4 min read

Dehlee, Beloved

Meri Dil ki Dehleez / The threshold of my heart

“Your heart is Delhi’s, no wonder anyone else finds it hard to lay claim to.” By the One closer to me than my jugular, I plead guilty as 5800 kms away when I breathe in clean air, my lungs choke on muffled screams calling out your name. And I was warned once, by Shahid, that you last “like blood on the bitten tongue.” But I, born in your arms (also like Shahid) had no choice and now I forsake the ones that I do. Oh Dilli, Beloved! Your sights, your smells, your life. Unashamed, unabashed. Sweet and crass. In every lane I have seen eyes that pierce the soul. Your air dense, with sticky sweetness and your tarmac, playgrounds for pandemonium, thoroughfares of horns and squealing tyres crossed semi regularly by flying kabootars and bravehearted pedestrians. Floating bits of Khariboli and snatches of earthen Punjabi. Tempers running high and the AQI higher. O Palimpsest City, from Indraprastha to Jahaanabaad, between Lutyen’s denial and interventions of a megalomaniac stand medieval walls, phlegmatic guardians of dichotomies. O Bastion of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, your memories lie buried in your ruins and the ruins of my heart. In desolate palaces and thriving shrines of long dead Sufi Saints. O Muse of Mir, Ghalib, Dagh, Momin, Zauq! Away from you every second, an eternity of separation passes over me like sand over the city of Ozymandias. After the Semals fall, the Amaltas bloom. And the eyes seek Bougainvillea and Shahtoot. When fragrant Saptaparni heralds Diwali, weddings follow shortly after. Beloved Delhi, sentenced to eternal life, wrapped in a shroud of words I have buried you, in me. Your desire stands guard at the doors of my heart. No one else can enter, none can depart.

Kuu-e-yaar/ Lane of the Beloved 

Every night the same ghosts. Every morning the same words 

on the bathroom mirror. O forsaken god. Your threshold 

is devoid of flowers. No one ever gave me my favourite flowers 

in Astana, the red poppies I bought wilted before the day ended. 

The wind bit my cheeks, and my fingers froze when I hailed a cab 

“Where to?” he asked 

“Kuu-e-yaar,” I said. 

Sorry sir, its too crowded 

The Beloved has invited all rivals for your love, tonight. 

We must reroute to suu-e-daar. 

Before I saw the expanse of my desire

discarded like a fortnight old newspaper. 

Not even an Urdu one, where the names of Allah would be cut out 

and preserved. It was my grandfather’s job, now my uncle’s 

lest they be desecrated for 

Wendell Berry said, “There are no unsacred places only sacred places 

and desecrated places.” 

I eat shards for dinner and the blotches on the carpet 

are testimony to my fate: 

a forsaken god 

with a paperback heaven. 

In hindsight I see 

that there were gods before me, 

and you said there will be one 

after me. But I was blinded by your faith. 

Is omnipotence a blessing or a curse? 

How do I hate you who have worshipped me

with the light of a dying sun. Who have kept me 

in the black of your eyes. 

Where do I put this fire that refuses 

to die and refuses to 

let me live. My legs refuse 

to sit still 

and I am shifting 

from one foot to the another, 

perpetually moving. 

An act you claimed, 

before you claimed my whole being. Before I was forsaken 

and all my words, I forsook. 

When all doors close a new one is supposed to open. 

But opening a new one means turning 

my back to another 

and I have turned around nothing 

but you 


Now I race light on tangents but I 

forgot that your longing was a black hole. 

So I dream, again, of days together 

morning spent making shakshuka 

the afternoon, poetry 

and the evening, love 

and I push you, to confess your sins, 

in front of your god 

and to beg for punishment as you once did

skin flush against red brick 

rivers flow at our feet, 

a thousand Aphrodites are born everyday.

 Everyone wants a better story. Everyone wants an ideal. 

Everyone settles. Everyone is sad. 

The world is beautiful and everyone is sad. 

You said, a necessary death 

i heard, unnecessary death. 

Everyone else apologises except because of the Beloved 

and even Allah does not forgive shirk 

and I am but human.


My love, my poet, my dearest dictator.

I turn around you until the world is right. 

“I want to immobilize you. I wasn’t to immortalize you,”
she says. Licks my cuts. What torture are her eyes?
I wanted to say something. I forget myself
in them. Green seas and black pits of desire. I am lost
on the shores of remembrance. My memories
claimed by the Keeper of my graveyard
of memories. There is no science,
no logic. Where does she end? And I begin?
It was the sun, and then you gave yourself
to me.
Either she knows she is my Sun,
or she does not know I am blinded
by her desire. Nothing else is true except
when she, “the knife I turn inside myself,”
kisses my hands, “the hand that assassinates,”

the hand that holds – hands that didn’t sweat?
The hands that nicked, paper cuts pressed
to lips. Where is she from? In one hand she’s brought
the Koshar Muiz, in another the Bosphorus, and I
left unrhymed to Majnoon, Qais, Ranjha, Jaun & Korpesh.
The chocolate is blue and yellow. My hands are too short,
I am not justice, only desire, despair, desolate. Where
isn’t she from? I must revolve, faster than light. She has
brought seas of desires and blackholes
of longing. Her eyes see through my eyelids.
You are always moving for me.
I must move, I can not escape. You saved me
when you said, ‘Farida you know how to elicit a smile.’

What was her plan? Violent desires with violent ends?
It is not sleeping if it is unethical. It is not a home
if it is not peaceful. I’d like to make a peaceful home
for you. 
I want to say time is of the essence but
I’m scattered in a billion pieces, spread,
like glitter under the mountain air 

on her. The fire did not harm Ibrahim but this fire
that consumes me is one of junoon and with
my eyes closed I see deserts bloom and
poppies sway. Will she still steal all the oil in the world,
just to keep it burning? Is it killing if it is softly?
27 revolutions. I’ve not existed back then. Manifested
to life with your letters. I’m nobody without
your words. 
Maybe twice as many more. No end
in sight just abject repetition. We must live
forever. When I fall asleep, I am wishing dreams to us.
When I wake up, the dreams are haunting me.
What will be revealed? What don’t you know?
Kozimnin Karasy. You are the black of my eyes.
In my dreams, I am the black of her eyes. Sisyphus
rolling boulders of longing, going around
and around. All maps of my life would centre on her.
Delhi, Berlin, Salzburg, Dessau. 

Astana. What is there to know?
The absolute truth. The only truth
of longing? That she has chosen to live
without. Is it killing if it is softly?
I am chaos. Disorganised. I say, “You were
to organise me. You suffer as much as me.
With me. For me.” Brains on the asphalt.
Let me see. I warmed my stethoscope
for you. You’re my favourite patient.
I think it is love. No cure. Die in peace.

Sent by fate, she was the mirror I lost myself in. Just myself
or all sense? I polish mirrors of our longing. Is there
some hope? She must kill my hope. Set me free.
“Don’t kill my hope, let me wander.”
She has birthed me dichotomies.
I would birth you countries.
“Look me in the eyes and stop being sad.” Perhaps
our only chance will be logic, gone to the wind.
Like the Beloved, like the Universe,
the 7 Heavens, and the fire below. Lost in her eyes,
like me. I have bribed Atlas, our constellations won’t
drift apart. Let there be light, nothing clandestine about this.
I will light all the torches from Mecca to Al Quds and my
fires of longing will vaporise all oceans of separation. 

All my words gone to a fickle worshipper. I dream she has made a home
on my tongue. When I wake up, my blood flavoured words
now smell of brick and mortar. Or
just purely you. The flowers are wilting,
my grandfather would call himself a flower.
That makes me the fruit. A fuzzy peach, juicy and
awaiting a violent end. Which is to say
that it hasn’t stopped raining since I set foot in this city. 

My Heart can’t stay brave forever. Shahzeb,
Aynalayin, I turn and turn and return to you. It’s fatal.
We need to live forever.
I must revolve.
The Earth will never meet the Sun. When will this night
of Separation end? I will die, in Winter in Delhi.
We must live forever. This fatal longing might still be defeated.
I live still, I am in the black of your eyes, drowning in the green seas,
I am every thought you think, every face you see. I leave no wiggle room,
we were enough. I must live forever; I will live forever
till the Earth meets the Sun and I am all you see. 

for Farida Khodja

Architect and poet, Shahzeb Athar is a graduate of Architectural and Cultural Heritage currently living far away from his beloved Delhi. When not charting maps of his longing, he is planning (read daydreaming about) walks in Delhi, or waxing poetic about whatever seemingly insignificant thing he lays eyes upon. He refers to himself as a Graveyard of Memories, but when asked to describe himself resorts to Ghalib couplets. His work has appeared in The Alipore Post, Usawa Literary Review and Memories on a Plate.

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