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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Birthday post

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

So what happened in the bubble?

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

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

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

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

the infamous Zahooran 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a friend posted this poem on her wall yesterday.

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

[by May Sarton]

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

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

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

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

The rules of this particular award were as follows:

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

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

Me? Work? Uh…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The darndest things!

Here are some of the top searches on the worldwide web that led people to my blog. They’re so strange I don’t even know what to say :p

1. bean bag sofa bed in karachi.

2. maid ruins clothes.

3. tofiq pasha email address.

4. bubble shading device.

5. pani puri cause IBS

6. neighbors cat shredded his carpet so he now lets cat roam neighborhood. cat is constantly on my patio. found him on table. he might have used it for litter box. owner angry when asked to keep cat off my patio. help!

7. hopeless sad

8. munira ka ghagra

9. are there any gorgeous women in heera mandi

10. garfield cooking lasagne

11. place to live without clothes in karachi

12. how do you say my body hasn’t trained in a long time in spanish

13. abdullah shah ghazi prostitutes

14. munira aunty  ——> ( :p )

15. lady home cook in karachi

16. garfield stolen lasagne

17. surefire way to trap male cat peeing on our deck

18. song got one hand in my pocket and the other holding up a peace sign

Yeh hum nahin, log kehtey hain. Great stuff people. Keep it coming :p

The Jitters.

Huz must travel to Tanzania for work, and I figure it’s about time I tagged along. After all, I’ve never been to the Dark Continent, whereas Huz has been to Ghana, Gambia, Togo, Senegal, Malawi, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, and I forget which other African countries, and I confess….I’m finally curious enough to want to go see for myself what all the fuss is about.

Amu and I have travelled with Huz, (to places like the Maldives and Lebanon..very exotic I know!) but only because the opportunities to do so happened to coincide with school holidays. This time though, it is different. This time we’re leaving Amu behind with my mother and going off on our own, bang in the middle of the school year….a hitherto unimaginable prospect!

The nitty-gritties have been taken care of, thanks to the support and help of a friend/neighbour who has most kindly agreed to pick and drop to the school bus, and my lovely mom who has volunteered to stay with Amu and Fuzzy while we’re gone.  It’s going to be very strange and worrying, but I’ve put up lists with instructions all over the house, so hopefully they’ll manage okay. Mumtaz will come and clean, and the cook will take care of the cooking. All Mom has to do is make sure Amu gets up and goes to school in the morning, and keep the front door locked….(okay I’m simplifying A LOT!) But I still can’t believe we’re actually going to be travelling together, just Huz and I, for the first time since we honeymooned in Turkey 15 years ago. It’s going to be weird, and I know I’m going to miss Amu quite a bit, but I think it’s important to do this. Amu needs to learn to get by without us, and what better time to do so than the year she turned 13?

The passports have been renewed, yellow fever vaccinations injected into our bloodstreams, and travel clothes have been decided on, the trickiest part about travelling for me. I have yet to start packing, but I have all of today to do it.

What’s important is, I got a haircut yesterday and am glad to report it has certainly added a bounce to my tresses, not to mention my step, very important when one is struck by wanderlust…

Though it’s exciting to be travelling to faraway lands, I can’t help feeling jittery about the usual stuff. I find myself thinking about how to deal in case of a plane crash mid-ocean. Will I remember to curl up into a foetal position when/if the plane crashes into the water? Will I get the chance to pull the string on the inflatable jacket thingy before I drown? If I’m yanked out of a jagged hole in the plane’s fuselage and get injured and bleed, how soon before the sharks get me? Will I manage to grab Huz’s hand as I make my way to the surface, or….(to give chivalry it’s due)…vice-versa…?

Apart from the probability of dying of untoward plane crashes, I still hate flying and wish there was a better way of getting from point A to point B. I hate being horribly sleepy yet unable to fall asleep. Airplane seats are most discomfiting and I’m usually fidgety and edgy until we’ve landed safely, wherever it is we’re going. I hope ‘The Diaries of Jane Somers’ keeps me happy as I resign myself to my situation.

But I’m looking forward to the trip, for what I’ll get to see, and smell, and taste once I get there….fresh stuff to blog about! It’ll be a good break from the bubble. I think it might even teach me to be less of a control freak, if I manage to stop worrying about how everyone’s faring at home and if I remembered to pack everything I could possibly need…

Though Huz has been to Tanzania before and talked about it and ‘tried’ to describe the people and the place, I’m clueless about what to expect. People tell me it’s lovely and quaint and beautiful, though Huz wasn’t too impressed. I think he’s a bit jaded from over exposure 😛 In his defense though, he IS looking forward to seeing my reaction to it all and MY take on things. And he does want me to have a good time!

As for me, I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes. Can’t wait to take lots of pictures. Can’t wait to put it all into words………..only then will it become real for me. And I can’t wait to come back and share it with you guys…..unless I manage to blog from our hotel room 🙂 Fingers crossed firmly!

The Visit.

She stood outside the door, waiting, knowing they would recognize her customary thrice-rung bell. It struck her vaguely, that she was actually coming home. This used to be home once, fifteen years in the surreal past.

It was taking longer than usual, so she wondered if they were there, until she heard a muffled but distinctly exasperated voice from within.

‘Open the door, my hands aren’t clean!!’

A striding sound, accompanied by the thump of a walking stick, and the door was flung open. She still isn’t used to the long white beard that greets her now and ushers her in.

‘Come sit, she’s trying out a new recipe.’  Thump, stride, thump. He was in the middle of his daily ritual of getting some exercise by walking through all the rooms of the house, for half an hour. She tells her it actually takes him about an hour to do this, the walk is peppered with intervals of rest.

She was sitting at the table in her nightie, and it is 7:30 in the evening. There is a sedentary energy in the way she’s busy mixing dough and explaining excitedly how she’s been meaning to try out a recipe for savoury flat crisp ‘puris’ to go with the potato curry. Deja vu?

She wandered off into an empty room to change into a t-shirt and tie up her hair, and get down to the real purpose of her visit. Be the cleaning lady.

They had a maid for many many years, who came in every day to clean the house, and cook wonderful food before leaving in the afternoon, to return to her own home somewhere near the old harbour. She had seen two girls grow up in this house, get married…and leave. She didn’t speak much, just went about her work quietly, and the years went by and her bones grew weary and her heart grew weak. She could no longer climb onto a bus, get off, and walk the short distance to the house. It was time to retire, but they didn’t forget her, and sent a bit of money her way for a few years until they heard the news that she had passed, that her heart had peacefully stopped beating one day.

There had never been another maid in that house, and they decided there never would be, despite many protestations by the girls. How would they manage, this aging couple, without anyone to help with the housework? But there never had been a more stubborn set of Capricorns, and they dug in their heels and swore to protect their privacy till push came to shove.

A push might not be such a good idea, she thought, as she surveyed the surroundings, and thought of the day before when she had just dropped in for a long overdue visit to find a big broken frame in the hall, lying in the debris of broken glass. They looked on helplessly, as she got to work clearing up the mess, disposing of the jagged shards of glass and taking apart the frame.

‘God sent you to us today because he knew we were at a loss,’ she said, as her man sat down on a chair to help with the dismantling. She smiles and rolls her eyes, but is painfully aware they’re both over seventy, and it isn’t so easy to bend anymore. Every job has to be thought about twice, and either abandoned for a future date, or delegated to the Man Friday.

And when Man Friday is not around, like now, then the girls descend, like angels of mercy.

The broken frame led to vacuuming the whole room, emptying the contents of the vacuum cleaners innards, unblocking the obstruction that caused poor suction power, and a general assessment of what more needs to be cleaned. So here she was then, surveying the disrepair, feeling a bit overwhelmed but deciding to take it one thing at a time.

She opened a cabinet and saw the old cookers, once used prolifically for making delicious stews and curries, and the big pots that brought back memories of many a hearty biryani. All lying unused now, for who needs to cook large quantities anymore when there’s only two people left in the house?

She cleared the old dining table and dusted the sideboard, catching a glimpse of her, with her back to the doorway, sitting at the ancient desk….once a piece to be proud of, now a battered relic, decades of use under its folding hood, crammed with files and records and letters and certificates. An oil painting hung askew on the wall above the desk, something she had painted…when…? Thirty years? Forty years ago?

The house is full of them. It is full of the things that have made up the backdrop of such a huge chunk of their lives, and it is hard to see it all get old, and dusty, and worn-out. They kept it all together, didn’t they. They don’t believe in replacing anything…just keep fixing what you have, that’s the way to go.

So she’s here now… helping to do just that.

And she cleaned all the surfaces. and she helped warm up the food, the puris were fried, and they set the table with some old and some new crockery, and the three of them sat down for a delicious meal, an all-too-rare occasion nowadays.

Then she washed all the dishes and put them away, kissed the two goodbye…. and drove off, with a promise in her heart, into the world that she made for herself. A world at the corner of which she made a minor transgression by breaking a traffic signal in her haste, only to be let go by the most unlikely-looking candidate for a kindly cop with just a good-natured warning. No fine.

Good karma, you think?

A trip to the North (part-2)

I didn’t divulge too many details in my previous post about the Shigar Fort Residence, where we stayed for the three memorable days we spent in Shigar, because I was saving them for this piece that I’m setting out to write/showcase. The photos should speak for themselves as far as the guesthouse is concerned, but the picture wouldn’t be complete without a historical perspective. So here goes…

”The original Shigar Fort Palace was known as Fong-Khar, which in the local Balti language means, ‘Palace on the Rock’. Raised on a rocky pinnacle at the foot of the Karakoram Mountains, a part of the Himalaya, it was built in the early 17th century by Raja Hassan Khan, the 20th ruler of the Amacha Dynasty. It remained the home for 33 generations of the Amacha Dynasty until the latter day Rajas lost their wealth and grandeur and the Palace started to fall into disrepair.

pictures on a wall of restorative work in progress…

It was not until the mid 20th century that the Amacha family finally abandoned their ancient home, electing to build a modern palace in a more accessible position. In 1999, the reigning Raja of Shigar, Sahib Mohammad Ali Shah Saba, bequeathed the Fort to the people of Baltistan, while the Aga Khan Trust for Culture undertook the daunting task of restoring it. After five years of painstakingly researched traditional construction and embellishment, and at a cost of $1.4 million USD, the Fort was finally restored to its former glory; every detail of its architecture and decoration having been reconstructed as an exact copy of the original.

 

the main building

 

Thanks to the AKTC, the local community only stands to gain from the promotion of tourism. Using local labour and skills generates income within the people of Shigar and facilitates their training and education in the tourism industry.

But the best thing that could happen is that the reincarnated hotel has set an example for a novel form of tourism (in Pakistan at least) where the appreciation for a living culture has been beautifully juxtaposed with the preservation of an ancient heritage, since it doubles as both a museum AND a luxury hotel. Past meets present amid the creature comforts of a modern world.

 

the entrance area with the souvenir shop

 

 

the facade

 

 

The rock on which Fong Khar is based...it goes down 50 feet into the ground. Massive.

 

 

Huz and Shabbir, the Karachi-educated, Balti Sufi tour guide (on the right)

 

We were given a grand tour by a polite and friendly guide by the name of Shabbir. He was a local Balti, but we were surprised to learn that we had something in common with him as he had lived in Karachi for some time when he went to college there. His job here was to show us around the main heritage building and talk to us about history, religion, the architecture of Fong-Khar and the art and craft that embellished it. Huz was fascinated to learn that Shabbir was a practising Sufi, and that most of the local people upheld a Naqshbandi Sufic belief system.

 

the outdoor barbecue area, with seating under grapevines

 

 

inside the heritage building

 

 

the museum part of the heritage building

 

 

 

detail of some fine wood carving on a beam

 

 

a room fit for a Raja

 

 

a royal view...from the palace balcony.

 

 

Amu reported a significant drop in temperature after entering the massive trunk of this 400-yr old maple tree, one of the main features of the garden. there are 4 people standing inside!

 

 

the kids (and the grownups) had a BRILLIANT time picking cherries in the palace cherry orchard!

 

 

Poplars....they were everywhere!

 

 

clover shelves...

 

 

Amu and the...lilies..?..irises..? Anyways, they matched beautifully 🙂

 

 

the converted barn/stable...now a quaint restaurant

 

 

we explored every inch of the place, and as you can probably tell, we THRIVED in this idyll 🙂

 

 

...and welcomed the surprise evening drizzle and accompanying chill with the joy experienced only by those who have escaped the brutal summer of Karachi....:)

 

(All the pictures have been taken by me, the author of this blog)