Anarkali, or Six Early Deaths in Lahore
My short story Anarkali, or Six Early Deaths in Lahore has been published in The Markaz Review.
In the ancient romantic tale, Anarkali was a courtesan dancer in the Mughal court of Salim Jahangir who dared to fall in love with him. As the story goes, she was buried or burnt alive for her crime. Here, she is a poor street sweeper in Lahore, nicknamed Anarkali by a white professor researching bombing incidents on the city’s churches. Anarkali is the ordinary woman who is invisible, who goes unnoticed and unremarked by history. She is the one who dares to live her life in her own way, and pays a heavy price for it. Even today, centuries later, for a woman to love someone outside her class and caste is fraught with danger.
Hot Mango Chutney Sauce
My story, Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, was shortlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Watch the office music video of Hot Mango Chutney Sauce, starring Meesha Shafi and featuring Swineryy.
Warm Beers and Soggy Burgers
I’m thrilled that my short story, Warm Beers and Soggy Burgers, is being published in Mechanics’ Institute Review. Publication date, 28th February.
MIR is a contemporary magazine designed to represent the quality and diversity of the UK literary scene. The website is managed by Project Director, Julia Bell, and Managing Editor, Peter John Coles, and maintained and edited by a rotating group of Birkbeck students, alumni and staff.
If you ever come looking for me, you’ll find me sitting in my car at the Kisementi car park, listening to Radio One. Kisementi is a shopping centre on Number 12 Bukoto Street, in Kololo, a suburb of Kampala. Opposite me are the Fat Boyz pub and Payless Supermarket. On my left are a local handicraft shop, The Banana Boat and The Crocodile restaurant and, on my right, the Christian Bookshop. From my car, I enjoy watching the congestion of boda bodas, special hires, taxis, matatus and private cars. I do this every day for a few minutes or few hours. It all depends…
Queen Victoria In The Basement, shortlisted
My short story, Queen Victoria In The Basement, has been shortlisted in the White Review short story competition. The story is set in the basement of the Lahore Museum. I was inspired to write it after seeing the statue of Queen Victoria in the Armoury and the guard who was looking after it.
Dear Mr Chairman,
Yesterday, after I switched on the spotlight so that you could see the Queen properly, you covered your nose so I wanted to explain why there’s a smell.
Please, allow me to introduce my good self to you. I’m Benazir Mirza (also known as Aspro), and for ten years now, I’ve been working as guard and caretaker in the basement of our prestigious Lahore Museum. But more than that, I’m a devoted sevadari to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria.
Sir, I want to tell you everything – how after Partition the Queen was dragged from Charing Cross Road, where she’d sat under the shade of a marble pavilion since 1904, and dumped here in the basement. However, I don’t want to lie and pretend that I haven’t been watching you for many years. I see you every morning when I’m taking my tea break at 11.30 am at Khalid’s kiosk and you drive through the gates of the Museum. You sit at the back, on the left, with your window rolled up. I even know your number plate…
A Safe Place
Langata Prison, Nairobi, December 2008
Kay slept on a thin mattress with a torn blanket to cover her. In the corner of her cell was a steel bucket and a brown sponge for wiping both her body and the rough walls finished with gloss grey. The bulb hanging from the corrugated iron roof was never turned on. The only light coming in was through the barbed wire in the narrow ventilation gap between the roof and walls. Her cell, at the end of a long, wide corridor, had a small internal window with bars which overlooked the passageway lined with other cells on either side. These were shared by five or six women. Once a day, before they were marched out to the fields, they ate together in the passage seated on low stools. Kay slept and ate on her own.
‘Oi,’ she shouted, ‘there’s a cockroach in here.’
‘Marry me Nuru,’ Jaffer said in his precise, measured tone, ‘and together we’ll build our future in this new independent Republic.’
He was standing opposite Nurbanu’s typewriter and she was sitting at her desk at the Chambers where she worked. She’d met him several months earlier when he’d come in to meet one of the lawyers and they’d struck up a friendship. Nuru had a Pitman’s Secretarial Diploma and a driver’s licence from the first Ladies Driving School in Nairobi. She felt with her natural beauty and qualifications she deserved the care of a man who would cherish her. Jaffer was a self-made, successful business man. He was short, dark and stocky and less educated than Nuru, but she accepted his proposal because he was someone who appreciated her; why else would he speak about her and Kenyan politics in the same sentence?
The Tabla Player
Saam – The First Clap
I whistle raag Bhairavi and rap both tablas, and check the tautness of the rough leather straps, and tap the tablas once and twice, and listen to their tone and echo, separately and together, and using a small hammer I strike the straps and edges of each drum, one at a time, rotating and knocking at the pegs until every stroke gives off an even tone, and with the heel of my hand I apply pressure to the drums in a rapping, sliding motion so that the pitch changes and matches that of the tanpura humming in the background, and I adjust the wooden block between the drum and the leather strips and move it up and down and along the side to regulate the tension of the drums…
This One’s Not For Us
I rolled down my window and watched the street vendors stroll between the stationary cars, tankers, matatus and buses. I had a strange impulse to drive straight into the car in front, just for the satisfaction of knowing I’d made an impact for once. I gripped the steering wheel.
Dilip and I were stuck on Mombasa Road driving to the city center of Nairobi from our offices near the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. We’d just passed the golf course on our left and the old East African railway station on our right. I fiddled with the knobs for the indicator lights and switched off the engine.
A street seller sidled up to the car carrying Kenyan flags of all sizes, the black, red and white fabric flapping around his face.
“Madam, do you need flags, sunglasses or a photo of the president?” he asked…
This one’s not for us
Short story in Dress You Up Anthology. New Lit Salon Press.
Dress You Up is an anthology like no other. The twelve diverse stories in this collection speak to the multiple ways in which fashion is more than just the clothes we wear. There will be no frivolous yarns about fashion here—those tales can be found in other closets. This Capsule Collection of Fashionable Fiction illustrates how the clothing and accessories we wear or covet often reflect past memories, present challenges, or future hopes and dreams. The stories focus on themes such as trauma and healing, perception and identity, love and loss, hopes and dreams…
Short story published in The Mechanics Institute Review, Birbeck, University of London.
To tell you the truth, I don’t like to remember that day, or the days that followed, but the memory of it is fresh. I can recall that hot afternoon vividly and in detail, when that man showed up at our doorstep. I suppose I could blame him or my parents for what happened later, even though you could say they had nothing to do with it…