When I was a child, I heard the story of a scholar jinni disguised as a boy, who once extended his arm across the latticed, vine-wrapped nooks and labyrinthine walkways, pearl gardens, concealed windows for spy-archers, through the liquid shadows of jade and jasper archways, 12-door pavilions, over rectilinear pools flanked by sitar-players and leaping fountains— whirring past even the fearsome guards that watched the many canopied red sandstone chabutra terraces where the royals relaxed— all the way to the end of the palace courtyard to reach his inkpot under the oak on which he lived, thus exposing his true identity to his human tutor and risking rejection. Was he that absorbed in what he wrote, how he wrote? The tutor forgave his pupil’s deceptive guise on the grounds of his deep attention to the work at hand. Imagine the jinni being lured into the human world by the profound visual and sonic beauty of Urdu, its earthy footfall and lyric leaps in the texts he copied, the ghazals he heard on poetry soirees or mushaira in the palace— phrases encapsulating millennia of Arab-Persian, South Asian and Turkic tradition— its lavishly diverse literary heritage combining sensibilities of parched deserts and spectacular night-skies, rugged mountains, finely cultivated gardens, steppes, monsoons— the ink bearing the musk of many lands. Imagine the jinni forming letters of Urdu, tilting the pen carefully at an exact angle to form the elegant script, losing himself in the glistening geometry of loops and lines wrought from lampblack ink and a hand-carved pen. In which style was he writing? “Khatt-e-shikasta,” with its elusive, delicately broken strokes, often written diagonally on the page like birds receding in flight? The classic, neatly proportioned “nastaliq”? Or the subtle “khatt-e-ghubaar” known for sacred scrolls inscribed on ruby- and gold-dusted paper? Or a frenzied combination of hundreds of ancient and modern scripts? This jinni, a sprite version of myself perhaps, or you, is enamoured of the art of the book, an art that engages all the senses, not unlike poetry. The pen, the tablet and the ink being gifts from the divine in the Quranic tradition, the poets of the Arab-Persian-Urdu cannon hearken to metaphors related to writing utensils and the written word. Rumi’s praise for the mystic call of the reed “vessel” applies to the pen as much as the naiflute, both carved in the same shape, both a means to harness spiritual “fire.” Poets frequently allude to this famous metaphor of Rumi’s, which appears in the beginning of his Mathnawi. When I gaze at gem-studded pen holders, finely carved inkstands and exquisite manuscripts in the Islamic Arts sections of museums, I am transported to the memory of being absorbed in calligraphic pieces around the house, I recall the attention lavished on Urdu in my childhood It is Fire that makes the song of the reed, not wind Whosoever is without this fire, is naught Sufi poets Attar, Hafiz, Khusrao, and many others repeatedly used the metaphor of pen, ink and paper; according to scholar Annemarie Schimmel, poets “compared the reed pen to the immortal Khidr and the black ink to the water of life which is hidden in a dark valley, or to the Virgin Mary giving birth to the—likewise immortal— Jesus, or else had heard in the scratching of their pens the song of the Sarosh, the angel of inspiration, as Ghalib does in one of his finest ghazals.” Schimmel says of the great master of the Urdu ghazal Ghalib, “Our poet may utter the wish that his ink should be made of pulverised musk, whereas the inkpot should be the naval of the Khotanese musk deer, full of fragrance. Faithful to the poetical tradition has he described his marvellous pen in glowing words: it may speak with Solomon about the devil and may pour sugar in the way of an ant, and if it were close to Zulaikha, it would certainly draw a sketch for her painted castle.” Urdu poetry ricochets from the mythos of the written word; the story writes itself before a mirror, in praise of the means by which words are made eternal. When I gaze at gem-studded pen holders, finely carved inkstands and exquisite manuscripts in the Islamic Arts sections of museums, I am transported to the memory of being absorbed in calligraphic pieces around the house, I recall the attention lavished on Urdu in my childhood. Imagining the jinni’s impatience in dipping his pen in the inkpot as he telescoped the miles, has been easy for me due to the vivid memory of my own pleasure in learning Urdu penmanship and poetry from my mother, being in the embrace of Urdu’s visual and sonic fields, its natural lyricism. Such strictures as lines and curves, symmetry and alignment, poetic meter, rhyme and refrain, and the graceful, studied deviations, the subtle or bold shifts, taught me the work and play of form. In learning to see and hear patterns and variations, I learned to pay deep attention, to extend myself, to make imprints of my inner life onto the outer reality of the page. Reader, I learned to take risks, to mask and unmask—all for the sake of the turning word, as did the jinni of the story. The writer is an award-winning novelist and can be reached at email@example.com Published in Daily Times, July 8th , 2017.