Nonsensical and sometimes not-so-nonsensical rants about what may or may not be going through my head. Try to liberalize your canvas of interpretation when reading these posts - you will go far...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An ode to dad

Every year on Father’s Day, I am in a dilemma. I ponder long and hard over what I should buy for the man who means the most to me in this world and every year, I am at a loss of ideas.  I know my father is extremely fastidious when it comes to clothes and perfumes’ so buying either of these without his approval is a risk of a very grave sort. To this end, for the last few years now, I have taken the safer road and chosen to pen down my thoughts regarding his importance in my life. This year, I decided to profess my love and appreciation for my father (‘dad’ henceforth) on my blog so I could share my sentiments for him on a public forum.

As Dad’s youngest child and only daughter, I have been extremely pampered and a (self professed) ‘daddy’s little girl’ in the truest essence of the phrase. But dad’s pampering did not just extend to buying expensive gifts for me; rather he chose to pamper me with knowledge, with his unconditional love, time and patience. I come from a somewhat conservative family; in terms of their thinking, my grandparents are very old school and orthodox. In such an environment, my dad who is both liberal and secular stands out as a rebel. He inculcated the same fighter and never-say-die spirit in me and my brother and taught us to stand up for our rights and principles, even if it meant gaining disapproval from others. On many occasions dad urged us to be stubborn and unrelenting where the situation demanded it and I have a constant, unfaltering reassurance that come what may, one maelstrom after another, I will always have my father’s support and encouragement. He will always stand behind me like the pillar of strength he is in my life and keep nudging me forward.

Speaking of which, I don’t think I have ever seen a father in my life who is as expressive as my father (I may be a little biased but I’m not exaggerating right now). Dad never misses an opportunity to tell my brother and me that he will always support us in whatever we choose to do in life. Day in and day out he reminds us that he loves us and will continue to do so no matter what happens. Every single time either one of us talks to him on the phone, the last thing he says before shutting the phone, is ‘I love you, beta’ and by habit, we reply ‘love you too, dad’, without realizing the effect his three parting words have on our lives. Hearing someone confess their love for you is the most beautiful feeling in the world and I have to thank my dad for making me experience that feeling several times in a day.

I told my father many years ago that he’s not a ‘cool dad’ – an allegation he has taken to heart and hence, tried his level best to alter my opinion. Today, I am taking this opportunity and clarifying what I really meant when I said that: My dad was never a “cool dad” in the way that fathers often try to be “cool dads.” He’s just a “cool” person whose “coolness” happens to spill over into his dad-ness. I’m not sure I’m able to get the message across, but in a nutshell, all I’m trying to say is that my father is a pretty darn awesome person and he incorporates that into his role as a father.

Honoring a Father on Father’s Day is about more than a Dad who brings home a paycheck, shares a dinner table, and attends school functions, graduations, and weddings. It isn’t even so much about spending time together. It’s more about unconditionally loving children who are snotty and stubborn, who know everything and won’t listen to anyone. It’s about respect and sharing and acceptance and tolerance and giving and taking. It’s about loving someone more than words can say and it’s wishing that it never had to end.

So on this day, I want to thank my hero, my mentor, my inspiration - the one man who always knows how to put a smile on my face. Thank you for everything. Here’s to the best dad anyone could ever wish for.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A memory trigger

A few days back, a car stopped next to mine at a traffic signal. The girl who was driving did not look a day over thirteen and her lack of control over the car indicated just how inexperienced a driver she was.  Her friends who accompanied her, some eight of them stashed in that car like sardines, gave the impression of being squealing, excitable six year olds, sticking their necks out of the windows while four others peeked through from the sun roof. I won’t digress by going into the details of what I think of such girls. I’ll save that for another day. The purpose of narrating this story right now is to draw attention to the song that was blaring on full volume from their car. It was a 90’s song by Aqua, popular among the girls at the time for its lyrics ‘I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.’

And the moment the song started my attention shifted from the hyperactive girls and I was transported back in time from a grimy Karachi street in Defence to 1997; to the winding, twisting roads of Quetta and the beautiful, coral coloured valleys and Juniper forests of Ziaret. In the summer of ’97, I took a trip with extended family to the western part of Pakistan and this song is one I closely associate with that trip. I still remember the music store I purchased Aqua’s cassette from and have vivid memories of driving for long distances with this song playing on my Walkman (yes, this is pre-Discman, mp3 and IPod) and rewinding the song and re-rewinding it because it was such a hot favourite.

Its interesting how sometimes certain sounds and smells instantly remind one of an event or occasion and nostalgia overcomes with such force that one loses track of one’s bearings and surroundings. The realization that a particular sight, sound or smell can have such an overwhelming impact on human memory dawned upon me when I read Sujata Bhatt’s poem ‘Muliebrity’ many years ago. The poet describes a young Indian girl collecting cow dung on the roadside in Maninagar, Ahmedabad while simultaneously evoking a sense of smell with such intense description and dexterity that each smell is a mood to explore for the reader. She talks about ‘the smell of cow-dung and road-dust and wet canna lilies, the smell of monkey breath and freshly washed clothes and the dust from crows’ wings which smells different – and again the smell of cow-dung as the girl scoops.’  Some time later, when I read Elizabeth Brewster’s ‘Where I come from’ , I realized we tend to use negative smells to illustrate a place or situation we find unfavourable. For instance, in Brewter’s poem she conjures smells of ‘smog or the almost-not-smell of tulips in the spring’ and the ‘smell of work, glue factories maybe, chromium-plated offices; smell of subways crowded at rush hours’ when she talks of city life. But when she talks of her hometown she describes ‘hints of jungles or mountains; acres of pine woods; blueberry patches’ - all words with positive connotations.

Of all the senses I would say that smell is the sense that is best at bringing back memories. When you smell a certain scent it feels as though you slipped back in time and that you are actually at that scene again. Freshly-cut grass. Cakes just out of the oven. Buttery popcorn. Old, yellowed paper. Laundry fresh out of the dryer. Rain mixed with wet sand. These are some of my favorite smells in the world. And most of them, not coincidentally, automatically bring to mind specific memories or feelings.

Freshly-cut grass reminds me of playing hide-and-seek in my garden when I was little. The smell of butter on popcorn reminds me of the endless nights I have spent watching movies with my brother. The smell that whiffs through while flipping old paper reminds me of the used books I would exchange at a bookstore in Boatbasin where I would go with my father when I was a child. Our sense of smell is a powerful thing — and certain smells can often act as triggers to our memories. This works with some of my travel memories, too. There are certain scents that will forever be associated with specific destinations in my mind. The smell of pine cones always reminds me of a trip to Swat with my friends; the smell of a dust storm always takes me back to the highway where we experienced an angry dust and thunderstorm while driving to Orlando; the smell that comes right before and right after it rains, that fresh, clean smell that brings the earthworms out onto the pavement on a cool summer evening never ceases to remind me of New Jersey.

When I was much younger my grandparents used to live in Nazimabad; there was a park near their house where the residents would throw their trash and the designated kachre wala would burn it. I don’t know whether words can really describe the smell of burning garbage - It’s a strangely intoxicating mixture of wood, ash, burning rubber, dirt, and chemicals.  It’s the smell I most associate with my childhood, and one that immediately transports me there on the now rare occasions when my nostrils are assaulted with that scent. And to this day when I see anyone burning garbage or smell it, the malodorous scent attacks my synapses and I am carried back to the Saturday’s I would spend at my grandparent’s place.  

Truly, sometime a whiff or sound is all it takes for one to take an unexpected trip down memory lane.