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…)

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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. ❤


They mean well, but….

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

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

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

I admit, this is funnier in Urdu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed, Cousin X.

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

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

Signed, Cousin Y.

Or how about the gross ones:

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

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

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

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

Hmm.

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

Five Tuesdays and an almost-funeral.

We hadn’t been married long, when a month with five Tuesdays came along. Huz and I were both in our twenties then (sigh), and getting ready to go out somewhere sometime in the afternoon.

Sis in law asked us to look at our reflections in a steel bowl full of cooking oil (as everyone had already done), and to dip our fingertips into a bag of wheat flour.

‘Beware,’ she said. ‘it’s a paanch mangal ka maheena’, (a month with five Tuesdays)

Huz and I looked at each other and back at her with expressions that said, ‘So??’

‘It’s a terrible month, didn’t you know? Awful things may happen to us, and we must ward them off by doing ‘sadqa’ every Tuesday,’ said she.

Hence the ritual of touching the flour and oil-gazing, offerings to be given away to the truly needy, thereby diverting all manner of bad cosmic vibes, not to mention attracting Divine Blessings.

I was all for helping the poor, but wait a minute. Why must I gaze at my reflection in the oil before giving it away, and why must I touch the flour? Did all that potential negative energy directed towards me by the cosmos get deflected into the edibles? And if so, how could I then pass it on to some poor hapless soul?

Instead of debating the issue, we just dipped our skeptic fingers into the flour, looked at our reflections and crossed our mental fingers that the skepticism didn’t count against us in the giant scheme of things. Anyways, as far as superstition goes, I have always had a lurking suspicion that the ‘evil eye’ can only affect you if you believe in it. Same goes for djinns. If you believe in them, you’ll give them the power to possess you when you walk under trees at dusk, or worse, give you the heebie-jeebies when you’re alone at home and there are dark rooms with open doors all around and ominous noises. Denial has great benefits, imho. Having said that, small me always made sure to mutter a little prayer if perchance walking under a tree at dusk, scanning the branches furtively for any signs of an invisible djinn. Nothing wrong in saying the salwaat once in a while. I do believe that’s what’s saved me from being possessed all these years…..

To my recollection, in all the 23 years of living with my parents, I had never ever heard them mention or even be aware of a month with 5 Tuesdays, so we four daughters blithely went about our young lives unmindful of the reason for the horrible things that happened to us once every so often, shrugging them off as bad luck or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Y’know, things like school still being open on a rainy day. I don’t even remember Mom putting a black dot with kajal on the side of any of our heads, or made us wear a nazar ki taaveez or any other special amulets on a black thread around our necks. No special voodoo involving twenty one green chillies either. I have ambivalent thoughts about that. On one hand I think Mom was very cool to not have subscribed to a superstitious mindset. On the other hand I wonder, didn’t she worry?? Then again, I was hardly the kind of child that could possibly fall prey to the inadvertent effects of a jealous gaze. I was scrawny and dark-skinned, hence perfectly protected.

Anyways, not giving paanch mangals any further thought apart from giggling at the ludicrousness of it, young Huz and I got into our little Suzuki Khyber (what a lovely combination of Japanese and Pathan), and drove off towards the main road that was much used by huge trucks and trailers. As we entered the main road from the service lane, we saw a sad sight. There in the middle of the road was a dog that looked like it had been run over and was now very much dead. I wiped away some involuntary tears, while Huz slowed down to give the poor dog a wide berth and go around it to make a U-turn.

What happened next is something that still makes my heart skip a beat and my arm-hair stand on end, even after 14 years. Huz was still maneouvring around the dog when all of a sudden his side of the window was spattered with blood, and a huge truck at high speed went over the island between the two sides of the road and crossed over to the other side with an awful clankety racket. It all happened so fast it took us some time to register what happened.

Distracted by the dog, Huz didn’t notice the truck coming towards us in the rear-view mirror. The truck driver didn’t anticipate the fact that the car in front intended to make a U-turn. Huz had forgotten in his distraction to turn on the indicator. As a result, the truck went over the dead dog, spattering our car, and to avoid the almost-inevitable collision the truck driver trundled OVER the middle island strip…..without hitting us.

Dead dog, Blood on our car. An almost-accident. A shaken Huz and me. There was something portentously ominous in all this….if it hadn’t been for some amazing reflexes on the truck drivers’ part, we might have been really badly hurt. We could even have DIED, for heavens’ sake!

So….did we just hoodwink the universe and succeed in thwarting some seriously malevolent forces?

Bring on the lentils and the rice and the flour I say!! I’ll dip my fingers into anything. 🙂

(Feel free to comment and share your thoughts below people! Anything creepy ever happen to you, on a Tuesday or any other day?)

Parents and the Philosophy of Homemade Gol Guppay

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 to listen to us offload our stories, what we did that day, for example, or if we did anything exciting in the preceding days, met someone interesting or go anywhere fun. Did Shirin manage to find out how the wad of cash in her drawer mysteriously disappeared? How many orders for wedding cakes did she have that weekend? Did Sax manage to pull off an order for twenty paintings last week without an attack of the wheezes? What happened at Fatu’s exhibition? Did anyone buy that crazy lampshade she painted? How are my plants faring? Has Fuzzy(the cat) stopped ‘marking his territory’ (euphemism for peeing on carpet) after the ‘operation’? When are Amu’s braces coming off? Did we do anything productive today?

My father subscribes to the old-fashioned tradition of not visiting his daughters unnecessarily though I think it’s only because he is happiest at home, where he tinkers around in his workshop, listens to old Indian songs at full volume and plays focussed games of spider solitaire on his computer, figuring out fool-proof strategies of winning, which is one of his many obsessions after doing the daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper. He likes to read lying in bed, his comfort zone, and is often to be found engrossed in re-reading the Harry Potter series or Stephen Hawking’s theory of the Big Bang. He is a very self-contained man, enjoying his own company, and is a staunch and passionate believer in finding entertainment at home.

Mum shares my fathers ideology in that respect, and has always found extremely creative ways of passing her time. She harbours, even to the point of OCD, a genuine passion for sartorial pursuits, carving cloth into patterns and producing clothes for the younger brood of grandchildren (and sometimes even other peoples grandchildren). Her artistic nature finds expression in everything from embroidery to crochet to painting, and she has over the years built up a reputation as someone to count on for ‘ideas’ for just about any aesthetic conundrum. Her credo while we were growing up has always been to DO SOMETHING, anything, and not just throw our time away in lolling or reading. Every single day should result in something good and constructive, and in retrospect, I think she was very good at suggesting projects we should throw ourselves into. If we slacked off, we would be nagged so much that it was far easier to do what she said. So we grew up Little Women, each one of us reflecting a different aspect of Mom’s creativity, and each of us capable of tackling any number of DIY projects.

But even the most reclusive (retired) moms do get bored at times, and Mum is human after all. She too needs to get away from home for a change, when the nostalgic Indian music gets too loud for her liking and Daddikins has been too caught up in constructing elaborate family tree diagrams to pay any attention to her. So she called a few days ago to tell me that she was DYING to try out a recipe for pani puri (gol guppay in Pakistani terms), after watching someone make it on one of the numerous foody channels. It was decided that she would come over on the weekend and we would make it together.

(For the uninitiated, a gol guppa is a hollow, puffed up round ‘puri’ made of a mixture of white flour and semolina and fried. Ideally, they’re about 2 inches in diameter, the optimum size for being stuffed with chickpeas and boiled potatoes, dunked in savoury, sweet, cold tamarind water, to be shoved into the mouth with speed and dexterity, where it then bursts with a delicious explosion of flavours. ‘Gol’ means round, and ‘guppa’ means  to stuff something in your mouth without breaking it…so you can imagine how one looks when one is consuming this most yummy specimen of sub-continental street food).


Mum’s enthusiasm (and curiosity about the recipe actually working) was palpable, as she couldn’t wait to get started as soon as we entered the house. She located the whereabouts of the necessary ingredients in the kitchen cabinets, found the required utensils, and began to prepare the all-important dough for the puri. Mixing the two flours with water is sticky business, but Mum is an experienced dough-maker (years of making rotis when we were young) and soon enough, she had kneaded the dough patiently and thoroughly into a beautiful soft and pliant ball. This had to be left alone for an hour or so before it could be used.

In the meantime, our party increased in number with the addition of Fatu and her two offspring, and a little later Sax dropped off her brood of three. I had already put the potatoes and chickpeas on the stove to boil and heated the imli (tamarind) with water and some gur (an unrefined lump of brown sugar also known as ‘jaggery’) to sweeten and soften the sour imli. Mum had unearthed the rolling pin from somewhere and sat down to roll out a small portion of the dough into a flat circle, the tricky bit being to make it into an optimal thickness; too thin might prove as unsuccessful as too thick, and the difference between the two extremes would be measured only by micro millimetres. Using a plastic play-doh shape as a cookie cutter (a bit of improvisation) Mum demonstrated how to cut out little flat rounds of dough from the bigger chapati, a task which was later entrusted to 7-yr old Lums and 9-yr old Zahra.

Fatu was grumpy and distracted that day, so Mum gave her the job of frying the puris to snap her out of her mood, and showed her how to swish them one at a time in the hot oil  with a metallic slotted spoon. This was the moment of truth….would the recipe work? After a few seconds of suspense, where we all hovered near the stove to see what would happen, the little round thing puffed up to perfection and stayed that way without deflating. Joy!

After that all of us worked in an assembly line of efficiency. Mum prepared the little rounds, and arranged 5 or 6 on Lumya, Zahra, and Amu’s hands, who brought them over to the kitchen for Fatu Khala to fry. Farroo (the 20-yr old) cubed the potatoes and mixed them with the chickpeas with some salt. I made the imli-ka-pani (tamarind water) by straining the imli (Farroo helped), diluting it with plenty of water and adding loads of ground cumin for flavour, ‘chaat masala’ for that spicy zing, and lots of ice to make it deliciously cold. When everything was prepared, the big aluminium pot full of fried round puris, the potato and chickpea dish and the big bowl of chilled imli-ka-pani was arranged on the dining table. Mum got up from her little lie-down, 16-yr old Murtaza and 8-yr old Hasan abandoned their video games, Amu was fetched from her guitar class (yes, in the middle of all this excitement she even managed to attend her one-hour class) and Fatu, Farroo, Lums, Zahra and I all gathered around my tiny dining table, filled one puri after the other, dunked it, and popped it into our mouths, one after the other until they were all gone.

As we all sat around, satiated, yet not completely satiated (that is the power of pani puri….you’re always left craving for more) I thought about how much fun it was to make it ourselves and how much better it tasted than the store-bought ones. And how much more fun it was to enjoy it with a whole bunch of family lunging for the last one.

All it took was the initiative of my 72-yr old Mum, whose joie-de-vivre abounds….despite a frozen shoulder and arthritis. 🙂