The Man in the Bookstore

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You hear about it sometimes.  You see it in movies, read about it in works of fiction.

You never thought it would happen to you.

You never imagined you would walk into a bookstore, browse languorously in the poetry section and end up having an hour long conversation with a total stranger about the kind of words you both love.  You didn’t think instances like this existed outside of anecdotes.  But they do, and now you have one to share too.

You can now tell people how, while holding on to a Lorrie Moore novel you’ve been meaning to read, you were tapped on the shoulder gently and told, ‘You’re going to love that book. It’s one of my favourites.’  You can reminisce on how you responded with surprised but suppressed glee and told this man that Moore is one of your favourite writers, one that has greatly influenced your own writing style.  You can recount how you both then stood in the poetry aisle in companionable silence, which was soon broken by him picking out a slim anthology from the racks and asking you if you’ve ever read anything like it.

You can narrate then how responded in the negative but launched into a tirade about the kind of poetry you do enjoy, about how Zbigniew Herbert gives you goosebumps and Jack Gilbert makes you want to sit on a bench under a tree and weep.  You can tell people about the stories this man told you, about the poetry festival he organises and the many great writers and poets he’s interacted with.  You can smilingly share with them what you shared with him, that words will always be your first love, no matter where you go or what you do; that even though your career path has nothing to do with stanzas and plots, it’s what you think about and indulge in on your daily commute across the Charles and the small hazy window of time right before you fall asleep every night.

You can elaborate on the characters he told you about, the Moroccan store-owner who speaks a new language every time they meet or the owner of a Central Square tavern who happily displays this man’s artwork, the artwork you were amazed to hear about because of its sheer simplicity of it being a collection of pieces made up of broken and discarded bits of picture frames.  You can tell people of how stunned you were to hear about this, and how it only added to the beauty of the strange but welcome encounter.  If you are interrupted, you can veer the conversation back with another quiet but simple story he shared with you about one of his favourite poets, who writes about a refugee who, at displacement, took his house door off its hinges to take it with himself to wherever he was going next.  You can go into detail the way this man did about how this refugee, if he ever returns, will reattach the withered door to his old home to solidify his return; or will place this old door to wherever he settles next and will build his new home around it, to remember the foundation of where he came from.

You can muse on how this stunning story touched you because you could relate, because you have been displaced your whole life and have no doors to carry, only the idea of something that could feel like home but has yet to be discovered.  You can tell people how you asked this man more about this poet he loves, and in return, told him about a poet you love, a poet whose writing is so frenzied and manic you feel like you’re helplessly dancing along to a rhythm so remarkably fast your feet ache to catch up.

You could go on. But you won’t. You don’t need to tell anyone you bought all the books he pointed to, including one by the poet he loves.  You don’t need to tell them how you walked into this bookstore because your soul was down and the only thing that could revive it was some old-fashioned make-believe. You experienced something sacred today, something that added a bounce back into your step, something that made you grateful for who you are and where you are, something that reminded you that there is still magic in the world, even if it is just in a bookstore around the corner.

 

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‘Do Tell’ by Richard Hoffman

 

 

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Chains Of Days and Nights: A Review

So there is this common misconception people often have about LUMS, that its a university which mainly just focuses on teaching ‘practical’ subjects like engineering or accounting or business management. I want to set the record straight and make it clear that this isn’t the case. One person to whom I refuted this claim shot back with “Well it IS called Lahore University of MANAGEMENT SCIENCES isn’t it?” It is, and certainly LUMS did start off as just a business school initially but it has grown to be so much more than that. No, I am not going to shamelessly promote the university, its 25 year celebration video has done more than enough of that! Quite cheesily too, might I add. You can find the video here

Sure there are plenty of science and engineering nerds on campus, and others still who devote their time to studying numbers and graphs. But like any other place, you’ll also find dreamers in LUMS. Daytime dreamers, afro-ed hippies, frolicking flower-children, fearless and brazen mountain-climbers, environmentally-conscious tree-huggers, you name it, LUMS has it. There are artists and writers, who create masterpieces in print and in video. There are philosophers who can avidly and heatedly refute and then defend the claims of great minds from Socrates and Ibn Khaldun to Kant and Imam Ghazali. These people are just as much a part of the scholarly and academically competitive atmosphere of LUMS as the 4.0-ers. Many of these could actually give the university-toppers a run for their money.

To quote Iqbal:
Love is infinite time that’s beyond the cycle of transient time.
Be it painting, architecture, music poetry or calligraphy,
all these arts thrive on the intensity of love!
The intensity of love turns a stone into a heart
[and] it’s love that bestows depth of feeling, exhilaration and melody to the voice.

We've heard of his philosophy on life, love, death and religion. But did you also know he was enchanted by the mosque of Cordoba?

Everyone has their own area of expertise. I may be good with words but I’m horrified by numbers and charts. One of my closest friends is studying law but is just as passionate about photography. Her pictures speak out and with the right camera, she would be a genius. I also know plenty of other writers like myself who manage to capture so much in a short story, and do justice to representing the local context; given the right opportunities, they could all be bestselling authors. Yet another friend who happens to be an Economics major could very well be a leading philosophical mind of South Asia in the next couple of decades. LUMS caters to these minds, most students who are inclined towards the Arts have the option of pursuing a Humanities degree and though that opens the doors to so many possibilities, there are some people who take that extra step forward on their own to pursue their dreams.

I recently watched a movie that I found posted repeatedly all over my Facebook newsfeed. It is called ‘The Mosque of Cordoba’ and it is, as the Youtube caption says, “about a boy who discovers the true gift of Iqbal and the magic of poetry.” It’s a final project of two 2nd-year students at LUMS for a course on the history of Spain, and even though that makes it sound dull and boring, the movie is captivating. One of the two students is an aspiring film-maker, and also co-founder of his very own video production company, EmKay Studios. I know him personally and I’d heard from mutual friends that he’s good at what he does but after watching the movie, I know it to be an undeniable fact. Considering that this is the work of students who are just about 20 years old and can’t get enough of ‘that’s what she said’ jokes, I was seriously taken aback by the sheer maturity of the work. It would appeal to people of all ages, and is actually something I would gladly show to my parents. It’s an impressive piece of work that focuses on Muhammad Iqbal’s description of the famous mosque of Cordoba, and it actually inspired me to pick up an Iqbal book or two just to read some more of the breathtaking poetry on my own. The narration is done beautifully, and the acting’s as good as it can be, given it stars students who are also part of the Dramatics society at LUMS. I would urge anyone who has any sort of interest in history, poetry, or Iqbal to check out the movie online. It’s also a great way to kill half an hour when you all you want to do is procrastinate.

EmKay Studios, the student project movie and my opinion on all comprises to form just ONE example of the brilliant things students at LUMS do, outside of the academic domain. I know many more such people and I seriously cannot wait to see how they all fare in the next few years to come.

Links for the movie: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheEmkayStudios#p/a/u/2/j0kcgE9Ukt0
EmKay Studio’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/EmKay-Studios/109172555804354
More info on Iqbal and Cordoba: http://www.allamaiqbal.com/webcont/406/web_pages/cordova_mosque.htm