Pakistan – On Tapal Chai, Dawn Newspaper and Small Talk
As I prepare to pack up and go back home to Basel, I think about the things I’ll miss most about Pakistan. WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST WHEN YOU LEAVE after a good dose of good ol’ Pakistan?
Unwinding in my mother’s lounge, sipping a cup of freshly-brewed Tapal Chai, “the people”, I think out loud – my mother, who will hopefully come visit during the year. BUT there are things I can’t hold on to some of which are the following:
1. Dawn News on a Sunday morning for sure! Nothing matches crisp sheets of news paper, rustling between your fingers as you sip Tapal Chai.
There’s something about growing up in Pakistan and Dawn newspaper. Early morning memories are made up of front pages, Images, Weekend news, and Crossword puzzles. Dawn has evolved, yet stayed the same. Reliable, no-nonsense sharp reporting with a local flavour that every Pakistani is familiar with. We do not just READ Dawn, we savour it. With our chai, omelet, rusk, malai-jam and paratha.
Dawn newspaper for me, will always mean Pakistan, and no online edition can make the dream real. It has to be felt between the fingers, the smell of freshly printed sheets of newspaper on a dewy Karachi morning!
2. Haggling over prices just for fun.
Stepping out the door means someone calling after you. Wait, if you’re going out, can you please get some tamatar, hara dhania and dahi on your way back? And that’s not all, this request is followed by innumerable phone calls to add to the grocery list – pyaaz, aaloo, oh, and please check the darzi on the way, he might have stitched my shirt by now! The inevitable ON THE WAY list grows longer and more complex. It’s all about the rising price of petrol, mind you, and killing all your birds with one stone mentality, … (or ONE bulldozer, in this case!).
Pakistan is all about economizing, and we start with our neighborhood sabzi wala. After all, I have to give the hisaab to my mom. And there’s NO WAY she’ll believe that tomatoes are selling at Rs. 120/kg today when I buy them, as opposed to yesterday when she bought them at Rs.80! So bargain I must … and I have to say, there is a certain thrill in playing the haggling game. 10 down, 10 more to go, I say in my mind, as the seller quotes 120, and comes down to Rs. 100/kg eventually. Don’t know who won in the end, but as they say, the ‘journey’ (pun intended), was worth the destination!
3. Small talk in Urdu with the shopkeepers, street vendors, bank walay, aaj ki taaza khabar on the political and social scene. #ElectionFeverhithard2018
A greeting to your banker, shopkeeper, or the amrood wala does not begin and end with a formal Assalam Alekum. NEVER! Your banker offers a cup of freshly whipped ‘best-in-the-world’ Coffee. You know the kind we used to whip up with teaspoons of white sugar, instant coffee and a few drops of milk? And till today, THISSS brew tastes better than any Starbucks OR freshly brewed Cappuccino in the world! As I wait for the coffee to arrive, we chat over the latest $ rate, the rupee devaluation, the likelihood of IK fixing our national problems, our treasury … and of course, … the plight of the common man.
All this sanjeeda guftugu over a cup of coffee, after which, my banker asks me, very discreetly, Is it possible to migrate to Canada? I’ve given my papers to the lawyer but it’s taking soooo long! Small talk can take on a bigger meaning in a matter of minutes. Just like the $ rate in our country! So keep an eye on it – it’s the heartbeat of the nation!
4. Meeting old friends over Chai, Coffee, Lunch, and Chit-chatting like we never parted.
If you’ve been to school or college in Pakistan like I have, and you head back once or twice a year to visit, you activate dormant Whatsapp groups to check who else is landing in town! Meetups are calendered in like clockwork and the conversation flows as if you never parted! THOSE are the friendships that stay with you throughout the year. The ones that hold an intangible sense of romantic nostalgia and as you grow older, with each successive year, the meetups hold more meaning and love and affection … time stands still and you pick up from where you left off .
Whoever coined that very cliched saying for our autograph books – Make new friends but don’t forget the old. The new are silver but the old are gold, REALLY knew what they were talking about! And Karachi means for me, old friends’ meetups in heavy, and healthy GOLD doses.
5. Home-cooked food that magically appears at the table and a house that cleans itself too.
Living in foreign lands, away from Pakistan means, very simply, that … you can’t have your cake and eat it too! Live in a land of fresh air, mountains, chocolate, and cheese yes, but do remember to cook and clean, do the laundry and pick up after yourself. The luxury of walking into a house and being greeted with the aroma of freshly-cooked sabzi, daal, and paalak gosht that you had nothing to do with the making of, is a desi luxury to be relished. The same goes for walking out of the house without having to clear the dishwasher or loading the washing machine.
LOVE is in the air, and it has everything to do with your very desi helper … you LOVE and you LOVE and you hand out a generous tip when you leave … because your heart truly skips a beat at the thought of finding her there again when you visit next year!
6. Our FUCHSIA early morning meetings
It seems strange to work on vacation, but as someone once said. If you love what you do, it’s not really work! FUCHSIA connects me to Pakistan in a way that nothing ever has. A catchy beat from the latest Coke studio number, a human story about drug rehabilitation, a shopping spree to grab that Colossal Kajal at Rs. 350 and a stop at the latest cafe to review a new dessert or breakfast offering. It’s all happening here. I am amazed at the resilience of this Qaum to find cheer and celebration in small joys. We’re not looking to conquer mountains, but just to cross the river for now. When we come to the mountain, we’ll figure it all out. And FUCHSIA allows me to be there, to see it all happen.
So I hope you will understand when I say … It’s time to leave Lekin Dil Hai Keh Maanta Nahin! Hoping for a Naya Pakistan, or the makings of…when I return insha Allah!