The Maid’s Hands

Clink, clink, clink.

I watch her through the rising steam of my cup of chai.

She brings the pestle down again and again onto the small, round, red hot peppers being doomed to the destiny of powdery flakiness in the mortar. She sits on the floor, the gold bangles on her dark wrists gleaming in the midday sun streaming in through one of the kitchen windows.

With every new assault on the peppers, her bangles clink against the rim of the marble mortar.

I am in Karachi, Pakistan. We are staying with my husband’s uncle. His house is fifty years old and sits in what was once an up and coming neighbourhood of Karachi.  Three generations have walked through the doors of this house. It’s big and bright, with several rooms. The floors are remodeled, modern and misleadingly white but the door frames tell the tales of yesteryears. A brown, peeling banister curls from the balcony down into the garden. It used to be red at one point, I am told.

This house has a feeling of being lived in. It has two stories that have seen their share of stories. New brides and new babies, and old grandparents and old grudges.

Clink, clink, clink.

The lady with the espresso skin and black eyes plays the pestle and mortar like an instrument.

In front of her sits an array of whole spices awaiting the slaughterhouse treatment. She looks up at me and smiles timidly.

A persistent crow interjects our silence. I miss hearing birds chirp and crows craw in the middle of December. Our frozen Canadian skies don’t support any such avian activities at this time of the year.

She empties out the ashes of the red peppers into a small jar, her actions methodical and intuitive. She’s done this a million times.

In comes the cumin. Aromas have wings on the backs of which you travel to different eras, to different places. And the smell of freshly ground cumin takes me back to my childhood, to my mother’s hair gleaming in the afternoon sun, as she stood toasting cumin seeds on the stove.

Clink, clink, clink.

I nibble on a pistachio cookie and take a sip of my chai. “How long have you worked here?”

“Since I was fourteen”. No sadness or regret or embarrassment, just a fact.

“Oh.”

My daughter runs into the kitchen like the whirlwind she is, grabs an apple from the fruit basket, and runs out with it.

“Let me wash it first!”

She’s probably half way to China by now. Three year olds.

The woman cranes her neck to look at my daughter through the kitchen door, her eyes gleaming with genuine joy. She smiles.

“She’s beautiful”.

“Thanks, that she is. Do you have children?”

“Two boys and a girl.”

“Oh, acha. They go to school?”

“They do. My girl is very bright!” Her dark eyes are smiling.

“She wants to become a doctor so I told her, ‘Study, study as much as you want. You don’t have to work. You just have to study’”.

“That’s amazing. Make sure she completes her education. It’s so important for girls to be educated, na? It can make or break their life.”

She nods in whole-hearted agreement.

Clink, clink, clink.

She empties out the cumin into another jar then gets up, produces a karahi from the cabinet, plops it onto the stove top and feeds it a generous serving of oil. She sits back, grabs a few garlic cloves and places them into the mortar. Down comes the pestle.

“How did you get this job?”

“My mother use to work for Barey Sahab, your uncle-in-law’s father. I am one of nine children so when I was old enough, my mother asked him to give me a job here. I use to do small chores here and there. Now that my mother has retired, I work here full-time. And my two younger sisters work part-time.”

I think about her mother, an elderly lady who I had seen visiting the house sometimes. The woman’s sisters are tiny, frail things, no older than fifteen. They help with small chores, taking care of the young children, reorganizing drawers and cabinets.

And I wonder.

If may be one of them draws well. Or loves to sing. Or is really good at math. I wonder if their mother was a great cook, or would have loved to read. May be she would have been a talented writer. May be one of them has a knack for fashion, or could have been a gifted teacher.

A lifetime of skills untapped, undiscovered, unapplied. All because their hands never held books. Instead, they spent decades dusting down banisters that turned from red to brown.

The hands that learnt to play the pestle and mortar like an instrument. Since the age of fourteen.

But at least the cycle breaks somewhere. Someone decides that a girl needs a dream. And helps her achieve it. And in the process, changes the destinies of her future generations.

And may be one day that girl will learn to play the mortar and pestle too, but only because she wants to, because she likes the smell of fresh cumin.

Because all a girl really needs is a book. And the dreams just follow.

Imposter Monster

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All the colors of the rainbow in my hand

I am an accountant.

It’s an exhilarating and exciting job. Everyday, I have key decisions to make like what color to choose for my spreadsheet report. Which file folder do I use? Which color stickies do I select? It’s almost as unpredictable and creatively satisfying as being Beyoncé. Continue reading

The Second Class Citizens Foundation

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Creeping on my mom and spawn

You are the apple of your parents’ eyes. They love you unconditionally. They have tucked you in and kissed your boo-boos. They have ooh-ed and aah-ed at each one of your accomplishments. They love you more than they love anyone else. Continue reading

The Neanderthal I Did Not Marry

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That is an onion ring. And the disdain on his face is real.

I don’t think I can go on much longer talking about parenting without talking about who I am doing this with. You know, the ying to my yang, the thread to my needle, the mashed potatoes to my gravy, the fish to my chips, the chocolate syrup to my brownie. Mmmm….brownies…urghghghh. Wait, what was I talking about? Continue reading

Mommy’s Hips Don’t Lie (they only jiggle)

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Every morning, as I get ready, my daughter stares at me while I do my makeup. She stands next to me while I put on mascara, with one eye closed and my mouth open (because everyone knows that it’s a natural reflex to have your mouth open when putting on mascara) and some days, she asks me, “Mamma what’s that?”, and I say “Makeup” and then she says, “Why are you putting that on your face?”. Continue reading

Apartment Therapy

 

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I recently read an article about a woman in the States who lives in an apartment building with her toddler and found a less than pleasant letter on her door telling her how she was a horrible person for raising a child in a tiny apartment and how she probably should not have reproduced.

This one hit home for me. Continue reading

The F-ing Milestone

Our child finally made it to a key milestone. It’s the moment every parent awaits breathlessly, keeping their eyes and ears open, hoping they’ll be around when it happens. And when it finally does, you wipe away tears because you’re suffocating on your own laughter, and will likely pop a vein in your head trying to do the “disappointed parent” face simultaneously.

Our spawn dropped the F-bomb. Continue reading