Under the net

“There’s something fishy about describing people’s feelings,” said Hugo. “All these descriptions are so dramatic.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I said.

“Only,” said Hugo, “that it means that things are falsified from the start. If I say afterwards that I felt such and such, say that I felt ‘apprehensive’–well, this just isn’t true.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I didn’t feel this,” said Hugo. “I didn’t feel anything of that kind at the time at all. This is just something I say afterwards.”

“But suppose I try hard to be accurate,” I said.

“One can’t be,” said Hugo. “The only hope is to avoid saying it. As soon as I start to describe, I’m done for. Try describing anything, our conversation, for instance, and see how absolutely instinctively you….”

“Touch it up?” I suggested.

“It’s deeper than that,” said Hugo, “The language just won’t let you present it as it really was.”

“Suppose then,” I said, “that one were offering the description at the time.”

“But don’t you see,” said Hugo, “that just gives the thing away. One couldn’t give such a description at the time without seeing that it was untrue. All one could say at the time would be perhaps something about one’s heart beating. But if one said one was apprehensive this could only be to try to make an impression–it would be for effect, it would be a lie.”

I was puzzled by this myself. I felt that there was something wrong in what Hugo said, and yet I couldn’t see what it was. We discussed the matter a bit further, and then I told him, “But at this rate almost everything one says, except things like ‘Pass the marmalade’ or ‘There’s a cat on the roof’, turns out to be a sort of lie.”

Hugo pondered this. “I think it is so,” he said with seriousness.

“In that case one oughtn’t to talk,” I said.

“I think perhaps one oughtn’t to,” said Hugo, and he was deadly serious. Then I caught his eye, and we both laughed enormously, thinking of how we had been doing nothing else for days on end.

“That’s colossal!” said Hugo. “Of course one does talk. But,” and he was grave again, “one does make far too many concessions to the need to communicate.”

“What do you mean?”

“All the time when I speak to you, even now, I’m saying not precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond. That’s so even between us–and how much more it’s so where there are stronger motives for deception. In fact, one’s so used to this one hardly sees it. The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.”

“What would happen if one were to speak the truth?” I asked. “Would it be possible?”

“I know myself,” said Hugo, “that when I really speak the truth the words fall from my mouth absolutely dead, and I see complete blankness in the face of the other person.”

“So we never really communicate?”

“Well,” he said, “I suppose actions don’t lie.”

……………………………………………………………………………..

“All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.”

(The ‘net’ in question is the net of abstraction, generalization and theory.)

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In my need to chronicle time, a memory or an event, an emotion or a feeling, I sometimes cringe at the idea that I’m playing to a gallery. How much of what I bother to write about is an accurate representation and how much is written for effect, I don’t know. The above passage from Iris Murdoch’s ‘Under The Net’ encapsulates my vaguely formed thoughts about the subject so beautifully and with such economy.

This is the reason I think I fell silent on my blog for so long. Perhaps this is why I find words to be so inadequate to describe the upheaval, the turmoil, the confusion, the ferment that my brain has had to wrap itself around in the recent past. One wants to make sense of things, one needs to write to gain clarity, one needs to SHARE to find support and validation, to reach an understanding audience….yet…..I wonder how much one manages to convey is raw truth and how much comes across dramatic. I write for the most part, I hope, without guile, I often say too much in my need to communicate. But very often I say too little, due to inhibition, or due to the sheer impossibility of finding the language to describe feelings that at the moment were simply an intimate knowledge of one’s heartbeat.

I had a strange out-of-body-like experience the day after I wrote my last blog post. The baldest possible way I can say it is, Hasan visited me. I can’t say it was a dream because I have never had a dream like this…and I am known for the vividness of my dreams. This felt too real to be a dream. If it was a hallucination, this was a first for me.

The context must be made clear first, if I am to chronicle this event at all. I was absolutely alone at home for the first time in ages. There was no electricity and I was struggling to sleep despite having been sleepless for two days. It was too warm under the blanket but I had to keep myself covered as there were a couple of errant mosquitoes in the room trying to bite any exposed skin they could find. My eyes felt strained from being trained on too many screens for too long. My mind was full of Hasan as I had spent most of my time replying to comments and thinking about all the things I could say but didn’t. I had also had an eerie conversation that night about ghostly visitations with a dear friend who lost her mother seven years ago. She often tells me I will see signs that Hasan is still around.

In retrospect, I must have fallen asleep around 5 am or so. What I remember is being awake in the dark stillness and reaching out my arms. And then I saw Hasan, and he was with me, and I have no words to describe what I felt in my heart. I just held out my arms and he came over and gave me the biggest hug I ever got from him and I kissed his forehead, and then he was lying down right beside me, and I just stared at him in what felt like wonder and disbelief. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling that can only be described as happiness. I think we talked in telepathy. Time had stopped…..it could have been a short while or it could have been hours. But what seemed like too soon, he got to his feet and was standing at the foot of my bed and I thought, “Where are you going Hasan?” And Hasan had that usual nonchalant yet reassuring look on his face as he replied, “I just need to go out for a bit,” and he gestured toward the door, but then I watched him as he went out of the window and stood on the ledge right outside before walking along it and disappearing. I got up to see where he had gone to, and my window was the window that was mine when I lived with my parents. I couldn’t see where Hasan had disappeared to but when I looked down, I saw a stray dog sitting calmly….and I think I felt reassured.

Dawn had broken when my eyes opened and I lay absolutely still, listening to my heartbeat. If I use language to describe what I felt at that moment, I would say I felt confused, fearful, happy, horrified…and so bereft. I felt so aware that Hasan had been with me just now, that he had just left the room. I half expected to see him climb back in when I looked at my own window, but the blinds were down and the curtain was drawn. I can’t describe the physicalness, the intensity of what I went through then. Deliriousness mixed with pain. Convulsive sobs. I’m thinking hard right now, to be accurate about then.

This is what I believe: Hasan came to give me a good proper hug because we had been awkward about hugs. That was one of the first real regrets that tugged painfully at my heart when my brain tried to comprehend reality. I also believe that he was on the verge of turning into a young man who was okay with hugging his aunts, me in particular. I think I can live with this. My sisters and I have had the whole metaphysical conversation about the deceased visiting those who have let go. Fatu is jealous because Hasan seems to be visiting everyone in their dreams except her. But then, she has had her own share of Hasan-related ‘signs’. I want to write all about those too. Closure? I don’t know what that means really. But there, I said it. I’ll still wish we could have danced the awkward aunt-nephew dance some more.

To talk or not to talk? That is the question.

 

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A weird turn of events

Of course Mini had to go. That was a foregone conclusion for Huz.

But for Amu and I, the story was far more complex and fraught with emotion to have such a neat ending.

With great half-heartedness, we started a campaign to find adopters for little Mini. But I was becoming more and more certain that Fuzzy’s presence in the house was no longer something I wanted to tolerate. I felt like I was done with him. Even Amu was indifferent by now. He was just a badly-behaved, spoilt-rotten cat, hell-bent on making sure I couldn’t have a pretty house. I found myself looking at him with a mixture of sadness, frustration, anger and despair. I began to neglect him and stopped brushing him, esp since he had begun to flinch and back away even from the thing he loved the most. I didn’t care that this was only a manifestation of his anxiety at Mini’s presence in the house and began to look for a shelter to give Fuzzy up to. I just didn’t want to handle his spraying and marking anymore. I even thought of abandoning him somewhere, immediately dismissing the idea even though urged by well-meaning but ultimately misguided parents and siblings to do just that.

The dissonance in my head over the cat conundrum was causing a great deal of just-under-the-surface stress, the kind that makes you broody and think dark existential thoughts. I was really tired of cleaning up cat pee on a daily basis, failing at administering antidepressant, failing at finding another home for Mini, failing at not loving her so it wouldn’t be difficult to give her away.

So it certainly didn’t help that Nazish had begun to come in later and later for work. Her expected time of arrival had gone from 12 to 2, and I was getting increasingly irritated by what had really begun to seem like her taking advantage of my good nature. I decided I would let her go too.

I told Huz and he looked at me like I was hysterical, sternly telling me to calm down. Nazish was a good maid, trustworthy and quiet to boot, so what if she always looked depressed and we barely communicated with each other? Firing her at a time when we needed help keeping the house pee-free and dust-free was the stupidest thing I could possibly do.

So of course, I proceeded to do two stupid things.

I wrote to the only animal shelter in Karachi to ask that if they would take Fuzzy, we would not only donate money on a regular basis, we would even provide a cage to keep him in.

And when I opened the door for Nazish to enter on Monday, (the day after Fuzzy and Mini’s poopy battle) I waited till she had begun to wash dishes before breaking the silence between us by saying she should start looking for other work as her schedule was no longer acceptable to me.

She took the news stoically, only asking if she should leave immediately or stay on till the end of the month. I was immediately regretful, as I felt I had somehow failed her by not understanding her problems and her reasons for coming late, failed her by making her feel so disposable. But all I said was there was no need to hurry, she could take her time finding another job. Then I left the kitchen and left her to mull over her immediate future as she continued washing dishes. Huz just shook his head and warned me that my imminent housework-related stress would only mean he would have two stressed creatures to contend with in the house, one human, one feline.

I avoided Nazish for an hour, but then she struck up a conversation as I chopped veggies, confessing sheepishly that she knew my anger was justified and that she really had troubled me greatly with her erratic timings and that she was willing to ask around and get me a replacement.

It was as if she had only to speak for me to soften. Of course I didn’t really want to fire her, I said. I liked her work and I trusted her and had no desire to go through the hassle of employing, training and getting used to the presence of another person in the house at all. Come to think of it, did it really even matter what time she came as long as the work got done? I told her how stressed I was about Fuzzy and Mini and how I was thinking of giving Fuzzy away as a solution to my problems.

Nazish looked at me and asked, “Kitne mein deingi? Main le jaoon usse?”

She had mentioned once or twice before how much her little daughter adored cats and how she loved playing with one that lived at her mother’s place, where she left both her daughters each day before coming to work at my place, as she couldn’t possibly leave them alone at home in an environment like the Colony where she lived, a dense settlement of mostly Pashtuns.

I looked back at her, incredulous. She actually thought I was selling Fuzzy! But my incredulity turned into hope…giving Fuzzy over to Nazish and her little daughters seemed so much better than giving him up to a shelter….

We started talking nitty gritties. All talk of firing Nazish had been banished, and I figured her sudden talkativeness and animation stemmed from nervousness at having come very close to losing a job she really depended on./

She reassured me that Fuzzy would be safe in her ‘store room’ and could romp in her courtyard if he liked, and that as long as I provided his kibbles, they would take care of him for us.

I bounced off to tell Huz what had just transpired. He looked at me and shook his head again, laughing at how rapidly the situation in our house managed to swing with such mercurial changeability, but completely approving of Nazish’s acquisition of the errant Fuzzy.

I set about packing his things, his bath towel, shampoo, food and water bowls, his brush…not allowing myself to feel the slightest tinge of wtf-am-I-doing.

It was decided that she would fetch her daughters from her mothers house and bring them back to my place, after which I would pack Fuzzy into his basket and drop them all home. I had never seen where she lived, in a year and a half of her working with us, and it seemed this was the day I would finally make the leap across the class barrier that divided me from Nazish’s world.

She sat down on the floor in my room, where I was brushing Fuzzy for the last time, feeling the first glimmers of sadness at what I was doing. It was late afternoon and the sun’s presence was waning as Nazish began to talk to me in a manner she had hitherto never done. I listened as she started telling me detailed stories about her life and her childhood and her complicated family dynamics, her husband, her marriage, her parents and siblings, her uncles and aunts and cousins, all caught up in traditions full of patriarchy and misogyny. I listened to her talk stoically about the difficulties she faced, the bad choices she had made or that had been made on her behalf and which she was now trapped in. She talked about her daughters birthday and how she danced with her uncle, the weddings that she loved to dress up for, the intrigues and scandals that were the fuel of their family get-togethers. She told me about all the places she had ever worked at, the kinships she had formed with men who never disrespected her, the employers who helped pay for her elder daughters schooling and rebuked her for getting back together with an uncaring, sometimes abusive husband. She had been engaged to him when she was little, but he had defied his betrothal to her by eloping with her erstwhile school friend, then divorcing her out of remorse at being ostracized by the family and marrying Nazish eventually. It was as if she had been propelled into self-disclosure by the faith I was displaying in her, by entrusting my pet to her.

We talked till it grew dark, me asking curious questions that she had no qualms about answering, and I confess I found myself fascinated, witnessing and undergoing a complete transformation in my perception of who Nazish was, not a mournful, depressed girl, but a thoughtful yet feisty individual with strong convictions and aspirations despite the challenges life was constantly throwing at her. But more of this in another post.

For now we finally got to meet her daughters, 9-yr old pretty Ailya, who shared her birthday with Amu, one of the reasons I felt Nazish was destined to work for me, and 3 yr-old pixie-faced Sidra, the future mistress of a fallen-from-grace Fuzzy. Little humans and cat were introduced to each other and I spent some time explaining the do’s and don’t’s of dealing with him.

Nazish and her daughters slid into the backseat while Amu cradled Fuzzy’s basket in front. I smiled uncertainly at her, she smiled uncertainly back, and then we were off to Nazish’s house in the heart of a slum we had never set foot in before.

(to be continued…)

Things that happen

A simple thing like waking up unusually early one day can change your life forever, or at least for the life span of a cat. Here’s what happened one beautifully crisp morning in December.

Decided to take Amu driving at 7am as the stretch of road where I teach her is relatively car-free and less intimidating then.

In the parking area of our apartment building rang out the forlornly incessant mewing of a decidedly small cat. The mysterious mewing kitty was hiding in the space between the top of the wheel and the chassis of our car, rendering us incapable of driving away without getting it out first.

Seeing us standing around helpless, the chowkidar fetched a stick to get the invisible noisemaker to jump off and run out. What emerged was a tiny grease-covered creature of indeterminate colour and scared blue eyes. I picked her up to stop her from running under the car again, and after ten minutes of confused debate decided to put her in our courtyard for the time being to keep her safe.

When we returned from our driving session, the tiny kitten was quietly curled up behind one of the potted plants, but ran out and started mewing again when she saw us. She was obviously hungry and cold and infested with fleas, and there was no choice but to clean her up and feed her and keep her warm….

(to be continued…)

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Friend or foe?

Ever wondered what a ‘bete-noire’ is? Let me enlighten you if you haven’t. It is a person or thing that one particularly dislikes or dreads. It is another word for enemy, who is, of course, someone who hates, attacks or harms another. An adversary, something that threatens someone or something. Literally, it means ‘black beast’.

Fuzzy, our pet, who for the last seven years has mostly just slept, keeps us as his slaves and wants for absolutely nothing (apart from the occasional bits of raw chicken as I cook and a slice of watermelon or two, or so I naively suppose)

But is the most wonderful thing about being Fuzzy ‘really’ that it seems you’re The Only One? If you have never seen another cat ever since you were separated from your sibling when you were a wee kitten (unless you count the weirdo in the mirror who got startled every time he saw you) do you recognize the yowling beyond your existence as the sound of others like you? And what is that potent aroma wafting towards you from  the balcony and courtyard doors? Smells like cat-pee but not your own…

Fuzzy lost no opportunity making sure that if what he suspected was true, there should be no doubt in anyone or anything as to exactly WHO was Master of this Domain.

Every morning to our dismay, we began to find puddles near every entry or exit point in our house. We dealt with it by putting our daily newspaper to good use. Yes, he had been neutered…or at least the vet did the best he could (since Fuzzy is monorchid)

One of Fuzzy’s favourite hangout spots is also one of mine, the breezy top step of the stairs that lead down to our courtyard. A swing door separates the stairs from the rest of the house, so in the evenings when someone opens that door, Fuzzy steps out for some fresh air. He prowls around downstairs, sniffing pots, inspecting different areas, marking his presence discreetly. Guilty as we feel keeping a living thing in such seclusion, the least we could do is allow him this little bit of freedom to experience the outdoors. This little freedom expanded to such an extent that we even let him spend the night outside since he loved it so much. It’s not like he would ever be able to scale the boundary walls and actually go out to explore the Outside World. He’s just not built that way. He’s the kind of cat that ponders and dilly-dallies before jumping on or off chairs and coffee tables.

Many years thus passed and a routine established itself. Fuzzy snored under my bed in the morning and all afternoon, emerging in the late afternoon, stretching out his back legs, yawning humungously. He’ll sit outside my bedroom door, disoriented and a tad cross-eyed. Then he’ll wander over to the netted balcony door, tucking his legs comfortably under him and sit there basking in the last golden rays of the sun, ears twitching now and then at sounds of passing cars, human voices and chirping birds, eyes half-closed.

Soon,  he will unfurl and walk lazily but purposefully over to his water bowl, positioning his body around it, enveloping the bowl in an embrace. He loves his water bowl.

No one could ever describe Fuzzy as a fierce cat. He is the very essence of docility, unless he’s in a playful mood. His mouth is so small that he can’t manage food that is larger than the tip of your finger. He will patiently chase a piece of kibble that drops from the bowl to the floor until he can latch on enough to be able to chew. He’s not the kind of enthusiastic cat who’ll run to his food bowl when he hears the rattle of kibbles. If he wants food, he’ll go sit by his bowl and wait with equanimity. But if he wants water, he’ll come into my room and get my attention by meowing softly till I get up. Then he’ll lead me to his water bowl , trotting ahead and looking back again and again to make sure I’m following. Sometimes he’ll swat at my ankles with his paw to hurry me along.

The only time he’ll betray any excitement is if he hears the rattle of ice cubes. An ice cube in his water bowl is like Eid for him. He’ll hover over it like he does on hot days in front of an open fridge. Such sweet small happinesses. And then of course, there is the anticipation of being allowed to go down to the courtyard.

We realized why Fuzzy had been acting extra territorial and so very eager to dash out of the house when we found him sitting on the stairs one day with a cat sitting across from him. They were staring at each other emitting low guttural sounds, not fighting but just facing each other. We shooed the other cat away and it ambled off lithely, scaling the wall and disappearing while Fuzzy looked on, unable to fathom how.

Another time we heard some fierce howling only to find Fuzzy having a face-off with the same trespassing cat, but this time, heartened by my presence perhaps, he began to chase the other cat round and round the stairs until the cat managed to jump onto the trellis from the balcony, scale the wall and get away, Fuzzy breathing in huffy bursts,  fuming with prickly antagonism. This was the first time I had ever seen Fuzzy so intensely worked up.

Late one evening a few months ago, we returned after several hours spent away from home, me worrying about Fuzzy being alone and hungry. As we climbed the unlit staircase, my worry turned into a strange sense of foreboding when I noticed clumps strewn about the landing halfway up…I was almost afraid to inspect closely, but then I discerned something dark smeared on the floor and my fears turned to panic as I turned to Huz to ask if Fuzzy was inside or out. Huz fumbled with the keys (why does it seem to take forever when you’re panicking?) we all ran in and called for Fuzzy but he was nowhere to be seen. We usually find him waiting for us by the door alerted by the sound of the keys turning in the lock. Heart hammering, I stood in the balcony and called his name…it is usual for him to come dashing up like lightning. After a few seconds I saw some movement and Fuzzy came out slowly from under the stairs and started climbing with some effort. Turning on the lights, I realized the dark blobs on the stairs were bunches of Fuzzy’s hair and the smear was blood.

Horrified and shaking, and too scared to touch him in case he was badly hurt, I let Fuzzy walk into the house unaided, limping visibly and looking rather subdued. I stroked his head and checked him tentatively for wounds, but couldn’t see anything through all his fur. Huz joked that the blood might belong to the other cat and the thought made me feel a little better, but I was sad for Fuzzy and outraged at the other cat for violating Fuzzy’s territory and consistently looking for a chance to attack him. I took Fuzzy to the vet next day and was told he had a sprained shoulder which was causing him to limp, but there were no wounds anywhere. I looked at Fuzzy with a degree of skepticism. How could a spoilt, evolutionarily challenged semi-Persian defend itself against a ruthless street cat and draw blood?

Nevertheless, Fuzzy had to be protected from the wily building cat and stay withiin the house at all times from now on. As a result, he became ever more vigilant at the balcony doors. The anticipation of more confrontations was palpable…Fuzzy was alert and tense on the lookout for further trespassing, eagerly waiting for the building cat to show up and he wasn’t disappointed. The other cat kept coming back and there were further face-offs through the netting (which occur with regularity around the same time every day.) I’ll be sitting in another room and I will hear Fuzzy yowling angrily or I’ll hear the door rattle loudly and I know he has flung himself at the door with force.

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I don’t know how he gets his paws so muddy but there are fresh paw prints on the balcony walls and the floor every day. I began to regard the building cat as a friendly foe since he added so much spice to Fuzzy’s life and suggested leaving a bowl of food for him in the balcony, which Huz and Amu vehemently vetoed. But I had cause to rethink my soft spot for him as a worthy adversary.

I was sitting at my kitchen table one night when I heard rummaging sounds. Fuzzy followed me as I went to turn on the overhead balcony light and open the door. On the landing were two cats this time, apparently the black and white building cat had brought along a ginger friend and they were going through our recycling heap like vandals. Ginger saw me and ran off but Black&white stayed and stared back as he squatted on a brown paper bag and proceeded to pee on it. My jaw dropped at his insolent audacity but I couldn’t help laughing a little too.

Didn’t laugh too much when a few days later he left a little pile of poop on a cushion on the bench as a little gift for us. Or this morning when Huz went to fetch the newspaper from under our front door only to find that not only did it have a yellow patch of pee on it but had been torn up as well.

Seems we have a bete-noire on our hands indeed, albeit with a touch of blanc.

 

 

 

Post-election ramblings

Everything is busy falling apart.

I love the concept of Wabi-sabi, according to which nothing is permanent, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect, and what’s more, there is beauty in this. But this has limited ability to give solace when it comes to teeth. Or the electoral system.

Also when there are two spots on your kitchen ceiling that drip every few seconds due to a leak in someone’s bathroom upstairs, forcing you to place tubs underneath which you must skirt to avoid drips on your head as you try to make coffee or reach for an onion, turning your little kitchen into an obstacle course.

Seepage. The scourge of apartment living.

Amu wanders up to me to complain about being hungry and needing breakfast before setting off to take her last examination for the year. I immediately put down my book (Pakistan: A Hard Country), take off my glasses and relinquish my breezy spot on the sofa to ask her what she would like, so as to deflect that what-kind-of-mommy-are-you-who-doesn’t-feed-her-only-child gaze. I open the fridge door as I suggest scrambled eggs and sausages which she rejects with a twitch of her little nose and a ‘I’m not THAT hungry’…..so I offered her tea and buttered toast…much simpler and met with an immediate ‘yes!’.

Huz wanders into the kitchen as I settle down with my book again, this time at the kitchen table, determined to finish at least one chapter today. His expression says ‘I could do with some breakfast too’, but as I glower at him and ask what he’d like, he quickly says he’ll have the leftover chulao kabab and afghani tikka we ordered last night…..no one can say he doesn’t encourage me to read.

He contemplates the spots as they drip.

Falling asleep while studying..
Falling asleep while studying..

Amu abandons her second toast and half her tea, so I finish them both, even though I don’t really feel like chewing anything, for which I hold the chulao kabab responsible. There was a tiny hard object, perhaps a bit of bone, who really knows, and the weakest filling in the array in my mouth was unfortunate enough to have encountered it. This resulted in a rather jarring jolt, the effects of which are intensely felt but hardly visible to anyone around me save for the appearance of a sudden frown on my face. And it’s good that no one heard the string of expletives in my head.

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Yes I know I must visit the dentist. I will put it off as long as I can, and suffer the consequences miserably and silently in the meantime, because yes, I’m pigheaded.

There is ink on my thumb from when I went to vote on 11th May, proof that I have a say in who I want to botch things for the next five years. Carried away by a skewed, misrepresentative media, most of us urban educated lot voted for PTI. It hasn’t been easy deciding on the lesser evil this time around, nevertheless I figured Imran would be easier on the eye as PM than Nawaz. So much for that.

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Things may be far from perfect, but the ECP proved to be unusually ineffective, and the laxness of security in some constituencies, the most hyped being NA-250 (the one we voted for), meant that the biggest thugs in Karachi managed to get away with massive rigging attempts…..not.

The ECP has called for re-election in 43 polling stations in this constituency on the 19th, but I don’t think Huz and I will bother to vote again. I doubt anyone will be as enthusiastic as they were on the 11th, now that the ground reality has been driven home. PML-N is in, PPP is marginalised everywhere except Sindh, and PTI may or may not form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the most Taliban-ridden province of Pakistan.

Well, at least Mr Khan succeeded in galvanizing those most lethargic of all voters, the urban elite, as a result of which the Election 2013 can boast of the highest turnout since 1970. I really, really enjoyed Mohammad Hanif’s take on the whole debacle in The Guardian…..it was absolutely brilliant, true to his singular style.

Huz left the house at quarter to nine in the morning in his zeal to vote and came back four hours later, sunburnt but triumphant, as if he’d achieved a huge accomplishment, which I think he did, considering what he went through.

First he stood in line at a government boys school near a katchi abadi (low income locality) next to a garbage dump and a couple of cows (with their accompanying smells and poop) tied up behind one wall of the school.

After an hour and a half when he finally reached the desk he was informed that he was at the wrong polling station and he needed to go to the neighbouring girls school. So he did, after verifying his information at a nearby help tent, and got in yet another long line under the scorching sun.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…..I was in my pj’s, busily cutting up images from magazines in a frenzy of post-social-media-unplug-excessive-energy. There was absolutely no desire in me to wake up early and go stand in line in the sun just to cast my vote for a government I really had no hopes from, despite all the clamour for ‘A New Pakistan’.….especially after Huz came home and told me his stories of heat and smells and mismanagement. Also, even though my Facebook stood deactivated (in an effort to reduce the noise) I still had an eye on Twitter….so I was aware of all the s*** going on.

The polling timings were from 8 am to 5 pm, and at 3 pm I was still putting together a collage from some of the images I had cut out, when the phone rang. It was my mother. She had just come back home from the polling station close to their place and insisted I go and vote too.

I felt more loser-ish than ever, but not enough to make me want to go off on my own and subject myself to dubious voting conditions, but I promised her I’d go, and got back to my cutting and gluing.

Then my sister Fatu whatsapped me to ask if I voted…..she had just come back after FIVE hours of standing in a queue and was full of stories about how social and fun the whole experience was. When I told her (without much conviction) my reasons for boycotting the elections, she was genuinely aghast.

”You can’t not vote Mun! The Goons will steal it! You can’t let them do that! Go vote!”

She even offered to come with me, tireless in her patriotism and righteous anger, but I began to ignore her messages after that. Never said I wasn’t pigheaded.

So I finished my collage, re-assembled a frame I had taken apart to showcase my new handiwork and wandered over to watch a bit of news on some of the hundreds of news channels on TV. Turned out that there were so many reports of delays in many polling stations (mostly caused by the handiwork of the Goons) that the ECP announced a time extension of 3 hours.

Something in me switched gears and I texted Fatu to come over. I couldn’t not be a part of this historic event.

So I quickly showered, wore a nice shalwar qamiz, spritzed on a nice perfume, and marched out to vote at 6 pm. At the polling station, I was greeted by a bunch of female polling agents one of whom commented with good-humored sarcasm that it was about time I showed up. Another one noticed that I was all fresh as a daisy, while she had been cloistered in a stuffy room in her black burqa since 6 am. I was duly chastised, handed two sheets of paper covered in symbols, located the one I wanted to stamp on and folded it up to stick into the ballot box. I was outta there in all of five minutes, home by 6:30.

Huz hates me. 😀

Rambling a watershed year away..

If memory serves me right, winter arrived very late last year, when I was beginning to lose hope of getting to pull out my warm clothes at all.

I recall feeling increasingly impatient, longing to feel that nip in the air, that makes sitting on the steps in my back balcony that much more wonderful. The nip finally manifested itself a week before New Years Eve, when a few friends came over and we did a barbecue (chicken in two different marinades), warmed by the embers till the wee hours, cradling hot mugs of tea in our hands.

We stood on the top steps that lead down to the courtyard and watched the fireworks explode in the sky, whooping at particularly spectacular ones. I felt grateful to have friends to celebrate with, happy to hear Amu and her bunch of friends talking and laughing in another balcony, hoping a good time was being had by all…

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This year the air turned cooler much earlier, much to my surprise. I felt the crispness in the air as I was letting Fuzzy in one fine morning when I was awake for some godforsaken reason. It was only November and Amu reported that her friend Hannah’s perennially curly hair had already begun to stay straight instead of frizzing up right after ironing. This is a sure sign. It indicates a drop in humidity in the air, which means women in Karachi (including yours truly) start tweeting happily about the increase in good hair days.

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Hannah and Amu

Amu began talking about getting a new school sweater as her old one was looking a bit worn out. The child turns up her nose, however, at the standby standard gray pullover provided by Ghani Sons, (the store that sells the most school uniforms in Karachi) as being completely uncool.

A couple of rounds of all the hip stores at the mall revealed nothing of any use. One store, however, had the most lovely  gray cashmere…..beautifully soft, perfect shade of gray…..the kind of sweater that just fits you beautifully and you feel classy wearing it.

It cost almost twice Zahooran’s monthly salary though, and even Amu (who is good at persuading her forever-balking-at-prices Mom) thought she couldn’t, (just couldn’t!) spend that much on a sweater for school. The attendant at the shop then divulged that we should drop by in ten days or so to check out their stock of lambs’ wool sweaters and Huz left his number and email so they could let us know. But they never called or emailed, and when we dropped in after two weeks to see if the new stock had arrived, there was no trace of it and the shop attendant looked puzzled as if he had never said such a thing.

So after consulting her fellow fashionistas, (most of whom do their shopping on yearly holidays in London or the US) it was revealed that there is a Marks and Spencer outlet somewhere in Khadda market from where her friend Nabs thought we could find a reasonably priced, yet ‘cool’ gray sweater.

If I was reluctant to go shopping again, it was only because I had by now lost my faith and couldn’t face another disappointment. (Or maybe I was subconsciously trying to compel Amu into forgoing her notions of cool/uncool and making use of the oversized pullover I had bought her last year which was lying unworn in her cupboard)

We drove along the narrow, congested street, keeping our eyes peeled for the alleged shop, not once, but twice, on two separate days, as Amu fired frantic texts at Nabs to get more specfic directions…but the search proved as futile as I had feared.

There was no such M & S store….unless of course, they had relocated since Nabs had gone shopping. But how were we to know where it was now?

The sweater story has a happy ending though.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon yesterday, as we drove out to the far reaches of phase 8, taking the scenic route along the Arabian Sea. The sun shone, and the water sparkled, people and camels dotting the beachy landscape. The road near the Cineplex was lined with hundreds of cars…..it seemed a lot of people had turned out to watch Skyfall or Life of Pi.

Orange butterflies fluttered away from my windshield as we swung into the parking lot of the weekly bazar, a magical place where you can find anything and everything that the city has to offer. It is also a great place to spend a few hours browsing stalls along with a whole sea of other human beings. Here’s a bunch of pics I took there sometime last year, when we had gone early and it wasn’t crowded.

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Amu and I stopped in our tracks as we encountered a bunch of very small Afghan/Pashtun boys in our path, one of whom was in the process of sharing his bottle of Pepsi with one extremely flattened straw sticking out of it. They were so engrossed in the fizzy pleasure of their drink, chattering amongst themselves in Darri/Pushto they didn’t notice us watching them, grinning from ear to ear. Later, we regretted not having secretly filmed them.

Then we proceeded to rummage through the flea market stalls, which were inundated with sweaters of all shapes, colours and sizes, and after an extensive and thorough search and encountering two old but very seasoned sweater-sellers who seemed to know immediately what school Amu went to, and who cannily tried to sell us a used sweater at twice the market rate (a ploy we managed to maneouvre out of) we walked away with a lovely gray pullover from the very next stall, once again grinning from ear to ear.

We left the market with bags of fruit, new turquoise-blue bathroom mats, wooden wind chimes for the courtyard and a gray sweater, carried for us by a little Afghan boy to our car.

He silently walked all the way for us, carrying our load, and silently transferred it all into the backseat after which I handed him a 50-rupee note. He took it without saying a word and as Amu got in and I walked over to the drivers side, I watched him walk quickly with his basket back to the bazar to look for the next customer. I kept watching as he climbed up the hilly mound to the main road, to see if he would turn around and acknowledge the fact that he had been connected to us for a brief moment in time, helping us walk easier as we traversed the crowds.

Just as I began to think that our contribution towards his earnings of the day meant nothing to him, he turned around to look in my direction and I saw a tiny smile on his face.

I grinned back and gave him a little wave, and then he was gone.

At the beginning of this year, December seemed so far away, and now it’s here. Didn’t Farroo just get married? Wasn’t the Karachi Literature Festival just a few months ago?

(It was a lovely wintry day then too and I had fun attending various sessions…..had meant to write about it but then got lazy…..here’s a few of the hundreds of pics I took that day)

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Listening to Anatol Lieven talking about 'Pakistan-A Hard Country' in a regional politics session
Listening to Anatol Lieven talking about ‘Pakistan-A Hard Country’ in a regional politics session

Today is the very last day that I will ever be in my 30’s. I have already bought myself a silver bracelet with coloured square stones which is going to see me through to the other side.

Tomorrow, I cross over.

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All kinds of madness

After a very weird and violent Friday, ‘resilient’ Karachi is back to ‘normal’.

Karachi has no choice but to do so. Ordinary people have to go to work and life must go on, despite the colossal damage to so many lives and property.

Much has been said in the papers, local as well as international, about blasphemy, the film that mocks Islam and the Prophet Muhammed, the protests that have ensued, the demands for a worldwide ban and censorship on anything that ridicules any religion, so I won’t go into any of that.

Suffice it to say that we, along with the majority of Pakistanis, stayed at home and watched helplessly on tv, as mobs gathered after Friday prayers and proceeded to break, burn, hurl stones. The police, outnumbered as they were, tried valiantly to bring the situation under control, but the mobs were too caught up in their own frenzy.

Five famous cinema houses were gutted, and a couple of banks burnt down too. Not sure about the exact number of people who lost their lives, but hundreds of people were injured.

Amidst the pall of gloom and the outrage at being held hostage at the hands of a few and at the State’s complicitness in furthering the aims of the miscreants/protesters, a bunch of people came out of their homes on Sunday and set themselves to cleaning up the mess in the aftermath of what can only be called a storm. Here’s a glimpse of what they did.

And while Pakistan busily loses points in the world in so many different ways, I thought I’d share with you one Pakistani who ploughs on with his brilliant music. Dubbed ‘the guitar prodigy from Karachi’, Usman Riaz began playing classical piano at the age of 6, and took up the guitar at age 16. Now, at 21, he has two albums under his belt, the first being ‘Flashes and Sparks’, and the latest being ‘Circus in the Sky’.

It was his video ‘Firefly’ that caught my attention sometime last year. Unfortunately, since Youtube is banned in my country since last week (a genius move by the government to stop people from watching the idiotic blasphemous film) I cannot link you to it, but if you search for it and have a listen, I promise you a fascinating few minutes.

I also cannot link you to his solo performance at the TEDGlobal 2012 where he got a standing ovation, and where he finally got to jam with Preston Reed, one of the guitarists whose work he learnt from while watching him play on Youtube.

But what I CAN link you to is this very uplifting video of Usman at a Walmart in Florida. I watched this today. Such fun. Take a look at a different kind of mob altogether.

Pakistan Goes to the Oscars

Since I haven’t watched ‘Saving Face’ myself, I cannot possibly write about the short film, but I came across this post on Twitter and felt I should re-blog it, just to do my bit in supporting Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the first Pakistani to ever be nominated for an Academy award!

Sharmeen was a year or two junior to me during my A level stint at the Karachi Grammar School, so I feel connected in a way.

In December, she was invited as the guest of honour on Sports Day, where she turned up wearing a white kurta and chooridar pajama and a beautiful green dupatta, not just symbolizing the colours of the Pakistani flag, but also to show her support for Streeton House, of which she was an erstwhile House Captain 🙂

Amu won a bunch of medals that day (she happens to be a fine athlete!) so she got to shake the Oscar nominee’s hand 🙂

Here’s to her winning!! Just like Amu won the 200 metre race, breaking the school record!!

Do visit Kalsoom’s blog ‘Chup’ and read all about ‘Saving Face’ and what it documents.

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Update! : Saving Face won!! What a proud moment for Sharmeen, Daniel Junge and ALL the people behind the making of the film! Bravo!! 😀

CHUP! - Changing Up Pakistan

Tomorrow is Oscar day. If you are anything like me, you watch as many Oscar-nominated films as humanly possible (while still, of course, maintaining some semblance of a life) and hope your favorite movies walk away with the coveted trophy.

The Oscars are it, the last pit stop in the awards season, the culmination of all that was brilliant in film that year. This year, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy became the first Pakistani to ever garner an Academy Award nomination. Her documentary, Saving Face, co-directed with Daniel Junge, is up for the Oscar in the short documentary category. The film delves into the issue of acid attacks through the lens of the women affected by tragedy and the doctor trying to help them. In Pakistan, there are 100 acid attacks reported each year, but many cases go unreported, the victims instead relegated to the shadows…

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Farroo

Dear readers of ‘munira’s bubble’,

You must be a tad confounded at the mysterious lack of activity here, and I feel an explanatory post is due.

The reason for the absence has been my niece’s wedding, which had kept us all on our toes for the past month or so, the festivities and events of which finally drew to a close on the 26th of January.

Much as we enjoyed the preparations and the quests for matching shoes and jewellery, the shopping for materials and the trips to the tailors, the excitement over the bride’s clothes and accessories, the distribution of cards and the selection of gifts, attending all the various functions, eating copious amounts of rich food, and of course the countdown to the final event, the ‘rukhsati’…..I think I can speak for the whole family (with the exception of Amu, who didn’t want the wedding to end, ever) when I say that I feel light as a bird all of a sudden! *sighs with relief*

Farroo, my little sweetheart, is all grown up and married at 21. My sister Sax was 22 when she gave birth to her, and I was 18.

yes, i KNOW i had really weird hair :p

I could ramble at length about how much we looked forward to Sax’s visits, or the longing to go over to her place every day, just so we could hang out with Farroo, make her laugh and play, watch Sax as she gave her oil massages and baths, or just stare at her happily as she learnt to roll over, then sit up without support, crawl, and finally totter around on her own two legs.

I can tell you how distracted I was when Sax and Farroo came to Karachi for a visit during my A levels (they were in Islamabad at the time) and I couldn’t focus on my studies at all, so obsessed was I with spending time with my little dolly, and I totally attribute my terrible grades to her. But she was such a bundle of fun!

at the beach, around 1992?

We waited anxiously for photographs that Sax would mail regularly. Those were the days before digital cameras and computers, so her letters and phone calls and descriptions of Farroo’s antics were the only way we had of staying in touch, and it felt terribly devastating to miss out on so many precious months of her growth, her baby babble, her delightful laughter, her gorgeous little face, her soft curly hair.

Farroo in Islamabad 🙂

They moved back and forth from Karachi to Islamabad over the course of the next few years, and there were more additions to the family along the way. Through all these events, we watched Farroo change as she grew from a cheerful little chatterbox, bouncing around after school in her ponytails, to a quieter little lady.

She’d love making things with her hands, painting, doing crafty little projects, displaying them proudly every time we went over, not saying much, but always around, listening to her aunts gossiping with her mom, giggling if she found something funny.

We marvelled over the cuteness of her pursuits, as she filled her room with Harry Potter memorabilia, composing letters of acceptance as a Hogwarts student, making trunks, a castle, a Snitch, Pygmy Puffs, wands and little potion bottles, pictures of James, Sirius, Harry, Ron and Hermione all over her walls along with her own, her friends and all her cousins (whom she is firmly bonded with.)

As her ‘Munni khala’, as she calls me, I could wax eloquent about the awesomeness that is my little Farroo, her creativity and attention to detail know no bounds. I wish I could share pictures of everything, tell you more stories about her, but I’m afraid that would be beyond the scope of this little blog post. That deserves a post of its own! So I’ll just skip to the part where Farroo decided to take time off from studying after her A levels, and during this ‘sabbatical’, she dabbled with translating Urdu books into English. Then, while the rest of her friends went on to go to college, Farroo applied for a job as a teacher at her old school….and got it. Being the youngest teacher at the school was both a challenge and a very cool thing. Her kids could relate to her, and loved her for her ‘funkiness’.

And once again, a metamorphosis occurred. Known for being shy, quiet and indecisive, teaching a bunch of unruly kids and dealing with parents and the responsibility of imparting education brought out hitherto unwitnessed qualities in Farroo. Here was a new Farroo, a more confident, quietly responsible, an ever more mature Farroo, someone who could take charge of situations. And to make a long story criminally short, it was around this time that she met the man she would end up marrying 🙂

So it is with feelings of love, nostalgia and happiness for Farroo that I share with you my favourite pictures of her from the wedding. These were taken by Amu, my budding, talented photographer child, for whom Farroo is like an older sister 🙂

time to get hands embellished with mehndi 🙂

So off she goes now, on a new adventure in her life.

Farroo, if you’re reading this, I want you to know we’re going to miss you like hell!….what will we do without you around the house in your tshirt and jammies??? Your room should definitely be turned into a museum of Farroo’s artefacts though!

Sax, if you’re reading this…….*hugs*. I really don’t know what else to say to you, you who just married off her first-born, your best friend. I can’t imagine how much you guys will miss her. ❤