Under the net

“There’s something fishy about describing people’s feelings,” said Hugo. “All these descriptions are so dramatic.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I said.

“Only,” said Hugo, “that it means that things are falsified from the start. If I say afterwards that I felt such and such, say that I felt ‘apprehensive’–well, this just isn’t true.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I didn’t feel this,” said Hugo. “I didn’t feel anything of that kind at the time at all. This is just something I say afterwards.”

“But suppose I try hard to be accurate,” I said.

“One can’t be,” said Hugo. “The only hope is to avoid saying it. As soon as I start to describe, I’m done for. Try describing anything, our conversation, for instance, and see how absolutely instinctively you….”

“Touch it up?” I suggested.

“It’s deeper than that,” said Hugo, “The language just won’t let you present it as it really was.”

“Suppose then,” I said, “that one were offering the description at the time.”

“But don’t you see,” said Hugo, “that just gives the thing away. One couldn’t give such a description at the time without seeing that it was untrue. All one could say at the time would be perhaps something about one’s heart beating. But if one said one was apprehensive this could only be to try to make an impression–it would be for effect, it would be a lie.”

I was puzzled by this myself. I felt that there was something wrong in what Hugo said, and yet I couldn’t see what it was. We discussed the matter a bit further, and then I told him, “But at this rate almost everything one says, except things like ‘Pass the marmalade’ or ‘There’s a cat on the roof’, turns out to be a sort of lie.”

Hugo pondered this. “I think it is so,” he said with seriousness.

“In that case one oughtn’t to talk,” I said.

“I think perhaps one oughtn’t to,” said Hugo, and he was deadly serious. Then I caught his eye, and we both laughed enormously, thinking of how we had been doing nothing else for days on end.

“That’s colossal!” said Hugo. “Of course one does talk. But,” and he was grave again, “one does make far too many concessions to the need to communicate.”

“What do you mean?”

“All the time when I speak to you, even now, I’m saying not precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond. That’s so even between us–and how much more it’s so where there are stronger motives for deception. In fact, one’s so used to this one hardly sees it. The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.”

“What would happen if one were to speak the truth?” I asked. “Would it be possible?”

“I know myself,” said Hugo, “that when I really speak the truth the words fall from my mouth absolutely dead, and I see complete blankness in the face of the other person.”

“So we never really communicate?”

“Well,” he said, “I suppose actions don’t lie.”

……………………………………………………………………………..

“All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.”

(The ‘net’ in question is the net of abstraction, generalization and theory.)

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In my need to chronicle time, a memory or an event, an emotion or a feeling, I sometimes cringe at the idea that I’m playing to a gallery. How much of what I bother to write about is an accurate representation and how much is written for effect, I don’t know. The above passage from Iris Murdoch’s ‘Under The Net’ encapsulates my vaguely formed thoughts about the subject so beautifully and with such economy.

This is the reason I think I fell silent on my blog for so long. Perhaps this is why I find words to be so inadequate to describe the upheaval, the turmoil, the confusion, the ferment that my brain has had to wrap itself around in the recent past. One wants to make sense of things, one needs to write to gain clarity, one needs to SHARE to find support and validation, to reach an understanding audience….yet…..I wonder how much one manages to convey is raw truth and how much comes across dramatic. I write for the most part, I hope, without guile, I often say too much in my need to communicate. But very often I say too little, due to inhibition, or due to the sheer impossibility of finding the language to describe feelings that at the moment were simply an intimate knowledge of one’s heartbeat.

I had a strange out-of-body-like experience the day after I wrote my last blog post. The baldest possible way I can say it is, Hasan visited me. I can’t say it was a dream because I have never had a dream like this…and I am known for the vividness of my dreams. This felt too real to be a dream. If it was a hallucination, this was a first for me.

The context must be made clear first, if I am to chronicle this event at all. I was absolutely alone at home for the first time in ages. There was no electricity and I was struggling to sleep despite having been sleepless for two days. It was too warm under the blanket but I had to keep myself covered as there were a couple of errant mosquitoes in the room trying to bite any exposed skin they could find. My eyes felt strained from being trained on too many screens for too long. My mind was full of Hasan as I had spent most of my time replying to comments and thinking about all the things I could say but didn’t. I had also had an eerie conversation that night about ghostly visitations with a dear friend who lost her mother seven years ago. She often tells me I will see signs that Hasan is still around.

In retrospect, I must have fallen asleep around 5 am or so. What I remember is being awake in the dark stillness and reaching out my arms. And then I saw Hasan, and he was with me, and I have no words to describe what I felt in my heart. I just held out my arms and he came over and gave me the biggest hug I ever got from him and I kissed his forehead, and then he was lying down right beside me, and I just stared at him in what felt like wonder and disbelief. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling that can only be described as happiness. I think we talked in telepathy. Time had stopped…..it could have been a short while or it could have been hours. But what seemed like too soon, he got to his feet and was standing at the foot of my bed and I thought, “Where are you going Hasan?” And Hasan had that usual nonchalant yet reassuring look on his face as he replied, “I just need to go out for a bit,” and he gestured toward the door, but then I watched him as he went out of the window and stood on the ledge right outside before walking along it and disappearing. I got up to see where he had gone to, and my window was the window that was mine when I lived with my parents. I couldn’t see where Hasan had disappeared to but when I looked down, I saw a stray dog sitting calmly….and I think I felt reassured.

Dawn had broken when my eyes opened and I lay absolutely still, listening to my heartbeat. If I use language to describe what I felt at that moment, I would say I felt confused, fearful, happy, horrified…and so bereft. I felt so aware that Hasan had been with me just now, that he had just left the room. I half expected to see him climb back in when I looked at my own window, but the blinds were down and the curtain was drawn. I can’t describe the physicalness, the intensity of what I went through then. Deliriousness mixed with pain. Convulsive sobs. I’m thinking hard right now, to be accurate about then.

This is what I believe: Hasan came to give me a good proper hug because we had been awkward about hugs. That was one of the first real regrets that tugged painfully at my heart when my brain tried to comprehend reality. I also believe that he was on the verge of turning into a young man who was okay with hugging his aunts, me in particular. I think I can live with this. My sisters and I have had the whole metaphysical conversation about the deceased visiting those who have let go. Fatu is jealous because Hasan seems to be visiting everyone in their dreams except her. But then, she has had her own share of Hasan-related ‘signs’. I want to write all about those too. Closure? I don’t know what that means really. But there, I said it. I’ll still wish we could have danced the awkward aunt-nephew dance some more.

To talk or not to talk? That is the question.

 

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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…)

Fuzzy vs Mini (part 1)

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Fuzzy after a bath does not look quite as voluminous, in fact he looks downright weird. Was that why Mini did a double take when he trotted into the kitchen to find his food bowl? Was it because she couldn’t place the new smell of wet rug and a hint of shampoo?

Mini was near the food bowls when she caught sight of Fuzzy approaching. I had my eye on her and was about to pick her up and whisk her away to another room, but hell broke loose so fast my reflexes stood no chance.

There was a low, menacing, animal sound and I couldn’t tell which cat it was coming from. It seemed to be a part of the atmosphere of the kitchen. Mini looked like she had just caught her own reflection in the mirror, hair standing on end, back arched, ears rolled back. Fuzzy’s body language was that of a lion about to jump on his prey.

They attacked each other simultaneously it seemed. Mini should have run and hid under something, but she stayed her ground and fought.

Flashback to 1980. Nine year old me, trying to intervene in a cat fight on behalf of Noni, my first cat. Noni was so worked up he sank his teeth into my hand to get me to let go of him so he could chase the other cat before it got away. I still remember how the shock of that bite made me nauseous; I threw up in my mother’s aunt’s sink and when I looked up into the mirror, my chocolate-brown face looked gray.

‘O shit o shit o shit o shit’ was all I could say as Fuzzy and Mini grappled, flesh memory from 1980 preventing me from putting my hands in the line of fire. Below is not a video of Mini and Fuzzy’s epic battle, but it will create a suitable ambience as you read on.

I could not believe this terrifying scene was unfolding right in front of my eyes in my own house. Mini soon realized she could not defend herself against Fuzzy’s strength and I suppose her anxiety made her lose control of her bowels. She couldn’t help pooping as the fight continued. I shouted to Huz to come help while helplessly pleading with the cats to stop it stop it stop it! There was poop and pee everywhere and the freshly bathed Fuzzy and Mini were both rolling around in it. Huz finally managed to get Fuzzy to withdraw a bit, using a towel to swat at them and a long-handled broom to nudge Fuzzy into an enclosed corridor. Meanwhile, a dazed and frightened-out-of-her-wits, poop-covered Mini dashed off to hide behind the curtains

It had been a long day full of chores, I was exhausted, palpitating, and my hands were shaking. But the house was a disaster and it took an hour to clean up not just the area where the fight took place but the entire trail of Mini’s trajectory as she shot to safety. The poor little thing had to be bathed as well, and that too with cold water as there was no hot water and no time to heat it on the stove. But I dried her off fast and she hid under Amu’s bed thereafter.

Then it was Fuzzy’s turn to be cleaned up again, and I couldn’t help cursing myself for being in such a stupid situation. Stressed and full of despair, with no clue how to deal, my brain filled with conflicted thoughts. On the one hand there was Fuzzy, who couldn’t be sent away or abandoned despite the problems he created. On the other there was little Mini, whose future was clouded in uncertainty whether she stayed or not.

Huz, being the clear-headed problem-solver, saw only one path of action. Mini must go.

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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)    

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.

 

 

 

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!

To dream, perchance to see….

Winters in Karachi are seductive. They seduce you into staying in bed as long as you can, drifting in and out of dreams, some instantly forgotten the minute you wake up, while others manage to cross over from the subconscious and linger a bit longer….

I read somewhere that we can dream several dreams in the course of a single night, blurring into one another or staying distinct. 

Either way, they have always provided me with lots of entertainment, so much so that I would look forward to sinking into slumber just to dream my crazy bizarre dreams. Life is so boring comparatively 😉

Huz, being of the intuitive and analytical sort, would sometimes point out the symbolism inherent in some that I just had to share with him. This interested me, and I picked up a dream dictionary at an old book store back when I was in my 20’s.

I think I loaned that book to one of my cousins some years ago because I can’t find it anymore, but that’s okay because ‘Dream Moods’ is pretty comprehensive. 🙂 

There are some themes that have recurred quite often, like walking long distances with legs of lead, or being back in school, or sitting for a test that I have not studied for. Tidal waves and floods feature quite often, as do burning buildings and jumping out of windows. Trying to get to the airport with the looming fear of missing my flight happens often. Vampires often make an appearance too, as do lunches I have thrown where I forgot to cook anything!

My curiosity is piqued when it seems that they are telling me something about myself, or situations that I need to deal with in real life. Either way, I think they’re lots of fun to mull over.

Take the dream I dreamt this morning for instance. I was shipwrecked along with six or seven other people and we were left paddling in the sea holding on to just a wooden raft-like board. We weren’t afraid because there was an island close by that we could easily make our way towards, but we stayed where we were, just waiting. The afternoon wore on and we were quite comfortable in the water until suddenly a humungus whale rose out of the water quite close to us and crashed resoundingly back into the sea. We looked at each other, stunned. 

Then I noticed a dolphin peeking at us, swimming around, and I thought where there are dolphins there must be sharks too. Sure enough, I looked to my left and there was a huge shark swimming slowly around us. I began to get a bit alarmed, and I realized it would soon be evening and we should really be rescued soon. 

That’s when we spotted a boat in the distance and someone who was with me began to holler at the top of his lungs and we all joined in until they heard us and came over. There were four men in a small motorboat and they told us that we’d have to stay in the water as their boat could not carry any more people than it already was, but they tied our wooden board to their boat and we all hung on to it as they pulled us through the water, hopefully back to civilization. There were two little kids, brother and sister, who were hanging on for dear life and the girl seemed to be struggling and swallowing seawater as the boy told her to stop doing that or she would drown. The dream ended then, as I woke up.

Now I know that dreaming of water of any kind is extremely meaningful. But I’ll stick to the symbols in this particular dream. I looked them all up and strangely enough (or not at all strangely) they all point towards the same things. 

Being shipwrecked:

‘To see or dream that you are shipwrecked suggests that you are experiencing some emotional conflict or are having difficulties in expressing your feelings. Additionally, the dream means that you are ready to confront some issues in your subconscious.’

The Sea:

 ‘To see the sea in your dream represents your subconscious and the transition between your subconscious and conscious. As with all water symbols, it also represents your emotions. The dream may also be a pun on your understanding and perception of a situation. “I see” or perhaps there is something you need to “see” more clearly. Alternatively, the dream indicates a need to reassure yourself or to offer reassurance to someone. It brings about hope, a new perspective and a positive outlook on life no matter how difficult your current problems may be.

To dream that you are lost at sea suggests that you are drifting around in life without any direction.  You are feeling overwhelmed by emotions.’ 

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Rafts:

‘To see a raft in your dream indicates that you have not built a firm foundation for success. There is still much work ahead. 

To dream that you are floating on a raft suggests that you are drifting through life, not knowing where you are headed. You are confused about your purpose and direction in life.’

 

Islands:

To see or dream that you are on an island signifies ease, relaxation and comfort. The dream is telling you that you need a vacation and escape the stresses in your life. It is time for some solitude. 

To dream that you are stranded on an island suggests that you need to get away from the demands of your daily life. Or perhaps you are running away from a situation instead of trying to confront it.  Alternatively, the dream means that you feel cut off from society. You are in a rut and do not know what to do with your life.’

Wading:

‘To dream of wading in water symbolizes your power and control over your emotions. 

Consider the depth and clarity of the water to determine how much power and control you have over the circumstances and situations in your life.’

Whales:

‘To see a whale in your dream represents your intuition and awareness. You are in tune with your sense of spirituality. Alternatively, a whale symbolizes a relationship or business project that may be too big to handle. You are feeling overwhelmed. The dream may also be a pun on “wailing” and a desire to cry out about something.’

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Dolphins:

‘To see a dolphin in your dream symbolizes spiritual guidance, intellect, mental attributes and emotional trust. The dream is usually an inspirational one, encouraging you to utilize your mind to its capacity and move upward in life. Alternatively, it suggests that a line of communication has been established between the conscious and subconscious aspects of yourself. Dolphins represent your willingness and ability to explore and navigate through your emotions.

To dream that you are riding a dolphin represents your optimism and social altruism.

To dream that a dolphin is dying indicates feelings of despair. You are feeling disconnected.’

Sharks:

‘To see a shark in your dream indicates feelings of anger, hostility, and fierceness. You are undergoing a long and difficult emotional period and may be an emotional threat to yourself or to others. Perhaps, you are struggling with your individuality and independence, especially in some aspect of your relationship. Alternatively, a shark represents a person in your life who is greedy and unscrupulous. This person goes after what he or she wants with no regards to the well-being and sensitivity of others. The shark may also be an aspect of your own personality with these qualities.’

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 Rescue:

‘To dream that you are being rescued or rescuing others represents an aspect of yourself that has been neglected or ignored. You are trying to find a way to express this neglected part of yourself. Alternatively, it symbolizes a subconscious cry for help. Perhaps you are too proud in your waking life to ask for assistance. 

In particular, to dream that you rescue someone from drowning indicates that you have successfully ackowledged certain emotions and characteristics that are symbolized by the drowning victim.’

 

So there you have it. I seem to be grappling with some serious s*** in my waking life, aren’t I? Apparently I am an aimless, emotionally distraught bum. But I could be coming to grips with it…..

Pinning my hopes on that dolphin. The ones in my dream looked friendly and amused and curious, just like these ones. 🙂

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What kind of dreams do you get? How symbolic do you think they are?

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.

Downward spiral

Today the bubble seems more fragile than ever. I didn’t feel like smiling when I woke up.

Wedgies during the night can do that to you.

Why did I ever think having a landline on my bedside table was a good idea? The only people who still call me on that number are mood-dampeners, invariably while I’m still asleep.

I scribbled myself a to-do list with a board marker on a white board I dragged out of Amu’s room. Something about erasing chores as I accomplish them is thrilling.

Amu hijacked the board. She suddenly realized she really needed it to write a schedule for herself to follow for test week.

I told her she could take the board if she could transfer my chores on paper. She did so.

But I lost my enthusiasm. It just didn’t feel the same to scratch out my chores on paper.

Bored two evenings ago, I wandered around the house looking for inspiration, stopping at the bookshelf.

Skimming halfheartedly, my fingers reached for a book of verses by an Urdu poet. Something told me it was time to read it.

Reading wilfully at first, my interest deepened as I came across lines that resonated. I lugged the fat and heavy Urdu dictionary off the shelf, turned on a bright lamp, donned my reading glasses, armed myself with a pencil, and proceeded to look up meanings of obscure words and phrases. Soon, the pages were peppered with little notes, as nerve centres in my brain sparked.

I found myself smiling, even laughing out loud at times, sheer delight at understanding, recognizing…

I should have recognized this enjoyment as something sacred. I should not have shared. I should not have read aloud and expected my voice to be clear, ringing.

‘You’re embarrassing yourself,’ she said.

‘This is crappy. How can you have the patience for it?’ said she.

It takes so little to be derailed. Such few words to throw you into uncertainty.

I had thought I would spend a few days doing just this. But I have not picked up that book since.

Blown away! (finally!)

Now THIS…my dear Single Malt Monkey….is the definition of Coke Studio awesomeness!

Feel free to head-bang your way through this number.

Nationwide opinion seems to be that Coke Studio has been a bit ho hum this season, with the exception of Charkha Naulakha. I mean, the songs have been easy enough on the ear……but we now expect quite a bit more in terms of edginess. ‘Neray Aah’ has delivered on all fronts! I LOVE the way both Farhad and Rachel seem immersed in belting out the lyrics…with such…..feeling! And omg, that girl can scream!

This is seriously good stuff people.

Here is something about the band called ‘Overload’, how they came into being, what set them apart, and what happened to them subsequently.

And watch the ‘behind the scenes’ bit to know what the song means, how they put it together, and how Rachel overcame her issues with pronouncing the Punjabi 🙂

20 years ago, to the month.

Speaking of serendipity…..

A couple of months ago, the chowkidar of our building rang the bell to inform us worriedly that we should take a look into our servant quarters to see if everything was okay. We’d been using the space to store our extra stuff downstairs, and he thought there was a strong possibility of some kittens or mice having died in there.

Huz immediately went to check. Everything appeared to be fine, albeit very dusty and cobwebby, thankfully nothing had crawled in and died, so the building jamadaar was paid something extra to clean up and dust everything and Huz was instructed to instruct the jamadaar to carry up some cartons that had been languishing forever.

The cartons are full of old letters, files, memorabilia and stuff I’ve kept for years because I don’t have the heart to throw anything away. The files contain almost every drawing Amu ever made since she was very little. There are reams of notebooks scribbled with Huz’s prolific poetry from way back when he dreamt of being a poet. There are letters in there written to me by friends when I was away in college, or by Huz before we got married.

Treasure, basically.

A couple of weeks ago, while Amu was taking a break from studying hard for her exams, we were sitting by the window and talking about boys. Something reminded me of my younger school-going self, and I recalled an ‘autograph’ book I had kept from my last week of A level days….

Amu goes to the same school where I did my A’s, so she can relate to some of my memories from there, though admittedly, my memories of KGS aren’t quite as happy as hers.

I didn’t have a very good time there. I felt mostly lonely and depressed because I had a hard time fitting into ‘groups’. A few of my closest friends from my old school adjusted to the new environment way better than I did, and happily went about making new friends and finding their niche. I felt a bit abandoned, and completely lost….I struggled with my studies feeling rather friendless for at least a year. My self esteem was at an all-time low because I thought I must be very uncool…..It was 1992 then.

It is 2012 now, exactly 20 years since those miserable days. It is pure coincidence that I chose this time of all times to share with Amu a particular autograph written for me by a boy who was actually a year senior to me. I remember he had written something almost as a confession of a crush he might have had….I remember how my stomach had kind of plummeted when I read what he had written.

So I went over to fish out the old autograph book from the dusty old carton.

As Amu and I sat by the window and flipped through the pages of that book, reading the things people had written for me, I felt surprised all over again.

It seemed as if people had liked me….

Mysteriously, the particular autograph I wanted to show Amu wasn’t there. It seemed as if it had been removed….making me wonder if it had ever existed…? I knew it had, because I vaguely remember what had been written. I could even almost see it in my mind’s eye. Where on earth did it go..?

Moving on, here are a few samples of some of the thoughts penned by people about me. Don’t judge. Please?

someone i reconnected with after 18 years…
page two of her text! 😀
umm….I have no clue what Hammad’s talking about….:P
another of the very few I got back in touch with 🙂
Sohail even left a phone number!
🙂
this has got to be my favourite 🙂
no, i guess i didn’t fit into the nerd category either
Babar was speechless I suppose…
seems Ayesha had a peeve 😛

Looking back at these autographs made me think about the strange dichotomy between the pathetic image I had of myself during those two years as an unsought-after, unpopular, freakish girl (that nobody wanted to invite at parties…then I remembered….I was never allowed to go to any by my strict mother) and what people may perhaps actually have perceived me as.

Amu laughed her head off at some of the autographs, as did I, and we had a rollicking time. Then she looked  speculative, and remarked….’I wish  I knew this 19 year old you.’

———————————————————-

p.s. Here’s what the school yearbook said about me……(I still wonder who wrote this)

Munira joined KGS in 1990 and quickly became known for her cheerful nature. A lively and talkative person, Munira got along well with everyone. She was recognized for her immense artistic talent and worked for the art section of the Pulse. A free spirit, Munira was always willing to plunge into funfilled adventure. She is planning to continue her studies at either NCA or the Indus Valley school of art.

that’s me…standing third from left 🙂

It doesn’t seem like I was such a loser after all.

don’t mean to be pretentious or anything, but…..

Yes, two months went by without a peep on my blog. I did continue to read posts by my multitudinous bloggy friends though, sometimes leaving a comment, sometimes not.

As for me, I just felt I didn’t have any words, though sometimes my mind would register something as blogworthy, yet writing about anything seemed superfluous, not to mention time-consuming. I guess I was allowing myself to revel in laziness and not beating myself up about it.

My shoulder/neck problems stemmed from over-usage of my laptop. Even the physiotherapist told me this. And of course, it should have been obvious that I needed time off from sitting propped on an elbow while lying in bed.

So I ended up reading a lot, sitting up straight, wearing my reading glasses. Finally finished ‘The Corrections’ (by Jonathan Franzen) and I have to say it was absolutely brilliant. It took me a long time to read it, firstly because it is more than 700 pages long, and secondly because it was having a strange intense effect on me. It was just that good. Far be it from me to give you a book review at this point though. Just, trust me on this….read the book if you can. You listening Harsha? 🙂

I’m happy to report a most strange yet delightful series of coincidences too, the first of which is this.

Since some time last year (or perhaps even the year before) I have been feeling the urge to read Urdu. You might think it strange that I’d say something like this, being a Pakistani, having lived here all my life, speaking the language. You’d think I must have read Urdu books all my life, but no, that is not the case. My knowledge of Urdu writers and poets amounts to a big fat zero. This is a sad consequence of having studied under the Cambridge board of education.

I have grown up reading English literature only. Perhaps that is why I have always felt like an alien, an outsider in my own country. I don’t/can’t identify completely with the greater Pakistani/subcontinental culture, observing things around me with somewhat of a sense of detachment..it never helped that I belong to a communal sect that encouraged the speaking of Gujarati over Urdu, which was doomed for me to be not a second language, but a third language. It didn’t matter while I was growing up, except that essays in Urdu didn’t exactly trip off my tongue, but I felt a sense of quaintness in being perceived as something other than an Urdu-speaker, just by the way I pronounced the Urdu ‘r’…..the one with the ‘toi’ on top. I never got that right until someone pointed it out to me, and since then I’ve made an effort to pronounce it correctly.

So you see dear readers, I live in a bubble within a bubble. But I am mesmerised by the fluidity, the ease, and the complete unselfconscious assurance with which pure Urdu speakers wax eloquent. I know I can never be like them, but despite the tiny eye-straining font, and my debilitating lack of understanding of a lot of Urdu words, Project 2012 was to educate myself in my own language and I would do so by starting off reading the Mantonama, penned by the controversial and highly acclaimed Saadat Hasan Manto. (A good friend was kind enough to loan me his copy 🙂 ) 

Mantonama is a compilation of short stories and happens to be the first proper Urdu book I have ever read after the textbooks we did at school. I have already read a few stories and been surprised at the ease with which I could read them. I didn’t need to consult the dictionary even once!

But here’s the strange coincidence. 2012 has been declared the Year of Manto and marks the centenary of Manto’s birth, celebrated not just in Pakistan but also in India.

I had no clue about this when I decided to start my Urdu book-reading project with one of his books. 🙂 

Perhaps listening to the articulate and erudite Ayesha Jalal, Manto’s niece, at the Karachi Literature Festival earlier this year had something to do with piquing my interest further, because really, I didn’t know much about Manto or his style of writing, or his subject matter, or even the fact that he was prosecuted for writing ‘obscene’ things. Ayesha Jalal says ‘He wrote what he saw, and took no sides.’

I was warned by my friend that reading Manto will have a strange effect on me and he was right. After picking my way through a few stories, I was decidedly disturbed.

I had to lay the book aside for a bit, and pick up another book that I thought looked intriguing, and was also being highly acclaimed these days in literary circles.

‘The Wandering Falcon’ has been written by Jamil Ahmad, an 80-plus year old man. Here’s something about him.

It was a relatively quick read, being only 180 pages long, but it had my imagination completely captivated. I still feel in thrall of the harsh beauty of the world he has described in his book, a world not too far from my own….

The Wandering Falcon reads almost like a collection of short stories too, woven through with the story of Tor Baz, an orphaned boy, who wanders nomadically through the borderland between Pakistan and Afghanistan, those forbidding tribal areas that seem to have defied all attempts at being governed.

This book is a must read. It is written simply, but with attention to detail, and is sure to leave a lasting impression on your mind. I can’t recommend it enough!! 

And now that I am done with it, I shall go back to reading Manto…..with perhaps a bit of Jaun Elia thrown in to liven things up a bit. Maybe there will come a day when I’m very very old, that I shall be able to quote poetry with flair and construct complex sentences and speak them the way they should be spoken.

pain in the neck

Around two weeks ago, my pillows, our new mattress, the overhead fan and bad posture, all conspired to give me a crick in the frikkin neck. (Hmm, that phrase had a nice ring to it. I repeated it to myself four times just now. Fun!)

According to my calculations, I get a crick in the neck at least once every year and I am left to deal with the resultant pain and discomfort for at least two weeks, give or take a few days. The only good thing about this is that experience has taught me a few things by now.

For example, I now know that cold packs work wonders, soothing the inflammation and giving miraculous pain relief. I know that painkillers do, thankfully, take away a bit of the sting of the injury as well, enough to make it bearable. I also know that it’s no use trying to ‘give it rest’. The best thing is to NOT rest but to try and keep moving. Lying around in bed moaning and complaining, satisfying though it may be, will NOT help AT ALL.

Usually, I find that pain brings out the worst in me. I happen to be one of those people who have a rather low threshold, and I’m neither proud nor ashamed to admit this. That’s just how I’m wired I guess. Pain makes me cranky. It can frustrate me. It can make me rude and offensive to people I generally love. It can make me resentful and bad-tempered and anti-social. It can make me oh-so-sulky and withdrawn and prone to shooting dirty looks at anyone who glances at me sympathetically. It can do a lot of things to basically turn me into a little monster. Nope, I am not fun to be around when I am in pain.

So around two weeks ago, when I sat up and felt a sudden sharp pain in my neck, I knew in an instant that I was in trouble….

I got out of bed unable to turn my head in any direction. If I made one wrong move….it would have me howling. First things first. I went out of the room to seek out the Huz, mumbling a series of expletives and ‘ows’ all the way to the living room, where Huz was to be found. I informed him of my predicament and asked for a shoulder rub.

Like any normal human being, I adore massages, especially back and shoulders because I often strain those muscles. This penchant for being kneaded has grown exponentially as I have aged….and so has my dissatisfaction with the only people in the house who I can ask to oblige.

I would have thought that the man who found me nice enough to marry would positively jump at any opportunity to give me pleasure. But that was not to be. I realized early on in my married life, that here was a man who would never EVER offer to give me a back rub of his own volition. Being fidgety or rubbing my own shoulders while giving him meaningful looks had absolutely no effect. Here was a man who was truly macho.

I also worked out a few other things. In other words, passive aggression would not work on him. Giving him the silent treatment did not bring about the desired effect either. I decided to swallow my pride and resort to begging.

Over the years, Mr Macho learnt to recognize the needy look in my eyes when I approach him and preempt the question he knows is coming with a ‘No!’. Undeterred, I plead with him to have mercy, rub my shoulders, just 5 minutes…..please….

He sighs, looks away in resignation and reluctantly agrees….but just two minutes, he says.

I am grateful for whatever I get. It is far from enough, but something is better than nothing I suppose. This is what I say to myself as I daydream wistfully of a personal masseuse who’d rub my back with essential oils and proceed to knead me for an hour of pure bliss, recognizing without being told all the sore spots, knowing the right amount of pressure to apply, understanding where to use the palms, where to use knuckles, and where just fingertips…

And back to reality, where Mr Macho is all thumbs. But I am grateful.

Surprisingly enough, I have found myself to be rather upbeat through this latest cricked-neck episode, despite the fact I can’t seem to get comfortable enough at night to get what I’d call a really restful sleep. I usually sleep on my side, with an arm tucked under the pillow under my head. Unfortunately, the cricked neck gave rise to stiff shoulders, and the stiff shoulders along with tennis elbow have led to a pulled muscle or something in my upper right arm. So sleeping with that arm under my head is downright painful.

I try sleeping on my back, but eventually the tension builds up under my neck because of it being raised on my pillow. If I remove the pillow, the gap between the back of my neck and the bed makes me uncomfortable. So I turn to the left and try sleeping with my left arm under the pillow. This works for a little while….until my exercise-induced Restless Leg Syndrome kicks in.

Unable to sleep, I try putting my head on Huz’s chest to see if that would help. He fidgets and rolls over and I’m back to square one, tossing and turning most of the night, trying to get comfortable as rest eludes me.

You’d think I’d be waking crabby and sleepy the next morning, unable to function, but you’d be wrong. I’m actually so happy to not have to try and sleep anymore that I bounce off the bed merrily, eager to get on with my day. It’s all very strange and I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m not complaining.

Of course, as luck would have it, Zahooran has once again left me in the lurch when I am at my most vulnerable and gone off to her village for a month.

I put my current favourite song on repeat as I wash the dishes and clean the kitchen, my neck loosening up as I get grooving.

I defy you to listen to this song and not want to get up and start dancing 🙂

Junkie self-portrait

Lisa, over at the Satsumabug blog often paints herself while looking in the mirror. In her own words, Lisa is a ‘transdisciplinary artist who works in text and image.’

Since I used to do stuff like that myself, I enjoy her blog for the way she keeps track of her experiments, the meticulousness with which she documents some of her more painstaking work, like this card she made for Valentine’s Day. 

These days I am a woman of few words, so I feel inadequate when it comes to describing anything or anyone much. And Lisa is all about introspection, so her blog is my go-to place when all I want to do is nod agreeably at what someone else is saying. She is just so wise. And articulate. I want her to infect me with her zest for life!

She has her off days too though, and this is what she has decided to do when her life feels out of balance. It’s so weird how often what she says resonates with me! I love the seemingly effortless way she puts into words everything I’m feeling or have felt.

Lisa, this post is for you. The least I can do is show you my junkie self-portrait. Just remember, this was done around eighteen years ago….and I don’t think it took more than 15 minutes 🙂

Pakistan Goes to the Oscars

Since I haven’t watched ‘Saving Face’ myself, I cannot possibly write about the short film, but I came across this post on Twitter and felt I should re-blog it, just to do my bit in supporting Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the first Pakistani to ever be nominated for an Academy award!

Sharmeen was a year or two junior to me during my A level stint at the Karachi Grammar School, so I feel connected in a way.

In December, she was invited as the guest of honour on Sports Day, where she turned up wearing a white kurta and chooridar pajama and a beautiful green dupatta, not just symbolizing the colours of the Pakistani flag, but also to show her support for Streeton House, of which she was an erstwhile House Captain 🙂

Amu won a bunch of medals that day (she happens to be a fine athlete!) so she got to shake the Oscar nominee’s hand 🙂

Here’s to her winning!! Just like Amu won the 200 metre race, breaking the school record!!

Do visit Kalsoom’s blog ‘Chup’ and read all about ‘Saving Face’ and what it documents.

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Update! : Saving Face won!! What a proud moment for Sharmeen, Daniel Junge and ALL the people behind the making of the film! Bravo!! 😀

CHUP! - Changing Up Pakistan

Tomorrow is Oscar day. If you are anything like me, you watch as many Oscar-nominated films as humanly possible (while still, of course, maintaining some semblance of a life) and hope your favorite movies walk away with the coveted trophy.

The Oscars are it, the last pit stop in the awards season, the culmination of all that was brilliant in film that year. This year, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy became the first Pakistani to ever garner an Academy Award nomination. Her documentary, Saving Face, co-directed with Daniel Junge, is up for the Oscar in the short documentary category. The film delves into the issue of acid attacks through the lens of the women affected by tragedy and the doctor trying to help them. In Pakistan, there are 100 acid attacks reported each year, but many cases go unreported, the victims instead relegated to the shadows…

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The bag lady wins

Contents of a certain bedside table:

wallet

keys (house and car)

little plastic dish filled with assorted foreign coins mixed with dust

box with three or four little pouches containing various sets of gold and silver buttons set with semi-precious/precious stones

pouch full of keys to all the doors in our apartment, including a set that belongs to an ex-neighbour from our previous apartment

packet of razors

some unmentionables (due to PG nature of blog)

paper clips of varying shapes and sizes

strewn coins

visiting cards/registration cards/library cards

unworn, ill-fitting caps

assorted pencil cells for various remotes

a legal file (that is more precious than anything else in this house and cannot be stored anywhere except bedside table)

empty box of perfume

big unwieldy box containing unworn watch

miscellaneous travel pouches containing mostly useless things

lots of dust

a little cylindrical tin with red candle inside

While sorting out Huz’s bedside drawers, dusting, throwing away stuff, keeping things that needed to be kept, I came across this object you see featured in the pictures.

It’s a a cinnamon-scented candle that has been used a bit, but not entirely, and it made me think of a Valentines Day years ago, before Amu was even an involuntary twinkle in either of our eyes…

The day was going by unremarked (remember what I told you about Huz in this here post?) and I was debating whether to be mature and not care, or pouty and resentful at the lack of flowers.

After all, we DID scoff at traditional notions of love and romance, thumb our noses at candle-lit dinners, pooh-pooh consumerism and such.

But in my mind I went back to the days when the boys showered the girls with rose petals from the school roof…..heart-shaped cards were handed around…….someone gave someone a stuffed toy…..a long-stemmed rose……a mixed tape…..and oh the thrill of someone walking up to you to deliver a card sent by a secret admirer….

In a fit of nostalgia for days past, I felt compelled to walk into a store and buy something corny, just for the sake of it.

This little object caught my eye….and when I opened the lid I got a heady whiff of cinnamon.

Yum.

I paid for it, went home and gave it to Huz, feeling silly. Huz looked at me with a ‘but I didn’t get YOU anything’ expression, and as a result, I felt justified in feeling righteous and indignant.

Awkward.

Fifteen years later, I pick up the rusted little candle container, take off the lid to smell it, and realize it doesn’t even smell like cinnamon anymore.

Yet here it is, still in Huz’s drawer, even after so many years and I searched in my heart to see if I could find any sentimental attachment, or if Huz would miss it. The only thing redeeming it was that it had just been around for so long.

And so, in a fit of feng shui, I tossed it.

Then I finished organizing the drawer and beamed at the clean-ness of it all. I usually leave his crap alone until some years go by or until my innate obsessive-compulsiveness vanquishes his protective paranoia.

Later that night, as I was about to turn off the light and crawl into bed, my eye caught sight of the candle lying amidst the other junk I had thrown into the dustbin.

I thought of it being taken away by the jamadaar the next day and dumped along with all kinds of other horrible refuse in some garbage heap somewhere…

Nope, couldn’t do it.

If it managed to stick around fifteen years, it could very well stick around for another fifteen. 🙂

Happy VD all you lovely people!

A friend posted this song the other day and I just loved watching and listening to it, firstly because there’s something very cool about people who can just sit on a sofa and strum a guitar (not to mention play riffs!) and belt out a song sung by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and make it their own.

And there’s something so charming about a man singing about longing and love.