever,


 I rushed through the security personnel in my high heels and ran towards the waiting area frantically searching for my brother. The security was hot on my heels, and that was when I found him sitting there all by himself with a Rubix’s Cube in hand, trying to solve it. I ran towards him.

“Ian, I’ve been so rude to you, please just forgive me!” I said as few heads turned in my direction.

“What are you doing Mia? Shouldn’t you be at the wedding?” he remarked, getting up alarmed.

Two security guards caught hold of my elbows and started dragging me away. I begged them to wait.

“I realized no one was there to give me away Ian, I’m really sorry for my behavior towards you. Please don’t go.” Tears were spilling out, by then we were out of the waiting area. He requested the security guard to let me go.

The familiar white handkerchief was in his hand wiping the tears from my eyes and said “You don’t have to be sorry for anything. It’s your wedding day, don’t cry. You should be smiling today.”

“So, does that mean you will walk me down the aisle and give me away?” I asked him, not able to believe the goodness in his heart.

“Yes”, he said softly. I hugged him, and started sobbing furiously.

“Ssh, there, don’t cry. We have to get to the wedding now,” he said as he soothed me. With my head resting on his shoulder, we went out, escorted by the security personnel.

When we reached the venue, Robert was sitting on a stool, waiting patiently and having understood my situation, he did not say anything but signed me to get myself cleaned up in the powder room as he went to assist Ian with his suit.

As I walked down the aisle, with my brother at my side, I had a sense of being whole. When he gave me away, he said, “Take care of her Robert. Love her more than I do.” I hugged him tightly and as tears were coming out from the corner of my eyes, he turned his face towards me and said, “You don’t want to have a red nose on your wedding do you?” I laughed simply as Robert smiled towards Ian politely and the priest began the ceremony.

Copyright © 2016 Priyadarshini Basker

Image courtesy:


Together, here….. by Elsa Thomas


The doorbell rang at ten and I knew that it was the courier boy with a parcel for me. A book, a few tapes and a letter were its contents. This box has become an integral part of my birthday celebration. Every year on this day, I receive a grand box with my name “Kamalini,” etched on it from somebody so close to my heart and the inception of this ritual dates back to my days at college in the year 2001. The box takes me down memory lane every year though I breathe these memories every second of my life. It always felt nice to relive all that you have been through at some point and every year, with the box in my hand, I try to relive some moments of my past.

Twenty-four year old Shekhar Rai was studying to earn a Master’s degree in Philosophy.  Though he was a student, his discourse on various concepts were amazing to such an extent that the austere looking professor Khan would let Shekhar give lectures to his class fellows, an opportunity he had given to many of his students in the thirty years of his teaching career. To the world, Shekhar was a leader but I perceived of him to be the creator of dreams. He was somebody who gave birth to dreams, filled them in the hearts of the sleeping heart, visualised it for the sleeping eyes and made sure that the memory remained there, buried deep within oneself. He was a mind beyond the comprehension of his admirers and maybe the fragrance of that mysterious air that surrounded him enchanted the young Kamalini Banerjee.

It wasn’t love at first sight. It was the passion for literature, the love for poetry that sparked what the world called ‘love’ in us. Both Shekhar and I detested the term. We considered our passion for poetry a form of devotion; devotion that paved way to what we felt and accepted was love (though we are still in search of a better term.) His poetry sparked something in me and it was a feeling that I had never experienced till that moment.

Shekhar and I were friends first, who then grew to become friends beyond the realm of the conventional boundary of friendship. “In your life, my infinite dreams live,” he borrowed these lines from Pablo Neruda to express what he felt for me at some point of this friendship. We were companions, soul mates but we knew that we could never accustom to the orthodox belief that proximity of this sort between a man and a woman must culminate in holy matrimony. Marriage, family and the so called years of marital bliss were definitely not a part of the list of achievements we pitched for in life. We preferred the companionship. We loved being there for each other and for this wedlock wasn’t an alpha element. We knew that our love was eternal and our promises of love did not really need a vocal display of commitment. Our love transpired in our poetry, our love spoke volumes in between the spells of silence.

It has been almost fifteen years that we are in this together. I never sat to analyse this relationship of ours till date, though I am doing it now partially while writing this one. Shekhar is a writer while I am working with an advertising agency here in Mumbai. We live in two different cities and meet once in a year for a few moments of bliss, for a few moments of togetherness; for our moment in time. The frequency of our meetings are indeed below the quintessential standards set for the meetings of lovers but as we believe, companions for this life do not really need to adhere to the beliefs and standards of the world. Our moments of togetherness were strong and empowered of us to believe and live our individual lives. It was definitely able to ward off the loneliness that one feels surrounded us.

This is definitely one of the few facts that people close to us fail to understand, but there is a certain sense of euphoria in this life of paradox that we led from the point of view of the world. There is a sense of bliss in being rebels with a hidden cause; the feeling of romanticizing what was beyond the understanding of the world to which we certainly did not belong. The box that finds its way to me every year contains a manuscript that Shekhar has written and a message that he will be waiting for my views and suggestion. We seldom talk over the phone. We prefer writing to each other. No, we do not write emails. We write on paper; we consider the paper to be the canvas and use words to play substitute to colours and create what we consider is the real heaven for us; our master piece. The paper has ink stains, lines that cancel the mistakes, colour and scribbling’s that hide what we do not want to share.

Shekhar and Kamalini are two free birds, whose wings are tied together with an invisible chord that does not hinder them from reaching the heights they want. Instead, it keeps them together and lets them soar higher each moment, knowing that they are for each other for this life and that this atypical togetherness is all that matters.

Copyright ©2016 Elsa Thomas

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Book Review Of: Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations


Book Review Of: Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations

Author: Ajay Singh

Reviewer: Fiza Pathan

Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations, written by Indian author Ajay Singh, is an amazing story of two countries or rather two brothers who were ‘almost’ born one after the other; one was born on the 14th of August 1947 while the other ‘seems’ to think that he was born on the 15th of August 1947…which we respectively celebrate as the Independence Day of two countries…Pakistan and India. Ajay Singh through his remarkable style has managed something that no author has managed to really do, that is, to tell the parallel stories of how both India and Pakistan, newly independent countries have developed in the past 69 years of independence through the eyes of two brothers, one who grows up in India and the other in Pakistan; blood brothers indeed and yet just like the countries themselves, so far apart. This is the magic of the tale spun masterfully by accomplished author Ajay Singh, who has also served in the Indian army for 28 years and who has a vast repertoire of knowledge about the political, military, economic, religious, social etc., affairs of both the aforementioned countries.

The author skillfully uses two styles of creative writing to tell the story of India and Pakistan. For India, he uses the first person narrative, while for Pakistan, he sticks to the third person narrative style. Both these styles complement each other which make the saga of India and Pakistan a great informative read, but also a good mix of fiction and non-fiction to a certain degree.

The characters in this story are well formed and very lifelike so a reader can empathize with all of them. The unnamed hero of India, the wise Masterji, the talented Shazia, the resourceful Shahnawaz, the fanatic Bitullah Wazir, the martyr Gaurav etc., are few of the characters which make this book a sparkling treasure house of contemporary history in prose form.

To give a brief synopsis of Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations, the story begins with the partition riots that took place immediately when independence was given to both Pakistan and India. In the middle of the turmoil one brother, a mere infant who doesn’t even know his real date of birth is separated from his yet unborn brother who later is named Shahnawaz by his adoptive parents. The elder brother remains unnamed in the story to symbolize that:

  • We really do not know the exact date of the origin of the Indian civilization
  • This ‘elder brother’ represents every Indian who loves his country dearly and
  • We were somewhat ‘orphaned’ when India and Pakistan were partitioned where families, relatives, friends etc., were separated from us, turning both to a certain extent every Pakistani and every Indian an ‘orphan’.

And therefore the beautiful title Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations, at a glimpse suddenly makes sense, for are we still not orphans? Indians and Pakistanis’ will remain ‘orphans’ until some questions are dealt with…some crucial ones which in a fiction form we encounter here in Ajay Singh’s book.

Questions about the reality behind the partition and the losses incurred; questions about the deaths of both the Fathers of India and Pakistan (Gandhi and Jinnah respectively) and what sentiments did their countrymen have for them; questions about the many wars fought between the two countries and how did it affect the people who had wished for peace for both their countries; questions about the assassinations, military coups and terrorist acts that shaped India and Pakistan’s foreign relations; questions about the ‘bone of contentment’ that is ‘the Kashmir issue’; questions about the many lives lost during the Kargil war; questions about governments falling and corruption increasing; questions about the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan and the rise of an India with a bureaucracy steeped in corruption and much more.

Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations, makes the reader think and analyze situations from contemporary history. It also highlights to a great extent the life in the military section of each country which makes the book very interesting and fast paced. Emotions are felt and battle scars of old are made to bleed afresh with the question of in reality…who is the real enemy…Pakistan?…India?….You need to read the book to find out.

Through Orphaned Eyes is especially a ‘must have’ book for those whose interests lie in politics and history. Being a history teacher myself I was drawn to this book immediately and enjoyed every bit of it. However, I also realized that I did not know much about certain issues that were brought to light very efficiently in the book, especially about how slowly the Tehrik-i-Taliban is killing the liberal Pakistan that its founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah wished it to be. The many scams that have been brought to light in India is nothing new to me, but when it was brought up again artfully by Ajay Singh, I felt miserable indeed.

To be frank, I was certainly not present for at least 85% of the historical events that are described in the book but yet through the emotive writing of the author, I felt like I was reading the story of not my country as an abstract identity but, I felt like I was reading the story of my own identity; to be even more frank, I even felt one with the history of Pakistan although we are termed to be ‘so called’ enemies. It is sad that we have drifted apart; I hope we in the near future will become kinsmen once again.

With that I must say that Through Orphaned Eyes: A story of two people, two nations, by Ajay Singh is a cut above the rest, and I hope to read more of his literature very soon.

Copyright © 2016 Fiza Pathan

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