At the age of fifteen I had left the country for six months to spend three months in Lahore and three months in Mumbai. My mother sent me there for disciplinary reasons (I think I bunked a maths lesson or something) and I came back and well, look at me now, right?
So I left as a quiet and self-assured straight girl, pretty unassuming; but I came back just… different. Like, I got a haircut and got chubby and awesome. It’s funny because whilst I was being suffocated in a plethora of hugs and I love you’s, not a single person actually asked, “so how was being away for half a year?” which, looking back, seems like a pretty arsey thing but I just dealt with it. Growing up and meeting new people, I find myself at a loss for words when I’m confronted with the questions, “wait, what? You were doing a beauty course in Lahore? What?” I’m just dumbfounded; I honestly don’t know what to say.
“Um, yeah, I’m just not used to people giving a shit.”
“Um, yeah, I’m just not really that great at articulating myself so I’m just gonna go and cry over my blog about it.”
Replace “cry” with “scoff ice cream after a Breaking Bad marathon and then mull” and you got my Saturday night. “Shiri you should write about this in your blog.” “Um, okay.” And then three weeks later I’m sat here like I don’t even know, man.
So I’ll start with Pakistan, I guess. I went to Lahore and lived with my mother’s sister, her dad, and two kids. It was bizarre from the get go, not because I’ve never been there before or anything but because I was with only my mum, and I was kinda, forced, to go. I had lost my dad five years prior and my body was going through that painfully awkward phase called puberty, ugh. Just this huge wave of shit, actual fucking shit just flew up my nose. I was blown back by the powerful stench of shit.
Welcome to your motherland, bitch.
I settled into my mother’s sister’s home. Khala – the sister of my mother. Nana Jaan – the father of my mother.
The houses are a bit of an acquired taste, in the center, where there is no roof, is the basic living area. We chill on the bamboo beds, prepare the food for lavish dinners to be prepared on a single measly stove, lounge under the wooden ladder leading to the flat roof, bask in the sunshine and talk loudly to the neighbours over the clothes line fence. I scramble up the ladder with a book to loll on the other bamboo beds on the roof and watch the kites fly all around the sky, adding a reddish tinge to my paper. My cousin would come out of his isolated room on the roof and show me my new bedroom, perfect, a pleasant solidarity.
So we sit on the floor, crushing garlic and I’m teaching the young children to read English. I’m counting the days until I go back to London, I’m really not having a good time, I’m having a moody time, in fact. The first two days there was just everyone settling me into my new home, playing Ludo until the sun goes down at ridiculous o clock, running around the back streets to pick up chocolates and crisps, and visiting distant family members in the area. I can’t drink the water, it has to be boiled.
This is until my mum wakes me up and tells me I have to go to work. I do the obligatory wookie roar to wake myself up and find out I’m going to be a beauty therapist for three months with one of my cousins. Now, this particular cousin is a bottle of crazy. Like, I shit you not, man; she’s like five foot, 15 stone, a mop of hair, and a personality bigger than Russia. I still can’t get over her and I haven’t seen her in like five years, she-was-mental. I’m getting emotional just thinking about how crazy she is. She’d be bigging me up to her family, and then she’d turn around and give me a straight up bitch slap to my face because “I’m so cute.” I hear she got married and that fell through around a year ago… ahem.
So I’d insist on wearing the full burqa, I see how the men ogle and glare at the women around here and my fifteen year old self was far too fragile to deal with the leers. I’d wrap myself up in black cotton, the only part of me you could see if you looked close enough was my eyes; you’d be lucky to even see them, they were always looking at the ground. We’d leave the house, lock the massive gate at the entrance and walk. Walk over the bridge, past the food vendors and donkeys, past the darzaan (male clothes makers) where I saw men spending hours and hours applying sequins to the saris and lehengas. Walk down the high street, past cake shops where the fresh cream cakes would make my mouth water to this day and have my senses tingling, and past the rickshaws where a larger lady was adamant she could squeeze in with her three children, over dried up rivers and beggar children, molested children, disabled children, past paedophiles and preachers and then we’d come to an abrupt halt.
We’d cautiously open the large gate in front of us and shut it quickly behind and wince at the dull metallic clunk shutting of the sounds of traffic and children. Walking through the damp corridor, with its dripping pipes and lack of lighting, the beaded curtain would be thrust aside, I’d step in and warmth would hit me.
It was a cooling warmth (huh?) and the smell of bleach and cosmetics would waft into my nose, the bright lights struck my cheeks and I felt slightly normal for once. It’s a sad thing, “I felt slightly normal because this place was slightly westernised,” I mean, am I western or am I South Asian? It’s all down to self-identification, I guess. The Madame would take me on as her personal project, she wanted to build me up and use my London-ism(?) as a way to bring glamour to the salon. Everywhere I looked there was an element of Hollywood and white beauty with a few bindis thrown in, so having a girl from an English country full of prosperity would be good business.
So woman would rush inside and dramatically disrobe to show curvy figures and thick hair, fantastic eyes and suggestive smiles and saunter into the massage room. I had the honour of joining Madame in the bridal room and watch her paint the faces of nervous young women whilst next door you heard the moans of the older ones as their pressure points were hit with the just the right amount of touch.
I can’t possibly condense my experiences into one blog so take this as a detailed introduction. You’ll be hearing about my living in the mountains, the brothers, runways, and motor biking accidents.