Shah Jahan Was a Bird Catcher

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Birds, Mughal Painting; Artist Unknown

i. if love were a poem,
my mother says,
it would have no words.
because it transcends the beauty
of languages (ishq and ashq sound
so similar) and khusrau’s riddles.
it would stabilize mir’s mind
and burn ghalib’s tongue.
you would carry it upon your
shoulders without feeling
the weight of a feather.
love cannot be stored in a bell jar
or a grand architecture.
in love, you do not fall, you fly.
i believe that shah jahan
was a birdcatcher.

ii. learning to hold a pencil
and a sword are two distinct things.
save for one commonality:
both are stained with blood.
the only difference is that while one
breathes blood in you,
the other leads you to
the loss of it. if every artist has
to get his hands cut
for creating art,
the henna on mumtaz’s palms
from the past
pities all the monuments
we will never open our eyes to.
i think the taj is cursed.
it sipped the blood of more than
twenty thousand people
yet came out colourless.
i shall smear my eyes in kohl
since so much light
pricks my eyeballs
and only darkness helps.

iv. “i have hidden my thirst
from the vision of the sea,
wishing on the cloud that is
peeking through the gulmohar tree.”
“pharaohs of our time
do not drown.
where did the people
who walked on water disappear?”
the flowers in the bagh whisper
to each other.

v. “then they told us
to breathe fondly,
but before that they
poisoned the air”,
i hear the grave sing while
the quran verses stitched on
the marble walls echo through
intricate cupolas of the mahal,
in throbbing silence.

vi. taj mahal reminds me of
a birdcatcher poaching a starling,
instead of a dreamcatcher
hanging free.
it reminds me of grief
more than love.
raisins growing out of
fresh green grapes.
a giggling mouth trying to
swallow the lump in its throat.
why did mumtaz’s death touch
shah jahan more than her
whole holy life could?


Khatija Khan

Khatija is an eighteen-year-old who writes and dreams. When the world seems to crumble, words become her sanctuary. While she may be reserved in person, her poems make her a lively chatterbox. Books, evenings, and ice cream embody her idea of heaven.

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