Under the net

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

“What’s wrong with that?” I said.

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Touch it up?” I suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

“So we never really communicate?”

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

……………………………………………………………………………..

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

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

………………………………………………………………………………

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

12439135_10153296455064109_7927799047210683277_n(1)

 

Advertisements

42 days on

I’m sitting alone at home on a bed that needs to be made, Ms. Murdoch’s first novel (Under the net) lying face down on the fourteenth page beside me. I have possibly just drunk the most delicious mug of tea ever made by myself, preceded by a rather satisfying bhutta….zapped for 3 minutes, sprinkled with lemon, salt and chaat masala. Minnie has just joined me and my warm laptop, depositing herself in what I would deem an awkward position, but then who can question Minnie and her ways?

She has spent most of the afternoon curled morosely on a cushion on the settee under the living room window and I have been pussyfooting around her. I’m feeling anxious as she has been behaving strangely since the last two days, hissing and growling if I dare to move when she’s snuggled next to me or on my comforter. I first felt a weird lump on her soft underbelly when I tried to scoot her off my bed and into her basket in the middle of the night, when the need to turn over overcame the fear of disturbing her.

She doesn’t let me touch the lump and today I observed her as she sat growling to herself, unable to jump on to the window sill when I pulled up the blinds. It seems something is hurting her; she also feels feverish. She is not jumping on and off things with the graceful agility she normally displays. This is so worrying. I’m writing this post because I don’t have a cat support group. The other day my father told me to stop this cat nonsense now, it isn’t good for my health and who knows if the cats even care about me, I should start caring about humans more. Lately I have been hanging out with stray puppies and their moms, adding to his concern.

Of course I’ll have to take her to the vet tomorrow. I’m just anxious about how I’ll get Madam Teeth and Claws into her carrier, that’s all. Today I thought about the handful of vets in Karachi and wondered if there were any young people studying veterinary medicine these days. It seems so unlikely. <Irrational fear of something happening to current crop of vets and no one left to go to anymore>

I may not have mentioned this before, but I have been busy letting go of one maid after another and quite at peace, happy to clean the house the way I like it, no longer getting unnecessarily annoyed at the various ways hired help tends to annoy.

This morning I had set the alarm for 6:30 am, but continued snoozing for another 15 minutes, and then another 15 minutes, managing a quick horrible dream in the process. It was a dream in which huge cows were being tortured in some unseen way by some shady-looking humans sitting by the road. And then I found myself dissecting a little animal that happened to be a furry brown baby bear that didn’t bleed.

My subconscious is a frightening place.

The thought of being amongst people I know (apart from immediate family) makes my heart beat faster. I feel reclusive and justified in being so because being social for the sake of being social, or even because I-am-invited-therefore-I-must-go makes no sense. I’d rather be quiet than talk, and I have no taste for being talked ‘at’ either, any sort of unsolicited advice about anything at all. Often, I don’t even want to listen and I’m wondering….what’s going on? How long will this last? Do I need to make a conscious effort to shun my natural instincts?

I am reluctant to join my friends for lunch/dinner dates. I know they care and want to make me feel better and I know I eventually will. I DO like being with people who have felt deeply and who aren’t unwilling to wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeve. For now, I think I’ll continue feeling more lost than is usual, a little unfocused, a little distracted, a little irritated, quiet but belligerent. Honestly, I just need one person to do quiet things with, and one of those people is sitting in Laos at the moment. To tell the truth, said person and I often don’t really like to do the same quiet things anyway, so life can be difficult in that sense.

Found great satisfaction in scrubbing floors with an alkaline solution and a brush today. Then my mother in law dropped in, and though it was nice to have her company for a bit, I didn’t want to be told that I need to let go of some things because there are better ways to spend one’s time and no one needs to hurt their back.

Just let me clean things up after myself, won’t you world? That’s all I feel capable doing these days and not only do I enjoy the quietness it brings, I’m burning a lot of calories.

It has been a month and 12 days since my nephew died. I have regained my appetite and he isn’t the first thought that pops into my head when I wake up anymore. I’m not crying last thing at night either. Is this a good thing? Perhaps so.

For the last three Sundays I have visited and sat with him for some time, once with just Amu, then with just Fatu, and then with Fatu and Sax both. It was a different experience each time, and each time I have been struck with interesting thoughts, about life, and about death.

The first time, Amu and I watched the bees as they were attracted by the roses, the eagles as they glid over the graveyard, the butterflies that fluttered by, two cats that hid among the graves….and suddenly, the cemetery didn’t seem so…dead…anymore. Amu and I then wandered about and explored, reading out names of people long gone. And as we left, I noticed that Hasan’s marble name plaque had already been stuck to his headstone. I cried as we walked back to the car and drove home.

The next week, it was Valentine’s Day and on an impulse I bought heart-shaped balloons from a vendor. We cried as I drove to the graveyard, tying the balloons to stones on Hasan’s grave when we got there. Then we sat in the shade of an umbrella that I had brought along and read out passages from Camus’ ‘Youthful Writings’, and that helped stem Fatu’s tears temporarily for which I was grateful. She showed me videos she had taken of him just days before he died. He was so alive. He was just here. And now we were leaning against his grave, and all we could do was watch him on the phone screen. It didn’t make any sense at all. We stayed there for a couple of hours, talking and reminiscing, listening to Adele, (she finds her voice to be very soothing) making potpourri from dead flowers. Some people passing by stopped to see Hasan’s colourful grave, especially the children, who looked transfixed, solemn. Unlike the white marble structures all around, this one stands out, being covered in painted pebbles, loving words inscribed on them by friends and family.

As we left, the balloons waved in the breeze and Fatu said, ‘look, he’s waving bye.’

Heart broke, once again.

The third visit, we swept away all the accumulated dead flowers with a broom Fatu had brought along, wiped all the pebbles clean (are we going to clean up everywhere we go?) noted that some had been stolen, probably by the kids from the colony, who wandered around the cemetery. There were three little girls hanging around, watching us from behind a bunch of graves, probably amazed at the sight of three women in hats and umbrellas, how outlandish. They inched closer, curiosity overcoming shyness, and we decided to share our oranges with them. ‘Girls always did like hanging around Hasan,’ Fatu commented with amusement, tearing up almost immediately.

It was quite a social event, there were so many visitors quietly doing their thing, washing the dust off marble, dotting the graves with fragrant red roses, the sun already making its presence felt. Summer would be unbearable here. A goose dunked its head repeatedly in a pool of water from a flowing tap, fluffing its feathers out, flapping its wings.

I realized that this place had a life of its own, that it didn’t end here, it went on. It went on for all the people who continued to love and miss and remember all those who had passed on, and they turned up here with love and remembrance and a strong need to continue to be connected long afterwards. For us, this is a new beginning. This is a new life, and it is one without Hasan in it. As Sax said, we were all living in a sheltered bubble before, death had not touched us this close. All around us we had seen other people grieve for their lost husbands, their wives, their mothers, their fathers, their daughters, their sons. We are just scrambling to understand, no choice but to feel all our individual feelings of grief and loss at losing Hasan, our son, our nephew, our grandson, our almost-14 yr old cousin.

It has been an intense month, and I am just coming out of it, still mourning. It is too soon to ‘move on’, to resume ‘normal’ life just yet, I’m not even the same person I was two months ago. I’m looking at the recent past as ‘before Hasan died’, or ‘after Hasan died’. I don’t know when this will stop being such a jolt to the brain. I can’t even look at little boys without a sinking feeling in my heart.

Time is a healer, is what they say. Who knows, that might even be true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuzzy vs Mini (part 1)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fuzzy after a bath does not look quite as voluminous, in fact he looks downright weird. Was that why Mini did a double take when he trotted into the kitchen to find his food bowl? Was it because she couldn’t place the new smell of wet rug and a hint of shampoo?

Mini was near the food bowls when she caught sight of Fuzzy approaching. I had my eye on her and was about to pick her up and whisk her away to another room, but hell broke loose so fast my reflexes stood no chance.

There was a low, menacing, animal sound and I couldn’t tell which cat it was coming from. It seemed to be a part of the atmosphere of the kitchen. Mini looked like she had just caught her own reflection in the mirror, hair standing on end, back arched, ears rolled back. Fuzzy’s body language was that of a lion about to jump on his prey.

They attacked each other simultaneously it seemed. Mini should have run and hid under something, but she stayed her ground and fought.

Flashback to 1980. Nine year old me, trying to intervene in a cat fight on behalf of Noni, my first cat. Noni was so worked up he sank his teeth into my hand to get me to let go of him so he could chase the other cat before it got away. I still remember how the shock of that bite made me nauseous; I threw up in my mother’s aunt’s sink and when I looked up into the mirror, my chocolate-brown face looked gray.

‘O shit o shit o shit o shit’ was all I could say as Fuzzy and Mini grappled, flesh memory from 1980 preventing me from putting my hands in the line of fire. Below is not a video of Mini and Fuzzy’s epic battle, but it will create a suitable ambience as you read on.

I could not believe this terrifying scene was unfolding right in front of my eyes in my own house. Mini soon realized she could not defend herself against Fuzzy’s strength and I suppose her anxiety made her lose control of her bowels. She couldn’t help pooping as the fight continued. I shouted to Huz to come help while helplessly pleading with the cats to stop it stop it stop it! There was poop and pee everywhere and the freshly bathed Fuzzy and Mini were both rolling around in it. Huz finally managed to get Fuzzy to withdraw a bit, using a towel to swat at them and a long-handled broom to nudge Fuzzy into an enclosed corridor. Meanwhile, a dazed and frightened-out-of-her-wits, poop-covered Mini dashed off to hide behind the curtains

It had been a long day full of chores, I was exhausted, palpitating, and my hands were shaking. But the house was a disaster and it took an hour to clean up not just the area where the fight took place but the entire trail of Mini’s trajectory as she shot to safety. The poor little thing had to be bathed as well, and that too with cold water as there was no hot water and no time to heat it on the stove. But I dried her off fast and she hid under Amu’s bed thereafter.

Then it was Fuzzy’s turn to be cleaned up again, and I couldn’t help cursing myself for being in such a stupid situation. Stressed and full of despair, with no clue how to deal, my brain filled with conflicted thoughts. On the one hand there was Fuzzy, who couldn’t be sent away or abandoned despite the problems he created. On the other there was little Mini, whose future was clouded in uncertainty whether she stayed or not.

Huz, being the clear-headed problem-solver, saw only one path of action. Mini must go.

IMG_0124

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.

DSC_0043

DSC_0042

 

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.

 

 

 

Balancing act ~ 2

Last night I encountered a gray African parrot  at a friends place. The parrot belongs to his father, who is a bird aficionado, and Raju, the African gray, has been around for many years. I walked over to his cage for a closer look and he immediately bristled and turned away, wary of newcomers, but I whistled to reassure him of my friendliness.

His feathers settled down and he slowly turned around to inspect me with an unblinking birdy eye, head cocked to one side. Then he whistled back. I whistled again. He whistled too.

‘Hello birdy,’ I said.

‘Hello!’ said Raju.

‘Helloooo….’ I repeated, stunned.

‘Hellooo!’ said Raju.

Needless to say, I would have been quite content to hang with Raju the remainder of the evening, shooting the breeze, but etiquette demanded I socialize with my human friends. I’m told Raju does a great imitation of friend’s Dad, repeating an idiosyncratic phrase in his exact voice, calling out to the chowkidars loudly,  ‘Javaiiiiiid…..’…..’Mukhtiaaaaar….’. He also greets everyone with a chirpy ‘Good morning’ every day.

I had a cup of very good coffee, as a result of which I had trouble falling asleep. (This is the first time I actually put two and two together)

Consequently, I woke up later than usual. Huz said he woke up during the night and heard me making strange purring sounds as I slept and he wondered what I was dreaming of. It was so weird to be told I was doing something I was completely unaware of doing. He was so amused.

Amu has been agitated of late. I watched as she paced the rug yesterday, going in circles as she followed the border pattern.

‘Have you ever considered that I might actually really need to see a therapist?’ she asks.

‘Nonsense, therapists are useless. I can do a better job of sorting you out,’ say I, the bird whisperer.

We sat on my bed and talked for an hour, girl to girl. Turns out I’m not the only one with friend woes in this family. Turns out I’m not the only one who over thinks things and drives herself crazy. And apparently she is just like her mother, tears spilling over as she gets emotional.

My concern for Amu’s emotional well-being is visceral. If she is troubled, I am troubled, as simple as that. No one gave me a handbook for parenting an only kid. When I was growing up, I didn’t seek out my mother to confide in or discuss my problems with…..I had my sisters. Apparently people who have sisters tend to be happier and more optimistic, simply because of the connection they feel when they talk. Sometimes I feel crushed when I think that Amu’s long-lasting happiness and optimism have been sabotaged, because we didn’t provide her with any. It is a sadness I carry around with me.

Not a lot of people I know can understand the intensity of the balancing act I do, trying to be both mother and sister.

The good thing is, Amu talks to Huz too, albeit of different things. We hang together as a family. That doesn’t mean Amu isn’t a moody, broody teenager, but I’m pleased to report she isn’t closed off to us, just because we’re parents.

I tell Amu to keep calm and eat chocolate. I know she doesn’t like chocolate, but I wish she did. I had made hot cocoa the other night and it sure had a therapeutic effect on me.

Sometimes I wish I was less goofy and weird, but it is the idiotic things I babble that make Amu giggle. As for me, I just felt absolutely relieved to see the clouds on her head dissipate. She bounced off the bed and ran off to scribble things in her diary. Later that night, as we were driving to aforementioned friends place, I heard my phone beep. There was a text message on it that said, ‘I love you loadz nice parents of mine.’

Post-election ramblings

Everything is busy falling apart.

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

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

Seepage. The scourge of apartment living.

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

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

He contemplates the spots as they drip.

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

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

me

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

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

IMAG2105

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huz hates me. 😀

Rambling a watershed year away..

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

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

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

DSC_0125

DSC_0099

DSC_0124

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

DSC_0168
Hannah and Amu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sweater story has a happy ending though.

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

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

37876_409866534108_7185455_n

39883_415739649108_8175568_n

36802_415739634108_5348900_n

39742_415739979108_5719527_n

41342_415740004108_1684907_n

40543_415740334108_4877698_n41342_415739999108_6028537_n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

litfest2

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

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

Tomorrow, I cross over.

IMAG0980

128861093155335678

 

Song triggers

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..’maybe I’m just like my mother….’

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

What was I doing in 1984….?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(to be continued…)

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 🙂

Birthday post

December rolls around, bringing with it an end to the 39th year of my existence. Ta-da! It’s my birthday today, and I thought I should mark the occasion on my blog, considering it has been such a big part of me this year.

So what happened in the bubble?

Last year around this time, Amu was still a part of the shuttle bus system and Karachi was coping with terrorism that had begun to target schools. I wrote about it in ‘Of insecurity, kids, a school bus and responsibility’.

Who’d have thought the shuttle bus stint would come to such a disastrous end, with a falling-out between myself and my fellow coordinators coinciding with escalating trouble in the city which rendered the bus service too risky for the school to take responsibility for….

And so the beginning of Amu’s 9th school year saw us coping with the lawless traffic of Saddar in new ways…

Highlights of the year have been a renovated bathroom and our junkyard of an office/study has finally been converted into a bright and cosy sitting room.

the infamous Zahooran 🙂

I wrote about being maid-less in Karachi and living to tell the tale and getting someone to cook for me for a change, when Zahooran left. Happily, there was no need for a transition and Zahooran returned after almost three months of being away. She is a very important person in my life, as without her I would never have the time to do any of the fun things I do. Recently I have started to pay her extra to make chapatis for us for lunch, and she obliges most happily.

The cook didn’t last long, as his cooking didn’t agree with Huz’s tummy (too much oil and garam masala, despite daily admonishing)

If you started following my stories just a few months ago you’d know about my alleged cat allergies but may not be acquainted with my Fuzzy cat. He’s a big (and annoying) part of our lives so it makes sense for you to know a bit more about him — he turned four this year 🙂

As far as cell phones go, quite a few have come and gone these last two years and it made me very sad to lose my Nokia X3 in March. Thankfully, I had a new phone by the time I was forced to face my travel jitters and could be in touch with Huz while we were in Tanzania that same month, and I’m happy to report that it is the end of the year and I haven’t lost/dropped/had-it-stolen yet.

Travelling to Tanzania and going on a safari were truly the most spectacular highlights of this year, and I put together a few photo-rich blog posts in The place and the people, The streets of Dar es Salam, The road to Mikumi part-1, The road to Mikumi part-2, and Mikumi itself.

I still haven’t written much about actually ‘being’ in the wildlife reserve and spending a night there…I don’t know why. I really should!

Having had the opportunity to take lots of pictures in Africa, (some of them pretty good ones if I may take the liberty of saying so myself) prompted me to start a new blog altogether (MunZooms) one that simply showcased one or two photos per post. I have also been compiling my historical blog (Days of Yore) post by slow post, with my parents as the key figures. And the collective effect of all these various blogs has meant there hasn’t been a single day without any hits, whether I published something or not!

I do attribute that to some clever tagging, but one consequence of that has been to make me reflect very seriously on the sheer absurdity of the kind of things people google!

Nevertheless, I’d like to thank all of you who have made it a point to visit me this year, put me on your blogroll, subscribed to my blog, read what I had to say and left me your thoughtful friendly comments. I am so grateful for your appreciation and feedback. This virtual interaction has been the most glowing highlight of blogging this past year, more substantial even than being Freshly Pressed….not that I have ever been, so I wouldn’t really know. 😛

If not for the compulsion to use my blog as a sort of journal, It would seem to me that this year has passed in a blur. I know it hasn’t, but as I say in my description, my brain DOES fail me on a short term basis.

I have been very gainfully employed all year methinks, though not at all in a remunerative sense. I DID make an oil pastel sketch on canvas for a friend though (that was NOT free) and it now hangs in her newly decorated sitting room, something that makes me feel rather happy when I visit her.

I’ve read some good books. I’ve got back in touch with some very old friends, made new ones, fell out with a couple, made up again. I’ve laughed and cried and been utterly confused very often and realized a lot of things.

There have been some quiet triumphs and a few silent regrets, some disappointments as well as validations. There’s been lots of growing, many many conversations and lots and lots of music. It makes me tremendously happy to know that I got Single Malt Monkey hooked to Coke Studio!

There have been falooda quests and kebab hunts. There has been a major amount of daydreaming. There have been a few consistent spells of exercise too. I have swung from moments of being rather proud of myself, to feeling downright ashamed of myself.

So many posts written, so many blogs followed and read, so many lives glimpsed into, so much of myself shared.

It is not a very lively time of year, it being Muharram. Also I’m still recovering from the flu. But it marks the beginning of a watershed year for me, crossing over into the 40’s. Am wondering if I’ll finally feel more ‘grown up’. Am wondering if I’ll finally be approved for who I am than who I most certainly am NOT.

Perhaps it is time to focus my energies on something else. I know I have procrastinated long enough. Perhaps the bubble has finally burst. Or perhaps it is time to redefine it.

Someone recently expressed their disbelief at my being almost 39 the other day (which I took as a compliment) then remarked…..nothing keeps you younger than being loved by a lot of people.  Indeed, I have felt very loved of late 🙂

I shall leave you for now with this very awesome cool song by Coldplay, from their new album. I heard it on Jango one day and it got stuck in my head. Loved it so much, I played it first thing in the morning for a week. I don’t know why it moved me. I didn’t even know the lyrics until yesterday. Maybe I’m just being silly, but I feel as if this song has caused a shift in my very paradigm.

And a friend posted this poem on her wall yesterday.

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“hurry, you will be dead before —–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem, is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!…..
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!

[by May Sarton]

Funny thing,  poetry. I’ve never been big on it. Yet sometimes someone will say something that will just resonate in some cobwebby place, and all one can do is nod.

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 🙂

Sensations in my body right now

Today’s writing prompt prompted me to write, only because my body has run such a gamut of sensations all evening.

And anyone who knows me knows how descriptive I can get.

It started with a heavy feeling in my head, (which is a natural consequence of fasting) around 2 hours before the Maghrib call for prayer, the time Amu and I wait for in anticpation and spend a little bit of time preparing for.

It has been four days since Zahooran’s untoward departure, and after ignoring it all this time I vowed last night to do some housework today. Even though I knew it would make me expend lots of energy and make me very thirsty indeed. But I ignored the hunger cramps and stopped myself from dreaming of a cold glass of water as I vacuumed and washed and mopped, sweaty and dehydrated. I fought the lethargy I knew would creep in and take hold of me if I stopped working…..it’s so easy to curl up with a book when you’re low on energy, then doze off….

A shower set me right, refreshing me from the outside, and a little snuggle in Huz’s arms soothed my head, as it always does.

I wore a bright pink shirt (the color is such a pick-me-up) with my baggy brown fisherman’s trousers from Bangkok, and I marched into the kitchen to chop pears, mangoes, bananas and grapes and apples for a delicious fruit salad, whipped up a batter of gram flour and spices for aaloo pakoras (potato fritters) and made huge glasses of Rooh Afza with lemon. The perfect iftaar in Ramadan.

We prayed, then took a little pinch of salt to break our fast and then….it was time to eat and drink.

I can’t describe the euphoria I feel as I take that first sip of cool, sweet-sour sherbet, the first bite of ketchup-dipped pakora, perfectly crisp on the outside…..soft potato inside. We’re silent as we slowly but inexorably munch our way through a whole plate of these, sipping our drink, feeling the food in our tummies after 14 and a half hours of nothing, letting the endorphins kick in.

The fruit salad tastes fresh and varied in its multiple sweetnesses, so much healthier than the pakoras, but hey, we deserve a bit of decadence too. I focus on how good it all tastes, and feel a bit numb and brain-dead, which is a signal from my brain to pour myself a mug of hot, strong, sweet tea, that delivers a kick like nothing else can. And I feel my body flooding with joy…

Tea. The one thing I crave in the evening. Gets me out of a stupor in a jiffy.

It’s strange that I hate fasting, yet I love how great it feels when I stop. There is no other way of experiencing this. You can only feel it when you have purposely deprived yourself. I’m not a religious person, and I don’t feel holy or spiritual, but I fast because it is a tradition. I fast because I have been culturally conditioned to do so.

And I sure as hell feel good when I stop.

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…..

Balancing act

With Huz back in Tanzania for a week, it’s just Amu  and me and Fuzzy in the bubble, with Zahooran making an appearance early in the morning to clean up the mess we make on a daily basis. Things get a little lawless around here without Huz. Without him we degenerate into serial felons. We play computer games like fiends (current obsession being Angry Birds…..what fun!), we watch multiple episodes of  ‘The Vampire Diaries’ on dvd till the wee hours and we sleep at 4 am.

We eat only Soupy Maggi Noodles (mast masala if you please) for dinner, pizza and a heap of fries doused in chaat masala, ketchup and lemon and garlic mayo for lunch, and pancakes for breakfast. It is telling that I have described our meals in reverse order.

Yup, the bubble is a very unhealthy place to be in these days.

In the middle of all this decadence, I’ve been busily subscribing to some interesting blogs, which means I get a flurry of emails every day. Which makes me realise everybody updates their blog way more regularly than I do. Which makes me feel very uneasy and prone to panic attacks, with a pretty constant naggy feeling of not doing what I SHOULD be doing.

Funny thing about blogging is, everything I do becomes bloggable, so while I’m going about doing things my mind is thinking about how I could craft something fun and witty out of the most mind-numbingly mundane activities. Like doing the laundry or watering the plants, or even brushing Fuzzy and getting the firmly knotted tangles out of his voluminous fur. I flip on my laptop and open up all my various tabs, forgetting what a dangerous move that is. I am immediately distracted by new mails, new tweets, new notifications on facebook and fresh comments on the dashboard. Any hopes of writing anything, fly right out the window without me even realising it until an hour (or two) later, when I have read everything, replied to everyone, pored over all updates and watched a few videos.

In fact, sometimes I read some really amazing posts on other people’s blogs and they say what I want to say so much better, my motivation fizzles out like carbonation from an opened can of half-drunk soda in the fridge. (There’s no point holding on to that unused soda by the way, I might as well pour it down the drain immediately.)

Yesterday, a thought struck me anew and I thought I should articulate it somehow, and to this end, I have consciously closed all the other tabs on my browser, a great way of staying focused.

I find that I hang out with Amu a lot more when Huz is away. And as a consequence I end up bonding with her better, which makes me wonder why we don’t spend as much time together when Huz is around….

For one, Amu moves into my room at night…it’s as if she doesn’t want me to feel alone. Though, being an only kid, she’s the one who sleeps alone in her own room every night, even though she gets creeped out by rattly doors and strange sounds that have a rational explanation but which escape you when you’re disoriented in the no-man’s land between wakefulness and deep slumber.

We talk and we giggle and she goads and cajoles me into taking her wherever she whimsically decides to go…..and I pull myself out of my summer torpor, grumbling and complaining, but in the end we end up having a lot of fun.  She’s into photography in a big way, but too timorous at this point to do anything more than point and shoot from the car window as we drive around our part of the city…..she has a great eye and it always surprises me to see what she considers interesting enough to capture. And she composes her frames well!

I really appreciate her personality, I find. She knows what she wants and what she likes, and I have an inkling she feels comfortable enough to share ‘some’ of her secret thoughts with me…. sometimes. I know she scribbles in a diary (which she keeps rather temptingly on her shelf….and no, I haven’t read it, though I’m DYING to, but I understand it would be a violation of her privacy…dammit)

She surprises me with her maturity sometimes. She makes all these conscious decisions without anyone having to really tell her, least of all myself. The other day she decided she wants me to fill her wardrobe with a bunch of shalwar/kameezes. The need to dress conservatively sprang into action of its own accord, because SHE judged it wise to do so, living in the kind of world we do, where men cannot seem to control their eyes and everything female must be stared at and stared at, until a child who finds herself suddenly ‘grown up’ is bewildered into being self-conscious ALL the time.

It’s 5:30, and the sun is streaming in through the window, which would not have been very pleasant  an hour ago when there was a power cut, but right now we have electricity and so we have air-conditioning, which is really awesome very nice. I’m trying to dash off a post for today before I get cracking on the pile of cloth I need to stitch into fetching outfits for Amu and I. In the meantime, she is trying out the blouses we bought yesterday and figuring out ways to wear them ‘decently’ with jeans. She says the boys in her gang have a way of making fun of all the girls. She just told me they call her Mike Tyson and snigger while asking if she just got back from the gym. She is wondering aloud why they do this, looking endearingly uncertain. I tell her it’s probably cos she’s so sporty and has such awesome incredible shoulders.

I shooed her off to watch some tv while I finish off this post, as she was being rather kitten-like and distracting, curled up next to me on the bed, texting one friend or other and asking questions or making random observations about me, or making fun of my incorrect use of the language that kids speak in these days. Despite all my inadequacies, I still feel like an older sister rather than a mom to her, and I let her insult me good-naturedly, because that’s how sisters are.

that's Amu reflected in the hand-painted mirror 🙂 and my hair's messy because of the fan 😛

I’m glad I can still pull out the mom card when needed though, because that’s how our relationship swings. When she listens to me thoughtfully and nods her acquiescence after a ‘lecture’, I know she needs that firm bit of guidance that only a parent can give, and I’m thinking, the teens aren’t as bad as they’re cranked up to be.

*throws salt over shoulder*

The ‘Yes! I like this!’ blog award goes to….

I’m tickled pink, not to mention terribly flattered and honoured to have received this today:

Yippee!! Thank you once again Alan (aka Single Malt Monkey) for deeming me a deserving recipient 🙂

The rules of this particular award were as follows:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 15 deserving blog buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.

Okay, so the first one is taken care of. Now to share seven random facts about myself…*cough* This won’t be easy, but…..here goes….
1. When I was in my teens, I was struck by a strange feeling of regret as I contemplated the notion that I’ll never get to meet all the gazillions of people co-habiting planet Earth with me. It actually made my heart sink.
2. These days I’m seriously thinking about trying out each and every recipe from my new Potato  Cookbook that I bought for a bargain price of Rs 250 from a second-hand bookshop. (it’s in great shape too!) We’re talking 240 recipes, my friend. Have already made three things from it, a) spanish tortilla; b) hash browns; c) potato and mixed vegetable salad with lemon mayonnaise. They all turned out great, though I varied some of the ingredients according to availability..
3. I love that my ability and penchant for writing led me to blogging, an avenue for sharing my thoughts, rants and experiences with so many people OTHER than my immediate circle of acquaintance. I have a greater sense of community here than in my real life…
4. I think my personality encourages people to confide in me. Sometimes a tad more than they should…
5. Animals are my favourite people. Especially kittens and puppies.
6. If there is something I wish for more than anything, it is to live in a world where there is no need to have a system of beliefs…
7. I am more comfortable in the virtual world than the real world.
Phew. I think my random facts aren’t as random as I’d like them to be.
Moving on!
Goody, here comes the fun part.This is where I pass the award along to 15 deserving blog buddies. Admittedly, some of them can’t be considered ‘buddies’, so let’s just say they’re bloggers whose blogs I have subscribed to thus far in my blogging career, and/or whose sites I find myself drawn to perusing. Some of them I love because they’re just a pleasure to read. Others are great because I learn something from them…still others inject some humour into my day or provide beautiful images that inspire me to pick up my camera as well. Whatever the case, these are my besties, so by all means give them a look-see…
1. Single Malt Monkey, I mention him first as it is because of him I’m passing on the award 🙂 SMM is a multi-talented person, currently dabbling in painting, but who loves poetry and literature, photography, and believe it or not, actually makes guitars. Needless to say, he’s big on music too AND…he’s been FP’ed a few times.
2. H is for Happiness. I am so glad Harsha stumbled across my blog, and that I was led to hers as a consequence. H, as I call her, lives in Goa and has the dubious distinction of being my blogger soul sister. She loves to re-read her favourite books, plays cricket with her gorgeous son Ishaan, and laments the fact that Goa is such a darned tourist attraction! She is an amazing photographer, and loves Nature with a passion.
3. Gathering-just-a-bit-o moss is where my infinitely better half attempts not to make too little or too much sense. I have the right to reserve judgment on whether he makes ANY sense at all, nevertheless (and I’m not biased when I say) the guy is an incredibly kooky poet, loves to mock things in a seemingly intellectually subversive way (esp Sufism) and believes in keeping things short and sweet. ‘Nuff said.
4. Free Range , is Susan Orlean’s blog at The New Yorker where she muses about encounters in places with people and things. Including chickens. She’s a professional of course, and needs no publicity by me of all people, but I love her blog and want to share her with all of you.
5. Hortophile-My new garden blogs about…you guessed it…her garden. It is truly an awesome one. The woman has a seriously green thumb and believes in environmental responsibility…..and common sense. Not only do I learn a lot, I feel good just looking at her pictures and reading about the things she does. Very inspiring indeed.
6. Indigo Violet’s Blog is where you’ll find my ADHD friend Aarti. Found her through Harsha’s blog and really enjoy her rambling style, not to mention her psychological insights, her love for her multitudinous pets, and yes, her kooky sense of humour , conveyed amply by her choice of images. To know more about her, read her ‘About Indigo’…..the girl has joie de vivre!
7. The class factotum speaks, and this too as mostly staccato conversations with her husband. In her own words, she is ‘a gold digging, bon bon eating, soap opera watching housewife who lives off her wonderful used husband: Serious Honey, aka The Engineer.’
8. Open Lotus Garden wonders how much positive impact a single garden can make. A very inspiring and encouraging blog, not to mention wonderfully uplifting.
9.Not So Spanish is one of the most consistently cute blogs I have come across on WordPress. Rea writes about being a Canadian mom in Spain, her two kids and her husband and the funny things she sees around her adopted country. Amazingly dry sense of humour and wit. Love it!
10. Kristen Lamb’s Blog once again, needs no publicity, but if you’re a blogger/writer/social media fan, you seriously need to check out her blog. Great style, great advice, highly useful.
(holy crap! 5 more to go!)
11. Emjayandthem’s Blog. Ok, MJ is relatively new on my blogroll but I love her already. She is responsible for introducing me to the best pancake recipe EVER, but not only that, she missed Diana at the royal wedding as much as I did. I think I found her through Single Malt Monkey’s blog. Don’t you just love serendipity?
12. Mehreen Kasana. How could I forget her? She’s the funniest writer/doodler in the Pakistani blogosphere! The girl is rather famous already and needs no publicity, nevertheless, she  must be introduced to the uninitiated. She doesn’t post very often, but I make it a point to check what she’s been up to every once in a while.
13. Kala Kawa In his own words, he’s no expert. He just watches, reports…and bashes. Very good basher too! And a prominent member of the Pakistani twitterati. Very entertaining indeed.
14. The Karachi Walla will tell you anything you want to know and anywhere you want to go in The City by the Sea. Found him by chance while searching for pictures on the web, wondered who he was, and recently learned the world is a very small place indeed……I think he definitely deserves some publicity 🙂
15. Xeemarmar…..one of those blogs I just HAVE to visit, since it is co-written by two very lively and intelligent ladies from my hometown/community 🙂 The name is derived from Zimmarmar, a mountain in Yemen, a place held dear by both the writers for similar reasons….
Congratulations to all of you who won!! I shall now proceed to let you all know how amazingly lucky you are and bring your attention to this post unless you’re one of those intelligent few who had the good sense to subscribe to my blog.
Writing this has been such fun. It made me think about why I appreciate all of you as much as I do, and left me with a warm glowy feeling inside. I’m sure y’all feel the radiations….don’tcha? Don’tcha??
 Wokay then, time to publish this.

Me? Work? Uh…

It has now been a few months over a year since I started blogging, and as usual, I let an anniversary go by unmarked. Couldn’t be bothered to make a fuss I suppose.

I can’t really recall why I started this blog, only that Huz egged me into it. It’s not that I think of myself as a big fat writer or anything. Just big and fat perhaps. But that’s probably my body dysmorphia manifesting itself…

I guess I started writing to have something to do with my time. Not that I’m an idle person, that wouldn’t be true…

I do a lot of stuff that doesn’t exactly have anything to do with ‘making a living’. Which makes me wonder, is making a living the only thing that substantiates one’s life? What gives a ‘working’ person superiority over a ‘non-working’ person? Does the fact that I’m a ‘non-working’ person make me, in fact, a ‘non-working’ person?

‘What is it that you do?’, I’m often asked, and frankly, this question always stumps me. I usually start babbling some nonsense or other so as to baffle the questioner, when all I really want to do is punch the person in the face. The reason, I suppose, is because I hate being categorized. I don’t want to be one thing or another. Just because I’m someone’s wife and don’t go out to work doesn’t make me a ‘housewife’.

Yes, I am a wife. Yes, I am a mom. No, I don’t have a job. But a lady of leisure? Hell no.

I digress from my original train of thought, but I find I have ventured into saying something else that needs to be said. But I’ll get back to that later. First, let me make the point I was trying to make.

No, I’m not an aspiring writer. I just did well in English Language at school, and enjoyed writing essays. A lot. And I enjoyed reading. A lot.

So I’m doing now, what I used to love doing when I was way younger, and with no desire to take it any further than what and where it is. Does that make me unambitious?

I’m really glad to have a bunch of people (you guys who’re reading this!) who read what I have to say….some of you respond to me and leave a comment, or ‘like’ what I write, which gratifies me no end.

But writing this blog had nothing to do with ‘improving’ myself, or my style of writing or whatever. I just said what I felt needed to be said. Nothing earth-shattering or anything. Just, you know, stuff that I felt like articulating somewhere convenient. So, if a friend tells me, ‘Hey, I like your blog…you’ve really improved from the stuff you wrote earlier’, I’m left with mixed feelings. On the one hand I feel warm and fuzzy….on the other, I feel kinda let down.

I never wrote to be judged for my writing. Any comments like that just leave me feeling hollow, and a bit offended. I never asked for an opinion!

Then again, isn’t that what a blog is about? Aren’t my musings up for inspection?

Phew, okay now, my point has been made. See? Nothing earth-shattering at all.

So to get back to that other train of thought, no, I don’t consider myself to be a ‘housewife’. And I’m definitely not an ‘aunty’, though that’s what Amu’s friends call me, something that took a while getting used to. Does that mean I’m in denial?

I won’t bother answering that, and neither should you, if you know what’s good for you 😉

The fact is, there are a lot of things I do, which I don’t let anyone else do for me. I cook, I drive, I wash, I sew, I garden, I move heavy furniture, I paint, I write, I visit, I do groceries, and a whole bunch of things that glue our tiny little household together. And through all these things that I do (that I don’t get paid for…but I should!) I try to find time to do some fun things too. I get tired though. I love my alone time. I like to sit some place quiet and just…think. Look at my plants. Admire the sky. Think of ways to prettify the house. I don’t always appreciate being invited out, because it makes me stop doing all the things I do to pay attention to how I look, my hair, my clothes, my face, and it makes me think, life is a lot of work.

It makes me think, one works, just to stay on top of things, and in the end is known only as someone who doesn’t….you know….’work’.

Mother’s Day, in retrospect.

So yesterday was Mother’s Day and here’s my two-bit for what it’s worth.

There’s been a flurry of posts and related articles, not to mention radio shows and TV shows on the subject…people debating whether or not said day should be celebrated. Some glorify their mothers and quote sappy sayings ad nauseum, declaring their love for all the world to see or maybe they’re just saying it cos’ everybody else seems to be doing it. No doubt they mean it too!

It started a few days ago when everyone began changing their profile pictures on Facebook to one of their mom’s. It was kinda weird to see a woman’s picture with a man’s name next to it. Those of my girl friends who look a lot like their moms left me confused for a second, but not to be left behind, I hopped on to the bandwagon and put up a picture of my Mummy. It was fun! I ended up confusing a lot of people too 🙂

It’s true though, all my adult life I have had people exclaim and tell me how much I look like a younger version of my mother. It’s rough hearing things like that when the last person you want to turn into is your mom. *mock horror*

When you’re one of four daughters, every one of you will have a different relationship with your mother. My eldest sister has the dubious honour of being the firstborn, hence has all the personality traits that go with being the eldest sibling. My youngest sister was born 12 years after the first and has, true to tradition, always been a brat. The middle two, of which I am one, didn’t know what was expected of them so we played it safe and behaved like middle children should. Reasonably. But all my life I have been accused of being my mom’s favourite, maybe cos’ it slipped out of the horse’s mouth one day. The biggest manifestation of being the favourite was being home-schooled for the first six years of my life. The Montessori system had just been introduced in Karachi and Mummy got to learn of the methods of teaching. Don’t ask me how. She just did. I hear she made a lot of flash cards and stuff and proceeded to experiment on my brain. If only I had known what she was up to, I’m sure I would have felt like a guinea pig. Sadly, I have no recollection of all the trouble my mother went through to teach me alphabets and words using pictures, but perhaps it was a result of her efforts that I fared better at school than my predecessors. 😉

When we were growing up, we didn’t get showered with hugs or kisses. We weren’t a very touchy feely family. We were fed and clothed and bathed and de-flead and put through school and could do whatever the heck we wanted, as long as we allowed ourselves to be dragged to the masjid and agreed to pray namaaz and read the Quran.  Mom was always busy cooking in the mornings and always had hot meals waiting for us when we got back, ravenous, from school, after which she pretended we didn’t exist and set to work with demon-like determination on all her various pursuits, only taking a break from it if one of us needed a haircut. Or a birthday party.

But to get back to Mother’s Day, I really don’t see why anyone would NOT want to celebrate it. There are those who say things like ‘oh, mothers should be made to feel special every day, not just one designated day a year.’ What a load of crock.

The fact is, NO ONE makes their mother feel special every day. We take our moms for granted. That’s just how we roll, my friend. It’s the nature of the relationship. Goes with the territory, like it or not.

I love my mother, always have, always will, and I’m not ashamed to say that I feel rather silly saying it. Because THAT goes with the territory too. My mother is opinionated and is extremely good at getting her own way, and she bugs the hell out of me most times. That’s the reality of it. As for all that she has done for me all my life, I can’t really say I feel grateful. I just feel entitled! That’s what parents are SUPPOSED to do! It’s give and take really. Kids give parents the pleasure of their company, parents take care of the kids. It’s win-win all the way. Imagine how lonely our parents would be if we weren’t there. Actually, it’s US they should be grateful for! There should be a day for US!

Seriously though, it’s only after getting married and having her own family that a woman realizes just how much she must do, and how thanklessly. We’re basically unsung heroes, even if I say so myself (on behalf of all mothers.) I shall leave the specifics to your imagination. (Hint: think…1) pregnancy/labour; 2) diapers; 3) cracked nipples. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.)

So my point is, by all means, be good to your mothers. Love them in your own way, whether you hug them or not, declare your love, or not. You don’t need me to tell you that, so I’ll shut up. But I’ll tell you this. Mother’s day is here to stay. So If you don’t do something specifically nice for her that day, it’s bound to hurt. Don’t underestimate the power of a present. Something you just KNOW your mother will love. It may just be a token, or it may be just another thing you do for her amongst the other things you do for her all year round. But why ignore the celebration of it, just because you’re against the principle of it? Being against a principle is a principle too. And it’s just idiotic. Does that sound opinionated? I can’t help it, I get it from my Mom 😀

The road to Mikumi-part 2

..contd from part 1….

Godfrey had been in a meeting with the president (!!!) all day and hadn’t had the chance to have lunch before picking us up for Mikumi. He had a headache, and I was glad I’d packed Panadol, a bag of salted cashews and Lays. The tea at his house did the trick, and he quietly crunched chips as he drove out of Dar es Salam, Brian strapped safely into the passenger seat where he promptly fell asleep, and Huz and me in the back seat.

I didn’t realise the city was so big. It took a pretty long time to reach the outer precincts and eventually a fork in the road. The perpendicular road led to Arusha….. (I almost stretched out my arm towards it….)

A policeman waved us down and motioned to Godfrey to stop along the side, and as he walked towards the car, my heart started thumping for some weird reason and my imagination went into overdrive.

He peered at Godfrey and asked him where he was going, glancing at us as he did so. Godfrey explained we were going to Mikumi. Then he asked who we were and where we were from. It was just a routine security check, but while he inspected our passports, Godfrey whispered that he was probably going to think of a way to get some money out of us. Sure enough, though he found no fault with our passports (much to his disappointment), he found it objectionable that Godfrey was driving around with just a photocopy of his drivers’ license and not the original. There ensued a discussion in Kiswahili, with Godfrey pooh-poohing the policeman’s half-hearted contention and sticking to his ground until he realised there was no way he could intimidate Godfrey into giving him anything. Not understanding any of it, I relaxed only when we were waved off and moved on, none the poorer.

The road was long and as we were in Anna’s car, we had to choose from her CD’s for road music. Apparently she liked ballads and romantic songs so we alternated between Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie as we whizzed along the highway, and though it was dark except for the car headlights, I could make out the shapes of trees on both sides. I was lulled into dozing, but opened my eyes every now and then to check the time or to listen to the conversation between the men, and occasionally put in my two-bit. It turned out that Godfrey would pick up Anna on the way, from a place called Morogoro, a small town about an hour and a half away from the park. And there was yet another change of plan. Though we had special permission to get into the park AFTER the gates had closed for the evening, we were told that it would be unsafe to reach there after 11 o’ clock since the generators were turned off then. So now we would have to spend the night at Morogoro.

By this time, I was feeling thoroughly adventurous, and every new development brought a thrill. I was hurtling through space in the middle of the Tanzanian countryside, unable to get a grasp of my surroundings because of the darkness, but it didn’t matter. The only thing familiar was ‘Say you, Say me’ and ‘Endless Love’, and of course Huz sitting next to me. I put my hand in his and smiled in the dark. Staring ahead through the windshield, I noticed a strange glow up ahead and suddenly we were engulfed in…..

……FOG….! The world turned phantasmagoric and I imagined I saw luminous eyes of strange beasts through the tall grass……fireflies were flashing around and playing tricks with my head.

I marvelled at the road. It was a smooth drive without even a single bump, and Godfrey drove fast, covering the distance between Dar and Morogoro rapidly. Even so, I think it took us a little over four hours to reach the town. That’s about twice as long as it takes to reach Hyderabad from Karachi….and I find THAT to be too long.

Godfrey called up Anna to find out where she was and we made our way over a potholed side road to find her standing with two people outside a guesthouse. She got in the front seat and settled the now awake Brian onto her lap, said goodbye to her friends and we set off to look for a place to spend the night in.

I’m not sure anymore, but I think the hotel we found to stay in was called ‘Morogoro Hotel’ (well, let’s just call it that.) Felt great to get out of the car and stretch my legs in the parking lot, and we collected our bags and made our way over to the reception, behind the desk of which was a rather disconcerting sight of predator and prey.

*chomp*
scuttling off with moth in mouth!

We were assigned separate rooms, Godfrey’s family and us, and we walked through a tubelit inner courtyard to get to the building that housed the rooms for rent, with a plan to meet again in a few minutes for a quick dinner. It was eerily empty, and our footsteps echoed along the corridors that afforded some further peculiar sights….

took this pic in the morning before we left....the solitary sewing machine in the middle of an empty space just HAD to be remembered 🙂

An attendant led the way and transported our bags and unlocked a door for us off an empty corridor.

took this one before leaving too

A very basic room, and a far cry from the luxuries of the Kempinski, but really neat and clean…I realised it’s been a long time since I stayed at a cheap hotel…..but somehow, that thrilled me. Weird, I know. And the smell of cheap soap in the bathroom reminded me of trips up north, way back when….

Over a dinner of stew made with a tough old chicken and rice, I got better acquainted with Anna, who told us to use bottled water to brush instead of tap water as we parted ways for the night. We obeyed without asking why and went to bed straight away, considering we had to be up again at 6:30 in the morning, Huz making sure we were completely surrounded by mosquito netting.

It took me a long time to fall asleep, and when I did it was only to wake again every half an hour, or so it felt. On top of that, there was a rooster somewhere outside, utterly convinced dawn was about to break at what seemed like 4 am, and therefore started crowing at regular intervals forthwith. So I was awake, my head on the hard little pillow, when I glimpsed the sky lightening through a chink in the curtains, and I got up to see what I could of the outside world.

the outside world

We got dressed and went to have breakfast downstairs in a dining hall with a quaint array of breakfast goodies. I was beginning to really enjoy a cup of Africafe, though it was accompanied by arguably the worst omelette in the world, despite being made with the best intentions. But I filled up on fresh juicy pineapple and was happy, and soon we were checked out, back in the car and on our way.

Morogoro Hotel

Daylight brought pretty cool revelations. Apparently, Morogoro is built on flat land at the base of green hills. And the entire drive from there to Mikumi was probably one of the most beautifully scenic I have ever laid eyes on.

Morogoro
those are clouds covering them thar hills!

And then, we reached Mikumi.