Anxious men in the passenger seat

wife driving

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/anxious-men-in-the-passenger-seat-1.1871220

There are certain things you remember about your childhood that were an integral part of growing up. For me, one such thing was that funny little tomato-red Daihatsu Charade that we once owned. The car was a 1985 model that Dad had purchased refurbished, which meant we became its owners some 10 years after it was born.

It made funny noises when you drove it (stick-shift) and the trunk closed with an earth-shattering jolt. Pulling the windows up and down was good exercise for the biceps and if you got lucky, the air conditioner would sometimes work. This strange object, however, came in handy when I wanted to learn to drive.

After a few lessons of the basics, I decided to take my parents out for a ride. Bad idea, I know. Dad was a bundle of nerves as I took the car outside the gate, and he covered his face with his hands. A car sped along in the opposite direction and he jumped. “Can’t you see that car?” he said frantically. “We are on the other side Papa, please relax,” I told him.

Mum murmured in agreement from the back seat. Dad ground his teeth. I tried to laugh valiantly but found this first ride with him distinctly confidence-draining as I tried to reassure him that everything would be fine.

We were driving along the main road happily and I could sense him relaxing just a tiny bit. It was almost as though he had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t look up much and we would all make it home in one piece. I was pleased that he wasn’t quite as excited as before and things started to get a little more pleasant. We finally turned home and as everything had gone well without any trouble whatsoever, I decided this was my time to speak. “Well, I’m quite okay driving, aren’t I? Look at you guys, you don’t trust me at all!”

Dad almost looked sorry and he was about to say something, but I’ll never know what it was because at that precise moment I banged the rear of the car while reversing into our unopened front gate, which I had presumed was open. Typical. Dad felt vindicated and the “I told you so” lecture that followed was positively grating. Fast forward a few years and I drive every day, sometimes for long distances. It has become second nature. I would even say that I enjoy it (minus the traffic, of course) and ferrying the girls around town is part of my job description. Yet, my husband recoils with apprehension every time he sits with me in the passenger seat.

We are driving to the airport to drop him off. “Change lanes, we need to take the next exit,” he says. I roll my eyes. “Thanks, but I kind of know the way,” I respond coolly. He shrugs. When I finally do change lanes he shakes his head in despair and wonders how much to say because he is travelling after all and making up over the phone might prove a little tricky. He (wisely) restrains himself from speaking about the details of my lane-changing abilities, but I notice from the corner of my eye, he looks extremely stressed. I don’t know about you, but the men in my life generally hyperventilate when I’m driving.

I enjoy speeding every now and then (the engine roar is so satisfying) but sadly my husband doesn’t agree. “No wonder the fuel costs as much as it does and do you realise how unsafe this is?” he says pointedly as I let it rip. I slow down because we need to pick up something on the way and the only parking available near the grocery store is parallel. Herein lies my real test. I take a deep breath and try it — five times out of ten I manage to do it and at other times, the car just doesn’t seem to obey. Sadly, this time the car ends up jutting out at a strange angle and he smiles vindictively. “You bribed them to pass your driving test, didn’t you?” He breathes easy and I scowl. He picks up the grocery and then knocks at my window. “I’m driving,” he tells me.

The man who looked completely distraught moments ago is now happy and relaxed and shows the girls how we take off in an aeroplane by going full throttle and making the engine thunder. My eyebrows almost disappear into my hairline. It’s nostalgic. I remember that red Charade and Dad. I smile wryly. Until he learns to relax in the passenger seat, I really don’t mind being chauffeured around by my man, especially if there’s parallel parking around.

 

My Dad, my hero

Originally written for Gulf News ‘Off the Cuff’ http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/my-dad-my-hero-1.1598893

Published: 16:45 October 11, 2015

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“Papa?” I say gently, stroking his hair. His eyes are half open. He smiles and with a little bit of help from me, he sits up. “How are you?” I ask and envelop him in a big hug. He smiles serenely and asks how I am. When I ask him my name, he says, “I know who you are. Isn’t that enough?” When I insist that he say my name, he shakes his head sadly. “I’m sorry but I can’t quite remember.”

My eyes well up with tears. My Dad, who could recite sonnets of Shakespeare verbatim, the poetry of Ghalib and Allama Iqbal without pausing — today he struggles to remember the name of his daughter. I hold his hand and tell him my name. He nods and says “Yeah. I knew that.”

My recent trip back home was as heartbreaking as it was peaceful. For the first time in my life, my Dad appeared vulnerable, almost like a baby. I spent almost every waking moment by his side, talking to him, helping him remember things, and making the girls play with him.

My dad has always been my hero. He was the person who was there for me at every juncture, as a child and as an adult. He wrote my school speeches, drove me around just because I wanted an ice cream late at night, and had those heart to heart talks with me that were an essential part of growing up. In a household of 14 people, all of whom were his dependents, my Dad had time for me, for each one of us. Later into adulthood, he was there if I ever needed any help.

I remember the day in third grade that I borrowed a Sweet Valley Kids book from a girl in school. I lost the book at home. When I went to school the next day, I told her that I couldn’t find the book. This happened at dropoff right outside school, with the girl’s mother and my father watching. The girl’s mother unfortunately lost her temper at my losing the book and told me that if I was so careless and irresponsible I need not borrow other people’s books. I began to cry. My Dad stepped out of the car, his eyes flashing. He gave that lady the look of death and told her that she would have the book tomorrow, no questions asked, and that she need not lose her temper at his daughter on a busy school morning. That evening after Dad came back from work, we visited every single bookshop in Karachi. The next morning I triumphantly handed over the book to its rightful owner. Dad had come to the rescue, like he always did. He was my knight in shining armour.

I cherish the memories of the endless talks we had over the dining table, long after the meal had been cleared up, and he would spontaneously produce these gems of poetry which he himself had composed, or from the great collection of poetry that he remembered, both in English and in Urdu. His memory had always been amazing. He would hear something just once and absorb it like a sponge and was able to reproduce it later on with perfection. How time has moved on.

His hands are frail, but it’s reassuring all the same when he pats my head. It’s time to leave. I must go back to Dubai. I can’t seem to say goodbye. Dad is more alert than I have seen him in all these days. “I hate it. I hate it when you go away,” he says, almost like a little child. I feel like my heart is going to break into a million little pieces.

Just when my father needs me, I’m going away. When I was small and needed him, he held my hand as I took my first steps, fed me, clothed me, nurtured me and most of all, loved me unconditionally. When the hands of time have turned and he needs help walking, I’m not even there to hold his hand. When he needs someone to give him a hug and tell him everything is going to be fine, I’m not available.

The beautiful verse from the Holy Quran comes to my mind, “And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.” (Surah Isra, verse 24).

“Papa, it’s okay. I’ll be back soon,” I tell him in a soothing voice. He looks down. I see his eyes are wet. I hug him once again, and I walk out the door quietly, unable to stop my own tears as I wonder when I will see him again. Suddenly I hear his voice calling out my name. I spin back on my heel, pleasantly surprised. “Yes, papa [jaan]?”

“[Khuda Hafiz], Mehmudah.” He remembers my name.

Going back home will never be the same…

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/going-back-home-will-never-be-the-same-1.1267375

My head is bent low over my phone, and I am totally absorbed as my fingers nimbly tap the screen with a definite sense of purpose. I look busy; indeed it would be easy to (mistakenly) think that I am in fact the CEO of a large corporation. Of course I am faking it. There’s no one I am chatting to, and absolutely no one that I am emailing at this time of the evening. Yet, what else can I do to inconspicuously merge with the decor at this woebegone party where I feel about as comfortable as a ballet dancer on a football pitch? Thank God for internet and for smartphones!

Soon enough though, a long lost cousin wanders up to my chair, the chair that I have carefully chosen which is to the extreme left of the hall, hidden behind a large table. My attempts at blending with the decor do not appear to be working particularly well and I pretend to be delighted as we catch up. I steal an anxious glance at my phone but remain resolutely polite. She finally walks away and I breathe out.

So you’ve probably guessed that I’m not quite the party animal, to put it mildly. When we go home for the holidays, I find that there are parties to attend left, right and centre. Everyone who was single is getting married, those that got married last year are going to have a baby, and those that aren’t celebrating something decide to throw a party for no particular reason except sheer boredom. That means yours truly must attend parties, armed with the right gifts, and smile till the cheeks hurt and know just what to say to the million relatives and acquaintances omnipresent in such places.

I am usually squirming in discomfort at social gatherings, but the fact that they eat up valuable vacation time when I go back home annoys me. My main reason for travelling to Karachi is to meet my dad, my sister and her family, and my inlaws too. I do sometimes go on shopping excursions as well (persuaded by said sister), but the fact that I truly and sincerely hate shopping hardly helps. This time, as I get ready for a short trip back home, I am hoping to spend some quality time with the family.

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Bringing back memories

There is of course another thing about my hometown that attracts me.

The house. The big old rambling house that I grew up in, the place that has always felt like home, for as far back as I can remember. Each room reminds me of countless anecdotes and stories growing up and the old mosaic floors and the big desktop computer look as though they belong to another era. Yet no place in the world could be as cozy as this unique haven of security. But this time, by a strange twist of fate, I won’t be visiting the house.

My father, now being the only occupant of the once full house decided to sell it. He now lives in a much smaller, but far more manageable house and I can no longer walk into ‘my room’ and feel 16 again. One thing about the house was that you could practically feel mum everywhere — the curtains, the furniture, the kitchen, even the crockery would remind one incessantly of mum. It feels as though a great chunk of bittersweet memories have gone away with the house.

I wonder if the new place will feel anything like home. It has been a few months since the house has been sold off, yet whenever I dream about mum, or about the family, I invariably find myself in the old house. It is weird because the place doesn’t even belong to us anymore. Between the parties and family time, I wonder if I’ll have time to just drive over to the old place and gaze at the huge, ancient tamarind tree that hides the facade of the structure. I hope the people who live there now realise what a special place it is.

PS: For more on the house, and for its photos, click here: https://mehmudahrehman.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/d8-i-miss-you/

Flowers in Dubai

Hey All!

I hope life’s been treating you well. The Dubai Miracle Garden opened recently to visitors. It is a pretty amazing place and has more flowers than I have ever seen in one place! My pics don’t really do justice, but I hope you like them all the same.

-Mehmudah

Lots of people... lots of flowers

Lots of people… lots of flowers

 

 

Ask dusk approached, I thought I'd try and get a silhouette

Ask dusk approached, I thought I’d try and get a silhouette

 

 

I liked this one though. Simple things are often the best.

I liked this one though. Simple things are often the best.

 

 

With a point and shoot and bad light, this wasn't a particularly easy pic to take. It's not as good as I would have liked but it's a start :)

With a point and shoot and bad light, this wasn’t a particularly easy pic to take. It’s not as good as I would have liked but it’s a start🙂

 

 

There were lots of flowered things.. a clock, a car, a house (this one) and many other things made of flowers. I was in a bad mood that day and feeling sick too. Plus it was nearly twilight so my camera suffered.

There were lots of flowered things.. a clock, a car, a house (this one) and many other things made of flowers. I was in a bad mood that day and feeling sick too. Plus it was nearly twilight and we left quickly… so not many pics…

 

I realize I am being apologetic about my pictures lol! I love this photo :)

I realize I am being apologetic about my pictures lol! I love this photo🙂

 

 

I don't really like this one (various reasons) but I'm uploading it to show you the amount of flowers...

I don’t really like this one (various reasons) but I’m uploading it to show you the amount of flowers.

 

 

The park was nicely structured..

The park was nicely structured.

 

 

Sea of flowers... good weather too :)

Sea of flowers… good weather too🙂

For more information: http://www.dubaimiraclegarden.com

At Khorfakkan, UAE

Khorfakkan has a gorgeous beach and the boat ride’s lovely too.  I hope you like the photos!

Where the mountains meet the sea

Where the mountains meet the sea

The island at Khorfakkan

The island at Khorfakkan

So lovely when the water touches my toes...

So lovely when the water touches my toes…

I added a bit of drama to the sky...

I added a bit of drama to the sky…

Yes, I edited this a bit...

At the beach

The metro and my thoughts

Hey All!

Apologies for the unannounced hiatus. I’ve been busy with exams. Just a quick one to share iPhone photos of the metro (Instagrammed, yeah!)

Hope you like them.

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Oh by the way, were you wondering why I called this post “The metro and my thoughts”? Because public transport is a great place for getting your thoughts together. And if the ride is long, it’s great for clearing out your email inbox too. Trust me on this one, lol.

Flames

At the moment, anywhere you look you find flame trees in full bloom. It’s a beautiful sight. Below are some pics of the same.🙂

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Bursting into a riot of colour!

New beginnings

New beginnings

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When bloom and bud live peacefully together.

Patch of blue sky

Patch of blue sky

A wall of orange.

A wall of orange.