I think it was Jay Leno who some time after 9/11 looked into the camera one evening and gave a mock warning to the audience Warning! I am about to Make a Joke. Such was the sombre mood, any TV personality had to think twice before venturing into the dangerous territory of 'All right then normal transmission is about to resume'. I am going through something similar as I begin to write my Pakistan diary. It will be very difficult for me to write something along the lines of hey my life was all ha ha hee hee about a period that coincided with a difficult time not only for me, but also for the year so far for Pakistan. However I feel that this will be pretty churlish behaviour on the part of Arhaan and me, as we did have a fantastic adventure in Pakistan and there were ' moments in time points in space' when I felt that I was finally home. See we all have a choice about how we want to be defined and how we view different stages in our lives, and I want this month to be marked as a time when Arhaan and me ' grew' emotionally.
Let me explain. The drive from Rawalpindi to Peshawar was very difficult. One for I knew what awaited me in Peshawar was a new chapter in the life of my loved ones and I was still trying to make sense of it and find closure. And the other that my drive to the city took me through a very tragic tapestry. As the skies rained on us I looked out into the greys and browns of a river in flood and a motorway that was now housing a tent village of people displaced from their homes. I think its cruel when you see human beings trying to make a semblance of home under bedraggled tarpaulin. Already they had the expression of So This Is What Our Life Will be From Now On, as a steady flow of cars passed them by, some looking at them with obvious pity, some trying not to make eye contact out of respect, and some in-betweens like me who were still trying to find answers. But amongst all this, they were tending to their animals and children who were trying to run into the traffic, there were visitors popping in and out of each tent, all the while as their hosts kept one eye on their villages across the road. And then after witnessing all this misery one drives into Peshawar and its inevitable that you will make comparisons with another time in your life. So I fret and I fume about why it has to be so and how will people make sense of their city, and will the city's young Have A Childhood. And my car turns into a lane and I see little kids jumping into a fountain, splashing their friends, squealing with mischief. And one of them turns around and looks me into the eye and mocks me out of my pity fest. Remember that scene out of Dil Chahta Hai towards the end when Aamir's character is brooding his way down Bombay's streets and he passes his old collage and the apparition of a younger him turns to him as to say What Gives? Aisee Kiya Tension. I think that was me, at that moment, and that little kid just shrugged and probably thought to himself. Madam, while you are there in a self pity mode worrying about my life, here I am, actually living life to the fullest.
And I think this is my life now. This is the moment When I stopped Worrying and Started Living Pakistan.
Arhaan loved his time there and the people and the places loved him back. Yes, the mission statement behind my trip was that he gets a chance no matter how brief, to live my childhood. But that was not to be. After all I didnt have a swing in the back yard for my exclusive entertainment. When I didnt want to eat my dal chawal I was told to go sit in the verandah, no one fussed over me with cookies and ice cream and told me this is calcium too. My mother had never ' appointed' the big, better, beautiful TV for cartoons and kiddie programming and asked the Others to watch their news elsewhere. For me the Front Lawn was a place you kept off, and if you were to ever walk across you took off your shoes lest you 'killed the grass'. Of course for the Boy Wonder it was a place where he could summon an army of the chowkidar's kids and any visiting cousins to play football with him and the proud grandmother rather than reading him a riot act just marveled over his instep kick. I also realised that if I had raised Arhaan in a crackhouse or that place with people of ill-repute I would not have been ticked off that much as I am in raising him in --oh the horror- a flat. Anyways the kid blossomed, bullied and was bullied in turn, and just bull dozed himself into toddlerhood.
For me it was a time of hanging out with friends and family but also moments when I could connect with self and have the important conversations that one has to. It was Ramadan and I have always liked that time post-the witching hour when it is not yet dawn, you know everyone is safe and sound in bed, and you can switch off worrying about them. I would go out to the back lawn and appropriate Arhaan's swing and just breath into the gardenia scented air (yes it will not be the kiyari of tube roses come summers in Harley Street for me any more, the new floral theme to Rawalpindi Days is gardenias now, thankyou). Swing back and forth, look up into the sky, let your mind go blank and thank the Old Man/Woman up there for all that is good and bad in your life. And at some stage remember that this place was built on a graveyard and what shadow is it that moves in the guava tree so you slowly move back into the house. Every night. Same time same place.
And it will not be Ramadan in Pakistan if I did not share a nugget about the mullah on the loudspeaker every morning pre-fajr azaan. Our local mosque's love affair with all things filmy continues, I think I have written before about how after a particular strong rant and rave sermon about the Evil Eastern Neighbour, he sang a naat in the tune of Choli Kay Peechey. This time it was a more sombre sign-off prayer of Hamara Aaney Wala Kal Guzrey/Beetey Kal Sey Behter Hau (where kal is both past and future an interesting twist on it as he prays for a better tomorrow) . And Im racking my brain whether this is from an advertisement? A politician's speech? A filmy dialogue. If there is anyone out there reading and interested in popular culture, a heads up please.
So that is Pakistan and my holiday there for you. Bittersweet. And the humour lives on. Whether intentional or not. It is out there. I can still smile.
Whether it is as a sweetheart of a simple guard gives directions to a cousin and me. Aap Yahan Sey Seedha chaley, Gate Khud Ba Khud Aajaye Ga.
or the Oh My God moment as my mother all flustered cautions me to make an effort and find the dates for the iftar tray for a driver.
No no the dates must be there otherwise they will think we are not Muslim.
My weight and impending old age continues to be the ice breaker. And in this way I am happy that it cuts across class and age and gender in such a divided country. The daughter of a former maid came in and said " Neela Bibi aap kitni healthy hogayee hain". ..and after five minutes "and skin bhee kafee kharab hai and baal hair all white white. I later found out that she wanted me to keep her on to help with Arhaan. But I decided I wanted to continue with my philosophy of positive body image. My sister was more polite and told me there has to be an end to my Behenji look, I guess when a sister tells you to look less sisterly, you better sit up and listen. So there I was in the middle of Operation Denting Painting and Arhaan runs into the salon while Im sitting with all this gook in my hair. He decides to try his luck with other women who were easier on the eye, Mama? Mama? he asks one Young Fun Fearless Female after another (all this while while Im screaming Arhaan, Im Right Here) and one haughty female had to tell him No Im Not Your Mother shattering his Lets Get a Yummy Mummy project to smithereens.
And now a Shradhanjali to the days gone by. So my mother can take out her tissues and have a little weeping session (speaking of tissues Arhaan did me proud and would ask for a tissue or a napkin all patrician every time he would finish a meal. He also wanted to eat with a fork, excellent table manners I have to say. I dont know where he gets it from for I feed him with my hands, and in Dhaka he usually uses the glass door leading to the balcony to wipe his hands on).
Arhaan was very adamant that it was his granny and him in the painting
Swing the Shoes
Pliss to admire the way how the Boy Wonder maneuvers his way into the Pros from the Street
No more " Bagged it! I have the Best Chair in the House".
Bye bye birdies on the ledge.
No more newspaper sessions in the verandah and ignoring the Boy in Pyjamas.
and this one is for Gman who once said I imagine Aaloo Samosas. Please to note Exhibit A.