Discovering FaceBook and a writer friend.
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reality967

I have this bunch of buddies from school. They refuse to leave me alone, and have stayed friends/pests for the past 27 years.

So, first there was a Yahoo group and a website, that put so many of us together. And about a month or two back they discovered Facebook. Discovery in the sense that a campaign begain to lure all of us to Facebook.

I resisted - had seen my daughter's Facebook page, gotten disgruntled at all the silly messages and apps it featured. Finally, my friends coaxed me with a serial bombardment of email messages to join FB.

I joined yesterday. And what do I find. One of my class fellows, who I haven't met in years, is now a twice published novelist. He lives in Australia, and his book shall be hitting USA in 2009.

Azhar Abidi was shy, well liked, good in studies, good looking, always smiling. Definitely not one of the pests.

Here is the link to his website which tells you about his books:  Azhar Abidi

It's a delight to find out that a guy with whom I shared the same living space for 5 years is an author.

Strike One to FaceBook.


Revise, Revise, Revise.
in US
reality967

I just realized that I finished the first draft of my WIP on 28th June 2007. That is more than a year ago. Here is the link where I announced THE END.

Now, I am into an unknown number of revision. I'll really have to count back through all of them to check, which one I am working on. All I know is that I call it Ver. April2008 Rev7.1; What a name to give. But there was Ver. Feb, Ver.  Jan,  and so it goes.

Yesterday I finished editing on paper Book 1 of the current revision. That's about 1/3rd of the MS. I guess I've read the same 100,00 words, or more, at least twenty times all over by now.

It's an odd feeling,  this is all I have done for the past 15 months or so. Worse, I still have to do at least one more revision. Perhaps another after that, to get things right. This is crazy, madness. A risk of time, and effort, knowing all may be for nought. Where does it stop? When does it stop?

But it isn't time wasted. Right. This is how we learn the craft: the craft of writing, the craft of revising.

It gets better or worse; for I've discovered my second story. What it's about. It has been cooking in my mind for months now. Taking shape. I so, want to write it. Get it out.

But the Revisions go on. Wait 2nd story. I'll fall in love with you soon.


Blogger's block.
in US
reality967

Is there a blogger's  block? If not, then let me introduce this to the world.

Perhaps, I am a bit obsessive about my passions. Ever since I started my WIP, it has devoured me. At the cost of office work and money, I work on my novel. Sometimes, I feel it is a wasted effort. But I know in my heart it isn't. I cannot give up. Not give it my hundred percent. This has helped me learn so much. Allowed me to refine my writing, learn the dangerous flag words for passive writing, learn editing and revising. Had I given up, it would have been midway through my learning curve.

I hope, one day soon , I shall finish and submit with the knowledge that as far this story goes, it was a good, satisfactory, perhaps my best effort.

I shall then move on with more purpose and be better organized about my next novel.

Perhaps, a blogger block is just the thing for me to finish this novel.


A trial message
in US
reality967

I am just sending in this post as a trial to test the Windows Live writer. Seems like a good thing if this works.

Adios.


Writing, at what cost.
in US
reality967

Why do we write? Indeed why do we want to be published. I have heards hundred of answers on this, and they all vary.

I guess at the core of every artist is a sense of wanting affirmation by society. We want to be acknowledged, in more ways than one: good reviews, people buying our books, praise on our success from friends and family. All of these matter. If one of these ingredients goes missing, there could be something wrong in our writing universe.

Note, I have excluded the writers who only have an aim for monetary success. I have come across those too and there is no point denying that they do not exist.

Michelangelo while creating his great masterpieces at times drove a hard bargain to maximize his profits. He wanted to get his family out of the debt trap they had fallen in.

Ghalib, in my eyes, the greatest poet ever, fought with the Mughals and the British for his pension money.

In spite of the very human desire to be compensated for their artistic abilities, these gentlemen never compromised on their vision. They were practical enough to realize that they had to live. Or perhaps they were so talented that even the garbage they spouted, by their high standards, turned to gold.

What is clear is that artists in order to live need to make money. The great ones though are visionaries, combining literary and commercial talent to an extent that they were accessible to the majority of their time. Further, they knew the fine line at which they would have to balance their art to stay on both parts of the divide.

Ghalib considered his Persian collection of poetry the best of his work. It never became famous; the words, phrases and ideas were too difficult, and inaccessible to the common man.

His Urdu work, called Deewan e Ghalib, is the one that lives on today, in the hearts and minds of all. The irony is that Ghalib wrote his Deewan in Urdu, half seriously. He never gave it the same attention as his Persian work.

Over two years of trying to be published, I have learnt the intrinsic value of sticking to our ideals. Lucky or talented is the writer who can find that medium between art and commerce. Yet, I now believe stronger than ever and after trying, myself to conform to ‘established’ rules, that we should allow ourselves to germinate. Our ideas might be the right ones after all.

If not, there is no point calling ourselves artists. Better, try our hand at something else. Collecting stamps, is an easier hobby than writing.

Or is it, in a world where post mail is fast disappearing.


(no subject)
in US
reality967

Hello All,


 I am rewriting on my blog after a long interval of six months. 


However, my mind has been occupied by so much in these few months. My WIP had me down, to an extent that a few times I have been ready to throw in the towel and start another project.


There were problems with my WIP and I had to do a complete overhaul, tear it down and rebuild it. There were serious structural issues relating to the story, scenes that needed to be cut or modified, characterization that had to be dealt with, and I seemed so unsure that I would be able to put all this together. Indeed I was paralysed, or close to it.


The biggest problem is and was: how close I am to this story. It lives and breathes inside me. And though I acknowledge all its shortcomings, yet it occupies a space that is living within me.


The only thing that has kept me going is the promise I made myself, I would complete this novel and submit it.


I haven’t done so. Yet the persistence has paid off, in a way. I feel better about how I have redrafted it.


There is a lot of work to be done, but I am now more confident than six months before that I can finish it.


I wanted to say a quick hello and that I shall now be back, hopefully on a regular basis, posting in this space every few days. And I hope some of my regulars shall return and join me in this virtual world of discovery.


There is so much happening in Pakistan; I will talk about that as well, from time to time.

Rina Grant joins The Dickens Challenge.
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reality967
Important Announcement: we have another writer join the Dickens Challenge. I met Rina a few days ago on the AW forum boards. She liked the idea of Dickens Challenge and has decided to join in.

Rina is based in France; now we have someone from the Continent too. Hooray.

I am posting Rina's bio below:

Rina Grant is a France-based bilingual Russian/English writer and
  journalist specializing in history, philosophy and religion. Her work for
  the challenge will be The Russian Exchange (working title), a YA
  adventure novel set in the 1939 Russia and based on true life stories. An
  18-year-old Moscow drama student gets recruited into a top Soviet
  intelligence school, but his integrity and adventurousness won't let him
  go past the secrets his superiors keep to themselves...

  I'll start writing (or rather, chuck out all the old drafts and start
  afresh) on Monday, so I'll put up the first chapter on Monday April 7. It
  will be on my brand new English-language blog here:


  http://galaktio-nova.blogspot.com/

Welcome aboard Rina. I'll look at your site next week once you have the chapter up. I have also added Rina's link to her new blog to The Dicken Challengers links on my blog. Now it's over to Lisa Kenney, our official spokesperson to announce the news to the world.

Best of Luck and Enjoy writing,

Usman.

I will be back.
in US
reality967
 I guess I am writing this more to let some of my friends know that I am alive and well.

I am temporarily not writing for my blog. But normal services shall resume, on getting out of the fuzzy zone. I can say that I am progressing well towards the goal of being fuzz free.

Capital Risks. Chapter 4. posted today
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reality967
CHAPTER 4
 

It is never easy letting go of your dreams. But that is what I had decided to do. Ambar was not for me. No romance ever soared to the heavens in a medical ward; unless you are a doctor that is. Ambar had problems, I had seen for myself, Sabira the maid had told me and Mrs. Babar had confirmed it. One thing nagged at my mind though, Sabira's incomplete sentence, "She says she is married to Babar…"

What was she to Mr. Babar? His wife? But Mrs. Babar had said Ambar was unmarried. Ambar had said the opposite. Was she then Mr. Babar's second wife and Mrs. Babar had evaded the subject out of spite for her competitor. Or was she something else to Mr. Babar.

I could have gone and asked Sabira, but she was unreliable, besides being a suspect. I never mix business and pleasure. Okay, I do; isn't that the whole mission of life? I tell you I hate workaholics and their loudspeakers who declare work as some holy grail, the secret of which is hidden, only and only, in their ten habits to success, or five techniques to nirvana, or whatever. The bullshit people spout to make the rest of us unhappy.

Either Ambar was lieing or Mrs. Babar was. And the key lay with the gentleman himself, Mr. Babar. I wasn’t interested, would have stopped right there and forgotten all about this, had it not been for technology. So, God invented the cell phone and gave one to each two legged monkey in the world including my janitor; who by the way had also gone on strike till I paid him and was not returning my calls. Yet the cell phone is meant for speaking not staying silent. I hate that.

I dismissed the first couple of calls. But when the third one happened I heard closely and sure enough there was a wheeze at the other end. On the fourth, there was a laugh. On the fifth I shouted, "Be a man and meet me this end of the line."

That's when I spoke to Nabila. She laughed, "I knew this would happen."

"What does that mean, smartie pants?" She was wearing a particularly tight outfit that day and was in a mood.

"It would go to your head; acting a detective and all."

I frowned, "you think I'm making this up." When she laughed again, I told her about the call from Qul Khan.

"So?" she said applying nail polish.

"So," I said, "I want you to find out everything about Mr. Babar."

"There are a million Babar's out there. How am I supposed to do that?"

"For Gods sake Nabila, you have an address to start with. A posh address, a posh wife, perhaps even two posh wives."

"Not possible."

"Nabila," I said in a grave tone, "it's time you earned your keep. Do you know how close I am to firing you?" There, I had finally said it.

Nabila laughed, "Since you put it that way, I'll do it. But I expect a bonus."

I looked at her, and fell in love with her for five seconds, which was enough to kiss her on the cheek. Nabila was furious. Before she could say a word, I rushed out of the office, "see you later, darling." I screamed with delight.

#

Nabila was an excellent source to tap into the Babar's, also the only one I had at my disposal on quick time. And she is my secretary, lest you forget.

I met Nabila in a bank some three years ago. That was the time I was living off my inheritance and didn’t need employment or business or an agency. I just sold off what little I had and enjoyed life big time.

One fine morning, I walked into this swanky new private bank that had opened in Blue Area.  News had reached me through the grapevine that the customer service was par excellence and pretty. The first desk was customer service and who sat behind it, my own Nabila.

Of course I told her about my non existent business, my search for a bank that knew how to accommodate my special needs, had flexible timings, dedicated staff, personalized service.  Nabila talked about Running Finance (mine had already run its life), credit lines, access to VIP lounges, free credit cards, free life insurance, provided I opened an account they had titled Platinum Discovery. She spoke with such delight, that I wanted to rob a bank and place all the money at Nabila's disposal.

It was a beautiful conversation and I walked out convinced that if anything I needed in life it had to be a platinum status account. Of course, I promised Nabila, I would look into it, my bankers would not let go my account so easily (true, I owed the bank money) and my chartered accountants had to be taken into confidence.

Over the next week or so, I had coffee with Nabila from across the customer service desk. By the time the week was over, I knew it was time we shifted to more hospitable environs, where things other than money could be spoken about.

I wrote a letter to the President of the bank, praised him for having the vision to hire a great customer service team named Nabila and gave her a copy by hand.

That day she sparkled with delight, "It is such a nice gesture Dilbar." We had dinner the same night.

Nabila was open, frank, daring, everything that you want to have in a potential lover.  She wasn’t religious then, wore no burqa like a nun. She had one problem; she was looking for marriage, stability and children. So I caved in to her and promised her more than that including stars and heavens.  Being a man of my word, it was from my bedroom sheets that she felt what it was like to see the heavens, be in them, fly in them.  By that time she knew I had no wealth, no company (the agency was yet to be born) and we fell in love. Correction she fell in love. Now falling in love is a signal to me that the game is over.

In any case I was spared the break up; her nosy brother found out about us; the family threatened me that either I marry her or else…

Since both options were not acceptable, I told Nabila that my calling was with God.  I had to go on tableegh, spread the word of Islam, grew a beard as proof, my jeans were replaced with shalwars, my baseball cap with a prayer cap. They all bought it, everyone did, but Nabila. She asked me "why didn’t you say, you didn’t want to marry."

"I'm sorry."

"Answer me dammit."

I know, I give a bad name to the rest of you excellent men out there. Trust me I'm a romantic of a different kind, that’s my only excuse.

Anyway, I looked at her and said, "Nabila do you believe in love. Not the bookish love. Love because you like someone, you want them with you, but you can't be theirs, because you are not made for one. You just aren't. "

She looked at me, "go on."

"I am like that. I love you, will always love you but I can't be yours, alone. I cannot belong to one. That day I die. "

She said the funniest thing to me, "Dilbar, you are a rogue, a menace to society, a liar and a fraud. My problem is I do love you. I do want to be your slave. I do want to be your wife, but I can't. Will you still love me, when I get married, wherever my parents marry me? Will you love me and cherish me, till death do us part." Or something to that effect.

Nabila got married and remained in love with me.  I swear this is all true. There is such a thing as real love, one sided love, love after marriage, and love like mine, that knows no ending, nor any boundaries.

That’s why Nabila works for me for free. She is in love. Lucky for her that whats-his-name has a great job in some multinational company and doesn’t even care what happens to Nabila's salary. He thinks she buys pampers for the baby from it. I love him too, for the idiot he is.

#

When I arrived at the office, Nabila looked at me with excitement in her eyes and followed me into my cubicle.

"What?" I said.

"I've found something about Babar and co."

I took the seat and she sat on the table, her legs crossed against each other.

"I called up a few of my friends at the banks and called in some IOU's. A friend in the credit cards section, she ran the address and know what?" She stopped and waited for me to ask her, but I was focused on her legs instead.

Nabila frowned "Mr. Babar doesn’t own the house."

"Could be on rent."

"He has two sons and a daughter."

"Ambar?"

"I don’t have the names."

"This is all boring stuff. Sabira would have told me this much."

"Mr. Babar was a credit risk a few years ago."

"What, pray, is that?"

"Well he has all these businesses; Real estate, import export, jewelary and gems."

"Ok we all know he is rich."

"He was arrested years ago. He defaulted on some bank payments, and was declared a credit risk by the bank. He couldn’t get money from anywhere, even left Islamabad."

I sat up, "And."

"His businesses went down; the guy was finished, dead. Lost everything.  Then in the past two years without any financing, he recovered everything and more. In two years on his own."

"Nabila what's the point. Perhaps his dog's maternal aunt died and left him a bundle."

"You didn’t ask who arrested him."

I had sure forgotten that, " so who arrested him."

Nabila swung her legs off the table like a pendulum without inertia, and walked to the door," I don’t know," She said. "You're the detective; you find out."

She was out before I could swear at her. Then I laughed.  How can anyone help not falling in love with her?

#

I always sit religiously in my office, till at least five o' clock. Good work ethics never hurt anyone, particularly if it's over forty degrees C in the shade. Now my office isn't that big, it's located in a three storey building amongst a jumble of offices, on the second floor. There is a small reception area where Nabila plays solitaire or puts make up on. There is a small bathroom off to one side. Then the nerve center of my enterprise, my cubicle sized office.

Nabila always left on the dot of five. Fifteen minutes short of the dot, she entered the office, "Don’t be shocked. There's a client outside to meet you."

"What?" I am not used to oddities like clients walking into my office. "Give me two minutes, no make it three." I said.

I quickly put the table in order, opened up the notebook to a page where I had made a list of the laundry I had given the washerwoman, wasted fifteen seconds remembering she had burnt my best white shirt, brushed my hair and waited. There was still another twenty seconds to go. I quickly lit a cigarette. I don’t inhale, you see; but a detective always looks cool with some smoke coming from his hand, mouth or nostrils. So says Hollywood, my oracle.

Then I swiveled around and faced the wall. Unfortunately the window is in the far right corner, so I wondered if I looked stupid staring at a blank wall.

 I heard Nabila usher in the client, "Mr. Dilbar shall see you now."

Footsteps approached my desk.  I sat tense, staring at the wall as if on the verge of solving a case.

The client coughed, I swiveled around and smiled.

"Malik Qul Khan," the client said.

I inhaled some of the smoke, which went down or up the wrong way. I spluttered, coughed and repeated the process twice. When I looked up, Malik Qul Khan stood smiling at me.

Damn cigarettes. You really shouldn't smoke indoors and if you do; better learn how to inhale.

#

There is a shock element to hearing a name you don’t want to hear. Once I was over that, I allowed myself to look closely at the man in front of me. Then I laughed. Seriously I laughed. The Khan's brow became a corkscrew at my reaction, but he stood quiet, allowing me to get over my fit.

See, Malik Qul Khan, was opposite to what I had expected. He was a short man, very short, with a head that was too big for him. Worse, he had these big bulky moustaches like a bush growing wild and it appeared as if the face had been pasted onto the moustache. He was wearing a Kabuli hat that had been lifted back to show his full forehead. Worse he was fat and round, more like a Rubik's cube. This was the man I had been dreading in my nightmares.

Once I was calm, I stood up and went across the desk and stood a foot away from the Khan. I am tall enough to lie that I am six feet. Mr. M.Q. Khan's hat was well below my armpits. After having done my share of intimidation, I stuck out my hand and said in a heavy voice, "So we finally meet."

The Khan took my hand and pressed hard. Then we both took seats across the desk. Finally he said, "what are you smiling about?'

My good humor had revived and said, "I sort of like you." He stayed quiet.

Anyway I picked up the intercom and asked Nabila to bring in some tea, "Sorry, it's five o' clock. Have to go."

"My secretary, she is very shy."

"Doesn’t look so, from the way she was dressed." Khan's eyes were still appreciative of Nabila s memory. I didn’t like that one bit. The brute, not really, he was just a nice little man.

"So Malik Sahib, what can I do for you?" I said.

He put his elbows on the table, looked at me seriously and said, "For one stop smiling like an idiot. Second, I told you to stop your visits."

I kept on smiling, "Ah, yes you did. Well, one has to do what one…"

He cut me off, "what do I get from you, no cooperation. That’s bad."

"The world is a bad place, Khan Sahib." I had decided to use his three names at will, seemed like a fun game.

He nodded his head, "then you go to the house."

I beamed now, cheerfully.

"Look Dilbar, I don’t want to hurt you. This is the last time I am going to say stop visiting that place."

I smiled again and looked at the short threat in the eye, "What will you do, if I don’t."

He stayed quiet for a long time, "Let's not go into details. It's enough that Qul khan has spoken."

I laughed, "Well I am not going to stop going there, Qul Sahib." I paused and said "So shoot me."

Malik Qul Khan looked at me for a long time, a very long time. He put his hand in his pocket and said, "Now why didn’t I think of that before."

I stopped smiling, and looked at the pistol he had placed on the table between his tiny little hands that lay flat on either side of the metal. He was calm and grinned at me. Nabila had just closed the outside door and left.

I sat alone, and nodded my head at Qul Khan. I hate guns, especially with the hole pointed at my belly. I closed my eyes, asked forgiveness for cheating my girlfriends, telling lies to my mother, being rude to my brother, stealing a five rupee note from my cousin's wallet, and finally looked Malik Qul Khan in the eye like a man ready to die and said, "I'm sorry."

 

 

 

 

 


The Dickens Challenge: Capital Risks; Chapter 3
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reality967

Chapter 3

 

 

Restraint is the true sign of a man in control. I figured two days of restraint were sufficient proof of my manhood and headed out evening time to try my luck with the beauty.

Nabila had looked at me with disbelief, shook her head to let me know I was up to no good, and said, "Money, money, money." Hell, she is more a wife than an ex lover and a free secretary. Yet I love her in a way that is unique.

 The Haileys were entertaining (as in verb) guests and I had been let in through the side door and now stood interviewing the staff, not for the first time.

I had met them before; Nawaz the chef, and Sabira the maid. Raja, the chef's assistant had gone to the market to buy, what else, mutton chops.  Nawaz was a dark, surly and busy looking man. Every time I had gone over, his surliness had increased exponentially, as if I was responsible for the thefts. Now he didn’t even want to be disturbed by my questions and said "Dilbar Sahib, been here now for a year. No thefts, ever. I've eaten salt from this kitchen.." In Pakistan salt is the ultimate proof of your innocence; God forbid, you commit a crime against those whose salt you have eaten.  And if you do so judgment lies with God, not mere mortals as myself; such is the simple logic of our Eastern philosophy.

Nawaz having given me valid reasons of his incorruptibility, concentrated on the menu and with exquisite care added the right amount of spices, salt and pepper to the chicken he had simmering on the stove. The aroma was achingly delicious and I turned my attention to the maid.

After Nawaz's declaration of allegiance to digested salt, she was the only one I could suspect or try to, for the time being. She did interest me and not because she was female. She looked around in a furtive manner, confused because I had focused my eyes on her. She was in her twenties and stood hunched together, timid, her hands tied in knots, busy wringing each other around the wrist. Her posture was that of a guilt laden and salmon stuffed criminal; not that I had encountered such a specimen before, but this was how one would look, I decided.

I had only asked a question or two as to how big the salmon was, its appearance and where it had last been seen when Mrs. Hailey entered in a tizz.

"Dilbarrrrr." She rang out, "back so soon?"

"Just wanted to find the salmon as early as I could; you know before it rots." Why do I make these silly remarks?  At that precise moment Mr. Hailey, for some odd reason, popped his head around the kitchen door and looked at me disapprovingly, "Young man, I assume you were attempting humor."

I felt like the maid and developed an immediate empathy for her.

Mrs. Hailey jumped to my rescue, "don’t be a beast, he is only trying to help." Then she said in a singsong voice, "James is sore, I beat him in bridge, ta-da." She winked at me saucily. "Now go ahead Dilbar. Go ahead."

I winked back and Mrs. Hailey smiled. She loves my flirting. So I went ahead and asked the maid outside. Sabira was rosy cheeked, even more so than I was and an excellent candidate to be a salmon thief, if only for her good health.

I assured her that I was on her side; the angrez were horrible having the staff interrogated in this manner; they had no experience with servants, I said in defense of our mutual paymasters; no self respecting Pakistani would allow this, we either punished or trusted our employees, not this grey area of doubt.

Sabira looked at me earnestly, "Dilbar Sahib, I didn’t do it."

"Of course you didn’t. But someone did. "

She looked at me in confusion.

"Think hard, could it be Nawaz, Raja, the chauffeur, the gardener. Who Sabira, Who."

She shook her head at each name, so I said, "All I have left then is the neighbors." Sabira smiled as if I were joking with her.

"Who lives next door?" I pointed to the wall.

"Babar Sahib."

"The girl who screams, what about her?"

"Ambar Bibi you mean."

It was like I had made a momentous discovery. I paused and put the name to the face, imagined myself talking to Ambar… ( long pause) over a candlelit dinner.

Sabira laughed, "Everyone asks about Ambar Bibi. She is pretty and very nice. Everybody thinks she is mad." I could see Sabira had a habit of giving opinions and that told me she was not good servant material.

"Mr. Babar is her husband, I assume."

She laughed again and irritated me, this was supposed to be an interrogation. "Ambar Bibi says she is married to Bab …"

She couldn’t complete her exchange of ideas as Nawaz called out, his moustache bristling with chicken masala, "Sabira, enough gossiping. Dilbar sahib, we are not thieves; none of us is. If only they didn’t pay me so well I would have left."

Sabira rushed back in.  I nodded in agreement with Nawaz. Money was why I stood here talking to a kitchen maid. To be true I was there because of Ambar Bibi. Still money is a good thing to have, especially the mighty sterling.

#

 I pressed the bell, was greeted by a servant, lead into the drawing room and told to wait for Mrs. Babar.

The drawing room was large, and tastefully decorated in light hues of cream and pink. When Mrs. Babar walked in she looked tastefully decorated in her own way. She was a middle aged lady, petite, with more grey than black in her hair and bestowed with a certain grace and elegance that cannot be bought in beauty parlors. It comes from Swiss Finishing Schools, rich parents, richer husbands, powerful friends, and a social circle that excludes the likes of me.

"I was told by the servant you wanted to meet Ambar?"  She said.

Before I could answer she waved her hand and I sat down in the seat she had directed me to. I think they call them French Chairs. It is true that the less comfortable the seat, the more unwanted you are as a guest. There was something about Mrs. Babar that made her seem look less a Pakistani than she was. For one, her manners were too good and her smile too fixed.

"So, how do you know Ambar?" I felt as if I was being interrogated and wished I knew how to laugh away questions like Sabira.

"I met her on the street. She was, well … she was screaming." How polite can you get?

"It is kind of you to be concerned Mr.?"

"Dilbar.  Please delete the Mr."

Mrs. Babar smiled at me, "Ambar is not feeling well." Before I could ask the details, Mrs. Babar said, "Unfortunately it is not an illness that is temporary."

I am no physician but that statement seemed wrong, had to be. I said in a practiced professional manner, "Oh."

"Everyone here knows she is not well. Such a terrible word; even more so for one so beautiful." She paused, "Ambar is what one would call insane."

 As she uttered the sad words, Mrs. Babar stared at me; her smile remained fixed as before. The sigh had escaped through a fixed set of smiling thin lips. The words had been uttered with no sorrow. They were practiced repetitive sentences.

"I am sorry." I passed her a visiting card. "Please let me know if I may be of help."

"What do you do?" She asked without looking at the card (why do I waste money printing these damn cards.)

"A little bit of this, a little bit of that." Before she could enquire about either this or that, I said, "Is her husband home?"

For the first time the fixed smile went away, the lips became straight and the eyes grew sombre, "who said she had a husband?"

"Ambar did."

She looked at me now with serious concern, "Dilbar, have you met Ambar, other than on the street two days ago?"

Her tone was circumspect, suspicious. I had a feeling as if was she the shadow I had seen; the shadow that Ambar hated.

I inspected Mrs. Babar more closely than before. Her sari was expensive. Somehow women who wear sarees disarm me, especially if they tie it properly, wear an expensive blouse up to the navel, leave the mid riff naked and have sleeveless arms. Mrs. Babar was up market, very up market, like Ambar and had disarmed me up to a few seconds ago. Now I was not so sure I wanted to be armless in her presence.

I didn’t answer her question directly, "She didn’t look well that day."

She stared at me for a long time, "You didn't hear me, perhaps; Ambar is a very sick girl."

Now sick is a word I really dislike. It doesn’t mean a thing. You can be sick with cold or sick to death, or sick and dying or just plain sick; how do you figure out how sick is sick. I don’t, I just assume the worst. That way I have lower expectations and get depressed less. "Is it something that can't be treated?"

Mrs. Babar looked at me with a grave expression; her lips had gone straighter, thinner and taut with each second that passed, "Ambar is a confused and distraught child. She lives in the past; not the present. As for us, we love her. Of course she is under treatment."

"May I meet her?"

She stood up and decided to finish the interview, "I believe she should rest."

I felt as if my hook had caught something and I kept on tugging, "When can I see her?"

Mrs. Babar looked annoyed and angry. She might have thrown me out if not for the fact that her manners didn’t allow her to. She remained cool however, "Her doctor decides that for her."

"In that case, may I meet her husband?"

Somehow that was the final straw. Mrs. Babar's demeanor changed to one of finality from the earlier accommodating one, "I hope you shall now excuse me."

When I didn’t move Mrs. Babar said, "Good bye Mr. Dilbar. Allow me to show you out."

As we reached the door Mrs. Babar turned to me, "You are a young man. It is not polite to broach the subject of marriage related to young women. However I would like you to know that Ambar has no husband. Now please leave her in peace."

Mrs. Babar did not smile as she showed me to the exit door which is the same as an entrance door;  just that the manner I was shown out, it felt that way.

I stood awhile allowing my head to complete its spin. Then I considered the situation, realized that the interview had not gone so bad. My choices were quite easy; either I pursued Ambar because she wasn’t married, only crazy. Or she was married and still crazy.

It seemed a great idea to close the chapter on Ambar. The situation was not tailor made for an affair. I don’t have much time to waste and they say the world has more beautiful women than fish in the oceans.  It is another thing altogether that fish are useless when it comes to making love, apart from being smelly and slippery. That is why I have nice smelling, fully bathed, non slippery and non toxic girlfriends like Veena always available. They are handy when I come up against all odds. Nabila shall never understand the odds for a playboy in Pakistan: she thinks I am the King of Evens.

As I left the house, I dropped a couple of cards along the driveway and one outside on the sidewalk.

I love cheap publicity. There is no such thing as free.

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