The Headless Chicken Conundrum

When you ask newly uprooted people what they miss the most about their native soil, the answer is invariably food and family. And in that order. Well, at least for me.

For something that’s given so much flak for complicating relationships, distance actually simplies feelings.  I love the theatre. I hate mochas. I cannot understand why Louis Vuitton handbags are a thing. I abhor the snow. Everything is better in purple. Waiting for a bus makes me question why I’m alive. Agatha Christie is beyond overrated. Jazz is the music of the gods. Moist is the ugliest word in the English language, except when applied to sponge cakes. Crocs are God’s way of punishing us. The thing I miss most about home is my mom and her cooking.

Distance did that. It removed me from the everyday mundane realities, the endless cups of tea and power outages, the traffic jams and grocery shopping, and focused my memories on the things that really counted.  The moments that anchored the driftwood that is childhood. Its seems surreal now, remembering that every day for the last 15 years, I bounded home from school, tossing down my bag as I scampered up onto the old dining table, pushing myself up on my elbows to look at the spread. Cooking is to my mother what handbags are to me; our Achilles heel, and the reason we get out of bed. We would sit down to the feast, talking about nothing and everything at length, nibbling our way through the day, some old TV show droning on in the background. I have lived my life twice; I tried each day out once on my own, and then I relived it with my mother.

Its sad how I never realised just how precious that time was until the day I was sitting in PRET, scoffing down a sandwich, trying to look all busy and important and rushed. That way, people assume its time you’re short on, not companionship. And now, when I’m sitting in the tea room, having lunch with friends from the office, I relish every moment of it. A little more than I should probably, the boss lives right next to the tea room and I’m sure the one hour lunch break is something he can’t swallow very easily. But who cares! I only have the one life now, I may as well live it as much as I can.

The other thing I miss, not the only other but one of many, is my language. People don’t say that. It would not be one of the top six options in family feud, but you would be surprised at how much you can miss the sound of people speaking your tongue.  My family was fairly promiscuous in terms of our upbringing, English was our childhood sweetheart, we flirted with varying degrees of success with Punjabi, had  short lived dalliances with Persian, and saved Urdu for our one big romance. Its not the language we speak best or most often, but what a lady. As Shakepeare would put it, had he been familiar with Eastern languages, it is beautiful,and therefore it is to be won.

If you had told me years ago that Cambridge would bring me closer to Faiz, and not Byron, I would have laughed. As it turns out, I am one of those people who drink black coffees in Lahore, and order Chai tea lattes in London. The last page of my university notebooks are covered in poems of Faiz and Faraz, scribbled down in moments of frenzy and quiet desperation as reminders of what beauty I belong to. My very clinical lab book is peppered with Urdu couplets, an oddly appropriate representation of its owner. Mostly capable, sometimes kookie.

Speaking of kookie, my very kookie dad is a’visiting, and in typical dad fashion, bought a suitcase full of sweets to warm our hearts and rot our teeths. And since it was a Thursday, which never really bodes well for my mood, I decided my office people may as well share my  father’s affections(calorie load). Anywho, when I went over on the weekend to visit him (a five floor walk up in London apparently outweighs his affections for me), we were walking along the road talking about the sweets and the office, when a girl walking in front of us stopped. She turned around, then back again, hesitating, before she finally looked at us and said, with a heart stopping smile, ‘It’s so good to hear Hindi again.’  Then ofcourse, my father engaged her in a long discussion about how he was actually speaking Urdu, but Hindi and Urdu are pretty much the same, except for the Sanskrit words, and…… Lets just say, fifteen minutes later, she was probably wishing she had never heard our voices. But that smile. That smile was pretty special.

Three decades ago, my mother had a very similar encounter. Her first week in America, someone hailed her from across a college football field. A typical Pakistani greeting, ‘Baji.’ ‘Elder sister.’ Respectful enough to establish the caller as a non-stalker, but warm enough to suggest familiarity. She stopped, spotting a lanky boy, newly uprooted and clearly in transition, racing across the field. He stopped just short of running into her, bending over, clutching his knees as he panted, ‘I saw your dupatta. Are you from Pakistan?’ He was from Kashmir, a young boy far away from anything familiar, alone enough to be moved by the sight of a wisp of chiffon blowing in the wind.

There’s this saying in Urdu, that magical language of my childhood. ‘Ghar ki murghi daal barabar.’ Roughly translated, it means even if your mom makes roast chicken at home, it will feel like beans on toast. The reverse is also true.  All baked beans need is a bit of distance to make them feel like a Sunday roast.

Heinz should get onto that.