This is the story of American-born Natasha, who comes to live in Pakistan against her own wishes when her father decides to relocate here. Slowly, thanks to her grandmother, she discovers the customs and traditions of her country and learns to accept the move until she can go back to the US. But when life offers her an opportunity to do so, she finds she has much more to learn about the US than what she thought she knew
Ayesha Ijaz Khan writes about an American-born Pakistani girl’s observations on the behaviour of her family members
The next day, Dad called Dadi to give her the “good news”. He said she was very happy to hear that at least one of her sons was coming back to live with her. Mom didn’t say anything when Dad talked about moving back to Pakistan in time to help his parents out in their old age. I was not sure if Mom liked Dadi. She never said anything about it but sometimes I felt that Dadi was mean to her. Like the time when we visited four years ago and Dadi forbade Dad from spending time with Mom’s family. Mom was disappointed but she never protested.
Dada and Dadi also came to stay with us in Los Angeles twice. The last time they came, their plan was to spend the entire summer in the US. They arrived at Taya’s house first since he is older and because he paid for their fare. A month later, they came to our place. Dadi said they would spend six weeks with us and then go back to Taya’s for another month before returning to Pakistan. I remember life to be painfully disruptive in those six weeks. Mom stopped cooking for her clients, telling them that she was going away for a few weeks. Instead, she cooked only for Dada and Dadi. Dadi always found fault with Mom’s food. She said her masala lacked the proper spice mix and that her culinary style was too Punjabi. I don’t know why she had a problem with that because Dad always prides himself for being Punjabi.
Dadi’s family comes from a place called UP, which is in present-day India. She told me it is easy for me to remember because it is like “US”, except that it stands for United Provinces and not United States. Or, at least in 1947, when Dadi left the area, it stood for United Provinces. Apparently, there were a lot of Muslims in UP but not enough to become a part of Pakistan at the time of Partition. So, they had a choice. They could either stay in India or leave their homes and go to Pakistan to be with other Muslims.
Dadi’s family chose the latter. Dadi was 16 when they left. She says they were very wealthy in India, nawabs, or princes, of some state in UP, but they left everything behind to come to Pakistan. Sometimes Dad makes fun of Dadi’s stories about their days as nawabs in UP, and jokes that their claim to fame was evacuee property, none of which came her way, so she may as well forget about her comfortable childhood. Dadi gets annoyed with Dad when he says that, and sometimes throws her slipper at him or boxes his ears, but Dada has a hearty laugh.When Dadi’s family arrived in Pakistan, they chose to settle in Rawalpindi, unlike most of the other migrants from UP, who preferred Karachi or Hyderabad. Rawalpindi is part of the Punjab province, and at the time that Dadi’s family arrived to join fellow Muslims in Pakistan, many Hindus were leaving to be with their co-religionists in India. As a result, there was abandoned property which could only be claimed by those who could prove that they had left behind valuable assets in India. Dadi’s brothers claimed enthusiastically and succeeded in acquiring substantial amounts of land. The wealth was not divided evenly however, and although Dadi was married to Dada in a pompous ceremony and sent off with a hefty trousseau of admirable jewels, she was not given her share in the acreage ...
Just as Dadi’s brothers symbolised a privileged past to which she belonged, so Taya stood for the prospect of a brighter future. Taya was her firstborn, the apple of her eye: He was also always an ace student, and now, a renowned physician. Dadi had been singing his praises for as far back as I could remember.
Taya could do no wrong. She often likened him to her brothers. “Shrewd” was the word she used for men who were skilled at making money. Taya of course owed his riches to professional acumen and hard work, which is more than one can say for Dadi’s brothers. But she didn’t mind equating them as long as the end result meant comfortable living. In contrast, Dad of course, had not measured up, and Dadi always found some way of letting Mom and me know.
Dadi loved comparisons in general. Not only did she compare Dada with her brothers and Dad with Taya, but she also compared Mom with Tayee.
Tayee is what I call Taya’s wife. Taya and Tayee met in medical college in Pakistan. Taya was two years her senior, so they married as soon as Taya completed his fifth and final year, and she her third. Since they took off for the United States barely a month after they married, Tayee never completed her medical degree. “Why would she?” Dadi used to say. “When she found such a gem of a man, who needs a degree?”
Once they arrived in America, Taya worked very long hours in order to prove his worth as a foreign medical graduate. Tayee, on the other hand, went through several phases. She abandoned altogether the idea of pursuing anything even remotely connected to the medical field. Instead, she started off as a self-styled interior designer, then moved on to flower arrangement, later she became an aesthetician, and when that didn’t work out, she tried basket weaving. Presently, she prides herself as one of the pioneering mothers of a zealous religious organisation actively promoting an orthodox approach to our religion. Tayee started off with the organisation’s operations in the Greater Washington DC area, but is now caught up with its activities along the entire East Coast.
Everyone was surprised when Tayee first became involved with them, as no one had pinned her as the conventional type. In fact, when I was six or seven, she forced Taya to take her dancing when they visited us in Los Angeles. Dad had found it very odd as Mom and Dad never visited any nightclubs. Now, it seemed that the tables had turned, and Tayee was the conservative one amongst all of us. Whereas before, I remember her wearing low cut necklines and skirts above the knee, she now covers her body completely, and even wraps a scarf tightly around her hair and neck so that only her face is visible. In Dadi’s words; she had gone full circle, “from disco to darsi,” or sermon attendee.
Dadi, in spite of her years and regard for Islam, only covers her hair as a mark of respect at certain times, for instance, when she prays or pays her respects at a funeral, or when she hears the azaan, the call to prayer. That too, loosely, with a dupatta or sari ka palloo, loose end of the sari, and not a specially manufactured cloth designed exclusively to conceal a woman’s hair.
The last time Dada and Dadi visited us, as their six week stay drew to a close, Mom, I could notice, was breathing sighs of anticipated relief. But shortly before they were to return to Taya’s for one more month of holiday, we received an unexpected phone call during the day. Dad was away at work and Mom answered the phone. It was Tayee on the other end and she asked to speak to Dada. As Mom handed him the phone, Dadi gleefully speculated.“Bahu Rani? Is it Bahu Rani on the line?” she asked enthusiastically. “She must be eager for us to arrive and must want our flight details. Look how nice she is,” Dadi pointedly told Mom before she turned to Dada. “I want to speak to her too. Are you listening? You never listen to me.” She had yet to complete her sentence, when Dada, who had a knack for brevity, had already ended the call. “Have you gone deaf? Didn’t you hear that I also wanted to speak to her?” Dadi frantically questioned.
“There was no need,” Dada responded unassumingly. “It is decided that we will leave for Pakistan from Los Angeles, and not go back to Washington.”
“What? Are you crazy? Who has decided?” Dadi shrieked.
“Bahu Rani is busy. She has explained to me that it would be inconvenient if we go back to Washington because she has an important religious function coming up and has offered her home to several distinguished guests flying in from Dubai, London, Toronto, and many other places. So she has requested that we return from Los Angeles,” Dada explained nonchalantly.
“And you said fine? Without consulting me and without consulting my, elder son, who is waiting to see us, you said fine?” Dadi was offended and displeased. Not only would she no longer be able to point out to Mom what an obedient daughter-in-law Tayee was, she would be deprived of the comfort of her older son’s home. Even if Dadi didn’t swim, she still pulled up her sari and waded her feet in their ocean blue pool.
“I don’t mind,” Dada said calmly. “It’s fine by me. At this age, shifting from one place to another every month, it tires me out anyway. This is a better plan. Whatever Allah does is for the best, I am content. Besides, I don’t want to disrupt a religious function for my own whims.” Dada could always see the bright side of things.
Dadi would have none of it. “What religious function?” she exclaimed. “I tell you. She’s gone mad. Is this what religion teaches you? To tell your husband’s parents not to come and house some unknown strangers instead? Has she even read the Quran in a language she understands?” Dada refrained from responding from that point on, but Dadi vented much longer. She went back into history and talked about the time Taya first asked her permission to marry Tayee. She didn’t object, although she could have. She was not a girl of her choice, but she treated her as though she were. She even called her Bahu Rani, a term of endearment and respect, a term that no one else in the Punjab subscribed to, she noted.
Dadi came from the UP tradition, far more formal, and in her eyes, respectful, than the informal, laid-back Punjabi manner. In the Punjab, parents-in-law used their daughters-in-law’s first names when addressing them. But in the UP culture, or at least the nawabi style of UP that Dadi came from, titles were an honour to be cherished. And so, Dadi had conferred the title of Bahu Rani, or princess daughter-in-law, on Tayee and Piyari Bahu, or pretty daughter-in-law, on Mom. From that day on, however, Tayee was relegated to a solitary Bahu, simply daughter-in-law; and even Mom, through no fault of hers, was demoted to Choti Bahu, or younger daughter-in-law.
Excerpted with permission from Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazaar
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
Publishamerica. For more information visit www.publishamerica.com
239pp. Price not listed
Ayesha Ijaz Khan is a lawyer who has worked with both Pakistani and American law firms. She now lives in London with her husband