Ammi and Me
(Translated by Imran ALI)
Lahore, 12 or more years ago
It was morning. The aroma of my mother's freshly made parathas was permeating the house as if bringing in the morn. Having been up all night, it was difficult to get up, but then my mother's voice, soothing and coaxing, woke us all up. My brothers and sisters yawned, stretched, and struggled to the washroom and then to the kitchen. All wanted to have Ammi's paratha differently-with achaar, with a fried egg, with an omellette, or without anything.
My mother stands alert, hands busy, not grimacing at the individual demands-paratha after paratha, arranging plates, sending all off to school. When all of us left, some to school and some to jobs, Ammi kept standing alert in the kitchen, instructing the maid how to wash utensils optimally, preparing the kitchen for the next meal. All of us mingled into the crowds of the outside world, leaving the aroma of Ammi's parathas, into the hustle and bustle of Lahore, its pollution and its noise. We leave Ammi standing in the kitchen, Ammi who had spent all dawn and morning to feed us pure parathas, as if to save us from the impurities of the world.
I stand alert in the kitchen today, in front of the cooking flames, trying to make parathas for my family, just like my mother did many years ago. In the quest, I have burnt my hand many times, but I can't smell the same aroma that Ammis parathas had. Breakfast is ready, and I shout out to the children, cajoling like Ammi. I can't smell the sweet smell of my parathas or hear my voice because I stand next to the flames, heat and the sizzling sounds of the ghee masking everything. The kids are awake finally-my daughter loves the aroma but had eaten late, the eldest son wants an omelette and another a fried egg. I want to make what everyone wants, like Ammi, to feed them food out of my hands-pure- in their love- to save them from all impurities of the world, just like Ammi. And just like Ammi, while all others have eaten, my plate is empty. I arrange all the plates in the dish washer, in the silence of the kitchen and the home. I look at my burnt hand, and rub it vigorously to ease the burn, because there is no one else to help. Because at this moment of time, I am Ammi, and my Ammi is not with me-I left my home 12 years ago. As I try to ease the pain, it dawns on me that my mother's hand would have been burnt many times when she made parathas for us, yet we did not see then. I want to go and soothe her hands with my lips, healing them. I realise today that all mothers burn their hands but keep it to themselves.
Lahore, 12 years or more ago
In the afternoon summer, we are playing in front of the house. Ammi is again calling us. She is cutting melons for all of us, all six of us. She keeps cutting and giving them to us, there is nothing like melons in the Lahore summer, maybe no fruit as delicious as them. We keep asking for more pieces-Ammi does not eat a morsel.
I am cutting honeydews and water melons for my children , just like Ammi. My youngest is not able to eat the pieces himself, so I put them in his mouth. He says Ammi the water melon is so yummy, but I don't know, I have only fed them, I don't feel like tasting anything till they are fed. It is not my health that is the focus, it is my children's health. Because I am Ammi. And my Ammi is not here, I left home 12 years ago. I cut my hand while cutting fruit, it is a small cut. I bite the edges to heal it, hiding my pain. My children are oblivious to my pain, they are all busy watching television. I want to run to my mother in Lahore, and see the scars of the cuts on Ammis hand-cuts we never knew about.
Lahore, 12 years and more ago
Ammi and Abbu are fighting. It is about us, our education, our clothes, our comforts. She has locked the door -to fight for us-so that she imbibes all the hurt and resentment of the argument, sending us up to play on the roof. She does not want a drop of the venom to fall on us, taking it all. She does not use us as shields. She wants fresh air and purity for us, away from anything that would affect our hearts and minds, while she takes on the dirt, suffocation, and the indignities of the world.
I am having an argument with my husband. I want a larger house, more dad-time with the kids, and investments into their future. I have sent all my children down to the basement to play games and both of us are on the third floor in our bedroom. I have closed the door. I don't want ashes of the argument to fall on my children.
So this is my life. I stand in the heat of the unkind sun without a sun hat. The hot ultraviolet rays are peeling my skin off but I am worried about my children. My headache is killing me but I don't want to tell my children. I want them strong physically and mentally. My mother had shut the door while fighting with my father so that I would not hear the altercation on money, society, despair and struggles. But today, Ammi is not here to protect me. I have left that hearth where she protected me. I run desperately around the house. I try to close doors on my children that they are protected . I am out of breath but I keep running. I also run outside, the heat peeling my skin, leaving scars. My mother would have been out of breath too. I want to go there and put my mouth on her mouth, and give her all my breath, so that does not run out of breath.
Business clients, acquaintances, invites, dinners-all require my attention. Mending relations with annoyed relatives, laughing with the happy ones, judging new people in our lives, and financial matters. I try to do all. I keep running. But the headache is killing me now. The sun rays are burning my skin, because I am standing without shelter. The shelter who shielded me like a tree, who used to push me behind her and take upon her all the dirt and suffocation of the world, transforming it into pure and cool breeze as it hit my face- I left her hearth 12 years ago.
Today I know how the faces of mothers wither and wilt under the blazing sun and why they develop killing headaches as they shield their children.
I want to spread my hands and capture and take in the all the rays of the blazing sun, to get burnt, to shield my Ammi, so that only the coolest and freshest breeze falls on her visage, and pearly cool dew drops descend on her face, slowly. That is all I want.