Our Inauspicious Stars

Is it thy will, thy image should keep open

My heavy eyelids to the weary night?

Dost thou desire my slumbers should be broken,

While shadows like to thee do mock my sight?

Is it thy spirit that thou send’st from thee

So far from home into my deeds to pry,

To find out shames and idle hours in me,

The scope and tenor of thy jealousy?

O no; thy love, though much, is not so great.

It is my love that keeps mine eye awake,

Mine own true love that doth my rest defeat,

To play the watchman ever for thy sake.

For thee watch I whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,

From me far off, with others all too near.

—Sonnet 61, William Shakespeare

Sighing paramedics, and a police constable with his arms crossed trudging behind them, diffused inside a lofty bungalow, the sole inhabitant of which dangled from the ceiling inside the barely furnished living room. From an old cassette player in a corner, a recording of Mozart’s Requiem gushed forth. The noose hanging from the ceiling slightly oscillated as two of the paramedics roughly laid the slender figure on the dusty floor. Afzal knelt next to the somber corpse, carefully running his eyes across the details which more often than not hid in plain sight. A hand hammered on his shoulder, but he did not need to turn to see who it was.

“What’s the name of this bloke, Afzal?” Wajih asked, with the indifference of a police constable who had grown accustomed to such dreadful sights over the years.

“Shafi Rehman, sir,” Afzal answered, almost involuntarily as he squinted at the body.

“Any family? Friends? Anyone to be notified?”

“No, sir, he seems to have been a hermit.”

“A hermit, you say? Take a guess why he hanged himself, son. I bet he killed somebody.”

Afzal remained silent, with his sight adhered to the serene expression on the lifeless face. Wajih walked away, grunting something unpleasant under his breath. Soon a stretcher was brought in that transferred the body into an ambulance. Afzal hurriedly caught a glimpse at his watch, eagerly scanning the entire room over and over again. Resting his right hand on his sweaty forehead, Afzal spotted a little diary in the corner of a desk. He vigilantly reached for it and slid it into his coat. Leaving the house in a frenzy, he sprinted back to his garret. Once inside, he propped open the diary on the table, eager to gaze beyond the mysterious air that quivered over the dead man.

The Diary of Shafi Rehman

Unheard screams echo in remembrance of you, my dear

Anguish ablaze with your memories

All music strangles with fantasies!

Your clockwork between our union stood

Your exuberant face refuses to let the rope be cut

I hang over an abyss—go return, you phantom, to your origin,

For I am destined to fall—I am destined to suffer

My torturer has no stain on her conscience—no!

Indifference is her chambermaid; she secures her from my passion

To the grave will I follow my love

Until she is of the stars, I will watch over her

I will kiss, embrace, and dwell therein

Cries of an Insane Soul by Shafi Rehman


—I cannot sleep anymore. I cannot keep getting pulled into my imagination to confront the pain and the phantom. Without imagination, however, life is not worth living at all. Damn her! Two years past, and yet she leaves me not. Every vision of her festers my wound. Why does it have to be a part of me, this weakness in me which she has taken advantage of and thereby doomed me? I—the poor creature, the helpless youth with his spirit of infatuation! There have been times when I sit outside a teahouse to enjoy a cup of some fine tea, only to find myself talking to an empty chair before me—imagining her just sitting there, watching her dangle her legs under the table and putting on a sympathetic face for my affliction. Her phantom is more real now than any other human for me. I can’t seem to let go. I must find some way to rid myself of her. Oh, I must! How else could I ever hope to escape the darkness of this solitary confinement? I must find the light at the end of this tunnel. I must find detachment.


—What did Goethe do to rid himself of his beloved, the one he couldn’t call his own? He seems to have killed his weakness by writing it to death. May not this same practice contain my salvation? I have no other choice. I must go back to the memories and provoke them. I must stare them in the face without fear.


—I have picked up the pen at last to cure myself. I hardly know where to begin. Where did I first see her? Oh, yes, it was inside the cafeteria of the Sukkur IBA University. In my first year there, I made it almost a routine to consume my lunch inside the cafeteria. I would meditate on the proceedings of every day there. I was fond of meditating for hours even then. And almost on every day, my eyes would be focused on my plate. But during one instance of this routine, my eyes wandered. How I wish I could go back in time to hold my head still! I discovered her then before my eyes. To be fair to the memory, I must find some metaphor to describe what thundered through me at that moment—the final piece of a long unsolved puzzle finally fit; her aesthetic features cracked open the lock of my emotional prison.

She was a relatively tall girl, possessing a thin, oblong face with a prominent chin and rounded cheekbones. She had an extremely slender figure resembling a round tower that promised a pathway outside the confines of this earthly existence with its walls spiraling along a curve like her hips as it would dwarf all orbits. She walked in a dignified manner as if the intricacies of her character were woven into the fabric of her movements. What struck me most odd about her, I recall, was her uncanny resemblance to an actress whom I admired at the time.


—For the next few weeks, I grew increasingly infatuated with her. I couldn’t help but track her movements inside the campus. A volcanic eruption would always be provoked inside me whenever I caught a glimpse of her. It wasn’t too long after that time that the pain of infatuation started to weigh down on me.


—I recall one particularly dangerous instance where I found myself sitting only a few feet away from her at a table right next to hers outside the cafeteria. At that moment, the compulsion that had absolute control over me did not show me any sign of mercy. Sitting there, I decided to perform an exorcism on myself. In my left hand, I held a pencil, and after every few seconds, I would push its sharp nib against the palm of my right hand. I compulsively had my eyes set on her, awaiting the moment when they would finally meet hers. But her eyes never left the smartphone screen on which they were compulsively concentrated. There was only one question at that time that hovered over my mind repeatedly—why did this creature, this unique arrangement of biological molecules, have this effect on me?


—It wasn’t that I imagined that I was struggling after a “happily ever after” sort of conclusion. The truth was that I could clearly see myself regretting this pursuit even if I did end up making her mine—I could see that we would eventually lose any affection for each other, that we would curse my infatuation that would have had led us to that misfortune. And yet, this could not in the least hinder my resolution—people had to die, injustices had to be committed, the Universe had to eventually die out, and I had to make her mine. Anticipating regret can never dissuade you from its path—only fear can. And at that time, I knew no fear, or perhaps, I had grown infinitely numb to any degree of self-restraint.


—To paint a comprehensive picture, I must pour out another “dangerous” incident she provoked. One evening, just as I was making my way out of the campus to head for City Point, a nexus of transportation at the outskirts of Sukkur where buses and vans stopped for some time to accumulate new passengers, I saw her once again. She stood outside the campus on the other side of the road with some friend of hers, extending her arm to a rickshaw. The rickshaw stopped before them, and just as they were seating themselves inside it, I, without a second thought, ran to a rickshaw nearby. I quickly jumped inside it and told the driver to follow the rickshaw she was in. He obeyed without question. I could feel my heart jumping out of my chest. My forehead perspired rapidly as I sat still, my eyes set on her rickshaw. As I sat there, I started to imagine how after a while she and I would both catch the same bus, how I would maintain strong eye contact with her inside the bus throughout the entire journey, how we would start a relationship soon after that, how we would both abandon the university once and for all, how we would eventually get married and live inside some cabin in the woods, how we would have a child together, and how I would bring back that baby back to my house, surprising my family with it after years of not having visited them.

Anyway, during the chase, my rickshaw suddenly died. I got out and confronted the driver. He explained that there was some technical issue with the engine and that I would have to catch another rickshaw. I did catch another rickshaw in a vain attempt to follow her. I did not see her again that day.


—A desire to put a name to the face began overwhelming me. I had a hunch that her name started with the alphabet ‘Q’. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Through a friend of mine inside my dorm, who had many connections throughout the campus, I found out her name. It took him two weeks to find it out, but he eventually came through.

“Her name is Munazah,” he told me.


—I had to act to make my love known to her. For weeks, I told myself that this infatuation would soon wear off as the ones before it had. But instead of fading, it grew stronger every day. Then, an opportunity presented itself. On a particularly cloudy evening, as I stood outside the cafeteria, I found her sitting alone before a table, reading a copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther. I took out a page from my pocket and scribbled on it. Then I braced myself. Persuading myself that it could not be delayed any further, I half-heartedly walked towards her. As I reached beside her, I violently tripped, and my arms latched on to the table before which she sat for support. She was at once startled, and I recall seeing an expression of instantaneous horror on her angelic face.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered.

She nodded in reply. I quickly paced behind a wall to conceal myself. After having successfully secured myself from her view, I watched from a crack the unfolding progress of my plan. I saw her just starting to realize the presence of the folded page I had slipped onto the table. The note read:

I have become infatuated with you—and I would like to have a conversation with you if my confession doesn’t offend you, Munazah. I cannot think about anything but you. I will be awaiting your reply. Before you leave, place the note there on the table after having written your answer on it. 

She glanced around the cafeteria, evidently searching for me. I waited until she left and then returned to her table and grabbed the note in a frenzy. It read:

Come back here in an hour.

Needless to say, my heart pounded, and never before had I known such joy. Why I was so optimistic, I cannot say.


—I did not leave the cafeteria. Sitting there, I awaited her with violent excitement. The sky was the azure gray that was typical of spring in Sukkur. I closed my eyes and attempted to latch on to the magical feeling that had made me its instrument. It wasn’t very long before I heard a rustle behind me and turned to see Munazah approach me. She looked at me with an expression of exhaustion as if I were an errand she was running through. I motioned for her to sit with me, and she silently obeyed. Seeing her sit before myself caused a violent throbbing in my heart, and I could do nothing but ignore it as best as I could.

“Munazah,” I began, with that superficial air that always made me feel like an actor performing a part. “How are you?”

She didn’t answer. I felt that the sullenness of the conversation had to be countered, so I pulled out my phone and showed her the photo of the actress to whom she bore uncanny resemblance.

“This is what you look like to me.”

I wasn’t sure whether this was flattering or insulting, but she ended my doubts by letting out a shrill chuckle.

“You have to admit, you do have a lot of facial resemblance with her.”

Her face suddenly assumed a scrutinizing expression.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“A stranger to you,” I answered. “But I am from the Literature Department, if that’s what you mean.”

“I’m not playing games!” she exclaimed.

“Neither am I. I really am from the Literature Department.”

“See, I don’t like to talk to strangers. Either tell me your name or don’t bother me.” She stood to leave, and I sprang up to stop her.

“Would you let me chat with you if I told you my name?”

“Do you think I’m going to chat with you without knowing you?!”

“Okay, fine,” I said. “Sit down. I’ll tell you my name.”

“She’s good,” I thought. “She knows I have to do this.” 

So, I surrendered.

“My name is Shafi Rehman.”


“Can I bring us two cups of tea?” I asked, attempting to turn this disaster into a date.

She knew what I meant.

“Sorry. I don’t know you.”

“How can I get to know you?” I asked. “Perhaps simply talking is the best way.”

“And why should we continue to talk? See, I don’t know you, and you don’t know anything about me.”

“To be honest, Munazah, I have no idea,” I answered, finally feeling authentic in my manner of speaking for once. “It’s just that I can’t stop thinking about you. To tell you the truth, you’ve even invaded a dream of mine. But you are right—I only know you’re in the Education Department.”

“Listen, I am a girl, but still, I’m talking to the guy who just told me his name. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but still, I’m talking. Is it a good thing for a girl?” she asked anxiously.

“I don’t think it’s wrong. Our culture has its limits, but let me ask you this—why would you want to be a slave to culture, Munazah? There is a kind of decency in violating it.” 

She didn’t answer. I wondered if she was offended.

“This is a lost cause,” I thought.

“I would understand, Munazah, if you don’t want to talk to me anymore. You have that right. It’s your choice.”

“I respect you, but I can’t talk because I’m living in the same culture, and I also have to follow the rules. I hope you understand.”

“I understand, Munazah. I understand,” I said mechanically and sarcastically. I felt as if someone had pierced a dagger through my skull. “Have a nice life.”

“Thanks. You too.”

And she just left without saying anything else. These were her last words to me that echo to this day in my head and cause me misery. I did not want a nice life. I wanted the Dionysian life, the life of passion and madness, but alas, the rebel in me was exhausted for the moment.

I felt like she had played some malicious trick on me. Could it possibly be so? Could someone be so under the leash of culture that their own freedom meant nothing to them? Could such a person have even a spark of respect for themselves? Or was it true that ignorance was bliss?


—That very night, in the fury of this conversation from which I had not yet recovered, I composed the following:

In her orisons, I do not care to be recalled.

My sins only live with me—a world of them!

Though she happens to be a nymph,

I would not for the world admit thus.

Only in her ecstasies would I wish to play the part

For her composure is better misunderstood for others—

While for me the choice is but too late;

I am entrapped already!

I would not for any comfort give up the pain I wear in every recalling thought.

Without having thought of me aught, she goes on with life;

Without any reminder of the gold she could not see glitter.

Wish I would to scold her thus—

And to depress her to the level of the ordinary mortal;

But fantasy has molded for her a cloak of majesty

That fake starter of infatuation!

Nothing of it could she deserve when the boundaries of culture limited her action thus—

Nothing of it would she also deserve if she did lie to the admirer,

Who cared nothing for the truth but only the future.

She was a lying wretch! A creature of no care;

And yet, my admirations do not but increase.

She was no special—none but for me,

Her face was a dim choice of others but not for myself.

What did happen did not that deeply hurt,

As that which could have been—oh!

The meadows filled with us, in solitude of our own—

A life of conflict but assertiveness of our own.

Now, love, the fantasy of my relentless passion, you carve your way and I mine!

You without even a glance retreat to your shell of comfort;

And I to the summit of great mountains where I would fain forget the shallowness of your existence.

I shall be great! —and you forgotten.

You would survive only in my ink.

None the wiser would know you different from any other.

In the end though none of it will have mattered;

For we shall both be swallowed by the earth

You would never know of which I speak,

You will be in veils of illusion.

Would that I were in your company, I would have despised it.

I thank anything that stood between us

That erected the walls of unfamiliarity between our eyes.

You are a creature that is led by the leash!

You do not will with your own will!

I do and I do beseech you to imitate me thus—

And live whatever glimpse of freedom you can find,

Before the axe arrives and you no longer know to think.

Your funeral shall be unattended by this admirer—

A good death, my love!


—I have often asked myself whether life is worth such dangerously consuming obsessions. Perhaps it is only these it is worth. I realize now that she was always more of an abstraction for me than a breathing human—a fantasy that was better left unpolluted by the grim air of reality. Perhaps the best thing I could have done for her sake and mine was to leave her alone—away from myself. Perhaps marriage was a curse better left to those whom we could ever even slightly bear to hate. I did not want to hate Munazah. I wanted her to be a perfect memory that would play a smile on my face as I gasped for my last breath.

In time, what would she be except a dried-up skull or a rotting corpse—what will all her cultural adherence be good for then? What if she had risen above such petty lines and embraced herself with me by her side. My only regret is that I did not cause her any pain.

I do not know what happened to Munazah, or where she headed off in life except that she is now engaged to someone else, but wherever she is, I wish she recalls that she too was admired. I wish she recalls me with hatred and regret in her heart. I wish her every conceivable misfortune. After all, such were our inauspicious stars. Here alone this Romeo dies without his Juliet, this Majnun without his Layla.


—This diary is the only child I have begotten by Munazah. This is what shall unite us for eternity; this is what shall immortalize her. This is what the stars to which we shall return would see us as—two separate biological arrangements linked together by the pain one inflicted upon the other without even knowing it. Munazah, my phantom, whom I conjured up from the rough straw of a common girl, shall live on as the embodiment of the beauty for which life is worth living, so that we may sketch it, see it from every perspective, fall in love with life because of her, and find the meaning of existence therein. Munazah, I shall be there to gaze at you when we are both nothing. I do not hold any ill will towards you anymore. I am incapable of hating you! With some music of sleep, I now descend into oblivion and await your arrival impatiently. Come quickly, my dear!

This is my final note intended for anyone who may stumble upon this diary of mine after my demise—do not put the blame on my dear Munazah for my death! She is as innocent as a baby. I know full well it is only I myself who is responsible for what I do to myself. I have sought vengeance, it is true, on my beloved Munazah, my ghost, but who among us hasn’t done so to the thing he loves more than anything in the world? But please find her, dear reader, and tell her that she did not cause a death but only delayed it for many years. Tell her that her phantom was enough for me to find my life fruitful for a long time. Tell her that if a demon really came to me, as Nietzsche once imagined, and told me that I would have to live this existence over and over again without any change at all, I would embrace him and demand another cycle. I would gladly lock this choice for the circle of eternity. I am so glad I met you, Munazah, even though you weren’t. I’d let you drive me mad every time. Munazah the nymph! Munazah, my hamartia. Would you like to hear my last wish, Munazah? Come on and haunt me in oblivion too! Follow me inside the abyss of every chasm, accompany me in the stillness of every imaginable meadow, and fuse yourself with the deepest sense of identity that I possess. Let all of it be ours! Only ours! Let the rest burn away into sorry ashes. Let the boundaries of form between us cease. I am you, Munazah, and you are me.

Are you afraid of me now?


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