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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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)

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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.

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Friend or foe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huz hates me. 😀

Rambling a watershed year away..

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

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

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

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

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Hannah and Amu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sweater story has a happy ending though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow, I cross over.

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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…)