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…)

Farroo

Dear readers of ‘munira’s bubble’,

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

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

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

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

yes, i KNOW i had really weird hair :p

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

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

at the beach, around 1992?

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

Farroo in Islamabad 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

time to get hands embellished with mehndi 🙂

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

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

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


The Visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good karma, you think?

Memories.

Skinny jeans, trendy tops, layered haircuts, lipgloss. Waxing, threading, shaving, plucking. Puberty, adolescence, hormones.

Cell phones, Facebook, texting, MSN, girlfriends. Boys? Maybe.

I think I have freaked out at the idea of Amu growing up since she was born. It has been only 12 years since then, but it’s staggering to think of the sheer GROWTH that has taken place. My baby transformed slowly but inexorably in front of my very eyes, and there was nothing I could do to hold on to her precious childhood, except take hordes of photos and videos, and save almost every drawing she ever made.

When I think of myself at the age of 12, what comes to mind is an embarrassingly awkward phase. Puberty would hit 2 years later, so I was still rather ‘ungroomed’, and the few photos of myself in the family albums are glaringly testament to that hairy fact. Reminding myself that it WAS the 80’s is small consolation for having hated most of the clothes in my wardrobe, which I admit consisted of a lot of hand-me-downs. It also didn’t help my self esteem much that I was rather low on the ladder of, ahem.. physical development, as compared to others in my peer group.

I feel a twinge of astonishment that it has been 25 years since I was 12. Some of my memories from those days are appallingly fresh, and yes, it does sometimes feel startlingly like yesterday…

I can’t help drawing parallels between my daughter and I, even though it is apparent to me that she is a product of a completely different environment and a completely different set of rules from the ones that I was brought up with. My parents were an odd combination of liberal-thinking and deep-rooted conservatism with a touch more of the latter than the former. It was enough to make me a somewhat rebellious teenager (compared to my older sisters), a trait that has had a hard time reconciling itself to cultural and societal norms as I grew up, married, and became a parent myself.

Someone said, giving birth to your daughter is like giving birth to your own best friend.

Friend or alter ego, I’m not quite sure. But these days as I watch my awkward little daughter blossom into this pretty young lady, I am vicariously pleased by how very different she is from myself. I’m secretly thrilled when she tells me people think she looks like me, though I myself fail to see the resemblance, especially when I recall how I looked and behaved at her age. She has poise and perfect teeth, at least five pairs of jeans in different shades of denim, and a professional haircut, all the things I never had.

When I was 12, I went to an all-girl school. There were no cell phones nor internet, and computer studies had just been introduced as a subject. It was the age of Enid Blyton and Archie comics, playing badminton and pitthoo and riding bicycles in the enclosed armed forces apartment complex where we lived. Orange ice lollies cost two rupees, and so did a packet of chilli chips. I made friends with boys my own age, who raced their bikes with me and hung out at the communal ‘hangout’ till 11 o clock in the night on weekends. I also heard the f word for the first time, didn’t quite grasp what it meant and didn’t much care. I was too busy imagining myself being married to the utterly handsome but oblivious ‘Chuckie’, my 16 yr old crush, or being jealous of the beautiful and rather ‘developed’ K, who had a lot of people falling madly in love and recording mixed tapes for her. My sister Fatu was my arch-enemy in those days, and Sax, my closest confidante. Angst was not knowing exactly how well-liked I was in school within my group, which in retrospect I think made me try too hard.

Yesterday after picking up Amu from a farewell party for a friend whose parents had decided to go away from the madness that our country has become, she seemed troubled about something. She wouldn’t tell me what was bothering her at first, but as she talked about the party, it made me aware of the dynamics in her peer group. I found myself spiralling back into my own past and my own issues with friends from school, fitting in, and being popular. It dawned on me that Amu might be genetically programmed to be as averse to affiliating herself with any ‘groups’ as I was.

I don’t want to draw parallels. I want things to be different for her, easier. I want her to be all the things I wasn’t, do all the things I couldn’t. Then again, I wish she could have some of the things I had, the lack of gadgets, the simple pleasure of not having so much choice, a country without terrorists and fewer cars on the roads. Mostly though, I hope she remembers being 12 as vividly as I do when she is my age.