This miracle is mine

So my older two.. R & R are both quite amused with my routine here in Lahore at my parents’ place. During breakfast Daughter remarked:

“mama you’re really enjoying your break!”

me: from what beta?

“from the kitchen!” (Cue: surge of joy)

Then later on son noticed how I was sitting relaxed reading a book and drinking tea, which I didn’t have to make. He noticed from the other room, grinned and said:

“mama… Maujen!!!!” (Cue: pinching myself to make sure it’s real)

Spending time with parents, friends, and focusing on myself. Please excuse this bout of narcissism quite unbecoming of a mother… but mauj indeed!

Nearing 40 and at times feeling like the Wicked Witch of the West crumpled under the woes of the indignant modern life…. this carefree/short-lived spurt of life while visiting my parents, is uncanny. Magical. And this urgency, this feeling that if I close my eyes, the bubble will burst. It’s nothing I’ve experienced before. A few years ago if you’d have asked me, I might have put it differently. But now. I know enough of life’s fickle abandonment. And I choose to be entranced in this spell for as long as I can. To hold on to every speck of the fairy dust.

As mothers we always want our little ones to learn from experiences. It’s good if they realize certain things in life sooner, right? That these little pleasures you get at your parents’ home are a big deal. The real deal. Especially after you’ve officially graduated on to real life. And also happen to live continents away. It strikes you like lightening. But I know. This is an abundance of life-text for them at this point. And it’d be unfair to want them to turn into little know-it-all Socrates. Let them savour these years of ‘taking it all for granted’, I say. Though I never leave the chance to shake my finger at them whilst lecturing about ‘being grateful.’ But who am I kidding? Let them celebrate life’s blissful ignorance. Some things, if they are fortunate enough, will come in their due time.

Though years from now… I suspect(replace at your discretion : secretly pray) I may ask them to visit. I may ask them to take a break and unwind at their parents’ home. I hope they’ll look forward to coming. As much as I always do. And when they visit, I hope I do justice. And make them feel safe and happy. No matter how old, or whichever way their lives unfold.

So maybe that’s when they will understand these little pleasures. Luxury that is almost a God given right at your parents’ home. No matter how rich or poor, the comfort found behind those closed doors, between a mother’s embrace and a father’s doting gaze, is a miracle.

In an era where feelings, emotions, care and regard are sidelined. Where material worth outweighs all other measures of humanity. Where we doubt everything we do and want to do it another way. The better way. The way they show us online or on TV. Because doubt sells, doubt makes money. Where purity is outdated. And selflessness is archaic. It is important to remember there is a home. Filled with people who would go to ends of the Earth for you. People who will love you with all your cracks and potholes (no pun intended). Who will love you even if you’re a full grown woman who seems to know it all. But she never does. Definitely not at her parents’ home.

I feel like an old Windows Desktop. The one we’d smack on the head to get it to reboot, with dust flying off. That’s me. Rebooted ‘n Revived. So I don’t know about other people. And what they say about miracles and magic. But this safe haven is about me. And where I came from. Tucked between childhood pictures. In furniture as old as I am. In countless hazy memories. In old faces. In familiar places. This life away from life. This miracle is mine.

And I keep coming back to you, Lahore.

credits: Farah

credits: Farah

I was in Lahore last November.

If I close my eyes now to relive some of the city’s glory, I wouldn’t know where to start. What do I remember? What do I smell? What do I taste?

What do I miss?

For me, as an immigrant, that is probably the single most difficult question. ‘What do you miss the most back home?’ How do you answer that? Do you dig up memories only you can make sense of, or do you cough up the obvious; ‘Oh, I miss friends and family.’ Of Course you miss the important human connections in your life. But what else do you miss?

I remember everything, but a part of me feels that I keep missing out on something. I smell life. I taste home. And I miss absolutely freaking everything!

Is it the scorching, sun-lit roads in June with gushes of warm air harassing anyone who crosses its paths? Or the comforting chill of a December evening as streets line up with stalls carrying roasted corn, peanuts and chicken corn soup? Or how life in Lahore is lived simply yet luxuriously. In the tired and content eyes of men sitting on the roadside, slurping chai and acing all possible realms of non-work? Or hard workers who race home in their motorcycles, bringing the day’s limited grocery (eggs and oranges) to eager wives. Their shalwars, filled up like fabric balloons with polluted air.

Or the women, with threatening and urgent looks as they enter the tight bazaars, clinging to their dupattas(scarves) and holding non-recyclable shopping bags. Or the lucky children sitting in cars, gawking at other, not-so-lucky children their age, clambering for spare change as they wipe away grime on windshields. Or Lahore’s inexplicable love for food as restaurants are born in succession like a rapid breeding experiment.

Or the dirty Lahori sky, once dressed in exuberant kites, but now hosting a sea of exhausted cries. Is it the loud Bollywood music pumping from a local CD shop in a busy supermarket? The music comes to an abrupt pause as the shop worker presses the stop button when a nearby Mosque calls Azaan (signalling prayer time).

Or how the city sings; in between blaring honks on the road, drivers shouting in their cell phones, rickshaws gurgling and choking, shopkeepers and women haggling, children screaming with laughter, and sizzling of the fried Pakoras. The city is never quiet. Be it hot or cold. Amid a local festival or a suicidal bomb blast. The city doesn’t cry for long either. Don’t be surprised when you catch its people smiling as the day ends. Or cracking up at a random joke on Politics or the economy; drowning out the day’s grind that doesn’t include electricity, gas, or Petrol.

In my head, everything is just more poetic and alive when I think of Lahore. How do I pay homage to a city that holds almost half my life’s soul. It guards my memories like a welcoming canvas; letting novice painters bleed; unjudged and unafraid. My city; where I grew up a little, laughed and loved a lot, made sense a little and messed up a lot.

So the question comes again. What comes to mind as I close my eyes? Is it my high school, where I sweated off under a ceiling fan, writing away for a good grade; in all my awkwardness, in all my naivety? Is it my college, where I only survived because of close friends. And our sporadic adventures as we skipped class to gorge down freshly made brownies, soup and samosas on faint and foggy winter mornings? Or is it my university, my home away from home; tucked between the greenest suburbs of Lahore? An overwhelming world of its own that swooned and shocked me for a whole four years. Is it the many homes I lived in? The home I stepped out of my teens in. The home where I cried for my brother when he went abroad to study.  Is it my first job, where the pay was peanuts, but I cherished every cent? Or my second job, where I met my husband. The home I said goodbye to my parents in as I got married. The home I became a mother in and grew to love my new family like my own. Or when my son walked his first steps. Or celebrated with us every time the power came back on by clapping and speaking his first few words – ‘Biji’ (Bijli as in electricity). Is it the hospital where I grew dizzy with joy when the doctor told me I was pregnant with a daughter. Or maybe it’s a combination of these past 15 years that tickle me with nostalgia.

And what about the carefree soul of the city? How has it survived so long? Before me, before my forefathers and before their’s? During the rule of the Mughals with their fortress situated in the heart of the city. During the bloody India-Pakistan partition, when thousands of people migrated from India and some fortunate ones landed in their new home, Lahore. A home where blood is always washed away and buried under lights, love, colour and life. It’s hard to see where the city stands now, when it has already seen the best and the worst. Or maybe both are still to be seen.

Lahore, until a couple of years ago, I watched your joy and struggle with choked breath. I always tried not to look away. But you know what? One day, I did. That day I did a lot of things to you. I left you on your own. I gave up a little on you. I cried for you. I hoped and prayed for you.

But I kept you in my heart. Like a crumpled message trapped in a bottle floating in an endless sea; never breaking, never escaping.

And that’s why I keep coming back to you. I owe you that. I owe myself that.

*Enjoy some pieces of Lahore. Image-credits: Sam-images

Green is my color, but today I bathed in red

Green is my color but today I bathed in red. Again. I thought I could get used to the blood, but can life live with death?

Green gives me hope, but today you stole it. Again. I drowned as innocent blood filled my veins.

Green gives me courage, but today you brought me to my knees. Not because I feared you, but because of my helplessness.

Green gives me peace, but today it shattered like glass, as little pieces of chaos cut through my flesh.

Green gives me faith, and even today I hold on tight.

I look ahead, beyond the lifeless bodies and the tormented cries.

I look above, through the burdening puffs of misery darkening my skies.

I have faith. And you can never steal it from me. Never.

This is dedicated to my beloved country Pakistan and to the people who died today at the Wahga Border suicide attack in Lahore. I couldn’t come up with much except desperate tears and an emotional rant.

Green and  White are the colors of my flag. Green is for Hope and White is for perseverance. Even though she bleeds now, green will bring back hope. It always does. That is something the attackers will never understand. Kill us again and again, but we will come back stronger. No matter how bloody a canvas your vicious ploys may paint, we will rise. Again and always.


National Blog Posting Month - November 2014

I am participating in the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) – November 2014. This is an awesome venture of In their own words:

“Every November, thousands of bloggers commit to posting daily. But it’s about much more than getting that post up—it’s about community and connection. It’s also about honing your craft, challenging yourself, and taking your blog to the next level.”

I will write every day of November. This is my second post.

#NaBloPoMo – Day 2



When I cooked my first Sheer Khorma (vermicelli pudding) on Eid …

Vermicelli. Milk. Sugar. Dates. Cardamoms. Almonds. Pistachios. I have it all laid out in front of me. My trembling hands reach for the cooking pot. My first attempt at making the most special dessert on Eid. Sheer Khorma – vermicelli pudding.

I pour in some clarified butter. A bunch of cardamoms. I wait to hear the popping sound of cardamoms that tells me I can move on to the next step. I grab a cup of vermicelli and fry it in the pot. “Wait for the color to change”, said mother, mother-in-law and Google. So I stir and I stir. I feel like a novice baseball player, striking the thin vermicelli strands back and forth.  The light caramel color of the vermicelli soon transforms into a glistening light brown. The sweet aroma of the butter and cardamoms make my senses tingle.

After frying, I add a liter of milk. Some newer versions call for condensed milk. But I lean towards simple ingredients. The original recipe passed down from decades outshines all other. I wait for the milk to boil and then I turn down the flame. Now the wait begins. Sheer Khorma needs time and patience. The more time, the creamier it becomes – like a mouthful of clouds. Edible white clouds.

I remember peering down at a similar cooking pot, a couple of years ago in Lahore (Pakistan) at my in-laws’ place. Every year on Eid, the entire house would be on its toes. Family members readying clothes for the morning prayer. Talks of henna prints on our hands. Matching bangles. And of course food. The last day of fasting opens doors to unlimited ways of overeating. Ramzaan(Ramadan) is essentially about spiritual reflection, abstaining from sins and a means of improving oneself (physically and mentally). But refraining from food and water is a basic principle. Post-Ramzaan, show us food and we forget everything else. The queen of all foods on Eid is essentially Sheer Khorma. I remember my mum-in-law, stirring the delectable pot of sugary vermicelli. I remember her worried expression as she repeated the long list of things still left for the next day’s celebration. I remember telling her not to worry because everything will turn out perfect. And it always did. Guests poured in the next day, gorging down delicious food, greeting each other with warm hugs and thankful smiles. Laughter, food and gratitude all day long. A perfect celebration is all I remember.

My mind wanders further back. Eid at my parents’ home before I got married. Like many too-busy-for-no-reason children and teenagers, I rarely entered the kitchen. But I knew that my mama would have everything ready in the morning; sheer khorma and other delights laid out for Eid guests. The morning ritual involved greeting parents with “Eid Mubarak!” and collecting hefty amounts of Eidi (money) that eventually made its way into convenient stores carrying junk food. Early morning Army gatherings were the biggest highlight.  Families visited each others’ homes carrying sweets. Spending the entire day in glittery made-up clothes was exciting. Even if it meant playing cricket or softball and tripping over uncomfortable sandals.  A different lifetime. Another perfect Eid.

Eid is celebrated all over the world, but with varying traditions and cultural intricacies. Its variations are marked by beautiful little nuances within each home, each family. I’ve lived through two different Eids in my life. I’ve tasted two different types of sheer khormas. I cherish each celebration, each bite that is much more than a simple dessert. A sweet dish that symbolizes a lifelong tradition. It represents perfection. It portrays joy.  And now, I am in a new country, celebrating Eid in my home for the first time. On the eve of Eid, for a minute there I almost felt lost; Not knowing where to start or what to do. But then all those memories came rolling in. The aroma of sheer khorma gave me comfort. Valuable family traditions gave me a gentle nudge in the right direction. Coaxing me to find my way.

After hours of tasting and wondering if the dish is complete or needs more time to cook, I finally pour out the sheer khorma in the serving dish. I top it with blanched and crushed almonds and pistachios. I take another quick bite. As the slippery vermicelli slides into my mouth, I realize that the taste and texture is close to what I’ve eaten in my homes, but I still have a long way to go.

I miss all those years of celebrating Eid with my family in my homeland. But then as I look at my freshly cooked pot of sheer khorma, I feel blessed and thankful. I feel as if everything is just as it were all those years ago.

My first Eid in my new home with my family. That sounds to me like another perfect Eid.

But one thing is for sure. I have big shoes to fill.