Autumn, anyone?

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about autumn lately, one of which was even Freshly Pressed today, and left me desirous of a warm apple-cinnamon scone with my tea.

For some in the right place at this time (meaning latitudes higher/lower than the Tropics) the air is getting nippier, days are getting shorter…..and trees are beginning to get more colourful.

How lucky are you people of the Temperate zones… get to witness and FEEL the change of seasons.

I’m sure it must be glorious….despite getting back into school routine for mommies and children alike. In that sense autumn really is the beginning of a new year. Some even redefine it as a  time for rejuvenation…..of rebirth….and I think I can relate to that if the last two days are anything to go by.

You see, dear readers, I have been spring-cleaning at a time of year normally associated with the autumnal months, though Karachi seems to have registered this time of the year of all times, as the monsoon season.

So while dark clouds gathered overhead and burst their breaches, and as it rained non-stop for 24 hours, turning the poorly-drained streets and lanes of Karachi into rivers and lakes, and as yours truly deemed it wise not to venture out of her bubble for fear of the car stalling while navigating a particularly large lake which is actually her link to the rest of the world, the sponges, dusters and wash-cloths were brought out and the house got a thorough clean-up.

The night it started raining was the same night that I decided to take my allergies more seriously.

I have been waking up in the morning, my lungs choked, unable to breathe, despite the antihistamine pill I have been taking every night for the last month, until I take a few puffs of Aerolin. My bronchioles expand and I relax, and sink back into my pillow with relief.

For the last few years, these symptoms have usually arisen in October……so I’m taken by surprise this year as it started much earlier, and lately I have been thinking maybe it’s not just dust I’m allergic to. Perhaps I have been in denial about my cat allergies, I don’t know, maybe it is time for me to go to an allergy specialist and get myself tested.

I stayed up till 3 am the other night, sitting next to my balcony door, listening to the rumbling thunder, ominously loud at times, and the flashes of lightning periodically illuminating the sky. As the rain lashed against the door, and Fuzzy sat nearby, his ears twitching, looking worried, I read through six different articles that told me similar things about how to deal with cat allergies. I bookmarked this one, and am considering printing it out and sticking it to my bathroom door so I can read it every day and be more motivated and less likely to slack off in terms of safely and effectively minimising my allergic reaction to whatever it is in my house that’s triggering it.

Apparently, there are many allergens that can cause the same symptoms as cat allergens, some of which can be more serious than those that can be caused by a cat alone.

Whatever the case may be, there can be no harm in cleaning the house from top to bottom (with a bandanna wrapped around my face) and it can only benefit my fellow inhabitants and I.

The first thing I did was to remove my work table from a closed, carpeted room into a more airy area right next to the balcony. As many of you know, I spend an unhealthy amount of time on my laptop! Therefore, it was imperative that I balance the unhealthiness with a healthier environment, and I think It will make a big difference. Fingers crossed.

I realise that my house is probably smothered in cat allergens because Fuzzy, as his name indicates, has been endowed with very fine, downy fur. He is also, unfortunately, a black cat. Cats with dark fur are more allergy-inducing than cats with light fur.

I wish I had known this when we adopted him. Sigh. But it’s too late now, I love the little critter.

Here’s a little known fact. I am the only person in my family that has a humungusly soft spot for animals. I mean, my Mom does too, but I was always the one who imposed pets on her, she never had any when she was growing up. I do know for a fact that she adored my neighbour’s dog (i think his name was Silver…..he was sadly hit by a car…) and didn’t object to her rabbits roaming our house, munching uncooked lasagne sheets and pooping on the sofa….but I am straying from the topic at hand….

So I started with the space which I shall now inhabit as my primary work area, and armed with a ladder, soapy water and a sponge, I proceeded to systematically wash all the walls, from ceiling to floor. I dusted everything thoroughly with a damp cloth, vacuumed the furniture, the blinds, cleaned the fans of all the accumulated dirt and cat hair (which we do every 10 days or so) and washed the curtains in hot water to kill all the allergens on them.

Needless to say, I have been passing out, exhausted from the hard work, my arms aching, but feeling great that I’m working towards making the house healthier. I smile with happiness as I sing wheezily while going about my work, puffing my inhaler when need be.

Too bad Zahooran wasn’t around to see her employer doing a better job of housework than her that first day 😛

The biggest change for poor little Fuzzy is going to be the fact that I must train him not to sleep under the bed in my room…..which is his favourite place in the whole house for most of the day, emerging only in the evening, stretching out his limbs and meandering his way to one of us for some love, or over to his water bowl if he’s thirsty.

He runs into my room and under the bed, first chance he gets! Especially when the doorbell rings……he is terrified of visitors 🙂

Giving him up is just not an option, friends.

I know I just have to work a little harder, that’s all.

But since we’re on the theme of the art work around my house, and autumn brings to mind dead leaves, here’s some I painted several years ago when I picked them up from somewhere because I thought they were beautiful.


Here’s to rebirth…..and rejuvenation. And cleaner air and less allergens. And hopefully more watercolours some day.

My heart goes out to the people of Badin and all the other waterlogged, flooded areas of Sindh, where people’s homes and livelihoods have once again been ruthlessly washed away. I know better now than to wish for rain in a country with governments that do nothing to improve or spend more money on building and maintaining crucial infrastructure.

A transition…?

For those who are aware of my being maid-less for two months, there’s good news. I finally worked up the courage to ask the chowkidar to send me some maids needing extra work, something very convenient about living in an apartment complex, a place usually teeming with maids but which I didn’t avail of as it took me some time to mentally prepare myself for the invasion of a person other than Zahooran into my life and the inner precincts of my home. Either that or I’ve had it with doing all the work myself!

The first one that turned up at my doorstep was tightly wrapped in a black scarf and a svelte burqa and introduced herself as Shagufta. She worked at That Woman’s place… something that should have immediately disqualified her if I wasn’t desperate! She was young and giggly and seemed willing enough to take up the job offer, provided her ability to clean passed my exacting standards. 😛 That is, until she learnt about the existence of Fuzzy. Apparently, she’d had an ‘incident’ with a cat at someone’s house that caused her to break a considerable amount of crockery and ruin a carpet with spilt food, and that was enough to make her decide she wasn’t too keen on working in a house that housed a cat as well.

Farewell Shagufta.

Next was an older woman with a pathetically woeful expression on her face from whom in the course of a 10 minute conversation I learnt her name was Aisha, that she had five grown up daughters and a bit of debt that needed to be paid off. Her husband died after being electrocuted two years ago, and she was searching for work that would be close to her home (in Neelum Colony) which paid her a decent amount for a couple of hours of work a day, and didn’t exploit her. She had just had a tooth extracted, which added to her woebegone look, and she talked with a palm pressed against her cheek. I told her to come and work the next morning so I could assess her and gauge her level of annoyingness (as of course, ALL maids manage to grate on my nerves a bit, through perhaps no fault of their own, just an occupational hazard I suppose).

The same day, another maid showed up, a nymph-like pixie called Mumtaz. She heard through the chowkidar and Shagufta that I needed help so came to enquire. I have known Mumtaz since the early days of living here as she worked as a part-timer across the landing at a neighbour’s place as a laundry and dusting maid. She came to my rescue once when I had been abandoned by Shehnaz, Zahooran’s niece. Looking at her you can’t tell that she is a mother of four, but you can easily tell that she is far more knowledgeable about surviving in a rough city and wise beyond her years when it comes to the occult. Yes dear readers, she can detect the presence of evil spirits from a mile away and can easily interpret strange occurrences as signs from the supernatural world. But more on Mumtaz and her powers later. For now, suffice to say that she superceded the forlorn Aisha in my preference. Perhaps because Aisha didn’t turn up the next day like she was supposed to. Or maybe the mention of debt, a large brood and a dead husband meant potential for me getting sucked into a cycle of pity and sympathy that might be hard to extricate myself from a few months down the road, when she would have borrowed money and further increased her general indebtedness.

So Mumtaz it is, and I’m quite glad of it, as she has an unobtrusive presence in the house, does her work quickly and efficiently, and most importantly, saves me from my own ADD and OCD. The question is….do I keep her for the long run…or only until Zahooran comes back from the village as she professed she would? Do I stay loyal to Zahooran for her hard work and her honesty, or do I betray her for being an annoying cow…? I know she is worried about losing her job here for being away more than two months and I am completely justified in employing another maid without any obligations to her…..

Or am I…? Is there such a thing as fidelity to hired help?

Maid-less in Karachi and living to tell the tale.

Considering I’m a room-less nomad in my own house, as well as being a maid-less anomaly, I never thought I’d be sitting propped on pillows with a steaming mug of tea, in a corner of our workroom/home office, and actually feeling content, happy and cosy. With time to spare to write a new post.

What?! (I hear you exclaim) No maid??

Yes, dear readers. Zahooran, my erstwhile maid has absconded and I am left without a replacement in sight. And before you shake your head in wonder and despair at my plight, (hey! that rhymes!) allow me to explain the reason for my happiness and well-being, and also to elaborate on the reason for the existence of three platefuls of the yummiest lasagna ever in my tummy, even as my bathroom gets renovated and masons and plumbers traipse in and out all day. Which is why I’m a room-less nomad living out of a suitcase. Just kidding, there’s no suitcase.

It all transpired in December, when Zahooran tentatively broached the subject of going back to her village in Punjab. I was surprised, as I was under the impression that she liked being in Karachi, which represented a source of livelihood and a way to be independent, away from her religious, shrine-frequenting husband who worked as a hired labourer back home, where employment was scarce and life was difficult. She also spoke of querulous interfering relatives and family ties rife with gossip and slander, something she abhorred and was grateful to get away from.

She shared living quarters with her niece Shehnaz, who also happened to be her sister-in-law (married to her husband’s younger brother), and whose third child Zahooran had adopted as her own, being childless herself. Shehnaz had been married at the age of 14 to a man twice her age and by 22 had reproduced 4 times, had at least two abortions, and God knows how many miscarriages. I knew this because Shehnaz used to work for me before she had a gallbladder operation that rendered her unfit for strenuous work. It was she who brought along her aunt/sister-in-law Zahooran as a replacement, fresh from the village, ungroomed in her behaviour, and untrained in the art and delicacy of keeping a house clean without disturbing the ecosystem of the inhabitants.

The first day she came to work as an assistant to Shehnaz, I didn’t feel entirely comfortable in her presence and wasn’t particularly pleased with her method of working, and so I told Shehnaz not to bring her back the next day. But Zahooran turned up again. And again. I realise now that she insinuated herself into the household by degrees and whatever protests I had remained muted until there was no way I could fire her without hurting her feelings. Her work improved with hints and gentle rebukes (I’m no tyrannical mistress) but I was happier staying out of her hair while she worked, and so did Huz and Amu. She had a way of moving furniture and rolling up rugs to sweep in such a way that we were forced to always be sidestepping or jumping over things in our little apartment, which made for a very edgy three hours, the duration of her cleaning spree.

Her job was simple. The first thing she did when she came was wash the dishes and clean up the kitchen. Then she proceeded to sweep the whole house, vacuuming carpets and rugs, after which she would clean the bathrooms and dust the furniture on alternate days, finishing up with mopping the un-carpeted areas of the house. As if this wasn’t enough, she walked over to another house down the road where she repeated the process, then probably bone-weary, walked back home to tend to her own washing, cleaning and cooking. She went to bed early after getting a solicitous massage by her son Tayyeb, whom she asked to walk on her back to relieve the stresses of being bent over most of the day. She loves her son dearly, and the primary goal in her life is to work hard and earn so she can educate him.

When I said Zahooran was ‘ungroomed’, I didn’t mean she was badly dressed or uncaring of personal hygiene. She wore clean clothes and didn’t have b.o. But she did have a few habits that completely grossed out our finer sensibilities, though I was more forgiving perhaps than Huz and Amu. Dust, for example, is an inevitable part of housework and can make the best of us have a sneezing fit. Zahooran’s problem was….she didn’t cover her face when she did so. Yes, I know. Not nice. Hence, Amu hated having her room cleaned because she hated the idea of Zahooran germs everywhere.

Another thing that drove us all a bit crazy was her complete disregard for personal space, often standing too close for comfort while conversing. She didn’t believe in knocking before entering a bedroom either. But that was one of the few things I could tell her off about without getting personal. Just because she’s a maid doesn’t mean I can hurt her feelings. Though I think I must have hurt them a bit when I asked her not to hug and kiss members of my family when they dropped in for a visit. Maids in Karachi are just NOT supposed to do that. There are unwritten rules! But Zahooran was from a different place, and unschooled in the manners of employee behaviour.

Every neighbour I recommended Zahooran to couldn’t tolerate her beyond a couple of weeks, and I’m sure they’re mystified at my reasons for hanging on to her for two years., but my reasons were simple. (a) She was honest. I could leave the house to her without locking anything and not be scared she would steal something.  (b) She was polite, and hard-working, and never refused an additional chore once in a while. (c) she left the house looking shiny. Every day. And (d)….she was essentially a kind, caring, generous, affectionate soul. She always walked out the door with a muttered prayer for my safety, happiness and well-being. (Allah aabaad, shaad rakhey)

So even though she irritated me and bugged the hell out of Huz and Amu, I couldn’t fire her. Plus, I knew my house was like a getaway for her, an escape from the squalor and cramped environs of Neelum Colony, a place where for three peaceful hours she could forget about her worries and immerse herself in work, something she claimed was one thing she wasn’t afraid of. Give her work, and she was happy. How could I possibly take that away from her?

Perhaps then it was fortuitous that her husband put his foot down and demanded she come back to him and take care of his needs. He was tired of living wife-less for so long and missed having his own woman to cook his food and wash his clothes. And then, she had also saved up enough to get a meter installed in her house, and the idea of finally having electricity, a real luxury, galvanised her. So Zahooran had to go, and she planned to catch the bus on the 2nd day of the New year and make the 22-hour long, arduous and uncomfortable journey back home in the bitterly cold and foggy plains, having packed all her meagre belongings and two new shawls (my gift to her) …and a used ‘new’ cell phone.

The replacement she arranged for me turned out to be a bull of a woman, hefty and rough-looking where Zahooran was petite and bird-like. I took one look at her and immediately thought of ways to dissuade her from coming, telling her essentially, ‘don’t call me, I’LL call you’. And that was that. Couldn’t exactly employ someone who gave the impression she’d eat me alive, first opportunity she got!

So, it has now been three weeks that I have been maid-less, which basically means I spend too much time OCD-ing about cleaning the house rather than blogging. I know you will understand, dear avid readers of my blog. But you should know I am neglecting my kitchen and NOT vacuuming the workroom/office even as we speak, just so I can break out of my blog inertia. It’s a big deal, okay?

But before you go feeling sorry for me, here’s a little bit of exciting news. I may not have a maid, but guess what? Yours truly has found herself a cook!!

So now at least I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table, and can merrily go about doing the housework, exhaust myself for a couple of hours every day, but smile with anticipation at the thought of a kindly elf coming to my house in the evening. All I must do is think up something yum to eat, issue a whimsical order, make sure the essentials are present in the kitchen cupboards, and voila! An hour later, there are magical pots of steaming food, and the house is engulfed in delectable aromas. Oh yes. Heaven IS a place right here on this very earth, and it exists in Munira’s bubble.

And there’s lasagna.


Zahooran and I

It is 1:15 pm and I feel battered, coated and deep-fried.  Zahooran, my maid, has refrained from dropping by for her daily visit for the third day in a row, and I can no longer ignore the house work. These are the times when I realise (with greater intensity) just how much work it is to keep a house clean and dust-free.

I am grateful to Zahooran for being so kind as to clean my house for a mere 3500 rupees a month, really I am, but it is only when she doesn’t show up, that I also realise her excellence at, quite literally, sweeping things under the carpet. I bubbled with a mild form of rage as I went about the house and surveyed the oodles of dust bunnies which had been merrily collecting behind various pieces of furniture for months. Arming myself with jharoos and brushes and dust cloths, I set to work with fiend-like determination.

15 minutes later, the house is hazy with the dust that has been stirred from weeks of dormancy, and my allergies have abandoned their loyalties to the cat. I sneeze and cough as my lungs fight for oxygen while Huz tuts mildly from his desk and asks why on earth I’m bent on torturing myself;  but since I am, I should do it without complaining too loudly as he gets disturbed.
So far, I have cleaned the neglected stuff (sweeping and mopping behind the fridge and tv trolley) as well as the usual stuff, and am no longer surprised at Zahooran’s negligence. I’d probably do the same if I were her. 🙂