thou shalt keep thy shirt tucked in


when great writers can’t write, they write about not being able to write. that, among other reasons, is why they’re great writers. hillaire belloc, yes he of “cautionary tales” fame, once wrote an essay called on the death of my muse in his collection, on nothing. that the guy was a racist and an absolute bounder is somewhat mitigated by the fact that he had one of the most amazing philosophies about writing ever seen in a well known writer – in his own words, he aspired ‘to be as simple as “mary had a little lamb”‘.

if only the idiots who wrote the sales tax act thought that way.

because i am not a great writer – well actually i am, only the world is too dumb to have realised it – i will not write about not being able to write. that’s passe and if i did, the nitpicking among you would call me a plagiarist or a wannabe without realising that there is a genuine difference between copying and getting inspired. then again, its not easy to write about not being able to write. its actually oxymoronic if not simply moronic to be doing something you claim you can’t do – though if you’re the convincing type you can gain legendary status. think of cherry trees and the little boy who said “i cannot tell a lie”. so who was the guy who ran away with the axe? but i’ve gone way offtrack.

since i am unable to think of anything orignal, i will regale you with tales of the truly great. the guys who developed our glorious heritage. yes i am talking about our classic urdu poets and their not too poetic doings.

of all the rivalries and adbi nok jhok, the most famous rivalry is of course that of ghalib with zauq. however, there was a more elaborate and intense war of words and oneupmanship going on between the slightly earlier classics, mussafi and – if i remember correctly – shefta. it is a well documented fact that in the days of the mughals and their nawabs and jageerdars, poets used to flock around the courts of the regional ruler and live off the pensions these guys afforded them; in the process writing many pieces of absolute crap about them. i mean who can forget ghalib’s famous dua for bahadur shah zafar?

tum salamat raho hazar baras
hara baras mein ho din pachas hazar

in normal human years that translates into 136,986 years and almost 4 months. now is that a blessing or a curse? i wouldn’t wish that on anyone. anyway it so transpired that most of these rulers and fiefs were actually the pampered darlings of equally idiotic parents who were unable to stimulate the minds of the creative geniuses who lived off them. so those poets used to spend their time dissing each other like teenage kids with nothing to do. for instance, the classic case of the blind poet muttering shab ko phabti shab-e-daijool ki soojhi (shab-e-daijool = a guy with face as dark as the night), only to hear the sharp retort, andhay ko andheray mein baree door ki soojhi.

it was in this kind of environment that this shefta or whoever dude decided to get mussafi’s goose. one fine day, as musaffi was returning home with his family from an outstation trip, he was overheard arguing with his wife by a student of shefta. the student blke thought this was too good an opportunity to miss so he rushed straigh to his teacher’s place and told him about the incident. the two of them quickly organised a mini procession of a bunch of other students who paraded in mussafi’s neighbourhood with two large wooden dolls singing a song penned by their teacher which had a chorus that went “lartay huay aaye hain mussafi aur mussafan“. needless to say, the whole neighbourhood laughed their collective ass off.

now if you’re a pretty well known poet (thats “pretty well known” not “pretty, well known”. understand the difference) and the whole neighbourhood is laughing its collective ass off at a joke about your personal life, you tend to get infuriated. in fact, i’m willing to be you feel that way even if you’re not a pretty well known poet. so what do you do? well if you have a whole bunch of your own students who are just as ticked off at the affront to their esteemed teacher, you send in the troops to break a few legs.

and if you’re the kind of person who can organise such parades you know exactly what to expect.

when the enraged lathi bearing mob reached his house, they were not met by another bunch of armed men. or barbed wire. or roadblocks. instead, there was a bunch of smiling young men who rushed out with garlands of flowers and shouts of welcome and other nice things leaving mussafi’s marauders totally flummoxed. they were cordially invited in to have dinner with the sheftas (ok so i don’t know what his real name was) and to have a nice time. they left without partaking of the feast, but more importantly, without partaking of shefta.

this story has kindled another spate of great driving incidents. instead of the obligatory karachi style angry stare at errant drivers who manage to irritate me on the road, i now greet them with loud, insane, cackling laughter. i laugh loud and i laugh long and i can see them seething at my refusal to be normal and that makes me laugh even louder. the best thing is, no one can pick a fight with someone who’s laughing without even looking at them and not get pulverised by the mob that automatically gathers at all karachiite road rage incidents.

who said history doesn’t teach you things?


and if you’re wondering why this post is titled what it is, keep wondering.


44 Responses to “thou shalt keep thy shirt tucked in”


  2. NOte to SELF: Need to do something about writer’s block :/

  3. Not being able to write is not so much about not finding the words, as not finding the inspiration that will cause the words to flow like a raging river. For some writers, not being able to write is a kind of (reverse) inspiration. Not being able to write itself becomes a subject on which to write. So, while on one level a writer writing about the fact that she can’t write might seem oxymoronic, on closer inspection it is not.

    Writers write about issues, topics, situations, events. A writer who admits to suffering from writer’s block may simply be admitting to the fact that nothing turns her on, so to speak. Often that admission comes about because the writer is unable to write about the things she likes to write about; someone who considers herself a writer of social satire, could conceivably write herself out of her *block* by attempting to expound on the quasi-cyclical nature of the mating habits of socially inferior social-climbers.

    Anyway, it’s so kool to say, casually, “i’m suffering from writer’s block!”

  4. lolzzz!! i’ve heard the anday ko andhere wala joke quite a few times :p but never the shefta one :p
    and i LOVE your manner of excating revenge on angry stares :p lolzz!

    here’s to you not getting ur ass pulverized :p

    oh, and the writers block is still on :S

  5. but its more due to lack of time to sit down and write, consequently forgetting what you wanted to write about when you do sit down, and then running out of time trying to remember what you were forgetting…

    a vicious cycle indeed.

  6. i’ll be pretty, mussaaffaahh can be the well known poet. he’ll know the difference 😀

  7. those were the days, when spats were settled through taking shots through poems….

  8. 8 PsycheD

    ….and u have mastered the art of misleading ur readers through the topics…damn it xilley! i was looking for the shirt!!!

    and err…oneupsmanship has become one word now? i was just readin this article on the disappearing hyphens and two words becoming one………ok…….so i read through looking for the damn shirt here!!!! (since u mentioned in the end, i cudnt have missed the shirt hidden in em shers have i?)

    and i repeat – me not the sher-o-shaeri kind…but im impressed at how u ‘regale’ with ur references and behind the scenes knowledge of the goings on of another prehistoric era. are u like reincarnated or something?

  9. 9 skzworldofdreams

    lol @ ‘andhay ko andheray mein baree door ki soojhi.’ !! Beautifully written post again.. how DO you come up with this stuff? 🙂
    Oh wait…according to ‘because i am not a great writer – well actually i am, only the world is too dumb to have realised it’…your self image doesn’t need more building up, does it? :S ooohhh!! 😛
    Oh and FYI…I’m pretty, well known!!! 😀 😛

  10. @ cyma: 🙂

    @ kinkminos: dude you are the only person in the world i’ve ever come across who substitutes the generic “him” and “his” for “her” and “hers”. you are the perfect spokesman for the contemporary women’s lib movement. more power to you.

    @ mansoor: a vicious cycle is one in which things go round and round right? that makes all cycles vicious. even innocent little tricycles. it is a vile, vile world we live in.

    @ hemlock: its mussafi not muussaffah. as in from the mus-haf. (mus-haf = the cloth people normally wrap the Quran in)

    @ tanzilla: yeah 🙂 imagine how nice it would be if they did that these days. then again, don’t. i cannot imagine more torture than chaudhry shujaat and benazir having a go at each other in a mushaira

    @ sparky: this is like barely 200 years ago. that doesn’t make it prehistoric. bibi was 26 at the time. right, bibi? 😛

    @ bibi: woman, its one thing to claim. another to prove. dream on, my pretty daft friend. (note that there’s no comma after pretty) 😛 🙂

  11. 11 skzworldofdreams

    There you go again…asking me to send you my pic…tsk, tsk… 😉
    Oh I know how weak your grammar is, Xil. Hence the ‘amtter’ instead of ‘matter’ on my blog. Koi baat nahin..You don’t need to state the obvious…the ‘obvious’ being the comma after pretty. 😀 😛
    Oh and the comment to ‘sparky’: Aahhh!! So if you remember my age then, that would def. mean you were older than me…quite older, to have remembered my age…say 61?? 😛

  12. 12 skzworldofdreams

    Thou shalt not disappear after leaving one comment.” Apparently you forgot about this 11th commandment. 😀

  13. i shalt disappear whenever i so feeleth. and there shalt be naught that you can do about it.

    so go suck an egg. 😛

  14. Firstly, the post entitles me as a good author who keeps wondering what to write:-p
    secondly, and honestly you can write good afsanas:)

  15. 15 skzworldofdreams

    And thirdly.. 😛 That was rude, Mr.!! You’re lucky I’m so Imanesquely sophisticated and am just giving you ‘the eyebrow’… 😉

  16. 16 Saadat

    Haha! Reminded me of the Shu’ara kay Adabi Lateefay that we read in 10th grade.

    By the way, isn’t that “iss zulf pay phabti shab-e-daijoor ki soojhi“? With shab-e-daijoor being a dark, black night?

    And, uh, I am not a great writer. I always write about the weather when I have nothing to write about. 🙄

    *tucks his shirt in*

  17. @ unaiza: roflol at the idea of me being an afsananigar. 😀 thats hilarious!

    @ bibi: much as i am crazy about her, even i don’t think she’s sophisticated! 😛 she is jsut a very physically attractive godess. you aren’t. deal with it. 😛 🙂

    @ saadat: well you’ve got the typo right. it is daijoor not daijool. but i’ve heard both versions of the joke and somehow the istilahi reference makes more sense considering that the word phabti is normally used in the context of a wisecrack not a compliment. and to compare someone’s hair to the dark night seems way too like a compliment to me. whereas in our highly complexion conscious culture, there is always a wisecrack flying around about a dark guy. trust me, i know. 🙂

    you guys are so lucky they taught you proper urdu in school. i only ever studied it as a second language, something i’ll always regret.

  18. 18 skzworldofdreams

    ‘she is jsut a very physically attractive godess.’ PG 13!! PG 13!!!!!!!!!! Eww!! 😛
    And as I said before…YOU’LL NEVER KNOW 😉 ….deal with it. 🙂 😛

  19. 19 Saadat

    I actually wondered about the use of phabti too, and even asked my Urdu teacher about it. His answer was something like affectionately teasing the beloved. (My personal opinion is that Jurat might have been retaliating to a sang-dil mehboob who had left him.) But anyway, don’t you think that the istilahi version has its wazan a little unbalanced?

    And don’t worry. Your Urdu is much better than many people I know who used to top in all those Urdu exams.

  20. 20 Saadat

    Oops. Looks like Akismet just ate my comment. 😕

  21. 21 Saadat

    Nope, it didn’t. Sorry for flooding. 🙂

  22. 22 PsycheD

    :S is it me? or the rozas?? i seem to find all those -eths and thous hard to register

  23. as far as wazan goes, neither of them was jigar muradabadi, so i wouldn’t worry. 🙂 then again, i’m hardly an expert on urooz. either way, you have to admit, it was one hell of a retort. 😀

    and thanks for the complimetnts on my urdu. 🙂

  24. @ sparky: that’s because you aren’t a college student anymore and don’t have any registers.

  25. I think kinkominoz hit the proverbial (and non existent ofcourse) G-Spot of writer’s block.

    I mean i have noticed that some people can just write. Have written since they were kids and dreamt of having their novel make the next bestsellers list since they were eating ants out of the neighbours foreign plants. 😛

    Yet, at some point in time they go : Damn… i think i got what they call writer’s block… and trust me there is nothing cool about it. Least not to a born writer. To them its just a bloody curse.

    But sometimes writer’s block is more than nothing turning u on, so to speak. Sometimes its about so many things ‘turning u on’ all at once… that state of having such a jumble of thoughts that u dun know which one shud come out first and which one shud follow and u get the pressure of making out sense of that onslaught of words and you realize u have been on one Prozac too many 😛

  26. as for the urdu poets and their misunderstood meandering thoughts on each other, do i sense some (ahem!) resentment for the poor fellows here?

  27. 27 skzworldofdreams

    Oh, so you’re ‘dealing with it’ (hard to do, ain’t it? 😉 ) and that’s why no comment on my comment? 😀

  28. 28 skzworldofdreams

    *And Xil writes a post, and then waits for each post to reach 100 comments, and then writes another one…yyyyyaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnn! 😀 *

  29. @ cyma: the only thing i resent about classic urdu poets is not being one myself. i would willingly sell my soul to be able to come up with some thing like…

    agar sharar hai to bharkey, jo phool hai to khilay
    tarah tarah ki talab teray rang-e-lab se hai

    but life is not so kind. ***sigh***

    @ bibi: “acha baba! kal se hum bhi rafhan custard hi laaeingay.” that is alli have to say to you. 😛

  30. You are a great writer. You compose better (and more stimulating) entries in English than native English speakers. Applaud yourself. Here are some laurels to tie around your neck.

    I aspire to write as succinctly as “Mary had a little lamb” as well.

    (Also, I’m changing my digital alias, so you may consider renaming the link to my site. Or removing it. I support either decision.)

  31. thank you. 🙂

    you’re more likely to write “mary acquired possession of the scion of a goat”. only much more artistically. which is way cool. 🙂

    by the way i hope the alias is inspired by the late lord and not olivia newton john 😛

  32. Definitely not Olivia Newton John! Ha ha. I dislike Greece (I suffered through a school production in elementary school).

  33. LOL!! What was THAT?? *Duh, I know the ad, but…WHAT WAS THAT??!* 😛
    Newton: ‘Applaud yourself’…err…please don’t say that to Xil…his ‘hot air balloon’ is already FULL!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. Hm? I interpreted “i am not a great writer – well actually i am, only the world is too dumb to have realised it” as sarcasm, not overweening pride.

  35. >>> kinkminos: dude you are the only person in the world i’ve ever come across who substitutes the generic…

    you gotta get out more
    : )
    the world has changed for the bitter [sic] since 1963 when the feminine mystique was de-mystified (or further mystified – depending on who(m) you speak to)

  36. 😀 Nopes it wasn’t sarcasm. 😀 Kyun Xil?

  37. @ bibi: of course it was. i am the most modest, humble, down-to-earth man you ever heard of… just goes to show whata great man i am. 😎 😛

    @ kinkminos: or maybe its just that you’re married and i’m single 🙂

  38. hey, i thought it was us — the balled (if you’ll excuse the pun) and chained — who spend more time contemplating our navels

  39. 39 skzworldofdreams

    Hah!!!! There come those dark glasses again…..see Newton? 😛

  40. Your post has a’muse’d me to write… my wrongs. Love your work!

  41. @ kinkminos: in another context, yeah. 🙂

    @ bibi: rafhan custard, remember? rafhan custard.

    @ omer: 🙂 coming from you, that’s like a major compliment. thanks!

  42. 42 skzworldofdreams

    O_O ???????? I know rufhan custard, but ????????? You bhooke! 😀 😛

  43. As I read the wonderful post, I was delighted to note the one error in it. I actually skimmed the rest in my haste to come down here and let the world know how much of a knowledgeable person I am about such matters – in JB’s absence at least.

    Thankfully, I spotted Saadat’s name in the comments section as I scrolled down to this box, and I was aware of a ‘thanakaning’ in my forehead, if I may attempt a literal translation of the Urdu idiom – something told me that my thunder had been stolen. Which it had been. Wholesale.

    So now I can’t tell you about ‘daijoor’, and will instead just agree that we great writers often write about not being able to write. Have I told you yet, how I have not been able to write in like forever?

  44. I do beleive the shayr is

    Iss zulf pae phabti shab-e-daejoor ki soojhee
    Andhay ko andheray mayn bohat duur ki soojhi

    Fun post, anyway.

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