Some Relationships Are Tightropes, Some A Drawbridge
Our earliest memories don’t store themselves in words. They are embedded in our body. Events fade, but feelings live in the deep folds.
A few years ago, six-year-old Aliza returned from school with good news.
We have a week’s holiday for Eid, she said.
Diwali, I said to her.
No, Eid, she said.
Then her face clouded with doubt.
I could almost see the processor in her brain working it out. Eid, Diwali. Festivals, holidays. Eid is Dadi’s home in the village. Diwali is rangoli and diyas and puja with Nana. Remind me of these, her expression said.
Two months ago, we had visited Afzal’s home in his village. After a month of spending Iftar evenings with him, finally it was Eid. Our daughters took a good look at their father in his sherwani. They giggled and approved. All of them walked to the Idgah together. I stayed back with my mother-in-law, Ammi. At the mela near the Idgah, they gawked at the made-in-China toys on display. They bought balloons.
We visited all the homes in the neighbourhood, offering Eid Mubaraks and collecting blessings. The heat was exhausting, the novelty fascinating. We fed friendly goats. There were guava and bael-laden trees in backyards. Naseem got hooked to a toy car that raced when she pulled a string in its back. No remote control, no winding key. I wanted it too. Look, here is a mehendi (henna) plant. Pet pigeons. Startled pet pigeons!
And of course the stories of everyone’s childhood. How it used to be. Memories of Afzal as a little boy.
Later, liberated from their finery, the children played cricket with Gufran, the cook’s grandson. Evening light slanted in, planting soft halos on the children’s heads. A microphone sputtered. We heard the Maghrib azaan. Without a pause in their conversation, the women covered their heads with dupattas. I got up to get my camera.
My mother-in-law reminds me of my grandmother
I passed my mother-in-law on the way. She is Ammi.
Ammi reminds me of my Nani. My mother’s mother. Her children called her Mataji. Sometimes I say “my grandmother” when I talk of Ammi. Then correct myself. It makes me smile.
My Nani was from Lahore. Ammi is from Jaunpur in UP.
The partition of India in 1947. My grandparents migrated from Pakistan to Amritsar. Ammi’s extended family migrated from India to Karachi. Her parents did not.
Sometimes Ammi admires me for being beautiful. Sometimes she scolds me for being a fashion victim. Eat well, she will say, eat this chane ki dal ka halwa. Just like my grandmother would have said.
I have a photo of Ammi working with her sewing machine. Her glasses balanced on her nose, concentration on her face. Next to her, Sahar is drawing. Aliza is being a baby, cheeks drooping like she is a posh dog. They are my children, but it could have been me. Three-year-old me, sitting next to my Nani as she worked with needle and thread.
I see Ammi read the Quran sitting on her bed. A shaft of light through the open door leads towards her. Her electric blue dupatta covering her head, a quiet dignity in the curve of her back. This is my Nani on her bed in her home. A winter morning, I am 5. Nani is reading the Sukhmani Sahib and I can hear the hum in the air.
Ammi blesses me with elaborate phrases in Urdu. Sometimes she keeps it short. “I wish for you a long healthy life so that you can take care of my grandchildren the way they deserve”.
Moments like these are like the missing pieces of an elaborate puzzle. Things come together. Life makes sense. What has been lost is regained.
Childhood is a time spent collecting influences. Our earliest memories don’t store themselves in words. They are embedded in our body. Events fade, but feelings live in the deep folds. The key to our deepest fears and strengths lies somewhere there.
Adulthood really starts when we leave home. When we agree inside of us to build a new world. Discard the broken and the outdated, and plant new seeds. Fresh air and fertile soil.
I think we create families to build bridges between different worlds. Some relationships are mere tightropes, some are sturdier. Some are drawbridges that can be pulled back if the water rises dangerously.
The best bridges are art in themselves. A destination of their own. A respite from what lies on both sides. The best place to get a good view of where we come from. And where we want to go.
(An excerpt from My Daughters’ Mum by Natasha Badhwar. Published by Simon & Schuster)
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This article was originally published at Medium.