Two takes on Karachi

Steve Inskeep,  born June 16, 1968 (age 44)) is one of the current hosts of Morning Edition on National Public Radio. He, along with co-host Renée Montagne, were assigned as interim hosts to succeed Bob Edwards after NPR reassigned Edwards to Senior Correspondent after April 30, 2004. Inskeep and Montagne were officially named hosts of Morning Edition in December 2004. Prior to being host of Morning Edition, he was NPR’s transportation correspondent and the host of Weekend All Things Considered.

Inskeep is the author of Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi published in October 2011. The book looks at changes in Karachi, Pakistan as it grew dramatically in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Inskeep has made several trips to Pakistan in his role at NPR.[1]

Inskeep was raised in CarmelIndiana, and graduated from Morehead State University in MoreheadKentucky, in 1990. His first professional experience in radio was a stint as a sportscaster at WMKY-FM in Morehead.

(from Wikipedia)

What follows is a transcript of ‘Two takes on Karachi from Leading Citizens’, originally published on June 3, 2008. I came across this on Twitter today and thought it was in keeping with the current bunch of posts I’ve been putting up here.

To give you a clue, Fatima Bhutto is the daughter of (late) Murtaza Bhutto and Afghan-Pashtun Fauzia Fasihuddin Bhutto, who divorced when she was three. Later, Murtaza Bhutto married Ghinwa, a Lebanese ballet teacher, whom Fatima considers to be her real mother and political mentor. She made a name for herself over the years, but shot to fame after penning ‘Songs of Sword and Blood’. Belonging to the Bhutto clan, being extremely pretty and dating George Clooney didn’t hurt either.

(photo credit Amean J.)

Ardeshir Cowasjee passed away a few days ago, if you happened to glance at my previous post. Fellow Pakistanis need no further introduction. He was a fun guy and his death feels like a real loss somehow. Sadly, there may not be many patrons of the city who were as devoted as Cowasjee. “He was a man of means and he wasn’t greedy. Most people don’t have the time for public interest – becoming richer than they already are.”

(photo from Dawn.com)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I’m Renee Montagne at NPR West.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I’m Steve Inskeep in one of the largest cities in the world. We’re reporting this week from Karachi, Pakistan. It’s part of the Urban Frontier, the name we’ve given our series on changing cities, and we’re about to see that change at it looks to two of Karachi’s leading citizens.

Both have found ways to speak out, even in times of military rule and political violence. One of them bears Pakistan’s most famous last name. She’s Fatima Bhutto.

Ms. FATIMA BHUTTO (Writer, Columnist): Karachi is a city unlike any other I’ve ever visited. This is a city of immense importance, but it’s also a very sad city because of what’s happened here, because of what continues to happen here.

INSKEEP: Fatima Bhutto met us in the home office that her late Aunt Benazir once used. Her grandfather, another prime minister, used the same office until he was hanged. Her grandfather appears in a huge painting on the wall, shouting to a crowd. His granddaughter does her shouting in print. She’s a writer. Read some of her newspaper columns, and it becomes clear that she was a vocal opponent of her own aunt’s government. She says the reason was a series of killings here in Karachi.

The other column that struck me may be difficult to talk about, but it was the one that you wrote after your aunt Benazir Bhutto was killed, in which you attempted to remember her fondly but made it clear, as I recall, from the first line, you never agreed, or you did not agree with her policies.

Ms. BHUTTO: No. Benazir Bhutto’s interior minister, a man named Nassir Lababer(ph), who most notably heralded the Taliban in Afghanistan as my boys, launched, really, I mean, an operation of ethnic cleansing against this city, against a city that through troubles, through violence and through danger, has always managed to survive, has always coexisted with its differences.

INSKEEP: Because you wrote about your unhappiness while she was alive, I wonder, did you ever talk with her about that?

Ms. BHUTTO: Well my father, my father Mir Murtaza Bhutto, was killed during her last government. On his way home from a public meeting, his car was stopped. There were 70 to 100 policemen outside out house. Some were in trees in sniper positions. They fired. They fired at the men. Seven men died that night – two, including my father, from point-blank injuries. My father was shot on the side of his face besides receiving other injuries.

By the time my mother and I left the house to go look for him in the hospital -we left about 45 minutes later because the police didn’t let us leave earlier -the streets were clean. You know, we didn’t see any glass on the roads. We didn’t see any blood because they’d washed it up. You know, the police were not arrested. The police were, they were cleared, honorably cleared in an internal review and restored to their posts, whereas the witnesses were all arrested and spent several months in jail.

And I did – I mean, I last spoke to my aunt about that. I called her when I found out that the witnesses had been arrested and the police reinstated, and I asked her why that was. And she told me – I was 14 at the time. She told me that I was very young and I didn’t understand the intricacies of the law, and it’s not like the movies. We do things differently here.

So I don’t feel really that she answered my questions in any way that was meaningful. I wish she had, because they are questions – these are questions that resurfaced after she was killed.

INSKEEP: That’s Fatima Bhutto, one of the leading citizens of Karachi, Pakistan. She is often asked if she’ll follow her famous relatives into public office. She’s dismissed the idea so often that when we visited, we didn’t even bother to ask. And then we got to wondering if that was a mistake. The local newspaper showed her working a rope line of admirers as her mother talked about placing her in the National Assembly. It was Fatima Bhutto’s birthday party. She’s 26.

That same day, we listened to a very different independent voice in Karachi. He’s a man who’s been involved in Pakistan’s politics for decades. In fact, he was briefly imprisoned in the 1970s by Fatima Bhutto’s grandfather. You reach him by crossing a brilliant green lawn. It’s surrounded by trees and a stone wall. Then you step into a cool, stone house where you meet a white-bearded man.

Without so much as a hello, he leads you directly to the bar.

Mr. ARDESHIR COWASJEE (Columnist, Dawn Newspaper): (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: The man pours himself a glass of orange juice and quinine. His name is Ardeshir Cowasjee. He’s a columnist for the newspaper Dawn. He recently referred to Pakistan’s founder as that man of great perception, and then added there were no others to follow him.

When you were born? Where you born? And say your name.

Mr. COWASJEE: Karachi, 1926. I was born here, I lived here, I grew up here.

INSKEEP: You must remember a very different, much smaller city.

Mr. COWASJEE: Oh, yes, a very nice city. There was discipline. There was law and order. Nobody would kill. I mean, a chap got killed once in two years.

INSKEEP: Cowasjee is 82. He grew up in this port city. His family owned cargo ships. He still keeps paintings of two ships on his wall.

Unlike other non-Muslims, Cowasjee stayed in Pakistan after it was formed as an Islamic state. He stayed even after the government nationalized his family’s shipping firm.

Why did you decide that?

Mr. COWASJEE: Where you want – why should I leave my home? Who the hell are you?

INSKEEP: Is there something that you love about this city?

Mr. COWASJEE: I’m 82. Where do you want me to end up, in an old people’s home in America?

INSKEEP: I would like to tell you that Cowasjee is as elegant in person as he is in print. It’s better to say that he’s the keeper of his own style. He greeted us at the door wearing shorts and a bathrobe. He invited our producer to remove her scarf – and also, if she wanted, her shirt.

People in Karachi know that he acts as he wants, but they take his columns seriously. He’s the kind of writer who’s willing to compare some provincial official to an out-of-touch French king. He’s also become involved in one of Karachi’s central issues: the use of land. He joins lawsuits to stop developers from misusing land. He fights to preserve open space, though he says he wins no more than one time in 10.

In spite of losing nine out of 10 cases in your view, is there something essential about this city that is left to save, that is worthwhile?

Mr. COWASJEE: You see the trees in my garden? You see the little plot outside my garden? It’s constant war all the time for the last 50 years.

INSKEEP: Constant war over his garden. He is gesturing toward a strip of land just outside his wall. It was marked off years ago for development, but Cowasjee planted trees there and has managed to keep it green ever since.

Is there a way, then, that all this time that you’ve been writing about this city and its development and its government or mis-government, that you’ve been basically defending your own yard?

Mr. COWASJEE: My own bottom. What sort people don’t understand about that? I’m looking after my own backside.

INSKEEP: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to speak.

Mr. COWASJEE: Have lunch and get out.

INSKEEP: Ardeshir Cowasjee stands up, he gestures into the next room and says that’s my library. He’s looking at a floor-to-ceiling window that shows his lawn and those trees. His dining-room chair is positioned so that he can look out of that window whenever he takes his meals alone.

Our stories from the urban frontier are collected at npr.org, and you can find some of Cowasjee’s columns there, as well. We are reporting all week from Karachi, one of the world’s largest cities, on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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…)

I wrote this almost exactly two years ago, but I feel like sharing it again, just because it was brought to my attention when it showed up in my stats as a link someone had clicked on…or perhaps because someone stumbled onto it while searching for information on pani puri. Who knows?
Isn’t it fun to read something you wrote a long time ago? Personally I feel I don’t write with such detail anymore….

munira's bubble

After raising four daughters and marrying them off one after the other, Mum and Dad were left with an empty nest, yet not a single day goes by that they don’t think of us and what we might be up to in our respective homes. They do enjoy their freedom and space I’m sure, yet they long for us to come over with their grandchildren (and one great grandchild) and spend the day with them. Admittedly, for a variety of reasons, it isn’t always that simple to extricate ourselves from our myriad chores to take out the time and effort to hang out with our parents, but when we do, we always vow to do it more often.  The best intentions still find a way to go awry however, and before we realise it, once again, weeks have gone by without having made contact.

They wait for our phone calls…

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Huz was inspired to write this today. Apparently I’m the muse. Go figure. 😐
This one’s in ‘honour’ of Bakra Eid, for all you poetic people. And if you need some context, just read this.

Gathering just-a-bit-o moss

On the roadside, kill. Run child run. O what fun.
Chase the goat. Cute. Cut. Cut. Run run.

Blood. Feed the poor today. O so nice. Tomorrow
Let them rot. And the day after. And after. Rot rot.

Glut. Chomp chomp. O so much. Blessed day.
Black red day is back. The puke runneth over.

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Hello dear readers and fellow bloggers! I am sharing with you today a post I was asked to write as a guest for my dear bloggy friend Kathy over at Lake Superior Spirit.

You can’t help but fall in love with her quirky spirituality. There is something almost magical about her life in the ‘Big Woods’ as she calls them, just a short distance away from the shore of Lake Superior…..I love her photographs, her sense of humour and her gracious, all-encompassing spirit.

So please do visit her blog today. You might even get to read something you never knew about me……:)

Lots of love,

Munira.

Lake Superior Spirit

Today would you please welcome one of my dear blogging friends?  Her name is Munira, and she lives across the sea in southern Pakistan.  I think we met through Kathy McCullough’s blog back last winter.  The name of her blog is Munira’s bubble and I am always mesmerized reading her stories about her life.  She writes very beautifully, and humorously, and keeps you interested from the first sentence on.  She also adds photographs of, say, her latest pre-dawn adventure at a nearby beach.  She doesn’t like to get too political, so maybe we should keep our political comments to a minimum, OK?  (I’m not particularly fond of politics, either…)  Enough of my yammering.  Please meet Munira!  

P.S.  Don’t you love it when the world becomes a smaller more loving place through meeting someone who lives across the sea and far away?  Hands and hearts span the planet, don’t they? Please…

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And this is how it goes

The birthday party that was postponed last week due to chances of rain was rescheduled to yesterday, after the monsoons blew over. It was the first birthday of the second child of my eldest niece.

To get to the venue (a club by an inlet very close to a shipping harbour) we took the scenic route….a road named after Mai Kolachi, an old fisherwoman who settled near the Indus River delta and built the foundation of what is now known as Karachi.

Once upon a time, the US Consulate in Karachi used to be located on a beautiful, tree-lined road that connects Clifton with the rest of the city, right next to the Marriot hotel, bang opposite Frere Hall and the Sind Club, both old and well-preserved remnants of colonial times.

Frere Hall housed a library and gardens, both of which were closed to the public for a long time due to security concerns for the US Consulate.

Once upon a time when the word ‘terrorist’ was not a part of our dictionary, the US Consulate was an interesting place where cultural events happened, and their library was open to the students of Karachi.

After a series of threats and attacks, when the walls of the consulate were fortified and made ugly with barbed wire and concrete blocks, it finally became evident that they would have to shift their premises to a less busy, less central road.

So the city government in its infinite wisdom, gave the Americans a spot at the juncture of Mai Kolachi and Queens Road, a main thoroughfare connecting the city to the harbour, which is where the consulate is now located.

On Friday, the entire road had been blocked on both ends with huge shipping containers, to try and prevent protesters from marching towards the ‘red zone’.

Mai Kolachi is a wide, relatively new double road, and has been a welcome addition to this traffic-riddled port city, solving a big problem for commuters and heavy goods-laden vehicles alike.

But as we drove by yesterday, the side of the road adjacent to the consulate had been cordoned off the whole length of the huge space it occupies, and traffic had been diverted to the other side, meaning the side we were on, going towards Queens Road.

Poor US. They just can’t seem to find a place where they can’t inconvenience the citizens of Karachi. Massive traffic jams seem to have become a norm since last week, as the police cordon off roads and place obstructions in a bid to protect the Consulate and of course, the people inside….understandably so.

I tried taking a pic as we drove by, but I was too slow, and Huz was too fast.

Anyways, we were amongst the first few people to reach the birthday party, but that was okay. It was a lovely, breezy evening by the inlet and we took loads of pictures, had a great time with the whole family (once they arrived) ate some delicious party food and birthday cake, and drove back home the way we came.

Being the owl that I am, I stayed up till 5 am, responding to comments on the previous blog post and reading articles and blogs, natural consequence being yours truly finally got out of bed around 11.

(Nope, six hours are definitely not enough. Must sleep earlier tonight)

Huz reminded me that we had to attend a PTM at the school at 4:30 in the afternoon, and we debated whether we should both go or just one of us. Meaning me, of course. 😛

At around one pm, I reluctantly changed out of my pj’s to go pick up Amu from school, which is just a two-minute drive away from where we live. As I was changing, I got a phone call from her (she keeps her cell phone in a pocket in her uniform, so we can communicate easily at home time) asking me to come quick as the school was urging all the kids to hurry up and leave.

Panicked, I grabbed my bag, ran downstairs, jumped in the car and hurtled towards school. What could possibly be happening now?

Amu’s school is situated at the mouth of Mai Kolachi, the other end of which is now home to the US Consulate.

When I neared the school, I saw an unusual amount of uniformed policemen and gun-carrying anti-terrorist personnel urging the cars along. I called Amu as I inched towards the gate and soon she emerged from the heavily guarded gates and walked towards me.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked as soon as she got in and I moved off.

‘We had a drill in school today, in case we had to evacuate unexpectedly. It just so happens that there actually IS an emergency all of a sudden…..apparently there’s going to be a rally soon close by….and the PTM is postponed.’

(all pics taken with my phone camera)

As I drove home, I couldn’t decide whether I was worried about the proximity of the school campus to the US presence in the city, or glad that I didn’t have to attend the PTM after all.

 

One of the proposed locations for the new US consulate was next to the Karachi Grammar School, but this plan was met with protests by concerned parents and was subsequently scrapped.

(From an Express Tribune blog by Saba Imtiaz)

Later, I received an official message from the school, informing me:

We have reports of uncertain conditions in the area, therefore Class X PTM (today – 25/9/12) has been postponed. New date to be announced later.

All kinds of madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downward spiral

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

Wedgies during the night can do that to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You’re embarrassing yourself,’ she said.

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

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

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

Blown away! (finally!)

Now THIS…my dear Single Malt Monkey….is the definition of Coke Studio awesomeness!

Feel free to head-bang your way through this number.

Nationwide opinion seems to be that Coke Studio has been a bit ho hum this season, with the exception of Charkha Naulakha. I mean, the songs have been easy enough on the ear……but we now expect quite a bit more in terms of edginess. ‘Neray Aah’ has delivered on all fronts! I LOVE the way both Farhad and Rachel seem immersed in belting out the lyrics…with such…..feeling! And omg, that girl can scream!

This is seriously good stuff people.

Here is something about the band called ‘Overload’, how they came into being, what set them apart, and what happened to them subsequently.

And watch the ‘behind the scenes’ bit to know what the song means, how they put it together, and how Rachel overcame her issues with pronouncing the Punjabi 🙂

20 years ago, to the month.

Speaking of serendipity…..

A couple of months ago, the chowkidar of our building rang the bell to inform us worriedly that we should take a look into our servant quarters to see if everything was okay. We’d been using the space to store our extra stuff downstairs, and he thought there was a strong possibility of some kittens or mice having died in there.

Huz immediately went to check. Everything appeared to be fine, albeit very dusty and cobwebby, thankfully nothing had crawled in and died, so the building jamadaar was paid something extra to clean up and dust everything and Huz was instructed to instruct the jamadaar to carry up some cartons that had been languishing forever.

The cartons are full of old letters, files, memorabilia and stuff I’ve kept for years because I don’t have the heart to throw anything away. The files contain almost every drawing Amu ever made since she was very little. There are reams of notebooks scribbled with Huz’s prolific poetry from way back when he dreamt of being a poet. There are letters in there written to me by friends when I was away in college, or by Huz before we got married.

Treasure, basically.

A couple of weeks ago, while Amu was taking a break from studying hard for her exams, we were sitting by the window and talking about boys. Something reminded me of my younger school-going self, and I recalled an ‘autograph’ book I had kept from my last week of A level days….

Amu goes to the same school where I did my A’s, so she can relate to some of my memories from there, though admittedly, my memories of KGS aren’t quite as happy as hers.

I didn’t have a very good time there. I felt mostly lonely and depressed because I had a hard time fitting into ‘groups’. A few of my closest friends from my old school adjusted to the new environment way better than I did, and happily went about making new friends and finding their niche. I felt a bit abandoned, and completely lost….I struggled with my studies feeling rather friendless for at least a year. My self esteem was at an all-time low because I thought I must be very uncool…..It was 1992 then.

It is 2012 now, exactly 20 years since those miserable days. It is pure coincidence that I chose this time of all times to share with Amu a particular autograph written for me by a boy who was actually a year senior to me. I remember he had written something almost as a confession of a crush he might have had….I remember how my stomach had kind of plummeted when I read what he had written.

So I went over to fish out the old autograph book from the dusty old carton.

As Amu and I sat by the window and flipped through the pages of that book, reading the things people had written for me, I felt surprised all over again.

It seemed as if people had liked me….

Mysteriously, the particular autograph I wanted to show Amu wasn’t there. It seemed as if it had been removed….making me wonder if it had ever existed…? I knew it had, because I vaguely remember what had been written. I could even almost see it in my mind’s eye. Where on earth did it go..?

Moving on, here are a few samples of some of the thoughts penned by people about me. Don’t judge. Please?

someone i reconnected with after 18 years…
page two of her text! 😀
umm….I have no clue what Hammad’s talking about….:P
another of the very few I got back in touch with 🙂
Sohail even left a phone number!
🙂
this has got to be my favourite 🙂
no, i guess i didn’t fit into the nerd category either
Babar was speechless I suppose…
seems Ayesha had a peeve 😛

Looking back at these autographs made me think about the strange dichotomy between the pathetic image I had of myself during those two years as an unsought-after, unpopular, freakish girl (that nobody wanted to invite at parties…then I remembered….I was never allowed to go to any by my strict mother) and what people may perhaps actually have perceived me as.

Amu laughed her head off at some of the autographs, as did I, and we had a rollicking time. Then she looked  speculative, and remarked….’I wish  I knew this 19 year old you.’

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p.s. Here’s what the school yearbook said about me……(I still wonder who wrote this)

Munira joined KGS in 1990 and quickly became known for her cheerful nature. A lively and talkative person, Munira got along well with everyone. She was recognized for her immense artistic talent and worked for the art section of the Pulse. A free spirit, Munira was always willing to plunge into funfilled adventure. She is planning to continue her studies at either NCA or the Indus Valley school of art.

that’s me…standing third from left 🙂

It doesn’t seem like I was such a loser after all.

don’t mean to be pretentious or anything, but…..

Yes, two months went by without a peep on my blog. I did continue to read posts by my multitudinous bloggy friends though, sometimes leaving a comment, sometimes not.

As for me, I just felt I didn’t have any words, though sometimes my mind would register something as blogworthy, yet writing about anything seemed superfluous, not to mention time-consuming. I guess I was allowing myself to revel in laziness and not beating myself up about it.

My shoulder/neck problems stemmed from over-usage of my laptop. Even the physiotherapist told me this. And of course, it should have been obvious that I needed time off from sitting propped on an elbow while lying in bed.

So I ended up reading a lot, sitting up straight, wearing my reading glasses. Finally finished ‘The Corrections’ (by Jonathan Franzen) and I have to say it was absolutely brilliant. It took me a long time to read it, firstly because it is more than 700 pages long, and secondly because it was having a strange intense effect on me. It was just that good. Far be it from me to give you a book review at this point though. Just, trust me on this….read the book if you can. You listening Harsha? 🙂

I’m happy to report a most strange yet delightful series of coincidences too, the first of which is this.

Since some time last year (or perhaps even the year before) I have been feeling the urge to read Urdu. You might think it strange that I’d say something like this, being a Pakistani, having lived here all my life, speaking the language. You’d think I must have read Urdu books all my life, but no, that is not the case. My knowledge of Urdu writers and poets amounts to a big fat zero. This is a sad consequence of having studied under the Cambridge board of education.

I have grown up reading English literature only. Perhaps that is why I have always felt like an alien, an outsider in my own country. I don’t/can’t identify completely with the greater Pakistani/subcontinental culture, observing things around me with somewhat of a sense of detachment..it never helped that I belong to a communal sect that encouraged the speaking of Gujarati over Urdu, which was doomed for me to be not a second language, but a third language. It didn’t matter while I was growing up, except that essays in Urdu didn’t exactly trip off my tongue, but I felt a sense of quaintness in being perceived as something other than an Urdu-speaker, just by the way I pronounced the Urdu ‘r’…..the one with the ‘toi’ on top. I never got that right until someone pointed it out to me, and since then I’ve made an effort to pronounce it correctly.

So you see dear readers, I live in a bubble within a bubble. But I am mesmerised by the fluidity, the ease, and the complete unselfconscious assurance with which pure Urdu speakers wax eloquent. I know I can never be like them, but despite the tiny eye-straining font, and my debilitating lack of understanding of a lot of Urdu words, Project 2012 was to educate myself in my own language and I would do so by starting off reading the Mantonama, penned by the controversial and highly acclaimed Saadat Hasan Manto. (A good friend was kind enough to loan me his copy 🙂 ) 

Mantonama is a compilation of short stories and happens to be the first proper Urdu book I have ever read after the textbooks we did at school. I have already read a few stories and been surprised at the ease with which I could read them. I didn’t need to consult the dictionary even once!

But here’s the strange coincidence. 2012 has been declared the Year of Manto and marks the centenary of Manto’s birth, celebrated not just in Pakistan but also in India.

I had no clue about this when I decided to start my Urdu book-reading project with one of his books. 🙂 

Perhaps listening to the articulate and erudite Ayesha Jalal, Manto’s niece, at the Karachi Literature Festival earlier this year had something to do with piquing my interest further, because really, I didn’t know much about Manto or his style of writing, or his subject matter, or even the fact that he was prosecuted for writing ‘obscene’ things. Ayesha Jalal says ‘He wrote what he saw, and took no sides.’

I was warned by my friend that reading Manto will have a strange effect on me and he was right. After picking my way through a few stories, I was decidedly disturbed.

I had to lay the book aside for a bit, and pick up another book that I thought looked intriguing, and was also being highly acclaimed these days in literary circles.

‘The Wandering Falcon’ has been written by Jamil Ahmad, an 80-plus year old man. Here’s something about him.

It was a relatively quick read, being only 180 pages long, but it had my imagination completely captivated. I still feel in thrall of the harsh beauty of the world he has described in his book, a world not too far from my own….

The Wandering Falcon reads almost like a collection of short stories too, woven through with the story of Tor Baz, an orphaned boy, who wanders nomadically through the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan, those forbidding tribal areas that seem to have defied all attempts at being governed.

This book is a must read. It is written simply, but with attention to detail, and is sure to leave a lasting impression on your mind. I can’t recommend it enough!! 

And now that I am done with it, I shall go back to reading Manto…..with perhaps a bit of Jaun Elia thrown in to liven things up a bit. Maybe there will come a day when I’m very very old, that I shall be able to quote poetry with flair and construct complex sentences and speak them the way they should be spoken.

looking at places-part 1

I’m reblogging this here to urge dear readers of munira’s bubble to hurry up and subscribe to my photo blog! Lots of good stuff happening there people! Go! Subscribe! 😀 (I even put a widget there for you!)

Mun-zooms

This post is for people like me who have only seen Dubai while descending and departing. I happen to be one of those geeky people who’re fascinated by geography, so (when on a plane) instead of watching a movie or reading a book or sleeping, I’d rather be sitting with my nose pressed against the window with eyes peeled for any glimpse of unusual topography. Even ordinary topography is fine, actually. Here’s what I saw while flying over the U.A.E…

 

(Pssst…..I had to heavily tweak the brightness and contrast to edit these photos. Otherwise they were crap)

 

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pain in the neck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Dewarists’ ~a quick post

Just a quick post to tell you this was fun listening to and watching this morning. Nice beat too. The Dewarists…..Vishal/Shekhar and Imogen Heap collaborate and sing ‘Minds without Fear’. Have a listen. And look of course 🙂

A little about The Dewarists here, where and how this particular video was filmed (That Samode Palace is unbelievably beautiful!) Very lovely and informative! A bit long, but worth it 🙂 My favourite bit is when Vishaal and Imogen visit an antique musical instrument shop and try out the various instruments.

Enjwoy! 😀

Junkie self-portrait

Lisa, over at the Satsumabug blog often paints herself while looking in the mirror. In her own words, Lisa is a ‘transdisciplinary artist who works in text and image.’

Since I used to do stuff like that myself, I enjoy her blog for the way she keeps track of her experiments, the meticulousness with which she documents some of her more painstaking work, like this card she made for Valentine’s Day. 

These days I am a woman of few words, so I feel inadequate when it comes to describing anything or anyone much. And Lisa is all about introspection, so her blog is my go-to place when all I want to do is nod agreeably at what someone else is saying. She is just so wise. And articulate. I want her to infect me with her zest for life!

She has her off days too though, and this is what she has decided to do when her life feels out of balance. It’s so weird how often what she says resonates with me! I love the seemingly effortless way she puts into words everything I’m feeling or have felt.

Lisa, this post is for you. The least I can do is show you my junkie self-portrait. Just remember, this was done around eighteen years ago….and I don’t think it took more than 15 minutes 🙂

Pakistan Goes to the Oscars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHUP! - Changing Up Pakistan

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

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

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14th February~early morning drive back home.

Mun-zooms

It is not often….not often at all, that I am up and out of the house driving around so early. The man who usually does these things is out of town, so yours truly must drop the offspring to school. Yesterday as I drove back home, I witnessed the most glorious sun, just over the horizon as I went around a bend on the sloping road. ‘Oh WOW!’, is all I could say, and kicked myself for not having a camera on me. Promised myself I would remember to take it with me this morning, as the sun dawned on Valentines Day, 2012. The sky was less polluted this morning it seemed, and the sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as it was yesterday. But it wasn’t bad either.

Have a great day people.

 

 

 

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The bag lady wins

Contents of a certain bedside table:

wallet

keys (house and car)

little plastic dish filled with assorted foreign coins mixed with dust

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

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

packet of razors

some unmentionables (due to PG nature of blog)

paper clips of varying shapes and sizes

strewn coins

visiting cards/registration cards/library cards

unworn, ill-fitting caps

assorted pencil cells for various remotes

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

empty box of perfume

big unwieldy box containing unworn watch

miscellaneous travel pouches containing mostly useless things

lots of dust

a little cylindrical tin with red candle inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yum.

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

Awkward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope, couldn’t do it.

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

Happy VD all you lovely people!

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

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

Farroo

Dear readers of ‘munira’s bubble’,

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

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

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

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

yes, i KNOW i had really weird hair :p

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

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

at the beach, around 1992?

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

Farroo in Islamabad 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

time to get hands embellished with mehndi 🙂

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

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

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