It is an almost wintry morning in Karachi. There is a nip in the air. Lazily, she switches off the fan. Karachi’s weather is also like Karachi itself – interesting but confusing. Outdoors, it is sunny and warm bordering on hot. A trickle of sweat down one’s back reminds one that this is what Karachi winters are like.
Indoors she needs a shawl in which she wraps herself up tightly. Maybe it makes her feel protected, much like a newborn, who is wrapped tightly in a sheet of cloth, to reassure it that it is safe as it was in it’s mother’s womb. We all have our fake reassuring sheets of cloth….our cocoons….which we keep re-visiting.
The logical thing to do at 9am on a Sunday morning is to get up and make a pot of tea for her family, and then start waking them up…
Her husband who is snoring blissfully, looks innocent- not at all like the man who the night before had yelled at her for their son’s abysmal grades in school.
She observes him for a while. His hair is more salt than pepper now. The crow’s feet are pronounced even when he does not smile. She looks at his hands; she always liked the hands…strong, with long-fingers and a broad palm.
It has been weeks since she really looked at him.
The idea of a tea pot is distant now, although the piercing ray of sunlight coming through the window nudges her to wake up.
“Why don’t I close the curtains properly at night?” she inwardly curses herself.
Pulling up the light feathery quilt she got from the visit to Jaipur, India, over her eyes, she lazes.
The house next door is under renovation. Labourers have arrived. She cannot understand why they would be there on a Sunday morning. As a Pakistani bourgeois, she mostly cannot relate to their misery.
It is tough for her to empathise with someone who will wait for three hours in a CNG line to get gas for his rickshaw or a labourer who has arrived for a daily wage on a site on a splendid Sunday morning. But then, the labourer cannot relate to her voids or her problems either.
I guess it’s a fair deal.
She is a mother of three. She has a comfortable life, but loneliness is a reality she cannot avoid. So, she fills that void by frequenting sales at Zamzama and trying out new dishes and poring over changes in her face and her 37-year-old body and reading socialite pages of magazines.
Life did not start this way. She had dreams, once upon a time. She had once wanted a career as a physio-therapist; of a functional marriage; of children that needed her. Those dreams were now long gone.
In the background, one of the labourers had put on the FM radio on his mobile phone and connected it to one of those cheap Chinese speakers for the benefit of the team. Carrying back-breaking bricks after a customary breakfast of sugar-laden tea and a fried paratha, devoid of the concept of “keep health food groups in mind: Have protein and vitamins”, the FM radio encouraged the labourers to work.
Without any fans and the air-conditioners switched on, the background music was clear.
On the radio the song “Dil dhoondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din, baithay rahein tasawwur e jaanan kiye huey” (The heart once again yearns for those leisurely times, when we could sit back, and let our imagination wander to the beloved) plays. Gulzar’s words shake up something inside her. She is transported to one of her favourite places in the world – Central Park, New York.
She remembers the first time she excitedly went there with her husband, introducing Central Park to him as though she were introducing her inner self to him.
His laughter and mocking words “You’re such a tree-hugger!” echoed in her ears.
She knew then- there were certain parts of her that he would never understand. Deep inside she knew that she should be satisfied and even excited about their visits to Saks Fifth Avenue, or the less fancier version Macy’s, but not Central Park.
“Jaadon ki narm dhoop aur aangan mein lait kar, aankhon pe kheench kar tere daaman ke saaye ko, aundhe pare rahein kabhi karwat liye huye”
(Lying laidback in the courtyard, under the mild winter sun, Covering the face under the shade of your shirt’s lower hem, And alternately turning over or lying on the side).
This dream has pinched her after many years…an unrealistic ideal. Lying in her bed in Karachi, in that moment, she is teleported to Central Park, NYC – her head in the lap of an unknown, unnamed man, who reads his own book with his back against a tree, while she reads hers.
Every few pages, they look at each other and exchange a smile, or share an interesting line in the book.
“Aah. Aaj buhut so gaya. Kyun begum, anda paratha miley ga aaj ya naheen?”
(Ah! I have slept a lot today, wife, will I get some egg and paratha today ?)
The Jaipur quilt is lifted off her face. He gives her a quick peck on the cheek, switches on the lights, and goes out to get the Sunday newspaper.
She wakes up with a smile, strangely refreshed by that half-dream. Whilst planning breakfast in her mind she ties her hair up in a careless bun and enters the washroom to splash her face with water, till the unknown man and Central Park drown.
Only then does she wonder where her husband drifts to when he is lonely.
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