language


My Spanish has gotten a lot better since I’ve been back in Texas. I never lost the ability to understand, but I was having a hard time communicating everything I wanted to say at first. I used to speak fairly fluently when I was younger, so it was frustrating to feel so clumsy when speaking. When I first came back, I was talking to a lady and she told me that her mother got attacked by bees. I could understand everything she was saying, that her mother (who lives back in her home country) was going out from a beach house towards the sea and went into a little cabana and disturbed a hive and suddenly the bees swarmed her and there was a pool nearby so she jumped in the pool and the bees kept on attacking her when she would come up for air. Her poor mother was hospitalized and kept developing bumps on her skin for weeks after the attack because the bee venom was coming out of her system through her skin. Her mother is elderly and it was a very traumatic experience for her to say the least. Anyhow, so the lady is telling me this, and I am listening and stunned by the terrible story, but I was unable to articulate anything appropriate to say back to her. Obviously it was a sensitive situation and all I could muster was “Oh, that’s terrible.” “Oh, and how is she now?” I talked to this other friend and told her that while the lady was telling me the story, I was just shaking my head up and down and couldn’t think of anything to say. My friend told me that when she came to the US she noticed that when English speakers had conversations with her, they always interjected to show that they were listening and following along. She says that in Mexico people don’t interrupt as much. I was like, okay, if that is the case, then that’s good for me so that I can think of something useful to say if someone is telling me something sensitive about a problem or ill health or whatever. Anyway, I still make a lot of mistakes when I speak, but I have a very good (Mexican!) accent and I feel a lot more comfortable communicating now. Recently, a neighbor was telling me that she had been married three times and that people were always shocked by that, but it wasn’t her fault. Her first husband turned out to be gay. Oh, I had A LOT to say about that situation! Women always suffer so much! I feel sorry for him, too because he probably didn’t want to acknowledge his feelings or didn’t understand them or just wanted to conform to avoid prejudice, but your life was ruined due to all of this. I just blabbed on en español like a motormouth. Anyway, her second husband had some emotional problems and became physically abusive, so she left him. But she has been married to #3 for nearly a decade and he is a great guy. So good for her.

Where I live, Spanish is very useful. As a teen, when I worked in food shops, customers would just start out speaking in Spanish sometimes, never asking if I could understand or not. Now, even with hijab on, people sometimes still start out in Spanish with me or comfortably switch to Spanish with me without asking about my hijab or acting like it is weird if I switch into Spanish (I only switch if I notice that their English is far worse than my Spanish, just to facilitate ease in the communication). Once, in the Walmart, I asked an employee where the shampoo was. She looked at me and I could see her eyes on my hijab, but she just said to me in Spanish “Over there near to the pharmacy.” Sometimes, I can understand people who are talking about me in Spanish. Once these two ladies were standing near to me and said that I looked like a nun and started laughing. At one of the taco trucks near to my house, the owner has called me Mother Superior because of my headscarf, ribbing me in that Mexican Uncle sort of teasing way.

Sometimes people do ask about my origins and my religion. “No, I am not Mexican, I am Anglo. I just speak Spanish cuz I grew up here, I did study it in high school also. Why am I wearing this? Oh, because I am a Muslim and it is in our faith. No, my husband isn’t Arab, he is Pakistani. No, well, I converted out of conviction, not for my husband. I was a Muslim before I met my husband.” That’s how it goes. I have had a lot of hispanohablantes ask me much more sophisticated questions about my faith than the English speaking strangers do, for whatever reason. Mostly other Anglos stick to hijab questions. I have tried to analyze why that might be, but haven’t come to any conclusion.

In addition to talking to people, I have been watching Spanish language TV (A guilty pleasure is Caso Cerrado) and also reading Spanish language magazines which I pick up in the check out aisle at the grocery store. I usually go for People En Español, but once I got this cheap tabloid magazine and in the back of it there were ads for psychics and healers and you will never guess what I saw. Among the pictures of Indigenous or Afro-Latino curanderos, there were ads that contained pictures of Sultan Qaboos (the ruler of Oman) and Madhuri Dixit (famous Indian actress). Since they look exotic, Gypsy, Eastern, or whatever, someone had just probably taken them from the internet and put them in their cheesy ads!

Anyway, it is good to be home and to slip back into the Texan life with our diverse population and bilingual English/Spanish atmosphere.

Last night my husband and I were talking about the school system in Texas. So, my husband asks what kind of accent they will teach in the public school system. Cause in Amreeka we will Inshallah send our kids to public school.  Huh? What kind of accent? You see, in Pakistan and India, kids who go to the best private schools get groomed to speak very properly. It is hard to explain. But you can tell what type of schooling a person has had by how their English sounds. Like, for example, I have some friends who say  “It is very crowdy” instead of “crowded.” (a lower register of this would be ‘it is too much crowdy’) And they would say tortoise as tor-toys. Stuff like that. It is all about schooling (and $paisa$). In the most elite schools, kids are taught proper diction to a more British standard and less South Asian dialectical variety. The end result on the diction of the most elites is that their speech sounds South Asian in terms of much of the phonetics and stress/intonation, and there are some colloquial usages, but their language is very polished. Their grammar certainly sounds more proper than most American native English speakers’ natural speech.  Somehow a lot of the women of this elite background speak with a very fluting voice. I am not sure why this is. This is just my observation…And about the elites, these days a lot of people make pretty good fake American accents and call rupees bucks and stuff, but anyway…My husband went to one of these more elite schools. His crowd makes fun of the “crowdy” crowd. You can read a des raised Pakistani or Indian person’s background by these characteristics in their English. (Not so unfamiliar, the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain, you know) The accent thing is important. It crops up in Hindi films as a source of humor, and so forth. I had a friend whose family was looking for a groom for her, and she was introduced to a guy who sounded good on paper, but she turned him down because his English sounded more like the “crowdy tortoys” type and she told me that she would be embarrassed to bring him around her friends because of that.

Accent/dialect and class are very tied together in the US as well. Certainly specific dialects of American English are strongly stigmatized—rather the people who speak these dialects are stigmatized. So it is the same thing as in India and Pakistan. But I told my husband that I don’t think they teach no accents in public school. Was he worried that his girls was gonna tawk Texan? I cain’t recall them learnin me no accent. I dunno. I asked my husband if he thought I had a strong country accent, being from Texas. (I don’t) I think we pick up our accents from our peer groups and environment…our teachers are of course part of that environment, but not the main influence on accent. (Most of my teachers had some type of Texan accent, anyway) I can remember studying grammar, and I can remember some teaching against non-standard usage. But not full on training with drills to have some Standard American English accent like one might get in some accent neutralization class in journalism school. We certainly get the social message that specific American English accents are bad or “low class.” We have to ‘talk proper’ to get the right jobs, and people with stigmatized regional/ethnic accents do face prejudice.  So somewhere along the line, we definately get the message that there is a right and wrong way to talk. But I don’t think no one learns us this stuff directly in school as part of the curriculum.  My husband seems to think it is very strange that we don’t get this training. Do you agree? What was your experience with this? If you went to a US public school, did you have accent training or drills in school?

There are just some things in Urdu/Hindi that I will never get. Sadly, many of them I won’t even notice because they are layered cultural references or belong to specific regional accents, and I don’t even catch them. So they are lost on me. Sometimes in a foreign language there is what you understand and there is what people are really saying…and you as a non-native speaker cannot judge the discrepancy between the two. This happens due to a simple lack of acuity with second language listening comprehension skills related to level and proficiency, but also due missed to cultural cues. Other times, you catch the cue and realize there is some deeper meaning at work, but don’t get the reference as a cultural oustider. Some cultural references crop up again and again. But I never ask about them or google them because it would be awkward to stop a group of people in the midst of their chuckle filled conversation just to ask “Who is Mugambo?” “Mugambo KYON itna khush hua?” And in my busy day filled with sporadic net surfing, the name Mugambo never pops into my brain. And so I don’t remember Mugambo until someone mentions this mysterious name again!

Still, I start to paste pictures together. Light bulbs go off months after I hear an expression or cultural reference because its meaning finally becomes clear to me by some uncanny incident or occurence. A realization sinks in. Silently, I will affirm to myself: “Oh, so that’s why he said so-and-so looks like a Pashtoon film star in that outfit.” “Ah hah! So this is a mutiar!” I will know where someone is from when they say “Mereko udhar-ich mila.”

I become ‘in  the know’ in that ungainly way of a non-native speaker. It would be too silly for me to use such expressions myself…I would feel disingenuous. I am too much of an “FOB” so to speak. I would be like the guy who says “That is a sucks, yaar!” Instead of “that sucks.” How long would my husband have to live in Texas to be able to say y’all? My New York dialect speaking parents don’t say y’all after 30 years in Texas. Can a des-raised Pakistani say y’all if he has Pakistani-accented English? Is that okay? Does it sound phony? Do you see what I mean? Maybe my husband will love the Texan accent and go Southern all the way when we move there. Yee-haw.  He has a des-raised cousin in another Southern American state who has a very interesting convent educated Pakistani English-small town Southern American English accent combo. I think he says y’all.  Anyway, I still don’t feel proficient enough to actually use such references or special expressions unless there is some humor in the fact that a foreigner is saying them (maiN teri aisi ki taisi kar doongi!!!), but at at least I will know what the heck the references mean.

And so I keep building my repertoire.

Guess what? There is a blog post that explains  Mugambo! If only I had known before. But then I feel sheepish, googling up Mugambo, watching Mugambo youtube videos, just so next time I will ‘get it’ when someone says “Mugambo khush hua.”

1. Inshallah we will be off to Amreeka soon. My mom is buying a new car and she will keep her old car while we visit so I will have my own personal wheels! I am really excited about that!

2. I must remember to say gilaas, not cup! A cup is not a gilaas. Otherwise no one understands me. And I must say Der and Dhai. Because saaRe ek nahin hota, and no saaRe do! But yes saaRe teen. See? So confusing!  I usually stop myself before saying saaRe ek. But occasionally one slips, even after all of these years. That is called first language interference plus mommy brain. Soon in Amreeka I will be able to say 1.5, 2.5, and cup all I want. Cup cup cup in a cup. Cup da baap cup da baccha! I love cups!

3. My bro who is closest to me in age is getting married in late July, Inshallah. I haven’t been to a non-desi co-ed wedding in a long time. So all my fancy clothes are either shalwar qameezes for desi weddings or prom gowns for Arab weddings. I had a hard time hunting for something long sleeved, leg covering that I could wear to bro’s wedding that was formal-ish. My hometown is pretty casual and not at all fashion forward, so I had some flexibility.  All the formal stuff over here looked so boxy or fru-fru. I ended up with a white cotton blouse and white and blue skirt from the Gap. The Gap used to be only for long skinny people but it seems in the past few years they have also catered to short stocky people like myself. So I like them a lot more now. I am very happy that I have I finally found and outfit! Now I can just relax and enjoy the wedding stuff. It will be a family reunion when I get to Amreeka.

4. Is it El Ninyo again? Someone told me that. Cuz I heard it’s like 105 in Texas. And well, it is about the same here. So I ain’t escaping nothing over there. I was hoping to. Inshallah it will rain when I am there. I will be disappointed if it doesn’t rain. Because it only rains a few times a year in the Gulf. And I miss the rain. Like the deserts miss the rain. I want to smell the grass right after it rains, and maybe see a rainbow.

5. I have another ladies’ lunch at the Award Winning cooking teacher’s house. Last time I wanted to take something Amreekan to represent, but I chickened out and made channa pullao and baingan ka raita because I couldn’t think of any thing Amreekan to take since my dish had to be vegetarian and impressive. They really liked the channa pullao and baingan ka raita and some people even e-mailed me for the recipe and the Star Chef asked for the raita recipe! I felt so happy! But now I really want to do something Amreekan. This time I am gonna make vegetarian polenta bolognaise! It is like say, Italian American. Well, it doesn’t really matter if it isn’t truly Amreekan because the hostess cannot even remember where I am from anyway. She keeps telling people that I am from London. To her it’s all the same! I have it all planned out! Yummy, butter laden, cheesy, bechamel sauce topped veg. polenta bolognaise!

6. My favorite dosa spot, Saravana Bhavan (say that fast three times in a row) opened next to my favorite shopping center Lamcy Plaza. Before I had to go to the one in Karama or the one in Bur Dubai near to Bank of Baroda bazaar…both special trips for me, though I thought of some excuse to get near there and get a dosa when I could. But now I can go and enjoy my favorite onion rava sada (say that fast three times in a row) whenever I want because Lamcy is my second home. And the Bombay Chowpatty in the food court has good dosas, but let me tell you that Saravana Bhavan has crazy mad delicious eat your fingers dosas and their other items are fabulicious, too! So, let’s just say that they are gonna be seeing me a lot over there at the Saravana Bhavan Lamcy branch.

7. Baby is teething. She already has two teeth, mashallah. She is mashallah good tempered, but the teething has her waking at night a bit. Subhanallah the night waking has started as my school year has ended so I can sleep in with her a little bit. Otherwise I would be dead tired all day and a walking zombie. Poor thing. I know her gums are all itchy. It is hard being a widdle baby!

Our new housekeeper cum nanny is very nice, mashallah. She isn’t as well organized as A., the old housekeeper. But she is good with my girls, alhamdulillah. She is from Bangalore. Her family is native Urdu speaking from Karnataka (yes, there are native Urdu speakers in the South), but they have this kind of very different dialect so neither my husband and I can always understand what she is saying. I have spent more time with her, so I actually have to translate what she says for my husband sometimes.

Also, our old housekeeper A. and I were very bonded on food and cooking. We liked to eat a lot of the same things, and we shared recipes and talked about food a lot. A. had worked for a lot of different families. She was one of those people who always knew everything. She would surprise and impress me with the range of cuisines and dishes she knew. She knew West African foods, Korean foods, Japanese foods, Latin American foods as she worked for embassy families in New Delhi. She was one of those “culture vulture” people who liked learning about different people and especially their food, so she picked it all up. She also had worked for a Indians of various backgrounds, especially Punjabis. Based on her observations of my cooking, she said Punjabi (Sikh) food was like Pakistani food, lots of garam masala, and we use everything openly, open-heartedly, without miserlyness (translating what she would say from Hindi). We use lots of oil. That was how she assessed our food. She really liked it though. We would eat things and lick our fingers and moan, “oooh, this is so good.” She loved what I cooked and I loved what she cooked. We also both loved Chinese food. She was very open to trying new things.  She would experiment in the kitchen when I was at work while she would baby-sit. She made all kinds of interesting things. Things that she invented herself, like sweet potatoes seasoned and made into the shape of cupcakes, and all sorts of other things. She was a real foodie. She would cook whenever she was bored, pick up recipes from friends and neighbors, and watch food shows with me.

The new housekeeper isn’t into food. She is one of those people who says things like “Oops, I forgot to eat.” How can anyone forget to eat? I have some friends like that, too. They can skip a meal and not care. I get low blood sugar and start to have a melt down if I eat late. I just don’t get it. She doesn’t have a sweet-tooth at all, either.

She also hates our food. She thinks it is flavorless. She cooks her own foods for herself. She offered a taste to me a couple of times, but her level of spice is very very hot.  Like I might use a heaping tsp of red chile powder and 3 dried or fresh chiles in a dish. She will use 2 tablespoons of chile powder, plus 8 whole chiles. She also uses loads and loads of curry leaves and mustard seeds. I only use those in a few dishes. I do have a curry leaf plant, but my mustard seed supply probably lasts me a whole year. She also makes everything in the pressure cooker. Everything.

I ordered Chinese food once since she has been with us. She hated it. “What is this stuff? Dinner or dessert? This is sweet!” she complained. Also, our old housekeeper and I had fallen in love with the Gujarati cooking of our neighbors and started making some of their dishes. They always sent us snacks and samples of what they made if they made a special dish or made something they knew one of us liked. But the new housekeeper hates the Gujarati food. “Sweet, spicy, and sour all at the same time!” she complained with a grimace.

She usually makes veggies or daals for herself and eats whatever meat dish I cook with achaar or fresh green chilies on the side to up the heat. I also try to bring her vegetables that I assume she likes, like drum stick and stuff. When she first arrived, the old housekeeper and I asked her what her place’s famous dishes were. Idli, dosa, vada. We asked her, “Do you cook sambhar?” We both like sambhar, and actually A. had worked in Chennai for a year and the sambhar recipe both of us use is the one she picked up from a friend there (that friend was also a Bangalorean, not originally from Chennai). “Oh no, sambhar is made by Hindus, Kannada speakers. That isn’t our dish. Muslims make dalcha.” (I actually know some Muslims from Hyderabad and Madras who make sambhar quite regularly, including our neighbors, so I knew this wasn’t true, but may be the case for people in her community).  She didn’t know haleem or nehari by name, but once when I made haleem she said “Oh, we call this khichda. This is baby food for us.”  My delicious haleem was reduced to baby food! Well, I guess it does look kind of like baby food, but anywayz…

Since I am so into food, I have a hard time relating to people who aren’t that into eating and all. That is perfectly fine by me if she cooks for herself and all, and even if she thinks that the food I make is flavorless and gross. As long as she is comfortable and happy. I like her, she has a pleasant personality, is good with children, and tries hard to do a good job. So that’s what counts.

I watched the film Ramchand Pakistani, which depicts the lives of a Pakistani Hindu Dalit community in the Thar desert for much of the film. The film is excellent, and I highly recommend it. The film takes some narrative liberties for entertainment purposes, but basically tells the true story of a Hindu Dalit Pakistani father and young son who were captured and imprisoned for 4 years in India for accidentally crossing the India/Pakistan border. A critical look is taken at how the case is (NOT) dealt with by both Indian and Pakistani official administration with special consideration of the low-caste minority religious status of the pair. The central female character, a woman who lost both her husband and son, goes through very difficult lengths to survive and stay sane. Her side story was especially thought provoking.

Among other thoughts I had on this film, my mind also wanders towards language issues.

The film is in Hindi and Urdu. One point I noted was that for some reason, the actors who portrayed the Sindhi Thar resident Dalits used “mereko” in place of “mujhe.” The film makers could not use authentic actors from that particular community because they probably don’t exist, and the well known Pakistani (and one Indian) actors who played the members of that community just spoke in Urdu for the sake of ease of both themselves and the intended film-going audience. So the native language of that community was not used at all.  I have no idea what language that would be anyway, but it is most definately not Urdu (some dialect of Sindhi, Cholistani?). For whatever reason, the film makers seemed to think it more authentic to have the Thar residents say “mereko.” Any speculation as to why? Does that make them seem more authentically Dalit or perhaps more Hindu from a Pakistani perspective?

 The film also depicted Indian soldiers and an Indian prison, and it was interesting to see some of the Pakistani cast members affect faux Hindi accents in their Urdu. One actress in particular made a strong attempt at Bombay style Hindi since her character was supposed to be from Bombay. The main character in the film, young Ramchand, spends four years in an Indian prison, and viewers witness his Urdu (which the real Ramchand probably didn’t speak, or at least didn’t speak well) turning into some dialect of Hindi common to uneducated speakers. The actor who played the 12 year old Ramchand did an excellent job at that accent.

Anyhow, I am just rambling about my impressions of the underlying linguistic issues in the film. Most people who are not huge nerds like me will just sit back and watch and enjoy. It is outrageous that so many people, including children on both sides of the border have suffered due to political issues which have very little to do with them. The message of the film is very strong, and will hopefully serve as a factor in raising awareness about the issue of innocent Indian and Pakistani political prisoners whose capture was just a stroke of bad luck; a fisher man’s boat drifting too far, a camel caravan traipsing on the wrong desert, or a boy chasing a toy across a line in the sand. Such public awareness could do a lot towards the freedom of those people. When the film reaches a theatre near you, do check it out.

When I first moved into this villa (that’s a fourplex in American), I went around and met my neighbors. One of the families is from Pakistan. The wife, let’s call her Parveen, greeted me and apologized for her bad Urdu. “I don’t speak Urdu very well,”  “Neither do I,” I laughed. We started talking and she seemed very nice. She is from a small town in Punjab. She lived in England for a while, but doesn’t speak English either. We chit chatted, and I liked her manner. She was warm and homely in a good way. She didn’t seem weirded out that I was a foreigner or a convert to Islam. But then, towards the end of my visit, she asked me about my jeans. She wanted to tell me that it is better for Muslim women not to wear jeans. Although I liked her, I was kind of at a point with my faith that I didn’t want to deal with people giving me lectures on jeans and so forth.

I decided not to meet her very much after that. We said “hi” a lot, and sent food to each other during Ramazan. We only chatted a handful of times after that. I also saw her teenage daughter wearing jeans as she came home from school many times. Some petty part of me took note of that. Still, I knew Parveen was a nice person. Parveen isn’t a “Begum” type. I am surrounded by all of these “Begum” or “Madam” types.  They are these kind of rich spoiled women who are very polished and have a lot of poise, but are other wise very brutal and useless people. They are uber-snobs and treat their housekeepers very badly. I knew they wouldn’t like Parveen because she is too unrefined for them, no English, no Urdu even, a Paindu who doesn’t know how to wear her clothes.  Parveen, I thought, was different. She talked to my housekeeper sometimes, and was fairly close with another neighbor’s housekeeper. She didn’t act like all of the domestic workers around us are invisible like some people do over here.

My housekeeper liked her a lot, too…until…one day Parveen confessed to my housekeeper that she was pregnant, but wanted to terminate the pregancy because she has 5 kids already. My housekeeper was sooo insulted that she would ask her. “Why would she think that  I should know where to get something like that taken care of? And anyway, that is such a big SIN!” I know of people like Parveen, who think birth control is sinful, but would have an abortion. I had just read about it, and also my mother in-law works on women’s health projects and had recently had a discussion with me about the very same thing, noting that botched abortions was one of the top five maternal killers in Pakistan, though most people theoretically disagreed with birth control on a religious basis. Coincidentally, Parveen came over a few days after that. I felt weird meeting her because I knew that she knew that my housekeeper would of course have told me that she was looking for an abortion.  I was pregnant at the time, too. I feigned ignorance and asked her if she was pregnant, and then we started talking about our pregnancies. Somehow, we ended up talking about my housekeeper. “Does she cook food for you?” Parveen asked. I told her that I usually cook for everyone, but occasionally the housekeeper makes vegetable dishes, and I added that she makes really delicious vegetable dishes. “Is your housekeeper a Muslim?” Parveen asked. “I think you know that she is a Buddhist.” I said. “Well, did you know that it is haraam for a polytheist to touch your food?” she asked. I just looked at her, didn’t lose my polite smile, didn’t bat an eye. “I don’t believe in stuff like that.” Was all I said. Later, I made the mistake of telling my housekeeper of what she had said. My housekeeper had heard before that some Muslims said that non-Muslims shouldn’t touch their food. She said Hindus didn’t like Muslims touching their food, either. She used to work for a Hindu family whose Muslim neighbors sent them pots of home cooked sweets on occasion, and the boss would tell her to throw the sweets away each time. Her employers never touched them. She said that she and the other servants in the home ate the sweets themselves. She was telling me all of this to let me know that some people think Muslims are dirty, too. I knew she was hurt by what Parveen had said—from her perspective, it was like calling her an untouchable. I just emphasized that this was ignorance and not prescribed in any Islamic textual sources, though some isolationist scholars did occasionally write such things. And anyway, I don’t believe in such things, and that’s all that should matter to her. But ever since that day, my housekeeper really hated Parveen. Later, while my in-laws were visiting, Parveen sent me a bag of fruit. But half of the fruit was rotting. I honestly didn’t care. That wasn’t the first time she had done that, actually. But somehow I just thought, well, she is kind of weird anyway, so I guess this is just part of her weird behavior. I just picked out the good fruit, and tossed out the bad fruit. My in-laws were really shocked. My housekeeper instigated the shock even further by stating loudly that Miss Holy Moly didn’t want to throw the fruit away herself and accrue sins for wasting food, so she sent the rotting fruit to me so that I would throw it away and get the sins!

The summer came, and I went away and came back from vacation. I wanted to know what had happened to Parveen. Was she successful in her quest to terminate the pregnancy? My housekeeper had returned from her annual leave a few days before us, and she started to tell me stories that she had seen Parveen a couple of days ago and that she was as slim as ever. I was quite pregnant at the time, and I felt really, utterly sad to hear that. If she had terminated the pregnancy, it would have been when she was fairly far along. In pregnancy, your emotions can sometimes be more intense, especially when it comes to anything about babies and children. I just told my housekeeper to stop spying on Parveen and it was none of our business. But I was very curious, too. I wanted to see Parveen and make sure that she was still pregnant. Somehow, our paths didn’t cross until last Ramazan. Parveen sent me a plate of chicken pullao. The next time I made something nice, I took it over to Parveen. My housekeeper wanted to take it to her for me and lie and say she made the food just for fun. She has a spiteful streak sometimes. I insisted on bringing it myself. So we met, and there was Parveen, extremely pregnant. I was so relieved. I was elated. We chatted, and once again, I was struck by how pleasant I found her to be. Even though she ended the conversation by telling me in something of a righteous tone that she didn’t find out he sex of her fetus, or any of her children, until the day they were born because it was all in God’s hands. This was after she had asked me if I knew the sex of my fetus, and I had said yes, a girl.

You know, in the past, I had friends who were more orthodox, and I respected that their views were different than mine. I also had friends from different backgrounds who would sometimes believe in superstitious things and pass judgement on me for not following their superstitious advice. But at some point I just decided that I had enough friends and I didn’t want any more Holy Moly people or Auntie-thinking friends. I had had enough well-meaning advice. But I regretted not being kinder to Parveen, despite her occasional self-righteous barbs.

When Baby A. came, I sent a box of sweets to Parveen. A few weeks later, her husband came and delivered us a box of sweets on the delivery of a baby girl.  I had never seen her husband before. When I saw him, I was really surprised. He looked kind of like a punk rocker. He looked very young, and he had spiky gelled, longish in the front hair. One of his ears was pierced, and he was dressed like an 80s New Waver. I left my husband alone to talk to him. Later, my husband informed me that Parveen’s husband couldn’t speak Urdu or Punjabi very well. He said Pakistani like this: Pawkistawni. Usually, when Pakistani people say that someone raised abroad “doesn’t speak Urdu/Punjabi,” they actually do speak it, just not very well.”What do you mean he can’t speak Urdu or Punjabi? How do they communicate then?”  I guess based on my own stereotypes, I had imagined that Parveen’s husband would be like her. Perhaps he had a handlebar mustache or a long shaggy beard. And he probably wore a shalwar qameez every day. Whatever he looked like in some part of my imagination, he was not the guy who just came and brought us sweets. “She and her husband are so different,” I said. My husband said something like, “Poor guy, he got stuck with her.” (Bechaara, phas gaya) That somehow irritated me. “Who got stuck with who? I asked. Later, I told all of this to the housekeeper, including the “getting stuck” part. It is funny, but she can sometimes sum up a whole situation in one line. “He only thinks the man is important.” she observed.

Anyhow, I am no more eager to be-friend Parveen than before,  but I have more sympathy for her now because I think she is somehow just as displaced as me over here. Who knows, maybe she and her husband are the best of friends despite being so different superficially. I am guessing that they are cousins and it is an arranged marriage. It seems my interest in her is just motivated by nosy curiousity. It is hard to make real connections here. Even though we have lived next to each other for over 2 years, I hardly know her. I guess I am a bad neighbor. Just a bad, nosy neighbor.

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