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…)

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Demon kitty and the depressed cat

Fuzzy, our charcoal gray semi-Persian has been the resident cat for eight years, which seems a long time indeed when one ponders the trouble and anxiety he brought to our lives.  It was because of him that we had to construct partitioning doors so he couldn’t get to our good furniture and pee on it. No way could we have artsy floor rugs to prettify our place, as he would promptly pee on them too. A LOT would be the number of things we have had to throw away because of this. But he has a cute face, so we dealt with it instead of throwing him out too.

I realized early on that he was the proverbial scaredy cat, frightened by sudden noises, shy around visitors. You could forget that he even existed, given that he spent long hours sleeping/hiding under the bed, only to emerge for food and his precious water.

When he began to display an unusual interest in a certain ugly tomcat that taunted him from the balcony door , I began to think (twisted logic, I know) perhaps Fuzzy would like some feline company in the house.

Cue little lost rescued kitten, whom we called little billi at first. She looked sweet and tiny and pathetic, but was actually the devil in disguise. We kept the two physically apart initially, though little billi was still visible through the glass separating door and I could see that her presence was making Fuzzy edgy. When they played ‘pawsie’, the Fuzzster was curious and wary but the little one was feisty and playful. She’d stick her skinny paws way out to swat at him, while Fuzzy stayed just beyond reach, watchful.IMG_0258IMG_0092 Eventually I let them spend time together. If she didn’t appreciate her tiny butt being sniffed by the persistent Fuzzy (she is quite a smelly kitten) she’d turn around and jump on him or swat and nip at his paws to make him back off. He would beat a hasty retreat then, clueless about how to deal with this aggressive little creature who had taken over not only his space but his family’s time and attention. So we were amazed and delighted to find her sleeping snuggled next to him one day on his wicker bench…and that he had allowed it! I decided Fuzzy was ambivalent about this newcomer, quite sure he only pretended to get annoyed by her presence, though I did have to yank her away from him when the attacks got too annoying. My Instagram bears evidence of quite a few of her antics. (do check them out!)

When little billi joined him once too often on his bed, Fuzzy stopped sleeping there altogether. IMG_0369 I should have known better than to give them food at the same time too. Little billi was a voracious eater and ate hungrily and greedily, even taking over Fuzzy’s bowl forcing him to back away slowly and be patient until she was done. It was hilarious to hear her grrs as she attacked her food bowl. She was tiny, but she already had the large personality and attitude of a street cat. IMG_0360IMG_0361 Little billi morphed into demon-kitty for the way she ambushed and attacked, biting and swatting anything that moved. Her appetite for play was insatiable, and for the first few weeks all we did was watch her and play with her and delight in her presence. Her favourite game was scrunched-up-newspaper-football. It seemed what we had on our hands was the most playful kitten in the world, lighting up our lives with her craziness. What was most amazing and joyous however was the fastidiousness with which she took to her litter box. She knew exactly where to go from day one. I was in love. IMG_0270IMG_0304 She liked sleeping snuggled with Amu, and Amu loved her snuggliness too. She was going through a rough time in school and it was comforting to have such a kitten-like kitten to come home to. She kept her company while she worked on assignments at her desk, either curled on her lap or shoulder, or just hanging around watching her write, swatting her hand occasionally or trying to chomp on her pen.

But as Amu’s cloud of school-related gloom lifted, an altogether different cloud seemed to have descended elsewhere. Fuzzy’s behavioural issues were beginning to enter new territory. If we had been dogged by his peeing and marking before, we now suddenly had to add spraying to his repertoire of activities, something he had never done before. Now, he started to back up against a variety of vertical surfaces, quiver his furry tail, and let loose a jet of particularly foul-smelling piss. Up till now, we could handle his daily misdemeanours near the windows and doors. What was horrifying was when I realized he had begun to mark us. I found a patch of piss on my side of the bed one day. The very same day he peed on the bathroom mat as well. He also peed on my favourite chappals. Also Huz’s. He sprayed my bedroom door. He peed under my dresser. He sprayed my chest of drawers. He sprayed the bass speaker on my table. He wandered into my room one day and sprayed the curtains, all things he had never done before. Little billi/demon-kitty became my official pee detector, sniffing out places when I couldn’t figure out where the odour was wafting from. AlI these things led to Huz becoming firmer in his resolve to convince me that two cats in one house cannot possibly stay. As for me, I was mostly to be found with a bottle of pet deodoriser in one hand and a bucket of water and a mop in the other.

IMG_0354 Demon kitty was unabashed in her exploration of furniture and bounded onto tables and counters with a casualness, agility and will which had never manifested in Fuzzy. But seeing her boldness, Fuzzy seemed to gain heart. He probably began to think that if she could do it, so could he. The final straw for me was when we realized Fuzzy had perched on the back of a chair and proceeded to empty his bladder. I didn’t really understand what I was dealing with were the signs of a very stressed cat. All he was doing of course was responding to perceived threats. His entire body language had changed and why wouldn’t it? He was being ambushed every day by demon kitty, his food was being gobbled by her, she was drinking from HIS WATER BOWL, his bed had been taken over, she was using HIS litter to do some extremely smelly poop in. I was guilty of ignoring all these things, expecting him to take it in stride while I was busy catering to the kitten’s needs.. His world had suddenly become unpredictable and chaotic. He was forced into persistent contact with another feline against his will. Of course this couldn’t go on! Fuzzy took to staying awake all night, keeping up an unbearably mournful dirge which woke me up from my sleep every couple of hours during the night. I was getting dark circles under my eyes and I couldn’t function like a normal human being anymore. You could safely say I was pretty stressed out myself.

I asked around for advice and all I heard was to keep the two cats apart….I had no idea how to accomplish this. But we had been dealing with Fuzzy’s peeing problems since way before the new kitty ever came along to exacerbate it. He was already neutered…what more could we do?? PAWS advised me to go to Dr Isma, the more upmarket vet in Karachi, for a consultation. I packed a very smelly Fuzzy into a basket and off we went.

Dr Isma was lovely. Just seeing the sympathetic expression on her face as she listened to my cat story was balm for my frazzled nerves. She pronounced Fuzzy to be an extremely stressed out cat indeed and there were only three options she could think of to deal with this unfortunate event: 1. To inject Fuzzy with female hormones. 2. To get a calming spray, like Feliway. 3. To administer an anti-depressant on a daily basis.

The first two options being overlooked perhaps due to unavailability or being expensive, Dr Isma recommended a quarter pill of an antidepressant called Clomfranil. We bought a few strips of these from a pharmacy on our way home, 20 rupees ($0.2) for a strip. Maybe I’d pop one or two myself.

That evening, I cut one pill into four uneven pieces and stuck the largest one into a piece of cat food. Fuzzy ate it. From a worried-looking anxious cat that paced relentlessly around the living room, I found him a little while later, stretched out languorously near the balcony door. There was no distressed yowling outside my bedroom door that night, and all the sheets of newspaper that we spread in all his usual spots were piss-free the next morning. The house didn’t smell foul, and Fuzzy was fast asleep peacefully on his wicker bench. My brain did a whoop of joy! My problems were solved!

Or were they?

(to be continued..)

p.s. All beautiful images taken by Amu 🙂

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.

 

 

 

Me and my Help Issues

It’s been two months now since I’ve had a new person coming in to clean everyday. Her name is Nazish.

She is tall and thin and her default expression is gloomy, if not dour. She has long hair that she ties in a bun and droopy, hangdog eyes.

She wears a black burqa with shiny floral embroidery down the front, which she takes off when she enters the house and gets to work, spending a minute buttoning it on and wrapping her head carefully before leaving to walk back home.  She doesn’t live very far from our place. Since she is new, and young, and perhaps because Huz works at home, she moves about discreetly, with her dupatta perched on her head and wrapped around her shoulders.

There is something very collected and composed about her, very unlike Zahooran, our previous maid.  If you have been following my blog, you’ll know a lot about Zahooran and her talkative, annoying, yet endearing personality, and all my other colourful help-related issues.

Nazish doesn’t talk very much, despite my efforts at trying to draw her out. Her speech is soft to the point of being almost inaudible, and I must strain to catch the gist of what she says.

She had one or two talkative days when her story spilled out as she mopped the floor and I folded laundry, and I learned that she is married, her husband repairs old TV’s but is lazy about work, they have two daughters (who she wants to try and send to school scraping together as much as she can save) and they live in the downstairs portion of a two storey house, the total indoor space of which is about as big as one of our bedrooms. Her husband also parks his motorbike next to the double mattress on which they all sleep. There is a reason for this, but I’m afraid I can’t remember it.

Her husband is the youngest amongst his siblings so he gets the short end of the stick. Nazish thinks he is often taken advantage of and is forced to be the family gofer. He resents this, so has developed a devil-may-care attitude towards his family, which only has the effect of reducing his influence further. This affects Nazish, since she ends up not receiving monetary gifts from in-laws on special occasions, and various other slights.

I employed Nazish with the understanding that she would come to work by 9 or 10 in the morning so she could wrap up by 12 or 1 and leave. By the end of a week, I realized that Nazish was fairly good at her work, but she was not very disciplined when it came to timings. When questioned, she’d mumble something sheepishly about sleeping late at night, or the kids being unwell, or her husband waking up late and needing breakfast before she could leave her house.

I decided it didn’t matter if she came a little late, though I did always ask for reasons when she started coming in at 11, and then 12. Her excuses seemed legitimate, so I didn’t really mind. Anyways, I’m just grateful to have help at all, and that she is good and trustwothy.

All is well. But I find myself feeling a bit put off lately. I find myself increasingly missing Zahooran, despite my relief at finding a good replacement after she left.

I miss the warmth of Zahooran’s greetings as she came into the house at 8:30 every day, a simple cotton dupatta covering her head that she’d drape on a chair before getting down to work. She had adopted Huz as her brother and had grown to be unabashed in his presence, yakking with him as easily as she would with me, sharing anecdotes from her past or little everyday troubles. Most of her work wardrobe consisted of hand-me-downs.

I miss her system of working, annoyingly disorganized though it sometimes was, but she made the floors shine, and the taps and windows gleam, so it was easy to forgive her. I would tell her to do something a certain way and she would oblige with enthusiasm, breaking into embarrassed laughter if she felt that she was not doing something right.

I miss the implicit kinship with which she cleaned the house like she owned it. After five years, I sensed that she valued me as an employer and that she liked working at our place.

I feel Zahooran’s absence more keenly as I open the door for Nazish and greet her, only to receive a stiff, awkward half-smile in return. I am beginning to get the feeling that if I don’t acknowledge her first, she will not acknowledge me at all. All she wants are instructions, not small talk. She is perhaps too awkward to understand that a little banter goes a long way…but my cheerful attempted overtures fall flat. I get the feeling that she is too miserable to be endearing.

This makes me uneasy in her presence. She came to work at 1:30 day before yesterday, and when I asked her why she came so very late, she didn’t reply, she just continued washing dishes sheepishly. I asked her if she was alright, if her daughters were well, if there was a problem at home, but she just muttered that she’d come early from now on. Her behaviour caused me some irritation. But then I had my irritated moments with Zahooran too.

Zahooran had a lot more things going wrong in her life that had the potential to break her spirit. Her husband refused to work, and she was pretty much on her own, raising an adopted son as best as she could. She brought him with her as she came over for the last time, walking over to the dining table chair slowly and sitting down with an air of a person carrying a terrible weight on her petite shoulders. She looked so upset that it took her some time to speak, as if she was suppressing tears.

Uncertainty shrouded her ill face as she broke the news that she was forced to leave Karachi and go back to her own town. All I could think as I listened to her was, how would I ever get by without her?

She finished talking, I hugged her thin frame, controlled my own tears and gave her some money to see her through the next month or so. She would leave the next day with no idea if she would come back. She left work quite a few times over the last 5 years, but she always assured me that she’d return. And she always did. And I never replaced her, because I didn’t want a replacement. I think I was loyal to her too.

It’s been a little over two months since then, and my world didn’t fall apart as I had imagined. I spoke to Zahooran on the phone a month ago. She wondered if I had found a new maid and I told her I had but of course, she wasn’t as good at her job as Zahooran had been, and she sounded relieved, and a tad smug to hear it. She sends me prayers and the good wishes of her whole family. Apparently they are all very fond of Huz and Amu and I, though we have never met, but Zahooran often talks about us to them, as people who looked after her well.

So I miss Zahooran as I wonder if Nazish will let down her hair. Maybe she just needs a little time. But what if this is how she will always be? Will I be able to exorcize Zahooran’s loud, jarring but lovable spirit and adapt to Nazish’s quiet, creepy yet dignified one?

Only time will tell I suppose. Let’s see.

Ducks, revisited

Once upon an earlier time, on another occasion when my better judgment had abandoned me for a few minutes, I  fell prey to colourful little dyed chicks. They were being sold ridiculously cheap and I thought Amu would get a kick out of them. At the time, I didn’t think that the chicks would eventually grow normal feathers, would stop being cute, and that we would eventually have to think about getting rid of them. I mean, chickens in a small 6th floor apartment? Really Mun?

Mazzy was shocking pink and Zally was bright green. We kept them in a little cage and allowed them to run around the house a couple of times a day, pooping wherever they went. They pecked frenziedly at their ‘bajra’ at feeding times and had the cutest way of dipping into their water and glugging it, raising their beaks to the ceiling.

To cut a not-very-long story shorter, I gave them away to eldest Sis+nephew, who in turn gave them away to their neighbour, where they were attacked by cats. Alas…the ways of the food chain.

Did I learn a lesson? Apparently not, since fast forward a year or two and I now had two ducklings on my hands.

Hill Park with its duck pond could have been perfect, but ultimately I couldn’t just leave them there. I suppose we were more concerned about their well being since they had stuck around longer and raised more hell than the chicks. I had no desire to inflict them on any of my family or friends knowing how much trouble they were. But no matter what, I couldn’t let Apple and Cherry become cat food. Even though I’m more a cat person than a duck person.

A not-too-distant memory crept into my head. The preschool Amu went to a couple of years ago (when she was 3) had a big cage in the corner of its garden. Had there been ducks in there? It was only a vague recollection, but it was worth a shot. 

Mrs G was the principal, the dragon lady of the montessori circuit, known for her stern disposition and no-nonsense demeanour, since her preschool was one of the most-sought-after. This was where Amu cried inconsolably on her first day, spent a year learning her phonetics, colours, patterns and shapes. This was where she learnt to share a sandbox with other children, and where she learnt to pour water from a jug and how to colour within the line. Parents queued up to have their babies registered here while they were in the last weeks of pregnancy. This way they could at least make the waiting list. It was alleged that babies from Mrs G’s school had a greater chance of getting into The Most Sought After School in Karachi. (Amu did.)

I mustered up the bravado that propels a lot of my actions (I am intimidated by people in positions of authority) and called Mrs G to meekly ask if her bird cage would accommodate two adorable ducklings, and wouldn’t the preschoolers be fascinated by the new additions? I wasn’t sure how I expected her to respond but I am predisposed to pessimism, so when she said I could drop by and talk to the gatekeeper (who was in charge of the birds) and see what he said, I could scarcely believe my ears. I thanked her most profusely and hung up, grinning as I looked towards the balcony where Apple and Cherry cheeped nonstop.

The chowkidar was friendly and helpful and led us over to the bird cage in the corner of the garden. It was actually more of a fenced in spot with wire mesh, a roof and a door rather than a cage. It housed two ducks and a magnificent rooster. One of the ducks seemed to have laid eggs and was busy nesting. We let Apple and Cherry out of their basket to have a look-see. The rooster was long of leg and fleet of foot, and at least five times the size of Apple (the bigger of the duo.) He seemed a little edgy. I didn’t trust him one bit and kept a close watch, alert for any untoward action. Where the other ducks were least bothered, Rooster paced up and down and all around, his coxcombed head cocked dangerously towards the newcomers, his beady eye flashing. All of a sudden he darted straight at them and Apple and Cherry ran for their lives! It was most melodramatic.

In the end however, the chowkidar reassured us that our duckies would be fine and the rooster wouldn’t hurt them, apparently it just had a bit of an attitude problem. We decided to trust his experience and left them there, but all of the rest of the evening my mind kept going back to Apple and Cherry, wondering if they were alright.

We went back to visit them early the next day, and indeed, not only were they safe and sound, they had taken to their new home quite blithely, with plenty of food and space and even a little pond to mess around in. They didn’t come running to say hello though. Hmph.

Did I mention that Apple was the prettier, more extroverted of the two? Cherry always looked pale in comparison and I had read somewhere that the male of the species was always more striking, so I figured Apple must be male and Cherry female.

A few months went by, during which we were regularly given news of Apple and Cherry’s welfare through my brother in law, who went to drop his little one there every day. When I went to see them again a few months later it was startling to see how much they had grown. But what came as a beautiful surprise was Cherry, who had grown the most iridescent blue and green and sleek dark brown tail and wing feathers. No longer was she a mousy yellow. Apple still had a black patch on his head and looked more or less the same, just bigger feathers. So maybe I got their genders mixed up 🙂

When the bird flu scare hit Karachi, I heard Mrs G sent all the birds away for a while. I lost track of Apple and Cherry after that and never saw them again.

This and the last blog post are dedicated to Graham and Heather. I thought I should write about them (Apple and Cherry, not Graham and Heather!) because Graham commented on Heather’s blog mentioning a duck that tossed a proffered salad leaf back at him. Because of my alacrity, I have been gifted a cyber duck—-> (*)>  for luck! Hope it makes me blog more often 😉

Ducks in the city

Once upon a time, my common sense left the house for a walk around the block and returned bearing two tiny ducklings bought from a woman in Sunday bazaar, Karachi’s bustling weekend market.

It wasn’t as if we lived on a farm, or even an independent little bungalow with a sweet little back garden and a pond. Not as if aforementioned common sense gave even a passing thought to where the ducklings would bloom and grow. No. It just saw two fuzzy yellow, beady-eyed, flappy-footed creatures and thought, ‘Must have!’

We kept them in a basket lined with newspaper and gave them crumbs of bread and water. The very same night, common sense had a heart attack when it realized that the ducklings were VERY demanding and made a LOT of noise.

But as with all disasters, one quickly learns to cope, and the brain shuts down in self defense. One even urges one’s daughter to think of suitable names for the new pets. And so it came to be that 5-yr old Amu decisively pronounced the bigger one to be Apple and the smaller one to be Cherry, her two favourite fruits at the time.

Apple was the better looking of the two ducklings. Cherry always looked duller, more woebegone. Who knew how to figure out their respective genders.

The idea was for little Amu to learn how to take care of little animals, and she did, dutifully chopping up slices of bread into bite-size pieces for baby duck beaks to tackle. It was a delight to watch them gobble and drink so feistily! But Amu had school and homework and had to go to bed early, and the ducklings grew louder and chirped incessantly if they lost sight of any of us. So I ended up spending more time with them than Amu. They grew pretty fast too, and within days, the basket could no longer contain their curious souls. They quickly learnt to jump out of there and run around our tiny apartment, Apple the venturesome one and Cherry following trepidatiously in his footsteps. If we wanted to fool them into thinking it was bedtime, we’d cover the basket with a cloth and turn off the lights and if we were lucky they’d settle down and go to sleep, cuddled against each other. But the slightest sound would wake them, and so we all learned to be really quiet at night lest we woke the little imps.

ducks

A month or so went by this way, during which we filled tubs of water and let them swim as long as they liked. I made them a bigger home under a wicker bench in our tiny 6th floor balcony. After experimenting with different types of food, it had been determined they loved chopped ribbons of green lettuce, so we always kept a supply in the house and Apple and Cherry devoured every last scrap of their treat with frequent sips from their water bowl.

I could never have known just how much of a bane those two cuties would become to my existence. All they did was eat, drink, poop (they even ate their own poop!) and generally make a huge mess of their balcony habitat. All I did was feed them, hang out with them, worry about their food if I had to go out for too many hours, and clean up after them twice a day. I began to dread coming home, and lingered too long in bed in the morning so I wouldn’t have to get up and chop more lettuce. The newspapers I used to line the floor of their makeshift cage would be sodden with water and green poop and it stank to high heaven. I’d have to don my gloves and wrap a scarf around my face before Operation Cleanup.

I had two T-rexes in my balcony!

A couple more months went by this way, Apple and Cherry were now 5 times their original size and our house smelt fowl. I thought wistfully of the days when the house smelt of fresh laundry. Huz and I had had a few guilt-ridden conversations about how to find a more natural environment for them. I finally understood why Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother could do what she did. The only place I could think of taking them to (and leaving them there) was Hill Park.

One of the oldest parks in Karachi, Hill Park has, at the centre of its undulating landscape, a large man-made pond. Full of geese. And…..ducks. People visiting the park would buy popcorn and feed the ducks and that would be the highlight of their excursion.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense. I imagined a kindly grown up duck taking Apple and Cherry under her generous wing and teaching them the ways of life in a ducky community. I pictured them finally working out the meaning of their lives as they took to the pond like…er…ducks to……hmm.

So it was that early one cool Sunday morning, we packed the ducklings into a wicker basket and set off for Hill Park, just to scope out the territory. We let Apple and Cherry out and they walked in wonder and bafflement in this strange new grassy environment. That was when I saw how scrawny and small and vulnerable they looked compared to those magnificent fully grown specimens of their own kind, who were all mostly sitting around the edge of the pond, preening in the morning sun. My hopes of finding an adoptive mommy-duck began to seem ludicrous.

The cross-specie maternal instinct kicked in when Huz pointed out a mean-looking tomcat gazing steadily at our fledgling duckies. No way could we leave them behind unprotected over here.

Amu scurried to grab the two and bundle them back into the picnic basket, and as we walked back to the car, my mind had already started thinking about Option #2.

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.

Downward spiral

Today the bubble seems more fragile than ever. I didn’t feel like smiling when I woke up.

Wedgies during the night can do that to you.

Why did I ever think having a landline on my bedside table was a good idea? The only people who still call me on that number are mood-dampeners, invariably while I’m still asleep.

I scribbled myself a to-do list with a board marker on a white board I dragged out of Amu’s room. Something about erasing chores as I accomplish them is thrilling.

Amu hijacked the board. She suddenly realized she really needed it to write a schedule for herself to follow for test week.

I told her she could take the board if she could transfer my chores on paper. She did so.

But I lost my enthusiasm. It just didn’t feel the same to scratch out my chores on paper.

Bored two evenings ago, I wandered around the house looking for inspiration, stopping at the bookshelf.

Skimming halfheartedly, my fingers reached for a book of verses by an Urdu poet. Something told me it was time to read it.

Reading wilfully at first, my interest deepened as I came across lines that resonated. I lugged the fat and heavy Urdu dictionary off the shelf, turned on a bright lamp, donned my reading glasses, armed myself with a pencil, and proceeded to look up meanings of obscure words and phrases. Soon, the pages were peppered with little notes, as nerve centres in my brain sparked.

I found myself smiling, even laughing out loud at times, sheer delight at understanding, recognizing…

I should have recognized this enjoyment as something sacred. I should not have shared. I should not have read aloud and expected my voice to be clear, ringing.

‘You’re embarrassing yourself,’ she said.

‘This is crappy. How can you have the patience for it?’ said she.

It takes so little to be derailed. Such few words to throw you into uncertainty.

I had thought I would spend a few days doing just this. But I have not picked up that book since.

pain in the neck

Around two weeks ago, my pillows, our new mattress, the overhead fan and bad posture, all conspired to give me a crick in the frikkin neck. (Hmm, that phrase had a nice ring to it. I repeated it to myself four times just now. Fun!)

According to my calculations, I get a crick in the neck at least once every year and I am left to deal with the resultant pain and discomfort for at least two weeks, give or take a few days. The only good thing about this is that experience has taught me a few things by now.

For example, I now know that cold packs work wonders, soothing the inflammation and giving miraculous pain relief. I know that painkillers do, thankfully, take away a bit of the sting of the injury as well, enough to make it bearable. I also know that it’s no use trying to ‘give it rest’. The best thing is to NOT rest but to try and keep moving. Lying around in bed moaning and complaining, satisfying though it may be, will NOT help AT ALL.

Usually, I find that pain brings out the worst in me. I happen to be one of those people who have a rather low threshold, and I’m neither proud nor ashamed to admit this. That’s just how I’m wired I guess. Pain makes me cranky. It can frustrate me. It can make me rude and offensive to people I generally love. It can make me resentful and bad-tempered and anti-social. It can make me oh-so-sulky and withdrawn and prone to shooting dirty looks at anyone who glances at me sympathetically. It can do a lot of things to basically turn me into a little monster. Nope, I am not fun to be around when I am in pain.

So around two weeks ago, when I sat up and felt a sudden sharp pain in my neck, I knew in an instant that I was in trouble….

I got out of bed unable to turn my head in any direction. If I made one wrong move….it would have me howling. First things first. I went out of the room to seek out the Huz, mumbling a series of expletives and ‘ows’ all the way to the living room, where Huz was to be found. I informed him of my predicament and asked for a shoulder rub.

Like any normal human being, I adore massages, especially back and shoulders because I often strain those muscles. This penchant for being kneaded has grown exponentially as I have aged….and so has my dissatisfaction with the only people in the house who I can ask to oblige.

I would have thought that the man who found me nice enough to marry would positively jump at any opportunity to give me pleasure. But that was not to be. I realized early on in my married life, that here was a man who would never EVER offer to give me a back rub of his own volition. Being fidgety or rubbing my own shoulders while giving him meaningful looks had absolutely no effect. Here was a man who was truly macho.

I also worked out a few other things. In other words, passive aggression would not work on him. Giving him the silent treatment did not bring about the desired effect either. I decided to swallow my pride and resort to begging.

Over the years, Mr Macho learnt to recognize the needy look in my eyes when I approach him and preempt the question he knows is coming with a ‘No!’. Undeterred, I plead with him to have mercy, rub my shoulders, just 5 minutes…..please….

He sighs, looks away in resignation and reluctantly agrees….but just two minutes, he says.

I am grateful for whatever I get. It is far from enough, but something is better than nothing I suppose. This is what I say to myself as I daydream wistfully of a personal masseuse who’d rub my back with essential oils and proceed to knead me for an hour of pure bliss, recognizing without being told all the sore spots, knowing the right amount of pressure to apply, understanding where to use the palms, where to use knuckles, and where just fingertips…

And back to reality, where Mr Macho is all thumbs. But I am grateful.

Surprisingly enough, I have found myself to be rather upbeat through this latest cricked-neck episode, despite the fact I can’t seem to get comfortable enough at night to get what I’d call a really restful sleep. I usually sleep on my side, with an arm tucked under the pillow under my head. Unfortunately, the cricked neck gave rise to stiff shoulders, and the stiff shoulders along with tennis elbow have led to a pulled muscle or something in my upper right arm. So sleeping with that arm under my head is downright painful.

I try sleeping on my back, but eventually the tension builds up under my neck because of it being raised on my pillow. If I remove the pillow, the gap between the back of my neck and the bed makes me uncomfortable. So I turn to the left and try sleeping with my left arm under the pillow. This works for a little while….until my exercise-induced Restless Leg Syndrome kicks in.

Unable to sleep, I try putting my head on Huz’s chest to see if that would help. He fidgets and rolls over and I’m back to square one, tossing and turning most of the night, trying to get comfortable as rest eludes me.

You’d think I’d be waking crabby and sleepy the next morning, unable to function, but you’d be wrong. I’m actually so happy to not have to try and sleep anymore that I bounce off the bed merrily, eager to get on with my day. It’s all very strange and I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not complaining.

Of course, as luck would have it, Zahooran has once again left me in the lurch when I am at my most vulnerable and gone off to her village for a month.

I put my current favourite song on repeat as I wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, my neck loosening up as I get grooving.

I defy you to listen to this song and not want to get up and start dancing 🙂

The bag lady wins

Contents of a certain bedside table:

wallet

keys (house and car)

little plastic dish filled with assorted foreign coins mixed with dust

box with three or four little pouches containing various sets of gold and silver buttons set with semi-precious/precious stones

pouch full of keys to all the doors in our apartment, including a set that belongs to an ex-neighbour from our previous apartment

packet of razors

some unmentionables (due to PG nature of blog)

paper clips of varying shapes and sizes

strewn coins

visiting cards/registration cards/library cards

unworn, ill-fitting caps

assorted pencil cells for various remotes

a legal file (that is more precious than anything else in this house and cannot be stored anywhere except bedside table)

empty box of perfume

big unwieldy box containing unworn watch

miscellaneous travel pouches containing mostly useless things

lots of dust

a little cylindrical tin with red candle inside

While sorting out Huz’s bedside drawers, dusting, throwing away stuff, keeping things that needed to be kept, I came across this object you see featured in the pictures.

It’s a a cinnamon-scented candle that has been used a bit, but not entirely, and it made me think of a Valentines Day years ago, before Amu was even an involuntary twinkle in either of our eyes…

The day was going by unremarked (remember what I told you about Huz in this here post?) and I was debating whether to be mature and not care, or pouty and resentful at the lack of flowers.

After all, we DID scoff at traditional notions of love and romance, thumb our noses at candle-lit dinners, pooh-pooh consumerism and such.

But in my mind I went back to the days when the boys showered the girls with rose petals from the school roof…..heart-shaped cards were handed around…….someone gave someone a stuffed toy…..a long-stemmed rose……a mixed tape…..and oh the thrill of someone walking up to you to deliver a card sent by a secret admirer….

In a fit of nostalgia for days past, I felt compelled to walk into a store and buy something corny, just for the sake of it.

This little object caught my eye….and when I opened the lid I got a heady whiff of cinnamon.

Yum.

I paid for it, went home and gave it to Huz, feeling silly. Huz looked at me with a ‘but I didn’t get YOU anything’ expression, and as a result, I felt justified in feeling righteous and indignant.

Awkward.

Fifteen years later, I pick up the rusted little candle container, take off the lid to smell it, and realize it doesn’t even smell like cinnamon anymore.

Yet here it is, still in Huz’s drawer, even after so many years and I searched in my heart to see if I could find any sentimental attachment, or if Huz would miss it. The only thing redeeming it was that it had just been around for so long.

And so, in a fit of feng shui, I tossed it.

Then I finished organizing the drawer and beamed at the clean-ness of it all. I usually leave his crap alone until some years go by or until my innate obsessive-compulsiveness vanquishes his protective paranoia.

Later that night, as I was about to turn off the light and crawl into bed, my eye caught sight of the candle lying amidst the other junk I had thrown into the dustbin.

I thought of it being taken away by the jamadaar the next day and dumped along with all kinds of other horrible refuse in some garbage heap somewhere…

Nope, couldn’t do it.

If it managed to stick around fifteen years, it could very well stick around for another fifteen. 🙂

Happy VD all you lovely people!

A friend posted this song the other day and I just loved watching and listening to it, firstly because there’s something very cool about people who can just sit on a sofa and strum a guitar (not to mention play riffs!) and belt out a song sung by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and make it their own.

And there’s something so charming about a man singing about longing and love.

Fail Sunday.

This weekend, here’s what we DIDN’T do:

1. Huz didn’t go to Lahore to meet a college friend he hasn’t seen in 18 years.

2. We didn’t go for a long sightseeing drive through interior Sindh with a couple of friends.

3. I didn’t hang out with my sisters and eat khow suey.

5. We didn’t go to T2F for the Bell gig.

6. We didn’t go out for tikkas and Peshawari ice cream.

Instead, we stayed at home.

Amu had a mini meltdown trying to decided what to study from the 6 subjects left in her midterms which continue till the end of this week.

Seeing her on the verge of tears over Math, Huz decided to drop what he was doing and help her solve problems for a few hours until she relaxed with a semblance of understanding and moved on to English Lit. (they’re doing Macbeth)

I gave everyone moral support by doing laundry and making lots of sandwiches and also a big bowl of the Memon version of the Burmese khow suey (which is very delicious too) and pottering around cheerfully, washing, cleaning, putting away stuff. Also fell asleep while reading ‘The Corrections’.

And Fuzzy vowed to be as naughty as he possibly could.

One of these days, i WILL go leave him in the forest without any bread to find his way back 😛

Alarming things

There’s a silly-looking alarm clock on the little table next to my bed. it is green with an orange button on top that serves two purposes, or at least used to serve two purposes.

The first one was the more fascinating of the two, as when pressed while lying awake sleepless at night, it would project the time as a digital light onto the ceiling.

It also serves to turn the alarm on or off.

Huz picked up this cute little clock from the Dubai duty-free for Amu on his way back from somewhere several years ago and over time, and by the endlessly pokey/proddy fascination of visiting children, it has now turned into a mere shadow of its former self. I don’t know why kids find this clock so fascinating, but out of everything lying around in my house, this particular object strikes them as particularly juicy. After examining all the knobs and pressing all the cute little buttons, they pick it up in a perplexed way and shake it vigorously next to their little ears, perhaps in an effort to trry and make it ‘tick’, like a normal self-respecting alarm clock should do.

As a result, the time projection function has ceased to function, as it were, and the alarm is a series of muffled squeals. Some things inside it have come unhinged, so it makes weird clunky noises from deep inside when we pick it up to relocate it. Nevertheless, it continues to show us the time, and in its own suppressed way DOES manage to get me awake when need be.

Today, however, I did NOT need to be woken at 6:20, it being a Sunday. I suppose Huz must have pressed the orange button by mistake at night.

I was roused from deep slumber, the events of a very strange dream (that involved my best friend from school) came to some sort of conclusion (or not) as my mind clambered onto the plane of consciousness enough to poke Huz and inform him very politely that the alarm was ringing and could he please turn it off?

He obliged without any ado, and I must not have been too resentful or I wouldn’t have wrapped my blankie snugly around myself, found that sweet spot on my pillow, and gone back to sleep, waking again after another couple of hours (this time resentfully) only because I had to visit the…ahem…ladies room.

I was dissatisfied with the number of hours my sleep clocked in on a Sunday morning and though I got up and started moving around doing stuff, I wasn’t operating at peak energy levels. In fact, I remember telling Huz as I plonked myself on a chair in front of my laptop that I should still be sleeping.

Nevertheless, there were things on my to do list that needed crossing off, and I had given myself some stern ultimatums as I jotted down chores and aspirations.

I short-listed a couple of things as being of utmost and grave importance: 1) Go to Sunday bazaar. 2) Visit parents.

Lesser things included a bit of gardening, watering and pruning, stitching another nice kameez for myself (yes, I stitched me one a couple of days ago and it looked and felt so good when I wore it on Amu’s Sports day at school, that it is motivating me to stitch another one asap)

Sunday means no Zahooran, so there is always some clearing and washing up to do, and I allowed myself to carry on with the lesser tasks until it was time to do the more important things. Therefore, I ventured into the balcony to assess the state of neglect my plants were in.

The problem with my balcony is, it is a very narrow space that widens into a slightly larger space, and that is where my plants are. Sometimes I forget they are even there. When I remember their existence, I dutifully empty the water collected from the airconditioning pipes into the pots, thereby doing my bit for the environment. But I blame the builder for making such a stupid balcony for my reluctance to go there. It doesn’t help that he put in a very stupid rickety aluminium sliding door that always derails when I try to slide it open. Very annoying, therefore I try and limit my excursions into the balcony.

But it is a tribute to the hardy spirit of the Ficus and the thorny plant with pink flowers that they survive out there. Too bad about the bougainvillea and the betel leaf plant, though I do feel that the bougainvillea isn’t beyond repair. In fact, I can see tiny new leaves emerging from the seemingly lifeless branches just a day after I watered it…..

Karma got me in the end though. As I surveyed the sad-looking cane palm and stripped it of dead leaves and twigs, one sneaky dried leaf poked me in the eye, and as I flinched, the poke turned into a rather vicious scratch.

As my hand flew up in alarm, my eyes welled up with tears and i looked at the twig that hurt me with some bitterness, tinged with guilt. It was after all entirely my fault that the leaves dried up anyway. Serve me right for getting poked in the eye!

I shuffled back into the house feeling remorseful and sorry for myself and made my way over to a mirror to assess the damage. No blood = good sign.

I accepted my defeat.

Then I drew the blinds and curtains, curled up in bed, pulled my blankie up to my chin and found a sweet spot on my pillow. My eye needed to recover after all.

Sunday bazaar could wait till next Sunday, and my poor dear parents will just have to wait till tomorrow. Which is, of course, another day.

p.s I slept the whole afternoon and woke up again at 5. Best thing I did all day.

Monday

Ok, I admit I’ve been very lazy and uninspired for the last few weeks, not least when it came to blogging.

I have been neglecting my plants, doing only the barest minimum to keep them alive, and sometimes not even that. I DID finally wash ALL the clothes accumulating in the various laundry baskets though, and that’s saying something!

I have clothes to stitch by default because my favourite tailor is playing hard to get, and I really need an autumn infusion in my wardrobe, which seems woefully bare when I deludedly open the door, thinking perhaps I might magically find something nice to wear that I may have overlooked the last time I opened that door.

But I have not felt inspired to stitch, though the cloth is beautiful and the trimmings match. I can’t be bothered to ‘apply’ myself, if you catch my drift.

Is this what laziness is all about? Or is there more to this torpor….

I need to think about clothes for an upcoming wedding in the family, but going shopping and deciding on fabrics and colours seems like too much work. I’m putting it off, knowing full well that as the time draws ever closer I’m setting myself up to freak out because Amu and I will have nothing fabulous to wear and we will feel like the poor relatives.

Many of you who have followed my blog from the beginning will be aware of the existence of a room in my house that was beginning to feel like a black hole. To cut a long story short, we decided to revamp that room, relocate all our stuff, give away anything we didn’t need anymore and turn that room into a nice cosy and inviting sitting room where we could entertain friends/guests.

First we got the flooring done. We kept it cheap by using vinyl instead of wood, but the effect is similar so it turned out great. Then we had to redo the lighting, to create a nicer ambience.

The walls had to be painted next, and the ceiling fan needed to be scraped and painted again, because we live near the sea and the moist air wreaks havoc with rustable objects.

Furnishings and accessories need to be done now, and though a part of me wants to get my teeth into that, I can’t be pushed to go out, visit shops, balk at the prices of things, be terrified of making a commitment, spend a lot of money…..and not be happy with the end result.

I often make bad decisions, then live with them, a part of me suffering in silence, a part of me in denial at having made a bad choice.

So anyway, that’s some work in progress which will obviously take some time to put together for that stylish magazine-y look that I would like to achieve (without spending too much.)

Can’t go shopping today anyway, everything is closed, including schools, because Nusrat Bhutto passed away. The event made Zahooran sad yesterday, who woke up with a sense of foreboding. She often feels like this just before someone dies.

In the meantime, since I am not only lazy but also very disorganized, I started cooking lunch at a quarter to two because I was distracted by Facebook earlier, and since we bought some very expensive mutton yesterday I decided to give it special treatment by making Punjabi yakhni pulao.

When I put the meat to boil along with ginger, garlic and a whole packet of Shan Punjabi yakhni pulao masala, Huz wandered in, following the smell with his nose, saying ‘What’s this? Smells good.’

Then he came for a closer whiff.

‘Actually, it smells like you’re cooking brain.’

I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing, considering brains make him squeamish.

‘Hmmm….’ said I.

Then Amu walked into the kitchen, saying ‘Why does it smell like fish? No wait, it smells like blood.’

I was left a bit speechless. And also a bit worried. It IS 600 rupees worth of meat after all!

It’s 4:30 now, and the rice still has a little time to go before it is ready, I think there was something wrong with the recipe written on the back of the box, so I modified a few things. There’s no way you can cook 6 cups of rice in just two cups of meat stock…….

There’s a jug full of sweet lassi waiting in the freezer though.

And I will say again here, if I have not already said it before……..my family is very patient 🙂

dazed days….

Being an easily distracted person can get one in trouble and I remember being roundly scolded by my father when I was little, for forgetting that I was supposed to be fetching him a glass of water or something as I wandered off, his request quite easily forgotten. I guess the attention deficit must have been pretty bad if it warranted him putting a little clause in his daily prayer, exhorting the Almighty to intercede on my behalf.

But I can’t help laughing a little at myself sometimes as I register my own distraction and continue to go about multi-tasking through my housewifely day.

Today my body has not been very successful in fighting off the allergens (which I am beginning to suspect are due to mold spores rather than Fuzzy) and I awoke early, my bronchiolar passages blocked.

I have been told of the beneficial uses of honey as an expectorant, and tried sipping a honeyed mug of hot water to see if it had any effect, but no go, the inhaler had to be used.

So after a very lazy start to the day, during which I succumbed to the will of the internet gods, I was prodded into making breakfast by a hungry Huz. A packet of wheat thins with my mug of tea works just fine, but Huz being a manly man needs his protein fix.

Anyways, it was 11 am already, and he was beginning to look a bit woebegone by now. I’m a bit dazed due to lack of oxygen in my brain, and the last thing I want to do is make breakfast. All I want to do is sit somewhere very quietly…..and breathe.

Two days of hard labour though have not been very good for my right forearm muscles, and I contemplated this as I thought of the kind of eggs I would make for him. An omelette would require the chopping of onions and tomatoes into tiny pieces, not possible with an achy forearm….

But why (I wondered as my gaze wandered) was the assortment of empty jars and jam bottles lying there on the counter taking up unnecessary space since so many days?

‘Right, time to put those away in the cabinet’, I thought, as I climbed atop a footstool in order to reach the place where I store such things.

That done, I glimpsed the bowl of the food processor sitting needlessly all by its lonesome, unused for days (taking up unnecessary space) so while I was up on that footstool, I thought I might as well put that away as well.

The blender/food processor storage space is rather cramped, so things have to be manoeuvred rather carefully in there lest something fall to the ground and break.

Which is why my lazy self had been postponing the putting away of the food processor bowl for so many days after making the damned pesto.

I congratulated myself on a job well done, and remembered why I had come into the kitchen in the first place. Oh yes, breakfast for Huz.

But wait, what are these wet towels doing on the floor, next to the washing machine? How very messy. We can’t have that.

So I carried them over to the balcony and hung them all out to dry, and while doing that I noticed how very blue the sky looked today. The sun was shining promisingly and I didn’t think it would rain at all. A good time to put a batch of clothes in the wash!

Gathering up a load of sorted clothes (a batch of mostly pink, red and orange) I put them in the washing machine, not a minute of sunshine to be wasted.

Alright then, time to tackle those eggs. Four should be enough to tide us through to lunch, and it would be a late one considering how slow and lazy and wheezy I was….

A little red chilli powder and some salt was added to the eggs and whisked with a bit of milk, when I had the bright idea of putting some fresh chopped basil into the mix…..

Since I was still in my nightgown, I had to fetch myself a shirt to wear on top of it before making my way down the stairs to the courtyard where I keep my pots of basil and cut a nice leafy stalk.

Then back to the kitchen to rinse the leaves, chop them up, whisk them into the eggs and……oh wait…I forgot to warm up the saucepan….

Saucepan on the stove, a bit of cooking oil poured in, but before I pour in the eggs…….where’s the bread? It must be put in the toaster BEFORE scrambling the eggs or else the eggs will get cold while the bread is toasting. Can’t have that!

Ultimately of course, the eggs turned out perfect and the bread was toasted simultaneously and we had a warm fulfilling breakfast before going off on our separate missions of the day…

Somehow or the other, everything always gets done, doesn’t it?

I’m glad Zahooran was there yesterday though, to scrub the blackened bottom of the cooker after I burnt half the chickpeas that I had left on the stove while I wandered off to reorganize my wardrobe….

But I will have you know that I managed to make something very yummy out of the buttery soft chickpeas that were salvaged….and they didn’t taste burnt at all.

Autumn, anyone?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about autumn lately, one of which was even Freshly Pressed today, and left me desirous of a warm apple-cinnamon scone with my tea.

For some in the right place at this time (meaning latitudes higher/lower than the Tropics) the air is getting nippier, days are getting shorter…..and trees are beginning to get more colourful.

How lucky are you people of the Temperate zones…..you get to witness and FEEL the change of seasons.

I’m sure it must be glorious….despite getting back into school routine for mommies and children alike. In that sense autumn really is the beginning of a new year. Some even redefine it as a  time for rejuvenation…..of rebirth….and I think I can relate to that if the last two days are anything to go by.

You see, dear readers, I have been spring-cleaning at a time of year normally associated with the autumnal months, though Karachi seems to have registered this time of the year of all times, as the monsoon season.

So while dark clouds gathered overhead and burst their breaches, and as it rained non-stop for 24 hours, turning the poorly-drained streets and lanes of Karachi into rivers and lakes, and as yours truly deemed it wise not to venture out of her bubble for fear of the car stalling while navigating a particularly large lake which is actually her link to the rest of the world, the sponges, dusters and wash-cloths were brought out and the house got a thorough clean-up.

The night it started raining was the same night that I decided to take my allergies more seriously.

I have been waking up in the morning, my lungs choked, unable to breathe, despite the antihistamine pill I have been taking every night for the last month, until I take a few puffs of Aerolin. My bronchioles expand and I relax, and sink back into my pillow with relief.

For the last few years, these symptoms have usually arisen in October……so I’m taken by surprise this year as it started much earlier, and lately I have been thinking maybe it’s not just dust I’m allergic to. Perhaps I have been in denial about my cat allergies, I don’t know, maybe it is time for me to go to an allergy specialist and get myself tested.

I stayed up till 3 am the other night, sitting next to my balcony door, listening to the rumbling thunder, ominously loud at times, and the flashes of lightning periodically illuminating the sky. As the rain lashed against the door, and Fuzzy sat nearby, his ears twitching, looking worried, I read through six different articles that told me similar things about how to deal with cat allergies. I bookmarked this one, and am considering printing it out and sticking it to my bathroom door so I can read it every day and be more motivated and less likely to slack off in terms of safely and effectively minimising my allergic reaction to whatever it is in my house that’s triggering it.

Apparently, there are many allergens that can cause the same symptoms as cat allergens, some of which can be more serious than those that can be caused by a cat alone.

Whatever the case may be, there can be no harm in cleaning the house from top to bottom (with a bandanna wrapped around my face) and it can only benefit my fellow inhabitants and I.

The first thing I did was to remove my work table from a closed, carpeted room into a more airy area right next to the balcony. As many of you know, I spend an unhealthy amount of time on my laptop! Therefore, it was imperative that I balance the unhealthiness with a healthier environment, and I think It will make a big difference. Fingers crossed.

I realise that my house is probably smothered in cat allergens because Fuzzy, as his name indicates, has been endowed with very fine, downy fur. He is also, unfortunately, a black cat. Cats with dark fur are more allergy-inducing than cats with light fur.

I wish I had known this when we adopted him. Sigh. But it’s too late now, I love the little critter.

Here’s a little known fact. I am the only person in my family that has a humungusly soft spot for animals. I mean, my Mom does too, but I was always the one who imposed pets on her, she never had any when she was growing up. I do know for a fact that she adored my neighbour’s dog (i think his name was Silver…..he was sadly hit by a car…) and didn’t object to her rabbits roaming our house, munching uncooked lasagne sheets and pooping on the sofa….but I am straying from the topic at hand….

So I started with the space which I shall now inhabit as my primary work area, and armed with a ladder, soapy water and a sponge, I proceeded to systematically wash all the walls, from ceiling to floor. I dusted everything thoroughly with a damp cloth, vacuumed the furniture, the blinds, cleaned the fans of all the accumulated dirt and cat hair (which we do every 10 days or so) and washed the curtains in hot water to kill all the allergens on them.

Needless to say, I have been passing out, exhausted from the hard work, my arms aching, but feeling great that I’m working towards making the house healthier. I smile with happiness as I sing wheezily while going about my work, puffing my inhaler when need be.

Too bad Zahooran wasn’t around to see her employer doing a better job of housework than her that first day 😛

The biggest change for poor little Fuzzy is going to be the fact that I must train him not to sleep under the bed in my room…..which is his favourite place in the whole house for most of the day, emerging only in the evening, stretching out his limbs and meandering his way to one of us for some love, or over to his water bowl if he’s thirsty.

He runs into my room and under the bed, first chance he gets! Especially when the doorbell rings……he is terrified of visitors 🙂

Giving him up is just not an option, friends.

I know I just have to work a little harder, that’s all.

But since we’re on the theme of the art work around my house, and autumn brings to mind dead leaves, here’s some I painted several years ago when I picked them up from somewhere because I thought they were beautiful.

browny
olive-y

Here’s to rebirth…..and rejuvenation. And cleaner air and less allergens. And hopefully more watercolours some day.

My heart goes out to the people of Badin and all the other waterlogged, flooded areas of Sindh, where people’s homes and livelihoods have once again been ruthlessly washed away. I know better now than to wish for rain in a country with governments that do nothing to improve or spend more money on building and maintaining crucial infrastructure.

There she goes again

After four missed calls (I never know where my cell phone is, esp on Sundays) or ‘mis-caals’ as the residents of Neelum Colony and the majority of rural city-dwellers (or urban village-dwellers) are wont to say, Zahooran turned up at my doorstep today, Tayyab in tow.

I was puzzled, today being a Sunday and an off day for her, when she can do her own laundry and spend the day as she pleases.

Something was up.

She took off her slippers by the door and bade Tayyab do the same, conscientious about not bringing the dirt from the filthy narrow alleyways  of the colony into my house.

She and Tayyab made their way over to the living room rug as I trailed behind, wondering what prompted this extracurricular visit, and asked her if all was well as they plonked themselves onto the floor. Zahooran evaded my eye and looked confused…. and a bit furtive.

‘Buss baji….ek masla ho gaya hai….,’ she began. There was a problem.

Last night she got a phone call from her husband telling her to come home (to Bahawalpur) as he wasn’t well. Apparently, he had an upset stomach and was dehydrated and needed a drip. Getting a ‘drip’ means serious business. It generally means one must be really quite sick, and it is appropriate for concerned relatives to congregate by the sick bed and look grave. And if you happen to be the wife of the sick person in question…? Well, obviously you must drop everything, take leave from your various work places, pack some clothes and travel 851 kilometres, tired and a bit sick from the road trip yourself, and tend to your husband’s sickly needs.

I sat on my chair and looked at her. She refused to meet my eye. It has only been four months since she came back from her hometown, after a visit that lasted three months, and I was forced to look for other help.

And now here she was, asking my opinion on what she should do. Of course I would say she should do what she thought best! I can’t very well tell her to forget her husband….that he’d have to get better by himself..?

Frankly, I really don’t see how the two of them can exist like this…she in Karachi, working her ass off to make ends meet and send Tayyab to school, he in Bahawalpur doing whatever it is that he does there, which according to Zahooran doesn’t amount to much.

Does she even love him? Does she even care?

I asked her if she thought it was feasible for her to just up and leave. People get sick all the time. Would she expect him to come and take care of her if she fell ill over here? Especially since he claims the Karachi air doesn’t suit him. What about the fact that she doesn’t LIKE being in Bahawalpur herself?

I realized she hadn’t really come to ask for my advice or opinion at all. In fact, she had come to inform me. And to collect her salary, with the assurance that she’d be back in a week. She had already made up her mind to go and had arranged to be at the bus stop at 4 o’clock in the afternoon (it was 1 when she dropped in.) And considering she had not mentioned anything about leaving yesterday, all this must have transpired overnight.

And I can’t help admiring her subtlety!

The funny thing is, I know there’s no way she’ll be back in a week, yet I don’t feel angry with her for running off just when the holidays end and school starts. I mean, I don’t feel angry for myself. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it makes me indignant for HER that she’s expected to go through all this inconvenience.

Yet, I’m aware that she herself probably doesn’t feel any resentment at all. If anything, she is just doing what she feels is right, what is expected of her as a good wife. What would people say otherwise?

As for me, let’s see how I feel a week from now, when she has not returned, the month of Ramadan will have well and truly set in, and I will not have the energy nor the desire to wash the dishes, vacuum the house, clean the bathrooms and dust the blasted furniture. 😛 And I can’t believe she left me with detailed instructions on how best to keep the bathroom taps looking shiny and the glass cubicle spot-free.

They mean well, but….

I have a couple of cousins who have taken it upon themselves to enlighten me by sending text messages every day. The phone beeps in the morning on my bedside table, and before I even check I just know who it’ll be from and what it’ll be about. Most jokes they send these days revolve around the President, trying to inject some humor into the hopelessness of our predicament (frankly I cannot find anything laughable in Z jokes…they all make me cry) others are about the uselessness of the Power Supply Company. And even those now grate on my nerves. It is all black, black humor to me. Here’s an example:

Proverbs for the future and their meanings: (‘light’ = electricity)

  • light is back = to express great joy
  • today the light won’t go = to lie
  • when will the light come back? = to wait for something improbable
  • don’t you have any light in your house? = to commiserate
  • we have light here = to brag
  • has the light not gone today? = to be extremely puzzled
  • inshaAllah now the light will come back = to be very hopeful

I admit, this is funnier in Urdu.

Then there are the Wisdoms. I’m always afraid to open a message that looks like it might be a Wisdom. But if I don’t open it, the annoying little envelope icon won’t go away from the top of my cell phone, and it will drive me nuts. I have to open the message just so it will go away, and once it’s there, my OCD will prevent me from deleting it without reading it first.

So, Wisdoms. They usually remind me of all the things I don’t do, and all the ways I don’t behave, and all the things I shouldn’t say and all the things I shouldn’t do. They drive me nuts. And they do so because they inevitably make me think about things I regret, things I have almost succeeded in burying deep within the dark recesses of my tortured soul.

I really don’t want to go there again, I swear.

The Wisdoms that get my goat the most are the ones that remind us how short life is and that we’re all going to die one day so we should be ever-oh-so-good. Nobody knows about my Death Phase, do they. They don’t know how I used to bolt out of bed at night struck with terror at the idea of being dead and lying in a grave, six feet under the ground. But I’m over it now and I’m in denial  I’ve accepted it. Let’s get on with life please!

Here’s an example of a cheery early morning message by my well-meaning kinsfolk:

  • ‘Man does not go to Hell because he Sins. He goes to Hell if he is Complacent about his Sins and if he does not Repent. Good Morning!!’

Signed, Cousin X.

And how’s this to set you in a good mood:

  • ‘If you are on the Straight and Narrow and do not encounter Difficulties, then sit down and think for a while. Think about what you might be doing wrong, because the Straight and Narrow is littered with Great Difficulties.’ Have a Lovely Day!’

Signed, Cousin Y.

Or how about the gross ones:

  • ‘New addition to Newton’s Laws of Motion: loose motion can never be done in slow motion.’

Well, thanks A LOT, cousin o’ mine, for that awesome visual. It just made my day. Really, thank you.

To be fair though, I admit some Wisdoms do give me pause before my eyeballs automatically roll upwards and around. Got this one today:

  • ‘The day your friends stop bringing their problems to you….is the day when you have lost command over their hearts.’

Hmm.

I wonder why so many of my friends don’t talk to me anymore…..

Lost

my lovely companion 😦

I lost my cell phone yesterday. I can’t say it hasn’t happened before though. It has. Twice. The circumstances are different every time though the reactions are always the same. It goes from bafflement, at not feeling the familiar shape of it in my bag after several minutes of rummaging, moving on to panic. Then the creeping realisation of loss, followed by a heart-sinking sense of bereftness and melancholy, like a part of me got severed or something.

It is not a nice feeling. And it always makes me re-trace my steps in a futile attempt to turn back the clock to a point where I could have steered the course of events in such a way as to avoid what eventually happened. But now, all I’m left with is a feeling of ‘if only’……

My Nokia X-3 was running low on battery and I was trying to make up my mind whether to take it with me or not. I was getting ready to be picked up by a friend to attend a spring festival on the other side of town, and I had to decide whether to take my camera or use my phone to record a video of the event. Turned out the camera was completely uncharged, so instead of leaving my phone at home to get juiced, I opted to take it with me and wing a video with whatever little charge that was left in it.

To be honest, I was in two minds about going to the event at all, as it was to be outdoors and I knew it would be terribly sunny. But I went, partially because I knew my friend wanted company and I was feeling sporty. Plus there was an impromptu flash mob in the offing and around forty drummers would form a circle and play their hearts out. We couldn’t miss that!

So off we went, and it was a nice drive on a lazy Sunday without the usual frenetic traffic on the roads  and a feeling of adventurousness in two girls who would otherwise be lounging in comfy pajamas and t-shirts at home. We bought our tickets and some coupons for games, not really wanting to play but just to contribute towards the worthy cause of the SIUT, an organisation that works towards free treatment of kidney patients, including dialysis and transplantation. It was breezy and would be quite a pleasant afternoon if not for the summer sun making its presence felt. We bought a few ice lollies to cool us down and wandered around looking at options for entertainment, though it was apparent that this was more a carnival for children than 30-somethings 😛

A few more friends joined us, amongst them some of the musicians who had been rounded up to be a part of the ‘drum circle’, which I imagined would be something like this…

The plan was to watch the drum circle play and then skedaddle back home asap. The timing was delayed due to a no-show by about 35 of the 40 drummers, but after a bit of discussion around one of the large tables dotting the grass under the humungus tent, they decided to go ahead with the plan sans the missing drummers in a little while.  I pulled out my phone to check the time and to send a whimsical message to another friend to come join us there.

cavity in a cup

While the musicians drifted off in search of food, we walked over to a gola ganda stall to buy a styrofoam cup of what is essentially shaved ice smothered in colourful syrups and condensed milk, and shared it sitting under the shade of a huge cargo plane, one of the features on the lawns of the PAF museum where the festival had been arranged. It was really pleasant in the shade and we slurped our gola ganda and crunched the ice while chatting about this and that until it seemed the drummers were gathering to play nearby. We got up and walked over while I rummaged in my bag for my phone…..

Well, you know what happened next. Instead of watching the drum circle perform the event of the day, my friend and I spent the next fifteen minutes backtracking and searching for the phone. She used her phone to call mine only to be told by an automated voice that the device she was trying to reach was powered off…..a surefire sign of it having been picked up by someone with not very noble intentions.

We drove home feeling dejected and sunburnt. My friend couldn’t help feeling that it was somehow her fault for having asked me to come along with her to the spring festival in the first place. If we hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have lost my phone. But really, it was just my own carelessness. I had probably dropped it on the grass after getting up from the table, forgetting that the phone was in my lap rather than my bag. It could have been picked up by anyone, maybe a kid….perhaps one of the attendants who were busily cleaning up litter around the tables had spotted it on the ground and quietly pocketed it.

Dejection is not a natural state for me to be in and one of the ways I cope is to temporarily block it from my head, call it denial if you will. It had barely been a year since I lost my last phone, and the feeling of loss then was so intense and I missed it so much and was so outraged with myself for being careless I cried for a week thinking about it.

This time, however, I bore up with a touch more sang-froid than usual. It was unfortunate, yes, but after all unfortunate things DO happen. Okay, so I lost a phone worth 12000 rupees. It could have been worse.

But today I find myself feeling outraged not at myself but at the inevitability of a lost phone being stolen. Why does it always have to be this way? Why can’t there be any honest people with morals enough to return lost property to its rightful owners? What ever happened to decency and common courtesy…and doing the right thing? Is it natural to expect your lost cell phone to be sickeningly powered off EVERY time you have the misfortune of dropping it somewhere?? Doesn’t this god-fearing nation have any capacity for goodwill, and the most basic reward of satisfaction at helping someone find what belongs to them? Is it too much to expect an ounce of conscience?

The fuzzy cat

So I’m sitting at my table, it’s early morning (earlier than usual for me, since I am NOT a morning person) and I’ve just had a couple of pan-toasted chapatis and a mug of sweet tea for breakfast. It’s a bit chilly, after the surprise rain we received in Karachi during the last couple of days, so I fetch my snuggly old hoodie and proceed to comfortably peruse my blogs and do some moves on Scrabble before getting on with my list of chores for the day.

I’m distracted by a familiar scratchy, gravelly sound outside the study door, and I smile, knowing what this means. No, it doesn’t mean Freddy Kruger is around. It means Fuzzy the cat is being a good boy and using his litter tray.

You’d think that’s only natural, right? Cats are SUPPOSED to ‘powder their noses’ in their designated space. Wrong. Sometimes a fuzzy black half-Persian tomcat decides he wants to break the rules.

Exactly four years ago, Amu stamped her little foot (not really, but it sounds cute) and demanded a pet cat. I tried to reason her out of it of course. Having a pet is a huge responsibility (and I would know, since I have a looooong history with pets) and knowing Amu, I had a feeling she wouldn’t have the patience or the time to look after it.

I humored her though, and after a week or two of daily pleading, I spread open the Sunday ad section of the newspaper and pored over the pet column, with Amu sitting next to me. It turned out there were quite a few kittens for sale! We jotted down a number and made a phone call to get the whereabouts of a semi-Persian pair of kittens. Amu nagged and nagged until we got in the car and drove off to look for the house of the gentleman selling the little felines.

Finding the place was an adventure in itself, but as we parked outside the house and rang the bell, Amu and I wondered what we’d find. Someone came up to open the gate, and a youngish boy with greasy hair greeted us and ushered us into his garden. We walked over to the patio and saw the most adorable sight! Two tiny little gray furballs hurtling after a ping pong ball and swatting it back and forth with their little paws!

Amu and I just looked at each other. If she has an ounce of my genes, (and I think she does), we both felt the same thing. A mix of heart-melting delight and longing was shining in Amu’s eyes, and I knew she was in love with the first scruffy little kittens she encountered on her quest. As Amu clung to my arm and mouthed silent pleas, I asked the youngish boy how much he was asking for one of them. He quoted a sum about three times what I had in mind, so I told him we would go home and have a think and get back to him later in the day.

Back home, Huz and I had a pow-wow. I thought the guy was asking for too much money and it wasn’t worth it. Amu was blinded by love and couldn’t think straight, of course. Huz warned us of the consequences of having a pet cat. What if it wasn’t potty-trained? What if we wanted to go on a holiday, who would care for it? What if it demanded too much time and commitment? Who would take it to the vet? These, and many other questions were debated, but Amu stuck to her guns and assured us she would love it and care for it and we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. And then she threw in the trump card. She was lonely.

That did it. So, against our better judgment, we went back to the greasy boys house, handed him a wad of cash in exchange for Sam, the tinier of the two siblings, feeling guilty for taking him away from his sister and playmate forever.

It was evening as we drove home with a new addition to our little family, and we stopped on the way to buy some things that we had never bought before. Cat food! And cat shampoo! It felt like the gateway to a new world of groceries and products had just opened up for us, and it was kind of cute and amusing to be buying things called Whiskas, or Me-O, or cat litter that came in kilograms, in a sunny yellow bag that said Thomas.

The tiny kitty perched on my knee during the ride home, while Amu leaned over the seat to pet him. He seemed quite comfortable with us, and didn’t seem scared or bewildered by the suddenness of this strange new experience.

Back home, we let him roam around and explore the house and entertained him with things that normally delight kittens. We thought of giving him a new name, since he now had a new life. I can’t remember now if we re-christened him that night or the next day. I was stuck on Prince Rustam for some reason, but Amu decided on Fuzzy. We all approved, and hence, it stuck.

That first night we made him as comfortable as we could, and made him a bed out of a cardboard box lined with newspaper. We wondered if his mom had taught him anything, and imagine our surprise when we witnessed the first bit of evidence that he had been rightly and properly schooled in the way of cats! Out of all the places he could have chosen to relieve his tiny little bladder, he picked a spot on some newspapers we had left lying in a corner for just that purpose. Oh, what a relief! Now I wouldn’t have to worry about learning how to be a mommy cat! Little Sam/Fuzzy knew his business, and by the time we got him a proper litter tray, he took to that immediately as well.

The new addition

We couldn’t sleep very well that first night, Amu and I, as we were worried about Fuzzy being alone outside in the living room. So we ended up staying awake till 5 in the morning, keeping an eye on the little thing as he prowled around, and once again I thought to myself ‘what have I let myself in for’. One does tend to get anxiety attacks when one is sleep-deprived. But after a week or so, we all settled down to happily co-exist, man and beast.

It seems the little beast got a bit too comfortable sometimes, and there were ‘episodes’ where he was too ‘lazy’ to walk all the way over to his litter to relieve himself. Cat piss is a nasty, nasty business involving odours that are very hard to get rid of and have a propensity to linger, as I discovered to my horror. I had a penchant for having a clean house that smelled fresh and lovely, like washed laundry, so imagine my shock at realising how little control i had over my cat’s bladder!

He merrily proceeded to pee at least once a day on something he really shouldn’t. Like the sofas. The rugs. The bean-bag. The comforter. The floor. The newly-installed carpet in Amu’s room. The bathroom mats. You get the picture. The cat was out of control!

I scrubbed and cleaned, and neared the edge of tearful despair, contemplating driving him to a faraway location and abandoning him, or giving him away. Obviously, I couldn’t be so cruel. But I was decidedly not as loving as I should be towards a pet, and remember smacking him on the head a few times until I did some research and learned that’s not a very good way of teaching a cat not to do bad things. I consulted my upstairs neighbour, who lives with six cats, and asked for his advice after tactfully inquiring about any peculiar behaviour he may have encountered in his brood of kitties. He told me about a fabulous product that de-odourises pet ‘accidents’. You just spray it on and let it break down the molecules in cat piss that cause the odour! Apparently, cat pee contains a high concentration of urea, about twice as much as dogs, and that’s what gives it such a strong smell. They can’t help it, poor things. They’re just evolved that way. It’s useful for marking their territory, and keeping unwanted enemy cats at bay.

That’s what we thought was wrong with Fuzzy. We thought he was unusually insecure about the stray cats that prowled around our building, yowling their heads off and busily marking their own territory outside our doors. Of course he could smell their pee. So he went into counterattack mode. Either that, or he was trying to attract some romantic interest his own way….

We marched him off to the vet to have him….(gulp!)….neutered. Now, neutering is supposed to be a fairly simple procedure in male cats that have normally built external genitalia. But our cat chose to be different. The vet felt him up and declared him to have a condition called monorchidism. In other words, he only had one descended testicle! The other one was somewhere in his abdomen, developing at a much slower rate than its twin. Nevertheless, poor Fuzzy had to undergo not just the scalpel, but an utter invasion of his privacy, and needless to say it was a difficult time both for us and him.

It has been four years learning how to live with our cat. He’s been through vaccinations, de-fleaing, de-worming, operations, antibiotics, and many trips to the vet for checkups. You must be wondering if the neutering made a difference. Well, it didn’t. Ultimately, we just had to be very vigilant, make sure his litter tray stayed clean enough for him not to turn up his aristocratic little snub nose at it. We roll up our rugs and protect our sofas with plastic coverings every night, and every morning we unroll the rugs and put away the plastic. We chase Fuzzy to his litter every time he starts sniffing around and acts suspicious. Sometimes he pees on the plastic coverings, so I am to be seen mopping and de-odourising every so often. But at least it isn’t so difficult now that we have accepted this gruelling labour as part of our lives. As you can imagine, Princess Amu doesn’t lift a finger. In her defense, the poor girl has to go to school, so she is forgiven.

So you can imagine, dear readers, the joy I feel when I notice, or hear, Fuzzy using his litter tray of his own volition. It’s a daily triumph to see him do that.

Okay then, my writing for the day done. Time to go unroll those rugs….

how does one stay mad at a cat that looks at you like this?

(Mis)Adventures of a DIY gardener (part-2)

My regular readers (hey Mom! *waves*) would recall part 1 of this post, in which I wrote about the gorgeous allamanda that graced the top of the trellis in my courtyard.

It took so many months for it to grow lush and dense, covering the trellis and shading the courtyard underneath….

All to be destroyed by the vile mealy bugs!! Aarghh!!


Yes, there was another infestation. And this one was worse than any I’ve seen before, so complete was the havoc it wreaked. I guess I lost not just the battle, but even the will to grow any more allamanda. It’s all over, folks.  I mean, just LOOK what it did to my beautiful trellis 😦

after i had finished cutting and dragging off ALL the horribly infested branches and stems

For the uninitiated, mealy bugs are possibly THE WORST kind of pest to infect succulent plants. They feed on plant sap by attaching themselves to the undersides of leaves (all the better not to be seen, tricksy little buggers) and secrete a waxy powdery layer to protect themselves while they suck the juices right out.

You know your plant is infected with them when you see colourless drops of honeydew appear on the leaves. A sooty mould soon forms on the honeydew secretions, the plant takes on a sickly appearance, the stem distorts and the leaves start to shrivel and drop. Weakened plants succumb to fungi and rot.

To set things straight, I TRIED. I tried VERY HARD. In fact I have been fighting mealy bugs all of my adult gardening life. I have plucked them out with tweezers. I have tweaked them off with toothpicks and cotton buds dipped in nailpolish remover. I have painstakingly and delicately spent hours wiping them off with damp cloth. I even made litres and litres of soap-water solutions and went crazy with the spray gun (apparently, soap is the only thing that penetrates the protective covering of the damned bugs), followed by further sessions with pesticides, no holds barred. I even succeeded in eradicating them a couple of times, but ultimately, those were just small battles. It was the whole damned war I lost!!

This infestation didn’t just suck the life out of my lovely allamanda….I guess it was a shoulder-slumping moment for me too.

In a way it was almost a relief to accept defeat and declare (mentally)  ”I can’t fight this anymore!!”

Sigh. It looks so desolate now….like the aftermath of a fire. The mealy bugs reproduced and spread quite literally like wildfire, the very denseness of the foliage proving to be the cause of its demise. All my vehement spraying had no effect at all, as I couldn’t quite get through to the innermost regions of entwined stems and leaves, let alone the fuzzy white armour of the little dastardly creatures.
Curse you, mealy bugs!! *shakes fist at mealy bugs* Curse you all to death!!
May you all die slowly and painfully and be pushed over the brink of extinction!!