Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
James Henry Leigh Hunt
How apt was it to see Falak reading this 19th c Leigh Hunt poem to the young girl, describing an angelic visitation experienced by one of the most prominent among the earliest Sufis – Abou Ben Adhem. An 8th c prince, Adhem is most well-known for the renunciation of his throne and all worldly possessions, leaving all behind to lead an ascetic lifestyle. He is widely remembered for his countless acts of kindness and righteousness. Here Adhem’s asceticism does not refer to shunning the world and roaming around in jungles and deserts, nor does it refer to wearing certain kinds of clothes or following prescriptive rituals. This asceticism is beyond the realm of the obvious. It calls for a walking away from the superficial materialism of this world, a conscious rejection of all the various luxuries we everyday folk deem as necessities. This is the kind of asceticism where one needs to take a long hard look at everything around, assessing and evaluating through the eyes of those not so fortunate. This is the kind of asceticism that comes out of expunging israaf and introducing qana’at in one’s life. This is the kind of asceticism that naani has been trying to convey all along to her daughter and nawaasi. This is the asceticism that Falak is now learning to appreciate. This is the kind of asceticism that spirituality is all about – clearing out the debris of wants and desires blocking the pathway, opening it for the true Beloved to enter His real abode, the longing human heart. This is what spirituality is all about – inviting the makeen into the makaan and transforming it into a ghar. This ascetic spirituality is what Shehr-e Zaat is all about.
The Falak we saw today is a far cry from the flighty Falak we first met fourteen weeks ago. That beautifully made up Falak had no qualms in cursing away a beggar, who dared to touch the widow of her car. He was dirty and he was messing her car, it was as simple as that. This new barefaced Falak, on the other hand, has no hesitation in striking up a conversation with a random boy selling newspapers by the roadside. This Falak has no problems in walking into a poorest of poor neighborhood and hugging the dead boy’s sister. Yes, this poor girl is probably just as dirty and smelly as the boy whom she had swatted off all those weeks ago, but today when Falak meets this girl she doesn’t see the dirt and the filth, she doesn’t smell the body odor, all she sees reflected in the girl’s face is the face of the One she now wants to call her own. Falak’s involuntary hug said it all – empathy, sorrow, aiteraaf, pashemaani, iltija, a medley of emotions expressed exquisitely in that one silent but heartfelt gesture. Mahira Khan, you render me speechless –I didn’t even realize I had tears rolling down my face till long after.
In her journey, from wujood to zaat, from majazi to haqeeqi, Falak is now at the point where she is now beyond assigning blame, either on others or herself. This is the calm after the storm where she has distanced herself and is now assessing the damage. Upon returning from the dead boy’s very humble abode she enters her own luxuriously appointed house and looks around as if for the first time. And perhaps it is indeed the first time that she has actually seen all that is around her. How could she have spent a lifetime here and never really taken it all in? A big question indeed, one that she asks herself as she wearily climbs up the stairs to her bedroom and then looks out the window at all the beauty that lies beyond. How could she have been so blind? Khizar Idrees’ camerawork was exceptional here – from the moment Falak walked into her house to where she stood beautifully framed between the drawn window curtains. Excellent stuff!
Falak’s breakdown arising out of her impatience with a still uncomprehending Mehrunnisa was brilliant. I’m not sure where Mahira is drawing on all this angst, but watching her lose herself completely in Falak and letting it all out was amazing. Hina Bayat was once again her quietly impressive self. The amount of emotion she manages to bring to her character without having much to say is truly exceptional. I wonder how long it will take Mehrunissa to remove the lens of materialism through which she tends to view the world. Her inane chatter about chiffon clothes from India and boring Pakistani designers would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. Here is a woman whose daughter is undergoing a metamorphosis right in front of her eyes, but the way she willfully ignores the changes in Falak is a very apt commentary on the hypocrisy we see all around us. We are happy to “discuss” issues like religion, spirituality, simplicity, charity, only as long as we don’t have to deal with them first hand. There is no way this hi-fi mom wants her daughter turning into naani’s twin. As far as Mehrunnisa’s concerned, there’s plenty of time for doing that later in one’s life; hence her inability to get why Falak is not the least bit interested in Salman anymore.
Speaking of Salman, he made a brief appearance; somehow Mikaal’s scene with Seemi Pasha did not leave that great an impact on me. What I did love though was how turn by turn all characters are being compelled to stand in front of the metaphorical mirror. Turns out Mr. Ansar has a few skeletons hidden in his closet as well. Though this is primarily Falak’s story and we are following her journey, other characters too are fellow travelers. In turn all are being asked to self-evaluate as they take one step away from wujood and move that much closer to zaat.
With two more weeks left to go, Falak’s journey will end soon; she has realized her mistakes and is in the process of turning over a new leaf. The important question here is how much have we grown in these fifteen or so weeks. Like Mehrunnisa, we too have been talking the talk, but are we walking the walk like Falak? How many times have we stood in front of the mirror? Have we liked what we’ve seen reflected?
Such then is the power of Shehr-e Zaat, it is not just a serial one watches for mindless entertainment and later forgets. Shehr-e Zaat is about life lessons that we all can reflect on and heed, drawing on the imparted wisdom to better our lives. For giving us so much to think about – thank you Umera and Sarmad – much respect …
Written by SZ~