inspired by the recollections shared with me by my aunt Shahar Abji.
Set in Rural Pakistan in the 1970s:
In our shared bedroom, my brothers and sister around me were still fast asleep under their blankets. But I could not stay still much longer. I sprung out of bed and jumped over my playmates. My excitement for the day’s activities made it too difficult to sleep. Yesterday was Eid, but today, I knew, would be even better.
I slipped quietly into the next room. There, in the kitchen, I watched Baa as she skimmed a wooden ladle over the slow-heating milk. Her hand was steady and calm; her gold bangles jiggled as she collected a thick layer of rich white malaai that was gathering on the top of the milk.
I went over to greet her with a smile and Ya Ali Madad. Baa’s eyes twinkled back in greeting and I sensed she, too, was quietly looking forward to our afternoon.
Together, we made breakfast as the rest of the family slowly woke up. While Baa warmed the tawa, I rolled out little chaapatis, doing my best to make sure they were round and even. Bapa arrived just as Baa finished making warm, buttery parathas for him. Before we would leave for the day, he would have to finish accounting for the groceries that had come in yesterday evening. After that, we would be all free for the baagh (the garden) in our area!
Mohammed woke up next and turned on the radio. We listened to the tilawat (Quran recitations) over the speakers as Mohammed happily ate the next warm roti. Iqbal woke up and delighted us, greeting us with a “WHHHHHHHHHEEEEEEEE.” He was a big fan of the baagh and was eagerly anticipating our visit in the afternoon. He roused Hyder in his excitement. Shortly after all the commotion, Wazir arrived, nodding his head in agreement with the tilawat. Then Amina came just as I was sitting down to join everyone else at breakfast. Together, we sprinkled grains of sugar on top of malaai. Then, we made tiny triangle scoops of roti and scooped up gooey malaai into our eager mouths.
After Eid Namaz yesterday, all my brothers and sisters got a few rupees. My money jingled in my pocket the following day. After breakfast, I hurried to the candy store with Iqbal. Though just a few steps away, it took so long to get there from our house. When we got there, we bought our favorite cow milk candies. Our journey to the baagh would be a sweet one. Between us, we had plenty of candies to share. At least for a few days…
While everyone was preparing pootlas for lunch and snacks for the baagh, I went over to Mohabbat’s house. I was so giddy with excitement I felt like I was gliding through the air. “Do you know today the tanga-ghaddi is coming?” I told Mohabbat. “We are going to the baagh. We are going, for a picnic. Everyone will come. Are you going to join too?” I knew she would join. Mohabbat would come with some of my nieces and nephews. There was plenty of space in the back of the horse-drawn cart.
I walked through the garden, with my brothers and sisters. We noticed and appreciated the smells of roses blooming around us. We came together with joy in our hearts and played. We took turns on the joola. Back then, these little gatherings were everything. The red-brown dirt, the lush roses that sprung out of the ground, and the breeze while I sat on the swings. We were truly children, playing together without worries.