Love Letters To Icons: Bano Qudsia

There are countless female icons that have coloured our history and left a lasting impression on us with their talent, charisma and presence. Every week, Ammaar – known on Instagram as ammaavocado – will be sharing his letter of love and admiration to some of these inspiring women. This week it’s to playwright and novelist, Bano Qudsia: 

Dearest Bano Aapa,

I was born to a household that woke up to jazz every morning and slept with a ghazal at night, slowly caressing their foreheads. A family that was birthed by music, that respected it, honored it, and loved it.

On the night of the funeral, I played loud ragtime jazz in the room after I buried my father under a sunset in the summer. The music made me watch him go away once more but only this time, I said my goodbyes.

And although his sudden departure on a cardiac arrest had logical explanations, it was said that it was just an act of God.

It rained the night of the funeral, and you couldn’t tell how much of the wetness on everyone’s face were tears and how much of it was just water, and I think that was an act of God.

Once, someone built a boat out of sinkable materials and told the world it was impossible to sink, and that was an act of Man.

The ship was so massive that it couldn’t steer out of the way of an iceberg that tore through the ship’s hull, sinking it and claiming the lives of over 1,500 of its passengers, and I am sorry, but that was probably an act of God.

Because it’s calming to know that things are not in our control. It is convenient to not have anything to do with the grief of someone or the grief that belongs to you.

And, look, it’s nobody’s job to keep any of us alive other than ourselves, and I get that. But I’ve been to the funerals, and I’ve held friends on the cold tile of their apartments with pills spilled out at their feet, and I’ve washed bed sheets three times in a row to get blood out of them, and I have been both the arms reaching and the arms pulling back. And so it’s all a matter of perspective is what I’m saying. It’s all a matter of what is needed for us to not have to return to a bed that is ours, and ours alone. And who do we imagine when we cuddle our pillows, who is still someone that we wish was not distant from us every night.

What about the people that are reminded by the sunset of those they have loved and lost. What does the night bring for them if not the desire to join their lovers?

I explore desire when I begin your letter because that’s what it’s all about for us writers, isn’t it, Bano? It’s about crafting what we can’t have. Some craft a world, others craft a love they need to survive here.

Bano, I’ve never called myself peerless because I’ve learned the craft through writers like you. I have molded my works to be as impactful as it was back in the days. I’ve been able to find a place in people’s hearts and that’s overwhelming but it’s something I’m learning to accept.

What most people don’t know about writers is that sometimes, the work they make doesn’t find a place in their own hearts but finds home in the hearts of others.

The reason I relate to you the most is that I see my struggle within you. I see how at times both of us did not have any money to spend but we wrote anyway. Because writing is for one’s own soul. You told a story in an interview with Anwar Maqsood on PTV once. You spoke about Ashfaq Ahmed and the struggles you went through with writing and creating. You begin by saying that these were times when you were very poor. But allow me to pause for a moment and tell the reader who Ashfaq Ahmed was. Ashfaq Ahmed was a writer, playwright, and broadcaster from Pakistan. Who was unemployed when he married you. I find that very romantic. It is my dream. To marry someone with nothing on my hands, and nothing on her hands, and to build something from nothing. That’s how you were. Both writers, both unappreciated and unrewarded, but both knowing what the worth of your words are.

The story goes that Ashfaq sahab wanted to publish a magazine once, but didn’t have the money for either part of the press. He called your brother who was an artist and asked him to draw a magazine with his own hands. All day both of them would draw and paint the pages of the magazines, and at the end of the day would ask you to help them hang it outside for them to dry because buying a dryer was not an option. You would leave the pages hanging from the rope waiting for the sun to dry the paints and have it ready to be written on. On days when rain would come; the readers would not find the magazine delivered to them and you would have to hold your stories back because an act of God has paused whatever greatness that could be poured onto a paper.

Bano, I see my struggle there. I see my struggle because I see the ways in which we writers fall short. I believe that a writer cannot be born in a luxury. He must know hunger to know how words can fill his belly on nights when a meal cannot.

I will end this with the example you gave in that interview. In the interview, you made a distinction between brilliant writers of the past and writers of today. You said that the difference is that we are focusing on beauty and not the soul. We are crafting beauty in writing, even if the writing has no life. Being beautiful is one thing, but having a beautiful soul. You said that the water that runs in the veins of a tree has dried out but the tree is still standing, the tree is green and filled with fruits, but it is not alive. It is fulfilling the purpose, but for others not for itself.

I love you, Bano. I love you for making me believe that writing is not just the words that are crafted in a way to ease off the tongue but it is about how those words must be understood and soaked into someone’s living. I love you for making me believe in writing, that it will not let me die hungry.



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