LAILA: the one thing Qais never live without.
The month my parents married, the Poet wrote his most famous narrative poem, Laila. Reconfiguring the Laila-Majnu story, the poem centres on Laila, bereft after Qais has been banished from her presence. Unable to endure the thought of a life without him, she seeks out his likeness everywhere – in other men (she is soon regarded as a town whore), in nature (sometimes the wind brushing her neck reminds her of his touch), in art (she risks her life to steal a painting, because a man at the edge of its crowd scene leans forward in a manner suggestive of the angle of Qais’s back of the first he bend to embrace her). But all her attempts to find her Beloved’s exact copy lead only to frustration, so she starts to adopt his manner of speech, his gait, his dress, his expressions in order to keep his characteristics alive. She becomes an outcast, shunned by all of her madness and, driven out of town, she makes her way into forest where Qais has been living – and walks past without seeing him. He watches her go and senses something familiar in her, but is too distracted by composing love poems about Laila to give the matter much thought. Years go by and one day, she meets a young man who greets her by the name ‘Qais’. She realized she has finally succeeded in becoming her Beloved and need never be without him again. In that moment of triumph she looks into forest pool and sees Qais’s face where her reflection should have been and remembers: the one thing Qais could never live without is Laila.
By Kamila Shamsie