house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Identical Greens

And the day started so well... hysterical breakfast on a friend's terrace. Donuts and black coffee laid out on a nomad's carved table. After a good banter about fat-cops-and-donuts stereotypes we discovered a pile of bamboo sticks lying around. We turned these into javelins and spent a happy hour hurling them at the dog's water bowl on the lawn below (no, the dog was NOT thirsty at any point during the event).

The entire paragraph above exists so that I can write the next four words: I HIT THE BOWL. A deafening tin-bang and a dent to mark the feat. Eeeh the cheering, the frantic frenzy everyone put into their next attempts (unsuccessful). Sad, sad, sad to write a blog about a silly javelin competition...

Let's make it about something else then. Although, come to think of it, what followed reminds me of another javelin hero - the Iraqi Paralympic champion Ahmed Naas, who trained throwing a stick across a dusty field; in London, he won silver and briefly held the javelin world record; when he returned to Iraq, no one waited for him at the airport and he took a taxi home. The next day he woke up and went back to sell cabbages at his family's vegetable stall.

We too ended up among greens.

In a remote sector of Islamabad, we found vast poli-tunnels where a billion identical seeds turn to a riot of green leaves and sit there quietly waiting for buyers. Yes we went Sunday-morning-plant-shopping. Far too late, Kira and I realised what this meant.

It meant walking up and down a million pathways-between-green-plants. It meant checking minuscule differences in stalk vigour, leaf breadth, plant height and price. It meant choosing hanging pots and clay bells. It meant buying guess what? Yes, donuts from a street vendor balancing a huge tray on his head.

It meant skipping after a butterfly from one flower pot to another. It meant a migration of marigolds from dusty path to braided hair. It meant - finally - a laden truck and a ride in the back, using toes, knees and hips to keep various plants in place. It meant a chase of clouds, sunshine and wind, small flights and a broken pot, a traffic light stop next to a bus full of schoolgirls, who jostled each other to see us better, to wave and to smile.

P.S. The man on a motorbike, in front of the pots and greenhouse - do you see him? Have another look, tell me if you notice anything else. Comment below. Hint: focus on the side of his head. Well?

P.P.S. Since we seem to be playing 'Spot Something Amazing' please tell me who's the person walking - how should I put it? - in a rather determined fashion towards a greenhouse, in one of the pictures? Resemblance to any celebrity, real or fictional?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Impostor K

Last night on Facebook, as I was posting the link to the previous blog (scroll down for a glance, people!)... one online Magnus Wolfe Murray started a chat:


sweet Moona bear!
I'm posting a wee blog!

Mica bear

but full of pictures - one of you and I minus one tooth

I will read it right now

we just back from dance class
blog not too great - couldn't find the groove

I know

but sometimes you just need to plough on
you know what? that my writing no good?
I know it too..

Got to run the iPad is running out of battery and I only got one bye bye


Ok ok it is kiwi

nope it's the mama bear
what ipad have you got out there?


Kiwi. Sitting at the other end of the table, typing on the (only) Ipad. Please do notice:

a) her calm impersonation of difficult-to-impersonate adults (Moona) in risky circumstances (sharing a table with me)
b) my open, trusty nature followed by blind persistence-in-denial (so lovable!)
c) her cool use of spell-check under pressure
d) my sharp logic (we have only one Ipad, location: Islamabad hence: Moona can't be using it) and still, persistence in denial...
e) her disarming honesty (when bored with the game)
f) my impeccable observation and detection skills (ascertaining that THE Ipad was indeed here, namely between Kira's paws; noting that she looked extra angelic at other end of the table; finally reading her confession - 'IT IS ME, KIWI' - TWICE) and still, where were we? Persistence in denial.

Eeh, the games we play...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Polar Ponies

FOR THE DURATION OF THIS BLOG YOU ARE AN 11-YEAR OLD GIRL BORN AND RAISED IN WESTERN EUROPE. Now in Pakistan, and today you're off to Punjab, a day-trip to an unnamed village, a lunch invitation. This is what you see:

An empty, endless motorway. The 'keeeeooow' of a falcon, suspended like a kite in the empty, endless sky. The hills around you: someone says they're pure salt and you immediately want to jump out and lick a boulder, to check. (Erm, so does your mum).

Slim chimneys above mounds of red clay, heat and dust - brick kilns, apparently. They put children in there, they tell you, to stack bricks inside the ovens. You see one of those children scurry by, matted hair, dusty shirt, dry lips.

Gaping carcasses of goats are being butchered by the roadside (it is after all Eid Saturday!), grim gatherings of men hunched over long knives, carving into ribcages that hold no hearts, just air. Pelts, seemingly unconnected to the scene, are stretched out to dry in the grass nearby.

The car stops in front of a whitewashed house. The front door is open and you can see inside. Corridors the colour of smoke, decorated with ancient swords and family portraits. The rest is echo and haze. A father and son in spotless kurtas walk out to welcome you.

They take you to another house, for the Eid-feast. Glass veranda, airy and full of small birds, yellow with noise ('Don't forget to close the door!')

People in crisp cotton and clouds of perfume, gold-rimmed glasses, cups of tea and all the light, pleasant banter reserved for family reunions.

A sumptuous feast, tables upon tables laden with food - and you try them all and discover only one dish that is NOT spicy. At the same time, your dad bites into a flat bread and one of his front teeth falls out. You drink Coca Cola to take your mind off a) your burning tongue and b) father's new smile.

You go for a walk round the garden and find this: a deep pond containing mammoth orange fish that leap out to swallow your flat bread and any attached finger; and a shallow pond inhabited by exotic birds, cranes, flamingoes, painted ducks. Wow, flamingoes. Pretty but nasty, you conclude as you watch two of the pink-feathered pansies having a squabble, cawing in that honking deep voice they have.

Back to the gathering then, lazy chatter in English and Urdu, badminton on the lawn. Some boys are shooting an air rifle at an empty milk carton. You get a shot or two; you hunch over the weapon and your sunny hair falls around the black muzzle but you strike the target and the boys cheer.

You have no idea what they're talking about, this sport they all play, fast and on horseback. Sounds fun and dangerous and you can't just 'try it out'. They train for years, they've been riding from before they could walk and now there are these tournaments and they MUST play all the time. They mention the name and you forget it instantly because something new catches your gaze. A tree that flutters. Leaves or wings? Both. Butterflies on each leaf, too many to count. Someone tells you that this tree only blossoms every 20 years or so. It is in blossom today and what are the chances of THAT?

Before you leave, a friend takes you to a dusty corral full of these dark, beautiful Arabian horses. The friend whistles: 'Check out those polar ponies'. One canters over to the gate for a pat on the velvet nose; it towers above you and the lip trembles 'what, no carrot?'

On the drive back, stuffed and sleepy, you go: 'Wait a minute: why on earth do they call them 'ponies'? And there was nothing 'polar' about them either!'

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Children Must Watch

First it was the unexplained migration of goats. There were goats everywhere, their soft flanks painted with ochres, reds and greens. 'Wow, look at those goats' - we pointed from the car and were rewarded with one word: Bakr-id. The feast of the goat. Smiles turned to shivers as the infidels (us!) heard the whole story of Eid-al-Adha.

All those goats, rams, those beautiful red cows, that camel (!!!) - all these creatures that fill the streets of Islamabad - will be dead by Sunday. Namely: on Saturday morning entire families will gather around their sacrifice and say a prayer. The animal will be laid on one side, held down by the men. The patriarch will slit its throat and hold the warm body in his arms until it bleeds out. The children must watch.

The children must watch. 'They don't like it, but it's good for them' - I hear many times during these days. And 'They must understand'. Understand what? The 'rules' are spelled out: a) you must love the sacrificed animal (choose a favourite animal, one that you fed and cared for); b) the sacrifice must be done respectfully, no jokes, no giggling; c) you must stay with the animal until it dies; d) the meat is divided into three parts: one for the close family, one for the extended family and friends and the third for the poor; e) the children must watch - and learn the story of Abraham, who was ready to sacrifice his beloved son Ismail, at God's command. At the last minute, God replaced Ismail with a ram.

Since then, over 100 million animals are sacrificed every Eid, more than 10 million in Pakistan alone (thank you Wikipedia!) And the children must watch. I remember, as a child, watching my grandfather killing a hen. About 15 minutes before the act, I saw him sharpen his axe and learned why. Those last 15 minutes of the hen's life never left me; angst and adrenaline, curiosity and grief, rage and powerlessness, a lethal blend met with retching and sobbing, drowned in tears. I remember, another time, being inexplicably fond of a black turkey and shouting at them to tie ME up in the boot of our car instead, when the turkey made its final journey to a Christmas table in the city.

Why MUST the children watch? Moona has a good lay answer: 'If they eat meat, they MUST watch! You must know what's involved in putting that steak on your plate.' Based on which he decrees that I must watch, that Kira must watch too. We quake and gulp. We spend two days of terror around the beautiful goats, with flashbacks of an unnamed Romanian hen from the 70s flapping around a dusty courtyard minus its head.

We didn't watch. We woke up that Saturday morning and heard goats bleat from every back yard in the neighbourhood. We heard voices. Bleat. We heard the swish of sharpening metal. Bleat. We heard chanting. Bleat. Sometime later, we became aware of an unendurable silence.