Song triggers

Stories of my annual October allergies have become old hat now, so I won’t say much about it except that it’s been a miserable week…or two. Flu rendered me more or less useless, so I wallowed in listlessness while it lasted. On top of all that, Zahooran decided to celebrate Eid back in her hometown and has been gone for…you guessed it…two weeks.

I have been mostly ‘sensible’ about the layers of dust and cat hair piling up, and only tackled the housework when things got too bad. Today was one of those days. Happily, I felt more energetic today, so it must mean I’m better now. A few puffs of my inhalers (I have two different kinds) before my morning mug of tea, and I’m good to go.

My days start late, since I am an owl, and today was no exception, but come hometime, I must drop whatever it is I have belatedly embarked upon and dash off to pick Amu from school. Β Sometimes it gets a little crazy. Like today, I had been cleaning out my front balcony in a grubby tshirt and shorts, sweaty and a bit out of breath from all that dust, just 5 minutes before Amu had to be collected.

Jumping out of work clothes and into respectable outdoor attire is a challenge I rise to most admirably, I feel.

Huz had warned me about the main road next to the Mazaar being cordoned off for a couple of days for the Urs of Abdullah Shah Ghazi. Every time this happens, all the traffic gets diverted to a parallel street, which in our case happens to be the one that passes right next to our main gate. Craziness.

I cranked up the volume as Prince wafted out of the radio and sang along to ‘When doves cry’ as a couple of pigeons flew up and out of my way, over the windshield.

…..’maybe I’m just like my mother….’

The song ended and the RJ mentioned that the song was from ‘Purple Rain’, which was released in ’84.

What was I doing in 1984….?

Well, I was 12 years old then and that time of my life can only be defined by where we lived.

It was a rented apartment in a complex meant for retired army officers, but for me and my sisters it was a bubble. We were completely self-contained there.

I would go to school in the morning in a van with a bunch of other kids and return in the afternoon, tired and hot and hungry. After the noise and the traffic on the roads and a commute interrupted by multiple stops, our huge compound felt quiet and peaceful, though I still had to climb three flights of stairs lugging a heavy bag.

My mother would have lunch ready and we would all eat together, except my father who would be at work. My eldest two sisters shared a room, while I shared with my younger sister/arch nemesis, Fatu. It was not easy. Those were the days when I simply hated her, and I’d fly into rages if she bugged me, which was pretty often. She was 7 years old then, and the boys in the compound had nicknamed her ‘aunty’. I have no idea why.

Eldest Sis was 19, and was engaged/romantically involved. On top of that, she was busy with her studies and I thought she was very brave and independent as she used public transport to get to and from college. She even knew how to drive and had been doing so for a couple of years, since my father firmly believed that his daughters should be bold and confident, like boys, and furthermore, not depend on him to go anywhere.

This was also the time when Eldest Sis began to beat her stammer.

Since she led such a full, busy life, Eldest Sis had the remarkable ability to fall asleep anywhere, even in seemingly uncomfortable places. She would cajole one of us to scratch her back as we watched tv in the family room while she sprawled on the floor on her tummy, or curled up with a cushion. She had long straight hair then, a figure to die for, and beautifully manicured hands. Pedicures were her particular hobby, and the rest of us watched her, fascinated, as she groomed herself.

She also paid me to iron her clothes sometimes, a few rupees perhaps, but in those days it would be enough to buy me an ice lolly or a packet of chips from the corner store.

Eldest Sis and Sax, the second after the Eldest, had always been thick as thieves since they were little. They share the most history, and remember the most about our collective past.

Sax was 16 then, had just begun college, and seemed to manage to have lots of fun.

Now that Eldest Sis was in a relationship, it also seemed that she was preoccupied, or on the phone, or out a lot. So even though they shared a room, Sax could not always count on Eldest Sis for company.

So it was that she began to notice my existence, and my status went up a notch. I was now old enough to have the honour of ‘hanging out’ with her, be a companion for a walk around the block, could be told secrets in confidence as well as be a worthy opponent for evening badminton matches under the streetlight.

It was also around this time that I began to have problems with my breathing as the winter months approached, and my father started to worry about my health…

(to be continued…)


  1. Kathy says:

    I am glad this story is to be continued. I am also hoping you’re completely over the flu and that your asthma is under control. So interesting contemplating the similiarities and differences between our lifestyles. Can not even imagine having a maid. Only the very wealthy in our country have one. No, that is not true. Some of my friends who work full time hire people to clean their homes. One of my friends–who has never been poor–even cleans people’s houses. Interesting world.

    1. Munira says:

      Having a maid is a very third world thing Kathy, so MANY extremely poor people, who will clean your house for very little money, and be grateful to boot. Well, at least Zahooran is.
      Flu is almost over, and asthma is under control *crosses fingers* πŸ™‚
      Personally, I think I’d make an excellent maid…you should see my house today…it sparkles! Too bad nobody pays me 😦

      1. Kathy says:

        Wa hoo! Sparkles! I would not make a good maid. 😦 House Does Not Sparkle. 😦

        1. Munira says:

          It’s okay, you do MUCH better things Kathy! πŸ˜‰

  2. My house doesn’t sparkle either. My dishes might, but not the floors and things. I’ve been attacking clutter and dust in bits and pieces, but it’s hard when ideas for a new story or poem, or ways to edit something I’ve already written, come to mind. That’s what kept me up all night last night NOT cleaning.

    I’m glad you’re up and feeling better, and telling us stories.

    1. Munira says:

      The floors were the focus in todays cleaning spree, and after I was done I stood around and admired my work……you could have eaten off the floor today, I tell you. I should have taken pictures.
      Shiny πŸ™‚

  3. colorviz says:

    ooooooooooooooooooo…then what happened!!!…*waits impatiently*..<3

    1. Munira says:

      Tomorrow….I promise Fatu ❀

  4. Heather says:

    It sounds like some of the same things trigger your asthma and my husband’s. I also try to be sensible about how much cat hair and dust collects, but only bits and pieces of my house sparkle. His problems are worse in the winter, too, and exercise in the cold is something about which he has to be watchful.
    Your childhood story has me waiting with baited breath πŸ™‚ It wasn’t until after my siblings had children that we really developed a strong relationship – and I don’t even have kids.

    1. Munira says:

      Yup, exercise in cold weather means immediate bronchospasms alright! 😐
      It’s great that you developed a strong relationship…..better late than never, right? It helps to live in the same city too, as we do, though Sax did go and live in another city for a few years, after getting married….we missed her like hell. And we didn’t have computers or email in those days, phone calls were darn expensive, but hey, it was fun to write and receive letters from her πŸ™‚

      1. Heather says:

        It’s funny how relationships work. I think I get along much better with my siblings precisely because I do not live nearby. The two who stayed near home don’t get along well, but I get along well with both of them. I think the distance is just right to give me/us appreciation for one another.
        Thank goodness for cheap(er) communications! I don’t miss long-distance phone bills!

  5. Great post. So Munira, I have to ask: there is such a huge range, it seems, within which women can live in Pakistan. On one end is Malala, who got shot for daring to go to school, and on the other end your Eldest Sis, who drove herself to college. And you clean your porch in shorts while other women wouldn’t be allowed by their husbands. You say that your father always wanted his daughters to be equal to boys. What would you say is the biggest determining factor for whether a Pakistani man has super conservative Muslim attitudes toward women or more enlightened attitudes? Is it purely education, or is there more nuance than that?

    1. Munira says:

      I’m careful to not be spotted by anyone when I’m wearing shorts B, Huz not allowing me is a different matter altogether! I’m rather conservative (when it comes to clothing) myself, though by the larger Pakistani perspective, very liberal indeed
      Malala’s face was in my dream last night. I am haunted by what happened to her, it is truly horrific. The majority of Pakistanis are horrified by the incident, even those who don’t send their daughters to school I’d imagine.
      Great question by the way, and the answer is a complicated one, but it defies generalization as indeed, there is way more nuance to it than just education. First of all, there is no such thing as a Pakistani man. There are just too many ethnicities, too many sub-cultures going on here, too many honour systems and feudal practices, religious beliefs and communal variations going on to present a unified picture or a simplified answer.
      I could ramble at length. But I think what it boils down to is socio-economics.

  6. Eddie says:

    I am reading this blog for the first time today and 1984 popped up. So it seems i am 12 years younger than you since i was born in a rainy cold jaunary morning in that year. You have a very personal style of writing which is comforting to read sometimes after a hectic days work. (Y). Will be a regular hopefully.

    1. Munira says:

      Ah, a new reader! Welcome to my bubble Eddie, and thank you for your comment πŸ™‚

  7. I’d offer to come clean your house, but it would be quite a distance and I can’t even keep my own house dust free. Goodness, sad as it sounds, that’s one of the things I miss about living in a developing country–having someone to clean. In Haiti we had a housekeeper, gardener, and two armed guards. NOw I clean. Sara gardens. Neither of us owns a gun. Thinks that’s significant? LOL
    Glad you’re beginning to feel a little better. Can’t wait for more of the story, Mun.


    1. Munira says:

      It’s quite a job alright, but so satisfying when it gets done! I think it’s good to be able to provide at least some kind of employment to otherwise unskilled and uneducated poor unfortunate souls when in a developing country Kathy, I’m not surprised you miss it!!…and I’m really glad you don’t need guns!!
      I’m really glad to be better too, I can’t afford to not be active when Zahooran is away, and I can’t wait to continue the story!
      Did you vote today?

  8. Haha, I’ve been on board since I started blogging almost 2 years ago now……….and sometimes I almost feel like part of the family……….I love it that I knew Zahooran would be gone for ………. 2 weeks ! πŸ™‚

    1. Munira says:

      That’s cool! πŸ˜€

  9. satsumaart says:

    Ahhh, I hope you’re feeling better, Munira! I really loved this post — what a great sense of time, place, and family — and the comments are interesting too. πŸ™‚ I love thinking about you doing a lightning-quick change of clothes (I’ve done that too! one of the occupational hazards of living a frequently-at-home life) and singing along to “When Doves Cry” (I can’t listen to that song without doing something, too, whether it’s singing along, dancing, or just thinking a lot about earlier times when I heard it).

    I dislike almost all forms of cleaning, but I like tidying. So our place is habitually dirty but neat. As we’ve moved around the world staying in recently-cleaned apartments I’ve realized how much I enjoy clean homes. ;b So once we get home, I’m either going to have to clean more… or hire someone to do it for us!

    1. Munira says:

      Major ups and downs these days Lisa!
      I loved your comment, so glad that you felt that sense of time and place and of course, my family.
      Amu always has this amused look on her face when I catch songs from the 80’s on the radio. There was something about 80’s music that just compels you to sing (or dance of course!) and they are oh so nostalgic!
      As for the house, I like things to be neat AND clean, but I find that it is just not possible to have both, every day, especially without help!

  10. Sid Dunnebacke says:

    Nooo – you didn’t just stop your fabulous post right THERE! Aw, nuts. I recently wrote about how certain pieces of music take me back to other places and times – it’s an interesting phenomenon.

    I’m glad you’re feeling better, Munira. I’m not sure how you wound up faring back in ’84, but I’m confident you won’t leave me hanging too long!

    1. Munira says:

      This post was inspired in part by ‘A Resident Alien’s’ top 10 songs list that trigger vivid memories (Barbara Backer-Gray up there in the comments.)

      I think I need to listen to more music from the 80’s to jump back into that time and continue the story Sid πŸ˜‰

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