Presents From My Aunts In Pakistan

They sent me a salwar kameez
            peacock-blue,
                  and another
   glistening like an orange split open,
embossed slippers, gold and black
            points curling.
   Candy-striped glass bangles
            snapped, drew blood.
   Like at school, fashions changed
            in Pakistan -
the salwar bottoms were broad and stiff,
            then narrow.
My aunts chose an apple-green sari,
   silver-bordered
            for my teens.

I tried each satin-silken top -
   was alien in the sitting-room.
I could never be as lovely
            as those clothes -
   I longed
for denim and corduroy.
   My costume clung to me
            and I was aflame,
I couldn't rise up out of its fire,
   half-English,
            unlike Aunt Jamila.

I wanted my parents' camel-skin lamp -
   switching it on in my bedroom,
to consider the cruelty
            and the transformation
from camel to shade,
   marvel at the colours
            like stained glass.

My mother cherished her jewellery -
   Indian gold, dangling, filigree,
            But it was stolen from our car.
The presents were radiant in my wardrobe.
   My aunts requested cardigans
            from Marks and Spencers.

My salwar kameez
   didn't impress the schoolfriend
who sat on my bed, asked to see
   my weekend clothes.
But often I admired the mirror-work,
   tried to glimpse myself
            in the miniature
glass circles, recall the story
   how the three of us
            sailed to England.
Prickly heat had me screaming on the way.
   I ended up in a cot
In my English grandmother's dining-room,
   found myself alone,
            playing with a tin-boat.

I pictured my birthplace
   from fifties' photographs.
            When I was older
there was conflict, a fractured land
   throbbing through newsprint.
Sometimes I saw Lahore -
            my aunts in shaded rooms,
screened from male visitors,
   sorting presents,
         wrapping them in tissue.

Or there were beggars, sweeper-girls
   and I was there -
            of no fixed nationality,
staring through fretwork
            at the Shalimar Gardens.

by Moniza Alvi

Comments (0)

There is no comment submitted by members.