A weird turn of events

Of course Mini had to go. That was a foregone conclusion for Huz.

But for Amu and I, the story was far more complex and fraught with emotion to have such a neat ending.

With great half-heartedness, we started a campaign to find adopters for little Mini. But I was becoming more and more certain that Fuzzy’s presence in the house was no longer something I wanted to tolerate. I felt like I was done with him. Even Amu was indifferent by now. He was just a badly-behaved, spoilt-rotten cat, hell-bent on making sure I couldn’t have a pretty house. I found myself looking at him with a mixture of sadness, frustration, anger and despair. I began to neglect him and stopped brushing him, esp since he had begun to flinch and back away even from the thing he loved the most. I didn’t care that this was only a manifestation of his anxiety at Mini’s presence in the house and began to look for a shelter to give Fuzzy up to. I just didn’t want to handle his spraying and marking anymore. I even thought of abandoning him somewhere, immediately dismissing the idea even though urged by well-meaning but ultimately misguided parents and siblings to do just that.

The dissonance in my head over the cat conundrum was causing a great deal of just-under-the-surface stress, the kind that makes you broody and think dark existential thoughts. I was really tired of cleaning up cat pee on a daily basis, failing at administering antidepressant, failing at finding another home for Mini, failing at not loving her so it wouldn’t be difficult to give her away.

So it certainly didn’t help that Nazish had begun to come in later and later for work. Her expected time of arrival had gone from 12 to 2, and I was getting increasingly irritated by what had really begun to seem like her taking advantage of my good nature. I decided I would let her go too.

I told Huz and he looked at me like I was hysterical, sternly telling me to calm down. Nazish was a good maid, trustworthy and quiet to boot, so what if she always looked depressed and we barely communicated with each other? Firing her at a time when we needed help keeping the house pee-free and dust-free was the stupidest thing I could possibly do.

So of course, I proceeded to do two stupid things.

I wrote to the only animal shelter in Karachi to ask that if they would take Fuzzy, we would not only donate money on a regular basis, we would even provide a cage to keep him in.

And when I opened the door for Nazish to enter on Monday, (the day after Fuzzy and Mini’s poopy battle) I waited till she had begun to wash dishes before breaking the silence between us by saying she should start looking for other work as her schedule was no longer acceptable to me.

She took the news stoically, only asking if she should leave immediately or stay on till the end of the month. I was immediately regretful, as I felt I had somehow failed her by not understanding her problems and her reasons for coming late, failed her by making her feel so disposable. But all I said was there was no need to hurry, she could take her time finding another job. Then I left the kitchen and left her to mull over her immediate future as she continued washing dishes. Huz just shook his head and warned me that my imminent housework-related stress would only mean he would have two stressed creatures to contend with in the house, one human, one feline.

I avoided Nazish for an hour, but then she struck up a conversation as I chopped veggies, confessing sheepishly that she knew my anger was justified and that she really had troubled me greatly with her erratic timings and that she was willing to ask around and get me a replacement.

It was as if she had only to speak for me to soften. Of course I didn’t really want to fire her, I said. I liked her work and I trusted her and had no desire to go through the hassle of employing, training and getting used to the presence of another person in the house at all. Come to think of it, did it really even matter what time she came as long as the work got done? I told her how stressed I was about Fuzzy and Mini and how I was thinking of giving Fuzzy away as a solution to my problems.

Nazish looked at me and asked, “Kitne mein deingi? Main le jaoon usse?”

She had mentioned once or twice before how much her little daughter adored cats and how she loved playing with one that lived at her mother’s place, where she left both her daughters each day before coming to work at my place, as she couldn’t possibly leave them alone at home in an environment like the Colony where she lived, a dense settlement of mostly Pashtuns.

I looked back at her, incredulous. She actually thought I was selling Fuzzy! But my incredulity turned into hope…giving Fuzzy over to Nazish and her little daughters seemed so much better than giving him up to a shelter….

We started talking nitty gritties. All talk of firing Nazish had been banished, and I figured her sudden talkativeness and animation stemmed from nervousness at having come very close to losing a job she really depended on./

She reassured me that Fuzzy would be safe in her ‘store room’ and could romp in her courtyard if he liked, and that as long as I provided his kibbles, they would take care of him for us.

I bounced off to tell Huz what had just transpired. He looked at me and shook his head again, laughing at how rapidly the situation in our house managed to swing with such mercurial changeability, but completely approving of Nazish’s acquisition of the errant Fuzzy.

I set about packing his things, his bath towel, shampoo, food and water bowls, his brush…not allowing myself to feel the slightest tinge of wtf-am-I-doing.

It was decided that she would fetch her daughters from her mothers house and bring them back to my place, after which I would pack Fuzzy into his basket and drop them all home. I had never seen where she lived, in a year and a half of her working with us, and it seemed this was the day I would finally make the leap across the class barrier that divided me from Nazish’s world.

She sat down on the floor in my room, where I was brushing Fuzzy for the last time, feeling the first glimmers of sadness at what I was doing. It was late afternoon and the sun’s presence was waning as Nazish began to talk to me in a manner she had hitherto never done. I listened as she started telling me detailed stories about her life and her childhood and her complicated family dynamics, her husband, her marriage, her parents and siblings, her uncles and aunts and cousins, all caught up in traditions full of patriarchy and misogyny. I listened to her talk stoically about the difficulties she faced, the bad choices she had made or that had been made on her behalf and which she was now trapped in. She talked about her daughters birthday and how she danced with her uncle, the weddings that she loved to dress up for, the intrigues and scandals that were the fuel of their family get-togethers. She told me about all the places she had ever worked at, the kinships she had formed with men who never disrespected her, the employers who helped pay for her elder daughters schooling and rebuked her for getting back together with an uncaring, sometimes abusive husband. She had been engaged to him when she was little, but he had defied his betrothal to her by eloping with her erstwhile school friend, then divorcing her out of remorse at being ostracized by the family and marrying Nazish eventually. It was as if she had been propelled into self-disclosure by the faith I was displaying in her, by entrusting my pet to her.

We talked till it grew dark, me asking curious questions that she had no qualms about answering, and I confess I found myself fascinated, witnessing and undergoing a complete transformation in my perception of who Nazish was, not a mournful, depressed girl, but a thoughtful yet feisty individual with strong convictions and aspirations despite the challenges life was constantly throwing at her. But more of this in another post.

For now we finally got to meet her daughters, 9-yr old pretty Ailya, who shared her birthday with Amu, one of the reasons I felt Nazish was destined to work for me, and 3 yr-old pixie-faced Sidra, the future mistress of a fallen-from-grace Fuzzy. Little humans and cat were introduced to each other and I spent some time explaining the do’s and don’t’s of dealing with him.

Nazish and her daughters slid into the backseat while Amu cradled Fuzzy’s basket in front. I smiled uncertainly at her, she smiled uncertainly back, and then we were off to Nazish’s house in the heart of a slum we had never set foot in before.

(to be continued…)

Demon kitty and the depressed cat

Fuzzy, our charcoal gray semi-Persian has been the resident cat for eight years, which seems a long time indeed when one ponders the trouble and anxiety he brought to our lives.  It was because of him that we had to construct partitioning doors so he couldn’t get to our good furniture and pee on it. No way could we have artsy floor rugs to prettify our place, as he would promptly pee on them too. A LOT would be the number of things we have had to throw away because of this. But he has a cute face, so we dealt with it instead of throwing him out too.

I realized early on that he was the proverbial scaredy cat, frightened by sudden noises, shy around visitors. You could forget that he even existed, given that he spent long hours sleeping/hiding under the bed, only to emerge for food and his precious water.

When he began to display an unusual interest in a certain ugly tomcat that taunted him from the balcony door , I began to think (twisted logic, I know) perhaps Fuzzy would like some feline company in the house.

Cue little lost rescued kitten, whom we called little billi at first. She looked sweet and tiny and pathetic, but was actually the devil in disguise. We kept the two physically apart initially, though little billi was still visible through the glass separating door and I could see that her presence was making Fuzzy edgy. When they played ‘pawsie’, the Fuzzster was curious and wary but the little one was feisty and playful. She’d stick her skinny paws way out to swat at him, while Fuzzy stayed just beyond reach, watchful.IMG_0258IMG_0092 Eventually I let them spend time together. If she didn’t appreciate her tiny butt being sniffed by the persistent Fuzzy (she is quite a smelly kitten) she’d turn around and jump on him or swat and nip at his paws to make him back off. He would beat a hasty retreat then, clueless about how to deal with this aggressive little creature who had taken over not only his space but his family’s time and attention. So we were amazed and delighted to find her sleeping snuggled next to him one day on his wicker bench…and that he had allowed it! I decided Fuzzy was ambivalent about this newcomer, quite sure he only pretended to get annoyed by her presence, though I did have to yank her away from him when the attacks got too annoying. My Instagram bears evidence of quite a few of her antics. (do check them out!)

When little billi joined him once too often on his bed, Fuzzy stopped sleeping there altogether. IMG_0369 I should have known better than to give them food at the same time too. Little billi was a voracious eater and ate hungrily and greedily, even taking over Fuzzy’s bowl forcing him to back away slowly and be patient until she was done. It was hilarious to hear her grrs as she attacked her food bowl. She was tiny, but she already had the large personality and attitude of a street cat. IMG_0360IMG_0361 Little billi morphed into demon-kitty for the way she ambushed and attacked, biting and swatting anything that moved. Her appetite for play was insatiable, and for the first few weeks all we did was watch her and play with her and delight in her presence. Her favourite game was scrunched-up-newspaper-football. It seemed what we had on our hands was the most playful kitten in the world, lighting up our lives with her craziness. What was most amazing and joyous however was the fastidiousness with which she took to her litter box. She knew exactly where to go from day one. I was in love. IMG_0270IMG_0304 She liked sleeping snuggled with Amu, and Amu loved her snuggliness too. She was going through a rough time in school and it was comforting to have such a kitten-like kitten to come home to. She kept her company while she worked on assignments at her desk, either curled on her lap or shoulder, or just hanging around watching her write, swatting her hand occasionally or trying to chomp on her pen.

But as Amu’s cloud of school-related gloom lifted, an altogether different cloud seemed to have descended elsewhere. Fuzzy’s behavioural issues were beginning to enter new territory. If we had been dogged by his peeing and marking before, we now suddenly had to add spraying to his repertoire of activities, something he had never done before. Now, he started to back up against a variety of vertical surfaces, quiver his furry tail, and let loose a jet of particularly foul-smelling piss. Up till now, we could handle his daily misdemeanours near the windows and doors. What was horrifying was when I realized he had begun to mark us. I found a patch of piss on my side of the bed one day. The very same day he peed on the bathroom mat as well. He also peed on my favourite chappals. Also Huz’s. He sprayed my bedroom door. He peed under my dresser. He sprayed my chest of drawers. He sprayed the bass speaker on my table. He wandered into my room one day and sprayed the curtains, all things he had never done before. Little billi/demon-kitty became my official pee detector, sniffing out places when I couldn’t figure out where the odour was wafting from. AlI these things led to Huz becoming firmer in his resolve to convince me that two cats in one house cannot possibly stay. As for me, I was mostly to be found with a bottle of pet deodoriser in one hand and a bucket of water and a mop in the other.

IMG_0354 Demon kitty was unabashed in her exploration of furniture and bounded onto tables and counters with a casualness, agility and will which had never manifested in Fuzzy. But seeing her boldness, Fuzzy seemed to gain heart. He probably began to think that if she could do it, so could he. The final straw for me was when we realized Fuzzy had perched on the back of a chair and proceeded to empty his bladder. I didn’t really understand what I was dealing with were the signs of a very stressed cat. All he was doing of course was responding to perceived threats. His entire body language had changed and why wouldn’t it? He was being ambushed every day by demon kitty, his food was being gobbled by her, she was drinking from HIS WATER BOWL, his bed had been taken over, she was using HIS litter to do some extremely smelly poop in. I was guilty of ignoring all these things, expecting him to take it in stride while I was busy catering to the kitten’s needs.. His world had suddenly become unpredictable and chaotic. He was forced into persistent contact with another feline against his will. Of course this couldn’t go on! Fuzzy took to staying awake all night, keeping up an unbearably mournful dirge which woke me up from my sleep every couple of hours during the night. I was getting dark circles under my eyes and I couldn’t function like a normal human being anymore. You could safely say I was pretty stressed out myself.

I asked around for advice and all I heard was to keep the two cats apart….I had no idea how to accomplish this. But we had been dealing with Fuzzy’s peeing problems since way before the new kitty ever came along to exacerbate it. He was already neutered…what more could we do?? PAWS advised me to go to Dr Isma, the more upmarket vet in Karachi, for a consultation. I packed a very smelly Fuzzy into a basket and off we went.

Dr Isma was lovely. Just seeing the sympathetic expression on her face as she listened to my cat story was balm for my frazzled nerves. She pronounced Fuzzy to be an extremely stressed out cat indeed and there were only three options she could think of to deal with this unfortunate event: 1. To inject Fuzzy with female hormones. 2. To get a calming spray, like Feliway. 3. To administer an anti-depressant on a daily basis.

The first two options being overlooked perhaps due to unavailability or being expensive, Dr Isma recommended a quarter pill of an antidepressant called Clomfranil. We bought a few strips of these from a pharmacy on our way home, 20 rupees ($0.2) for a strip. Maybe I’d pop one or two myself.

That evening, I cut one pill into four uneven pieces and stuck the largest one into a piece of cat food. Fuzzy ate it. From a worried-looking anxious cat that paced relentlessly around the living room, I found him a little while later, stretched out languorously near the balcony door. There was no distressed yowling outside my bedroom door that night, and all the sheets of newspaper that we spread in all his usual spots were piss-free the next morning. The house didn’t smell foul, and Fuzzy was fast asleep peacefully on his wicker bench. My brain did a whoop of joy! My problems were solved!

Or were they?

(to be continued..)

p.s. All beautiful images taken by Amu 🙂

New kitty on the block

After a warm meal of diluted milk with a spot of honey, little lost kitty received a nice rub-down with cotton wool soaked in Frontline spray and a clean cloth to get as much grease off as possible. I could tell she didn’t like the smell of the flea medicine, nor the feel of being wet, but she took it like a sport. Amu and I spent all day checking up on her and watching as she ran around and explored, dying fleas hopping off one by one. That night she spent outside, but safe and away from cold draughts in a big empty litter bag. The maternal instinct had already kicked in as Amu and I worried about the little kitty all night. Needless to say, we had already asked the chowkidar to keep an eye out for a motherly looking cat with babies. He said this one seemed most likely to have wandered into the parking lot from somewhere outside, though there have been a few cat births on the roof in the past.

The next day, and not without a little trepidation, we let Fuzzy (the resident cat) meet the newcomer. We stood alert, and though Fuzzy wasn’t as relaxed around her as we would have liked, nothing untoward happened. I began to get visions of a multiple cat household.

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Fuzzy follows kitty
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kitty marches up to Fuzzy unafraid
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Fuzzy backs away

DSC_0343 DSC_0345 DSC_0349 DSC_0350 DSC_0351 DSC_0355 DSC_0357 DSC_0358 DSC_0359 That afternoon, I gave the little kitty a much needed warm bath with shampoo, as I had noticed that she was quite smelly. I kept it quick so she wouldn’t catch a cold, drying her off with a soft towel and finishing up with a gentle blow-dry. Now she was fit to not only stay inside the house, but to curl up in what was to be her favoured perch for the next few weeks….our neck and shoulders. DSC_0364 DSC_0367DSC_0372 Fuzzy was most certainly not sure what to make of this development and stayed close, keeping a beady eye trained on the new entrant. I read up on how to introduce resident cats to new kittens and everything pointed to keeping the two separate initially and only slowly allowing them to interact. Separate litters, separate bowls for food and water, separate rooms. I rubbed kitty with a piece of cloth, then rubbed Fuzzy with it too, allowing their scents to intermingle. They could see each other through a glass door, but no touching for a few days. Then I let the door stay open a crack and the two cats played ‘pawsie’. But though I was optimistic about the two getting along eventually, I couldn’t possibly have been prepared for what happened in the following days and weeks. (to be continued)    

Things that happen

A simple thing like waking up unusually early one day can change your life forever, or at least for the life span of a cat. Here’s what happened one beautifully crisp morning in December.

Decided to take Amu driving at 7am as the stretch of road where I teach her is relatively car-free and less intimidating then.

In the parking area of our apartment building rang out the forlornly incessant mewing of a decidedly small cat. The mysterious mewing kitty was hiding in the space between the top of the wheel and the chassis of our car, rendering us incapable of driving away without getting it out first.

Seeing us standing around helpless, the chowkidar fetched a stick to get the invisible noisemaker to jump off and run out. What emerged was a tiny grease-covered creature of indeterminate colour and scared blue eyes. I picked her up to stop her from running under the car again, and after ten minutes of confused debate decided to put her in our courtyard for the time being to keep her safe.

When we returned from our driving session, the tiny kitten was quietly curled up behind one of the potted plants, but ran out and started mewing again when she saw us. She was obviously hungry and cold and infested with fleas, and there was no choice but to clean her up and feed her and keep her warm….

(to be continued…)

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Friend or foe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Ducks, revisited

Once upon an earlier time, on another occasion when my better judgment had abandoned me for a few minutes, I  fell prey to colourful little dyed chicks. They were being sold ridiculously cheap and I thought Amu would get a kick out of them. At the time, I didn’t think that the chicks would eventually grow normal feathers, would stop being cute, and that we would eventually have to think about getting rid of them. I mean, chickens in a small 6th floor apartment? Really Mun?

Mazzy was shocking pink and Zally was bright green. We kept them in a little cage and allowed them to run around the house a couple of times a day, pooping wherever they went. They pecked frenziedly at their ‘bajra’ at feeding times and had the cutest way of dipping into their water and glugging it, raising their beaks to the ceiling.

To cut a not-very-long story shorter, I gave them away to eldest Sis+nephew, who in turn gave them away to their neighbour, where they were attacked by cats. Alas…the ways of the food chain.

Did I learn a lesson? Apparently not, since fast forward a year or two and I now had two ducklings on my hands.

Hill Park with its duck pond could have been perfect, but ultimately I couldn’t just leave them there. I suppose we were more concerned about their well being since they had stuck around longer and raised more hell than the chicks. I had no desire to inflict them on any of my family or friends knowing how much trouble they were. But no matter what, I couldn’t let Apple and Cherry become cat food. Even though I’m more a cat person than a duck person.

A not-too-distant memory crept into my head. The preschool Amu went to a couple of years ago (when she was 3) had a big cage in the corner of its garden. Had there been ducks in there? It was only a vague recollection, but it was worth a shot. 

Mrs G was the principal, the dragon lady of the montessori circuit, known for her stern disposition and no-nonsense demeanour, since her preschool was one of the most-sought-after. This was where Amu cried inconsolably on her first day, spent a year learning her phonetics, colours, patterns and shapes. This was where she learnt to share a sandbox with other children, and where she learnt to pour water from a jug and how to colour within the line. Parents queued up to have their babies registered here while they were in the last weeks of pregnancy. This way they could at least make the waiting list. It was alleged that babies from Mrs G’s school had a greater chance of getting into The Most Sought After School in Karachi. (Amu did.)

I mustered up the bravado that propels a lot of my actions (I am intimidated by people in positions of authority) and called Mrs G to meekly ask if her bird cage would accommodate two adorable ducklings, and wouldn’t the preschoolers be fascinated by the new additions? I wasn’t sure how I expected her to respond but I am predisposed to pessimism, so when she said I could drop by and talk to the gatekeeper (who was in charge of the birds) and see what he said, I could scarcely believe my ears. I thanked her most profusely and hung up, grinning as I looked towards the balcony where Apple and Cherry cheeped nonstop.

The chowkidar was friendly and helpful and led us over to the bird cage in the corner of the garden. It was actually more of a fenced in spot with wire mesh, a roof and a door rather than a cage. It housed two ducks and a magnificent rooster. One of the ducks seemed to have laid eggs and was busy nesting. We let Apple and Cherry out of their basket to have a look-see. The rooster was long of leg and fleet of foot, and at least five times the size of Apple (the bigger of the duo.) He seemed a little edgy. I didn’t trust him one bit and kept a close watch, alert for any untoward action. Where the other ducks were least bothered, Rooster paced up and down and all around, his coxcombed head cocked dangerously towards the newcomers, his beady eye flashing. All of a sudden he darted straight at them and Apple and Cherry ran for their lives! It was most melodramatic.

In the end however, the chowkidar reassured us that our duckies would be fine and the rooster wouldn’t hurt them, apparently it just had a bit of an attitude problem. We decided to trust his experience and left them there, but all of the rest of the evening my mind kept going back to Apple and Cherry, wondering if they were alright.

We went back to visit them early the next day, and indeed, not only were they safe and sound, they had taken to their new home quite blithely, with plenty of food and space and even a little pond to mess around in. They didn’t come running to say hello though. Hmph.

Did I mention that Apple was the prettier, more extroverted of the two? Cherry always looked pale in comparison and I had read somewhere that the male of the species was always more striking, so I figured Apple must be male and Cherry female.

A few months went by, during which we were regularly given news of Apple and Cherry’s welfare through my brother in law, who went to drop his little one there every day. When I went to see them again a few months later it was startling to see how much they had grown. But what came as a beautiful surprise was Cherry, who had grown the most iridescent blue and green and sleek dark brown tail and wing feathers. No longer was she a mousy yellow. Apple still had a black patch on his head and looked more or less the same, just bigger feathers. So maybe I got their genders mixed up 🙂

When the bird flu scare hit Karachi, I heard Mrs G sent all the birds away for a while. I lost track of Apple and Cherry after that and never saw them again.

This and the last blog post are dedicated to Graham and Heather. I thought I should write about them (Apple and Cherry, not Graham and Heather!) because Graham commented on Heather’s blog mentioning a duck that tossed a proffered salad leaf back at him. Because of my alacrity, I have been gifted a cyber duck—-> (*)>  for luck! Hope it makes me blog more often 😉

Ducks in the city

Once upon a time, my common sense left the house for a walk around the block and returned bearing two tiny ducklings bought from a woman in Sunday bazaar, Karachi’s bustling weekend market.

It wasn’t as if we lived on a farm, or even an independent little bungalow with a sweet little back garden and a pond. Not as if aforementioned common sense gave even a passing thought to where the ducklings would bloom and grow. No. It just saw two fuzzy yellow, beady-eyed, flappy-footed creatures and thought, ‘Must have!’

We kept them in a basket lined with newspaper and gave them crumbs of bread and water. The very same night, common sense had a heart attack when it realized that the ducklings were VERY demanding and made a LOT of noise.

But as with all disasters, one quickly learns to cope, and the brain shuts down in self defense. One even urges one’s daughter to think of suitable names for the new pets. And so it came to be that 5-yr old Amu decisively pronounced the bigger one to be Apple and the smaller one to be Cherry, her two favourite fruits at the time.

Apple was the better looking of the two ducklings. Cherry always looked duller, more woebegone. Who knew how to figure out their respective genders.

The idea was for little Amu to learn how to take care of little animals, and she did, dutifully chopping up slices of bread into bite-size pieces for baby duck beaks to tackle. It was a delight to watch them gobble and drink so feistily! But Amu had school and homework and had to go to bed early, and the ducklings grew louder and chirped incessantly if they lost sight of any of us. So I ended up spending more time with them than Amu. They grew pretty fast too, and within days, the basket could no longer contain their curious souls. They quickly learnt to jump out of there and run around our tiny apartment, Apple the venturesome one and Cherry following trepidatiously in his footsteps. If we wanted to fool them into thinking it was bedtime, we’d cover the basket with a cloth and turn off the lights and if we were lucky they’d settle down and go to sleep, cuddled against each other. But the slightest sound would wake them, and so we all learned to be really quiet at night lest we woke the little imps.

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A month or so went by this way, during which we filled tubs of water and let them swim as long as they liked. I made them a bigger home under a wicker bench in our tiny 6th floor balcony. After experimenting with different types of food, it had been determined they loved chopped ribbons of green lettuce, so we always kept a supply in the house and Apple and Cherry devoured every last scrap of their treat with frequent sips from their water bowl.

I could never have known just how much of a bane those two cuties would become to my existence. All they did was eat, drink, poop (they even ate their own poop!) and generally make a huge mess of their balcony habitat. All I did was feed them, hang out with them, worry about their food if I had to go out for too many hours, and clean up after them twice a day. I began to dread coming home, and lingered too long in bed in the morning so I wouldn’t have to get up and chop more lettuce. The newspapers I used to line the floor of their makeshift cage would be sodden with water and green poop and it stank to high heaven. I’d have to don my gloves and wrap a scarf around my face before Operation Cleanup.

I had two T-rexes in my balcony!

A couple more months went by this way, Apple and Cherry were now 5 times their original size and our house smelt fowl. I thought wistfully of the days when the house smelt of fresh laundry. Huz and I had had a few guilt-ridden conversations about how to find a more natural environment for them. I finally understood why Hansel and Gretel’s stepmother could do what she did. The only place I could think of taking them to (and leaving them there) was Hill Park.

One of the oldest parks in Karachi, Hill Park has, at the centre of its undulating landscape, a large man-made pond. Full of geese. And…..ducks. People visiting the park would buy popcorn and feed the ducks and that would be the highlight of their excursion.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense. I imagined a kindly grown up duck taking Apple and Cherry under her generous wing and teaching them the ways of life in a ducky community. I pictured them finally working out the meaning of their lives as they took to the pond like…er…ducks to……hmm.

So it was that early one cool Sunday morning, we packed the ducklings into a wicker basket and set off for Hill Park, just to scope out the territory. We let Apple and Cherry out and they walked in wonder and bafflement in this strange new grassy environment. That was when I saw how scrawny and small and vulnerable they looked compared to those magnificent fully grown specimens of their own kind, who were all mostly sitting around the edge of the pond, preening in the morning sun. My hopes of finding an adoptive mommy-duck began to seem ludicrous.

The cross-specie maternal instinct kicked in when Huz pointed out a mean-looking tomcat gazing steadily at our fledgling duckies. No way could we leave them behind unprotected over here.

Amu scurried to grab the two and bundle them back into the picnic basket, and as we walked back to the car, my mind had already started thinking about Option #2.

Post-election ramblings

Everything is busy falling apart.

I love the concept of Wabi-sabi, according to which nothing is permanent, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect, and what’s more, there is beauty in this. But this has limited ability to give solace when it comes to teeth. Or the electoral system.

Also when there are two spots on your kitchen ceiling that drip every few seconds due to a leak in someone’s bathroom upstairs, forcing you to place tubs underneath which you must skirt to avoid drips on your head as you try to make coffee or reach for an onion, turning your little kitchen into an obstacle course.

Seepage. The scourge of apartment living.

Amu wanders up to me to complain about being hungry and needing breakfast before setting off to take her last examination for the year. I immediately put down my book (Pakistan: A Hard Country), take off my glasses and relinquish my breezy spot on the sofa to ask her what she would like, so as to deflect that what-kind-of-mommy-are-you-who-doesn’t-feed-her-only-child gaze. I open the fridge door as I suggest scrambled eggs and sausages which she rejects with a twitch of her little nose and a ‘I’m not THAT hungry’…..so I offered her tea and buttered toast…much simpler and met with an immediate ‘yes!’.

Huz wanders into the kitchen as I settle down with my book again, this time at the kitchen table, determined to finish at least one chapter today. His expression says ‘I could do with some breakfast too’, but as I glower at him and ask what he’d like, he quickly says he’ll have the leftover chulao kabab and afghani tikka we ordered last night…..no one can say he doesn’t encourage me to read.

He contemplates the spots as they drip.

Falling asleep while studying..
Falling asleep while studying..

Amu abandons her second toast and half her tea, so I finish them both, even though I don’t really feel like chewing anything, for which I hold the chulao kabab responsible. There was a tiny hard object, perhaps a bit of bone, who really knows, and the weakest filling in the array in my mouth was unfortunate enough to have encountered it. This resulted in a rather jarring jolt, the effects of which are intensely felt but hardly visible to anyone around me save for the appearance of a sudden frown on my face. And it’s good that no one heard the string of expletives in my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huz hates me. 😀

Birdy

Of late I have been more prone to pick up my camera than my pen and have clicked a few pictures I’m going to start posting one by one on Mun-Zooms, my photo blog. 

I have also been busy OCDing, organizing and cleaning and dejunking cabinets, cupboards and drawers systematically.

As I dashed around the house, full of beans due to the Kundalini yoga my sister Fats made me do with her yesterday, I glimpsed a pigeon sitting on a ledge outside Amu’s window. It was trying to peer into the room with its beady orange eye, bobbing and tilting its head side to side. I couldn’t help stopping in my tracks and laughing a little, then scooted off to grab the camera from my room.

Just as I trained the lens on it and fiddled with the focus, wouldn’t you know it, it flapped its wings noisily and took off, so that particular pigeon lost its chance at being gawked at on my blog 🙂

Then I remembered noticing a pigeon through the side of an open window on our landing, nesting in the building duct and since I had a camera in my hand, I stepped out to see if it was still there.

Thankfully it was, so my need to capture a pigeon today was fulfilled. Here’s one of the pics I took.

Dear readers of Munira’s bubble, do subscribe to Mun-Zooms if you haven’t already. There’s not much to read there, just photos, so go ahead, don’t be afraid 😛 Plus, you’ll get to see the humungus version of this photo. FTW!

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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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…)

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.

We’ll find a way to work it out…

Today being Yaum e Ali, a day of commemorative mourning when processions block roads, Huz and I didn’t think it would be a very good idea to go to the Atrium to buy tickets for Deathly Hallows-2.

So we didn’t venture out anywhere until taraveeh prayers were well and truly over, around 10:30 pm, before Amu and I decided to go out to see if Karachi was up for some pre-Eid business.

We didn’t need to go very far…Zamzama boulevard is a hop, skip and a jump away from where we live.

I half-expected to see the street that sports a nice little collection of boutiques to be busy, but it bore an air of strange quiet. The twinkly lights festooning the street made a feeble attempt at festivity, as we got out of our parked car and marched up to the boutique where we’d purchased an outfit just a couple of days ago. In retrospect, the outfit seemed too simple to be worn in Eid, so we hoped they would exchange it for something more fun. Come what may, we must have clothes to wear.

The manager of the shop obligingly took the outfit from us (after inquiring as to the date of purchase and if the tag was still on) and shooed us off to peruse the three-storey shop to look for another.

The boutique is usually a bee-hive of pre-Eid activity, full of women busily flipping through rows upon rows of lovely mass-produced outfits, and the dressing rooms are all a-flurry. The clothes are nicely tailored with attention to detail, and are colorful and trendy, which make this place a popular haunt.

Seemed very quiet tonight, with just a handful of women, husbands in tow.

After inspecting the ground floor and not finding anything suitable or the right size, we ventured down to the basement. The place is like a warehouse, only very pretty, with lovely lighting and dark wood flooring and interiors. It has a traditional, ethnic air to it, and an artsy Sufic soundtrack playing ethereally in the background. But it wasn’t playing tonight.

We wandered through the racks, searching for something that clicked visually but everything was either too casual, too ordinary or simply not available in the right size.

I caught the attendant’s eye to ask him if a pretty ensemble in size 16 was available in size 8 and he shook his head, saying this was the last of the stock.

Perhaps it was my friendly smile that did it, but while Amu rummaged through thickly crammed outfits, the attendant seemed to be really glad to have found someone to talk to.

He was tall and wore thin, silver lobe-hugging baalis in both his ears. He told me he lived near the Tower area and narrated a story about a bunch of armed gunmen, who had stopped a minibus and told the women to get off, abducting the rest of the passengers.

The bodies of six men from that ill-fated bus had been found stuffed in gunny sacks from different areas of Karachi. Men from his neighbourhood.

I had heard about this as well as numerous other gruesome stories, and also what he went on to say–that random and brutal killings of people could only be carried out unchecked, by government agencies. How else could police and Rangers arrive on the scene only after an incident had taken place? The implication was clear in the things he left unsaid. We talked about the nonsensical destruction of so many families, with sole breadwinners being killed for no reason at all, violence for the sake of violence, to prove what point? No one really knows anything, and it seems the city is in the grip of events that are up for speculation, with daily dramas being enacted by the various ministers and leaders of political parties.

He talked quite calmly and with only a trace of bitterness, about how difficult it was to find transportation to get back home at half past 1 and 2 am, and how rickshaws put a dent in their 7000 rupee salary. The manager has a car to take him home, but no one cares about the safe transportation of the attendants in these trying times. I asked him how he managed then, and he just shrugged and said it was difficult but not impossible. He usually walked a long distance before either finding a bus or a kind person willing to give him a lift.

I thought uncomfortably about the fact that I was here with the intention to buy something worth half his monthly income, and I didn’t know where to look.

But I nodded sympathetically and hoped the management would arrange something for them or at least give them a separate transport allowance, and that the situation in the city would improve soon and peace prevail.

A bunch of fair Burqa-clad women arrived on the scene and distracted him, providing me a window of opportunity to re-join Amu and renew my guilt-tinged quest for the perfect outfit, though as I made to move away he sheepishly apologised for taking so much of my time. But after a few minutes, he turned up again with a couple of outfits that he thought we’d like. We told him to bring us anything nice in size 8 or 10, and his face turned purposeful and determined  as he told us to wait while he dashed off to look.

He returned looking rather triumphant, and with good reason. Among the outfits he fetched from the store room was one that was exactly what we were looking for! We thanked him for his help (which Amu was convinced might not have been forthcoming if her mom wasn’t quite so chatty) and left him to deal with the burqa’ed women, as we looked for one more outfit in my size, paid and walked out of the store.

Outside, a bunch of attendants and various other people were having a pow-wow, no doubt to discuss the best ways to get home, and also how things would be in the city the next day, which has been declared a ‘day of mourning’ by one of the political parties.

Funny, in a macabre kinda way, how our nation has so many things to mourn…past and present.

All the rest of the multitudinous shoe shops and boutiques in Zamzama were eerily dark with the shutters pulled down, most unusual for this time of year, and there were groups of men standing around under the odd street light, deep in discussion. Two little Afghani kids were lying fast asleep right next to the door to Gunsmoke, one of them clutching a bunch of plastic-wrapped half-wilted roses to sell…..but the restaurant didn’t seem to have any customers at this time of night.

As we turned on to the main road, several men on motorbikes cut across our path, going the wrong way. Up ahead we saw a police car with flashing lights, just parked on the side, exuding an air of action at the same time as being quite stationery. A sense of urgency and expectation made me drive as fast as I could through the back streets to get home. Adrenalin was in the air, dilating our pupils, and our hearts thumped in tune to Alan Parsons Project. The area was in partial darkness, but the car headlights illuminated a gaggle of boys from Neelum Colony, engrossed in a game of street cricket, right on the main road.

surgical-operation-in-karachi-on-cards.html

Could this be the best one…? (FF-part 4)

Falooda quest #3 was not only disappointing, it left Amu a little worse for wear. If you recall, while we waited for the strange pineapple falooda at Flamingo, we ordered a couple of plates of mixed chaat. That chaat was lethally spicy, even though die-hard Flamingo chaat-eaters will say ‘But the mix plate at Flamingo is the best!’

If there is anything I have learned while on this bizarre mission, it is this. Nothing is consistent.

So poor Amu was up all night, not only throwing up, but also with …….(she’s going to hate me for divulging this)……diarrhea. The next morning, looking decidedly woebegone, limp and listless, she looked at me with mild accusation and asked me if I knew how it felt to want to use the loo for two purposes at the same time.

While I had managed to let the chaat pass through my system incident-free, the offspring’s paternal side of the chromosomal components disallowed her digestive system from being blase about extra spices.

We decided to give ourselves a break and lay off street food for the time being……but Fate had other plans for us…..

The next night, Huz’s brother O.D and my lovely sister-in-law Tah dropped in for a visit. They had been away for two weeks, vacationing on some beautiful beaches in Thailand and Malaysia this summer, and Tah brought me back some very pretty Thai crockery. We listened to their stories and in my mind I was momentarily transported back to the time we were there a couple of years ago….

In our turn, we told them what we had been up to and described the different faloodas we’d been guzzling. They were amused but I could tell their interest had been perked. There are very few things that enthuse Odie….(vacationing in Thailand/Malaysia is one. Collecting expensive rubies is another) so when he asked if we had tried the falooda at Lighthouse, there was a tiny glimmer of a spark in his eye…

Tah was surprised we hadn’t heard about this one. She told us about family falooda outings and mentioned a decrepit old aunt whose cravings for falooda at Lighthouse surfaced every few months and she would implore Tah’s brother to take her there.

Huz and I were, OF COURSE, most game to try it out and we wondered if bro and SIL would like to show us where the shop is accompany us.

Amu politely declined the invitation, but I could tell she would have preferred to throw a shoe at me.

So off we went, leaving Amu behind this time, but picked up O.D and Tah’s daughter Fati on the way. She digs faloodas too.

So it was around 11 o’clock at night that we made our way past the Pakistan Chowk roundabout and crossed over into the oldest areas of Karachi, which is populated by old old buildings, once quaint and beautiful, now just quaint and in various stages of disrepair. It is heartbreaking to see these remnants of British-era structures being taken over by ugly new commercial buildings, criss-crossed by ugly wires and cables, dotted with unsightly shop signboards.

Perhaps it is just as well that I couldn’t take pictures as we drove towards Lighthouse. The streets were too dark…

Now before you start conjuring up images of an actual lighthouse at the water’s edge, the Lighthouse I’m talking about is actually a very old commercial area on the far end of M.A Jinnah Road, the end closer to West Wharf than the Quaid’s mazaar. It is known as Lighthouse because there once used to be a cinema in this area by that name. It is also the most renowned flea market in Karachi.

And this was the place we were seeking there…

Jeddah ice cream and falooda

There were two kinds here as well…..regular and special. Regular falooda is made special by the addition of nuts and fruit and jelly and unsurprisingly, Huz succumbed to the lure of of such richness…

The rest of us ordered regular faloodas, and while we waited, Tah recommended dahi baray from the tiny little shop next door…

It was the best plate of dahi baray ever, topped with chana and papri….mmmm…

dahi baray in Tah's elegant hand

It didn’t make a difference if we ordered special or regular, the price was still the same….90 rupees for a huge glass of falooda.

If you recall, I was very eager to find a place that made a concoction using basil seeds…..

Ta-da! See the little black tadpoley looking things? Basil seeds! (tukh malanga in Urdu)
and an angle that shows off more of Tah's elegance
and my lack thereof :p
the view from our car
looked like some sort of meeting

I loved the falooda. It had the perfect rose ice cream, the perfect amount of tukh malanga (I adore the subtle crunchiness) and was rich and satisfying, with a few pistachios and figs when I worked my way to the bottom. I could have done with less vermicelli and more milk, but still, I think this was the best one so far. Huz should have had the regular one, cos I don’t think he ended up having the same falooda experience I did.

O.D and Tah were happy to see our enjoyment and enthusiasm and were glad they got to be an inadvertent part of the falooda quest. Fati was just baffled by it all, but enjoyed herself too, nonetheless. She never thought Huz and I were the sort who’d enjoy doing stuff like this, which tells me we need to work on our image….

Perhaps we come across too….la dee dah…?

We need to show her we can have as much street food as the next person!

Karachi Port Trust by night....
KPT.....1918.

Finding falooda part-3

this is what we see as we go down our quiet street and turn left....
the boy watches me, alert and on guard, as we stop alongside long enough for me to grab a picture of his family buying chadars for Shah Ghazi's grave
and as we ease into the traffic and crowds on the main road...

It’s party time 🙂

Funny how we seem to be gravitating towards this time of night, you could even say we’re gearing up for it, in anticipation.

It’s funny because we don’t DO stuff like this normally. We’re what you’d call stay-at-homers.

There are a couple of reasons behind the reluctance to get out and go somewhere.

1. Roads. Uncouth drivers.

2. Jaywalkers. Beggars. Windshield cleaners.

3. Side-view mirror thieves. Parking fee collectors. Muggers.

4. Home is sweet. There’s internet and home-cooked food.

And when there’s no home-cooked food, there are piles of menus for home delivery. Nobody needs to go out.

So why this sudden enthusiasm for eating faloodas from street-side juice shops every night, you ask…….?

I don’t know! We must be mad.

Tonight we decided to stay closer to home and explore 26th Street to see if anyone sells a satisfactory falooda around these parts.

To our surprise we discovered they don’t. There’s loads of barbecue, and chaat, and a place that sold kulfi falooda (which makes me wish we were on a kulfi quest, cos kulfis are the one thing that make me go ‘mmmm’)

No problem. Karachi is one giant food street. We just swung outta there and put plan B into action.

Off to Zamzama!

Milano.

Feeling in the mood for something savoury before the sweet, and having heard much about a certain chicken gyro available here, we thought we’d try it out. No, never come here before either. I’m telling you, we don’t go out much. (And I don’t think we have a delivery menu for these guys.)

The waiter runs off with our order, only to return sheepishly with the news that they’re all out of gyros. And they don’t serve faloodas either.

Perhaps it was indicative of the way tonight’s quest would turn out that we ended up at the most pedestrian of all places in Clifton…the most hackneyed area of all….

 

.

Flamingo!

How boringly close to home could we get?

O well.

The waiter gave us a choice of two kinds of falooda……strawberry and pineapple.

Huz and I were kinda baffled. How can such non-faloody types of falooda possibly exist? We asked him again if he was absolutely sure what he was offering was falooda and not milkshake and he told us it was most assuredly falooda.

To be honest, the idea of a flavoured falooda (by which I mean anything other than rose) turned my stomach, but we chose the lesser of two evils and asked for  just one…pineapple. And while we waited, Amu and I had an extremely spicy mix-plate each while Huz devoured an aaloo bun kabab.

a very non-pink falooda

Ok, so it looked pretty good. But I let Huz have the first shot at it. He stirred it and stirred it……

cos that's how he rolls.

And I can tell you he thought it wasn’t bad. But then, he likes stuff with fruit and nuts. And jelly.

Me? I DID give it a shot. But somehow I just couldn’t get into it, even though I love pineapple. The whole concept of it just felt….wrong.

So I don’t think we’re going back to Flamingo for falooda ever again. But it was a good thing we ordered a standby dessert from Cool (Kool?) Inn. (In Karachi, the ‘C’s’ are often replaced with ‘K’s’)

it was called freezer plate ice cream. intrigued, i sent huz off to investigate. he returned with a pamphlet detailing flavours and types. basically it was a dessert version of katakat, where ice cream, chocolate and cookies were chopped up together and served in a yummy waffle cup.

There was a little girl wandering around trying to sell a bunch of wilty-looking roses to people parked all around having their ice creams and chaats and bun kababs. She came and sat down on the sidewalk in front of our car and I got the impression she was crying.

Then she got up and I saw that she wasn’t, and she wandered up to my window, and didn’t run away when I aimed my camera at her.

flower girl

I showed her her picture through the window. And then she kinda smiled.

Finding falooda part-1

Last night, on a whim, Huz and I sallied forth for something to satisfy ye ol sweet tooth. Being desis at heart, we made a beeline for Baloch icecream at Boat Basin to get ourselves some falooda. I changed my mind last minute and ordered a Milk Rose, which is also made with milk and rose syrup but without the arrow root vermicelli and ice. I’m glad I opted for that, because Huz’s falooda was a black spot (kaala dhabba) on the word. It was everything a falooda shouldn’t be….watery and unsatisfying.

For the green behind the ears, Wikipedia tells you….

Falooda or Faluda is a traditional cold dessert or beverage in South Asia made primarily by mixing rose syrup with vermicelli and tapioca pearls along with either milk or water. Falooda is an adaptation of the Persian dessert Faloodeh and was brought to the Indian subcontinent during the Mughal period. Basil seeds (sabza/takmaria), tutti frutti, sugar, and ice cream may be added. However, it is not the same as the faloodeh made in Iran and Afghanistan. The vermicelli used is often made from arrowroot rather than wheat. The rose syrup may be substituted with another flavoured base to produce saffron, mango, chocolate, and fig Falooda.

Falooda is a summer drink throughout Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the Middle East and is readily available in restaurants and beach stalls. 


Huz’s falooda at Baloch last night fell rather short of the delicious vision that the above description inspires. No, to be fair, it LOOKED just fine….just TASTED like it was made half-heartedly, without a thought as to what we expect from a Mughlai treat.

We expect richness…..decadence…and delicacy…all rolled into one glass. So that got me thinking….

‘Hey Huz! How about we do some research and find out the best place to have falooda in Karachi?’ said I, barely able to contain my excitement.

‘Sure!!!’ said Huz.

And that is how we found ourselves the next night, around 10:30 pm (when the streets of Karachi are relatively clearer) driving off for a place in New Town, renowned for its milkshakes and faloodas, a place that Huz has been to before but without moi.

under the pass...
over the bridge...
past the signal, narrowly avoiding one flower boy and a beggar....
past the eerily empty Saddar (the city centre) by night.....
drove by Abdullah Haroon Road mobile shops...still open at this hour...

When we cross the Clifton bridge, Karachi becomes an unpredictable place. Traffic can be horribly unruly and it’s scary to witness such complete and thorough disregard for signals on M.A Jinnah Road where the only law that prevails is the law of the jungle….every man/motorbike for himself, and to hell with the motorists! Red lights are for losers! Onwards comrades!

Nevertheless, we managed to fight our way past the lawbreakers, and it was pretty smooth going till New Town, and then….

...we're there!
established since 1970! they are even decorate a juice canopy also!
the falooda arrives...
this one's mine. i like it stirred, not shaken.
and Amu gets falsa juice.
I give Huz my falooda cos I can't finish it and he does so effortlessly 🙂 (bless him! he may have saved my thighs from expanding another millimetre)
meanwhile, I look around. hmm...so this is what New Townians look like....
a security guard surveys the juice/falooda imbibers
a mosque rears its minareted head next door..
proclaiming it to be the Jame Masjid New Town
i watch while Amu finishes her juice.
the waiter comes to collect....
..the empty glasses...
glasses collected, payment received, and off he goes to serve the next car.

This post was supposed to focus on the falooda itself, but I got a tad carried away by my surroundings. We hardly ever visit this part of town, or should I say, we hardly ever visit this TOWN, because that’s what Karachi is….a whole bunch of towns joined together haphazardly, to make one big sprawling city.

But I’ll sum up this trip by telling you, the New Town Ice Cool falooda was rich and sweet and creamy and delicious, a far cry from what we had yesterday at Baloch. I’m not a huge fan of the starchy vermicelli, so I’m hoping we can come across something different….maybe a place where they use basil seeds or something….let’s see what happens.

Just to give you an idea of how short the end of the deal is for us ‘burgers’ living in Clifton, a glass of falooda and one milk rose cost us Rs 200 at Baloch in Boat Basin.

At Ice Cool we had two huge faloodas AND a big glass of falsa juice and the total came to Rs 185.

How unfair is this? Yet how delightful! I think we’re going to have some fun as we continue our research and fact-finding mission on faloodas in far flung areas…..perhaps it will spill over into milkshake and chaat territory. Maybe even barbecue and kabab rolls! Who knows?

Stay tuned for the next installment of Finding falooda!  Anyone interested in joining us is most welcome to!

And if anyone from Karachi visits this page, do share your opinion and let me know your favorite falooda place!

The fuzzy cat

So I’m sitting at my table, it’s early morning (earlier than usual for me, since I am NOT a morning person) and I’ve just had a couple of pan-toasted chapatis and a mug of sweet tea for breakfast. It’s a bit chilly, after the surprise rain we received in Karachi during the last couple of days, so I fetch my snuggly old hoodie and proceed to comfortably peruse my blogs and do some moves on Scrabble before getting on with my list of chores for the day.

I’m distracted by a familiar scratchy, gravelly sound outside the study door, and I smile, knowing what this means. No, it doesn’t mean Freddy Kruger is around. It means Fuzzy the cat is being a good boy and using his litter tray.

You’d think that’s only natural, right? Cats are SUPPOSED to ‘powder their noses’ in their designated space. Wrong. Sometimes a fuzzy black half-Persian tomcat decides he wants to break the rules.

Exactly four years ago, Amu stamped her little foot (not really, but it sounds cute) and demanded a pet cat. I tried to reason her out of it of course. Having a pet is a huge responsibility (and I would know, since I have a looooong history with pets) and knowing Amu, I had a feeling she wouldn’t have the patience or the time to look after it.

I humored her though, and after a week or two of daily pleading, I spread open the Sunday ad section of the newspaper and pored over the pet column, with Amu sitting next to me. It turned out there were quite a few kittens for sale! We jotted down a number and made a phone call to get the whereabouts of a semi-Persian pair of kittens. Amu nagged and nagged until we got in the car and drove off to look for the house of the gentleman selling the little felines.

Finding the place was an adventure in itself, but as we parked outside the house and rang the bell, Amu and I wondered what we’d find. Someone came up to open the gate, and a youngish boy with greasy hair greeted us and ushered us into his garden. We walked over to the patio and saw the most adorable sight! Two tiny little gray furballs hurtling after a ping pong ball and swatting it back and forth with their little paws!

Amu and I just looked at each other. If she has an ounce of my genes, (and I think she does), we both felt the same thing. A mix of heart-melting delight and longing was shining in Amu’s eyes, and I knew she was in love with the first scruffy little kittens she encountered on her quest. As Amu clung to my arm and mouthed silent pleas, I asked the youngish boy how much he was asking for one of them. He quoted a sum about three times what I had in mind, so I told him we would go home and have a think and get back to him later in the day.

Back home, Huz and I had a pow-wow. I thought the guy was asking for too much money and it wasn’t worth it. Amu was blinded by love and couldn’t think straight, of course. Huz warned us of the consequences of having a pet cat. What if it wasn’t potty-trained? What if we wanted to go on a holiday, who would care for it? What if it demanded too much time and commitment? Who would take it to the vet? These, and many other questions were debated, but Amu stuck to her guns and assured us she would love it and care for it and we wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. And then she threw in the trump card. She was lonely.

That did it. So, against our better judgment, we went back to the greasy boys house, handed him a wad of cash in exchange for Sam, the tinier of the two siblings, feeling guilty for taking him away from his sister and playmate forever.

It was evening as we drove home with a new addition to our little family, and we stopped on the way to buy some things that we had never bought before. Cat food! And cat shampoo! It felt like the gateway to a new world of groceries and products had just opened up for us, and it was kind of cute and amusing to be buying things called Whiskas, or Me-O, or cat litter that came in kilograms, in a sunny yellow bag that said Thomas.

The tiny kitty perched on my knee during the ride home, while Amu leaned over the seat to pet him. He seemed quite comfortable with us, and didn’t seem scared or bewildered by the suddenness of this strange new experience.

Back home, we let him roam around and explore the house and entertained him with things that normally delight kittens. We thought of giving him a new name, since he now had a new life. I can’t remember now if we re-christened him that night or the next day. I was stuck on Prince Rustam for some reason, but Amu decided on Fuzzy. We all approved, and hence, it stuck.

That first night we made him as comfortable as we could, and made him a bed out of a cardboard box lined with newspaper. We wondered if his mom had taught him anything, and imagine our surprise when we witnessed the first bit of evidence that he had been rightly and properly schooled in the way of cats! Out of all the places he could have chosen to relieve his tiny little bladder, he picked a spot on some newspapers we had left lying in a corner for just that purpose. Oh, what a relief! Now I wouldn’t have to worry about learning how to be a mommy cat! Little Sam/Fuzzy knew his business, and by the time we got him a proper litter tray, he took to that immediately as well.

The new addition

We couldn’t sleep very well that first night, Amu and I, as we were worried about Fuzzy being alone outside in the living room. So we ended up staying awake till 5 in the morning, keeping an eye on the little thing as he prowled around, and once again I thought to myself ‘what have I let myself in for’. One does tend to get anxiety attacks when one is sleep-deprived. But after a week or so, we all settled down to happily co-exist, man and beast.

It seems the little beast got a bit too comfortable sometimes, and there were ‘episodes’ where he was too ‘lazy’ to walk all the way over to his litter to relieve himself. Cat piss is a nasty, nasty business involving odours that are very hard to get rid of and have a propensity to linger, as I discovered to my horror. I had a penchant for having a clean house that smelled fresh and lovely, like washed laundry, so imagine my shock at realising how little control i had over my cat’s bladder!

He merrily proceeded to pee at least once a day on something he really shouldn’t. Like the sofas. The rugs. The bean-bag. The comforter. The floor. The newly-installed carpet in Amu’s room. The bathroom mats. You get the picture. The cat was out of control!

I scrubbed and cleaned, and neared the edge of tearful despair, contemplating driving him to a faraway location and abandoning him, or giving him away. Obviously, I couldn’t be so cruel. But I was decidedly not as loving as I should be towards a pet, and remember smacking him on the head a few times until I did some research and learned that’s not a very good way of teaching a cat not to do bad things. I consulted my upstairs neighbour, who lives with six cats, and asked for his advice after tactfully inquiring about any peculiar behaviour he may have encountered in his brood of kitties. He told me about a fabulous product that de-odourises pet ‘accidents’. You just spray it on and let it break down the molecules in cat piss that cause the odour! Apparently, cat pee contains a high concentration of urea, about twice as much as dogs, and that’s what gives it such a strong smell. They can’t help it, poor things. They’re just evolved that way. It’s useful for marking their territory, and keeping unwanted enemy cats at bay.

That’s what we thought was wrong with Fuzzy. We thought he was unusually insecure about the stray cats that prowled around our building, yowling their heads off and busily marking their own territory outside our doors. Of course he could smell their pee. So he went into counterattack mode. Either that, or he was trying to attract some romantic interest his own way….

We marched him off to the vet to have him….(gulp!)….neutered. Now, neutering is supposed to be a fairly simple procedure in male cats that have normally built external genitalia. But our cat chose to be different. The vet felt him up and declared him to have a condition called monorchidism. In other words, he only had one descended testicle! The other one was somewhere in his abdomen, developing at a much slower rate than its twin. Nevertheless, poor Fuzzy had to undergo not just the scalpel, but an utter invasion of his privacy, and needless to say it was a difficult time both for us and him.

It has been four years learning how to live with our cat. He’s been through vaccinations, de-fleaing, de-worming, operations, antibiotics, and many trips to the vet for checkups. You must be wondering if the neutering made a difference. Well, it didn’t. Ultimately, we just had to be very vigilant, make sure his litter tray stayed clean enough for him not to turn up his aristocratic little snub nose at it. We roll up our rugs and protect our sofas with plastic coverings every night, and every morning we unroll the rugs and put away the plastic. We chase Fuzzy to his litter every time he starts sniffing around and acts suspicious. Sometimes he pees on the plastic coverings, so I am to be seen mopping and de-odourising every so often. But at least it isn’t so difficult now that we have accepted this gruelling labour as part of our lives. As you can imagine, Princess Amu doesn’t lift a finger. In her defense, the poor girl has to go to school, so she is forgiven.

So you can imagine, dear readers, the joy I feel when I notice, or hear, Fuzzy using his litter tray of his own volition. It’s a daily triumph to see him do that.

Okay then, my writing for the day done. Time to go unroll those rugs….

how does one stay mad at a cat that looks at you like this?