It was almost automatic, associating the word ‘home’ with that place. It was my identity, it was the house I grew up in and I loved it with all my heart.
The most iconic thing there was the hard blue carpet that ran through the apartment which still had stains from all the times we spilled chai on it and considering how long we’d lived there for, there were many stains to show off. Each room had its own tiny balcony which at the time was no less than a luxury. My dad with his overenthusiastic green thumb, made every balcony a jungle. The plants were all gorgeous especially in bloom, but living in a desert meant that either they were always covered in sand or wilting under the scorching Karachi sun. But maybe it was for the best, considering the plants hid the chipping peach colored paint that exposed the cement beneath. It was because of this horrid choice of color that our kaam wali, Hina, referred to our building as ‘pinky’!
I loved our little apartment; it was perfect in my eyes. From the plush blue velvet sofas which we weren’t allowed to sit on, because you know mehmaan, to my ‘car-bed’, a corner of the house that was mine. As a kid I thought that it truly looked exactly like a Mustang, but looking back, there was no resemblance.
That’s the thing about being a kid, everything is beautiful and everything is enough.I still remember the day that Apartment Number 8 became pathetic for me. If I think hard enough, I can feel the hatred I had for my home that day. Tabinda Aunty and Feroze Uncle had just moved to Defence, you know that one move there means you’ve made it. We pulled up next to their home, which, compared to most apartment sizes, looked mansion-esque. Perfectly cut hedges lined the way up to the door, not a single twig would dare break out in revolt, and before I could get over the manicured front lawn we met their front door.
It had a way for carrying itself, it was simple yet so daunting. Feroze Uncle opened the door with his welcoming smile, but I didn’t notice him, rather what lay behind him. Everything was fresh, it looked like something out of a magazine.
It looked like those houses I thought I could never stand in but there I was, right in the middle of all this fresh glamour, it felt like I didn’t deserve to be there.
As I walked through the house it was as if every corner of the house looked down upon me. I took a deep breath in and it was as if I was standing in a field of jasmines. The smell was soft and soothing, almost like it could solve all my 10-year-old problems. And Uff Allah they had those hard wood floors, the types they show in the dream house makeover shows from America. It felt so smooth under my feet, like I could just slide over it. Our carpet back home was quite the opposite. The hard wood looked as good as I had imagined, but I had always hoped to have them in my own house, and as shallow as it may sound, it hurt to see it in Feroze Uncle’s house before ours.
Seeing Bilal, their son and my friend’s room, made me believe that what they show us in IKEA catalogs can be made possible. My realm of possibilities truly did widen on that day. Every minute detail in that house intrigued me, inspired me but also angered me.
Why couldn’t we have the same things they did? How were we still in the same place, but they were here, in this palace?
The months went by, and more families we knew were becoming palace families. Every house looked so gleeful. Curvy calligraphy adorned walls, and family photos resembling Colgate ads were set as reminders of how happy they all were. Every dawat was at that time, just a testament that we were stuck in one place, and everyone else we knew was moving ahead. The questions filled my head, why? What were we doing wrong? Our fathers got into a car every morning and went to work, all us kids went to schools and our moms would stay at home. Our lives were all similar, but what was I missing? What was so fundamentally different about us, that left us in Apartment number 8. It baffled me every day.
The color and love I found in my house started to fade away. The carpet that covered the apartment floor now seemed rough, uncomfortable even. My bed seemed like flimsy plastic, and boy was it hollow, I worried it would break one fine day! I tossed and turned in bed, the mattress I thought was the best in the world now felt harder than stone. Even our fantastic wooden dining table appeared to have chips in its paint job, oh and that intricate work on it, I thought it looked tacky, paindu even! It hurt to have Hina call our building ‘pinky’. Even she knew we were stuck in this place, in this filth, she was mocking us.
It was in this time that it became our turn to host a dawat and in that moment I could have died of shame. I didn’t want them to come see our place. And also, why would they come HERE? Here of all places when they’re sitting in those lovely homes of theirs. It was the day before the dawat and I just had to ask my mom why we were still living there, my quest for answers wouldn’t be complete without asking the question directly. White glossy cabinets dominated the kitchen, and my mother stood in front of the scorching stove, which was laden with grease stains. The scent of Haleem was heavy in the air with all its spice and masala.
I just said what I had on my mind, ‘Mama why are we so poor?’
Her head shot up, and a swift move, she was looking me in the eye.
‘Poor?’ she asked with a look of concern over her face.
‘Mama, everyone has moved to such nice houses, we’re still here. Kyun?’
She sighed, pulled her kitchen chair right next to me and held me tightly, ‘Your Baba is having some trouble with work. We didn’t tell you because you would worry! Stuff will get better, and soon InshAllah. Don’t worry about a house, we’ll move somewhere nicer too!’.
She smiled, asked if I was okay, and then went back to work. I was a kid, that answer just made me blame my father. Why couldn’t he work as hard as Bilal’s father? Maybe if he pulled up his socks rather than just lazing around at work, we’d be in a better place. I was going to school, and doing well and Mama played the role of wife and mother well, he needed to play his part. Didn’t he feel any shame going to all those people’s houses, houses that were better than his? I never dared saying anything to him. But the feeling stayed, it kept growing and it kept spreading.
It was the day of the dinner, concern gripped my soul, they would judge us, they would mock us and most worrying was that they wouldn’t even be wrong. My dad’s favorite activity during any dinner was to play his Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan CD as background music on his sound system, his pride and joy, he had had it for so long. And that day I pleaded with him not to play anything. I loved that CD too, but I was so paranoid at the thought of it playing and them hating it, and walking out of our shabby house. He hadn’t done anything right up till this moment and I wasn’t going to let him embarrass us further.
When dinner was served, I could hear everyone say ‘Arey yaar Faisal, Nusrat ki awaaz sunay beghair ye dawat nahin hogi, this is why we come to your house’! And then of course even Nusrat joined the party, I bet even he wouldn’t have liked our house. No no no, I thought to myself!
They’re mocking us by making him put on the music, and he’s naïve enough to play it! I was so convinced that they hated us, that they must discuss among themselves why they’re even friends with us. I hated this feeling, I wanted it to go away, and go away NOW! My father can’t do anything right!
Years later, we were finally moving. Moving to the place that finally fit the stature we so deserved. We said goodbye to that hideous blue carpet and hello to shining marble floors. Just walking on them felt fabulous. Bigger wardrobes, a much larger kitchen and dining and living room. Finally, a home I could take pride in. I could proudly call up my friends and tell them the new address and not feel an inch of shame. It was an address I could tell the world! Baba finally pulled it off, took him long enough! Maybe he hit his lucky break finally. He’s quite secretive about work, all I know is that he’s a banker, but he kept trying his hand at business.
The past few years have been good for him, my mom would tell me he was getting promoted.
Its 10 years since that day and I’m moving out to live on my own, I’m a big boy now. While packing I found a letter my dad wrote to his dad, but he never sent it! He had asked Dada Abu for money. Right before everyone started moving into nicer houses, turns out the man my dad did business with took all the money and left. He was left penniless! He wrote in his letter,
“Abbu Jee, you cannot imagine the pain I feel writing this. I’ve failed you, my wife and my son! I am supposed to be your support, you’re an old man, yet I have to beg you for money. I should never had left banking, you were right about that! I’m applying for jobs now, pray that I get something. I can’t even look my family in the eye, what will I tell them? Please help me, please!”