I am in the dining room at our single story house in Malir Cantt, which is a suburb of Karachi. Evening has crept in and I am seated at the long table that seems to stretch interminably. It is only set for one, why I will never know. How old am I? perhaps three perhaps less?
I am facing the window, framed in white wood; the shutters open outwards revealing the voluptuous fall of the pink and white flowers of the bougainvillea. They obscure almost half the view. The evening shadows have begun to lengthen and I realize it is dinnertime. Where are my brothers or my parents I don’t know? I do know the presence by my side of a woman whose face I cannot recall. She holds the spoon to my lips “eat” she says. I tap my cheek with my forefinger and say “abi hay” or “it is still here”. The spoon hovers close to my lips again; I can sense her frustration “eat! Other wise the bogey man will come” she says sternly. As soon as the words are out of her lips a dark man hoists himself up wards in the window framed by the bougainvillea. I watch him while he remains in the half hoisted position his face dark from the sun, his hair black and curly, his upper torso is naked and he is young may be not as young as me but not as old as a bogey man should be. I freeze and am speechless, mouth closed, chewing stopped I look at the empty window where just a moment ago he had stood half hoisted by his forearms his young muscles tense and silhouetted against the white frame. The pink flowers of the bougainvillea sitting on his head, waving gently with the breeze, and the slanting rays of the late evening sun leaving the petals translucent wherever they touch. This is no bogeyman; this is a servants kid trying to climb the window. I do remember the impatient harrumphs from the woman by my side. I still do not recall her face.
When I grew a little older I was told that I loved the color blue, As a pre teen I did not know why people in my family thought I loved blue, and did I love blue? I never stopped to question them or myself and took that at fact value. My family also noticed that I only ate the white of a fried egg and thought that the yellow was an inedible part of the egg and could not be coerced to eat it. Many years after my Nanny left our service the fact emerged that she would eat the yellow of the egg and leave the white for me. I had grown up never tasting the yellow of an egg.
The Nanny or Aya as we call them in my memory is headless. I cannot put a face to her body. I remember her shalwar and her shirt and occasionally her trailing dupatta but beyond and above that I draw a blank. Yet I was told that I loved her that she was my favorite and because I loved blue I called her “Neeli aya” (Blue Nanny).
I accepted these facts till I reached the age where I could pick my own colors and I realized that I actually hated blue…….. It depressed me and was blah in the color scheme of my life. It was a while before I could pick up my voice and say, “I don’t like blue!” and with it came relief by the lifting of this depressing color from my clothes, surroundings and gifts. I also have a new perspective on my Neeli Aya and what I as a child expressed as her name………….
To this day I am a slow eater,and fulfill the sunnah of eating slowly. I never made it to dinner at the hospital cafeteria as a resident and was always left alone to eat after my voracious brothers, and now my husband and others have emptied their plates. People usually leave the table long before I finish and even the politest of them excuse themselves.
After all these years I have been rewarded by Allah with a companion who eats as slowly as I do perhaps even more.
My grandson and I have a leisurely lunch, which may last over an hour, we chat, he asks questions I answer, or I make up stories and he prompts me and we enjoy every bite. We Thank Allah for it and I thank Allah for giving me a partner in leisurely eating and chatting after so many years of being left alone to finish my meal by myself at the table……….