Tag Archives: pakistan

A Pakistani Parlour

Most people who have known me for a while would raise an eyebrow or both at the notion of my work in fashion and beauty overseas. It sounds really glamorous, so I say “oh yeah, you know, I’ve just been, ah, working the fashion and beauty scene in Lahore,” to sound impressive when in actuality I was waxing old ladies and fixing broken beds overweight brides to be had broken.

I lie; I’m working two extremes, here. I had it pretty good in comparison to the other girls; I was in the secret bridal rooms blending lavish colours on lips and eyelids, and I could take a break whenever I wanted. Whenever fingers snapped at me I would for some reason be conversing in English because “my daughter is flying to New York to study economics,” or something. Because I was from London I was held in high regard, I was special. What really tickles me is I think about how most people here in England like mocking foreign accents, the majority of them seem to think it’s a thing of comedy; but when I was in Lahore I always got “oh the way you speak in Urdu is absolutely hilarious!” they enjoyed a mash up of a British and Pakistani accent, they didn’t mock me for it.

As I have previously said, the Westernisation had always disconcerted me in that traditional values were being neglected. NOT in a “things are becoming too modern,” because hell, look at me; but in a way that makes it evident that “the right way is the white way.” A facial in Pakistan comes with bleaching the skin to lighten it up nicely and whitely. Models on screen were flaunting saris and bindis but their faces were ivory and porcelain with rosy lips and light brown hair. The amount of women who would come in lamenting their daughters dark skin, moaning “who would marry her now?” before, obviously, turning to me and asking if I was married or looking because they had a son who had just graduated and is just about to become a doctor. I wasn’t looking.

It’s pretty evident that the women who stepped on these marble tiles under the spot lights were incredibly rich, and the contrast between wealth and poverty were separated by the entrance to the salon. In the space of a second my sandal would step up from the excruciatingly hot sand, my ears would no longer here the motorcycles or the crying or the beeps or the shouting, my nose wouldn’t smell the sweat, the burning, the chickens, or the horse shit; my sandal would be off and my foot would be cooling down on the marble floors, my nose would smell the fragrances cosmetics and fruity lotions, my ears would be hearing a Bollywood song or something by Britney Spears. But that’s only after I manage to push the iron door shut and bolt it before we unlocked it for opening.

It does sound like a pretty standard beauty salon, sure, it had leaking water in the hallway to the foyer, Madame and her mother could poke their heads from their bedroom and look directly down at what we were doing. The products weren’t even that great; but the standard of the salon would be the same standard as, say, Taylor Taylor, in London. (well the pricing is almost the same, Pakistan being more expensive.)

It struck me how passionate the women were about keeping themselves “presentable,” “youthful,” and “beautiful,” even as they wrapped burqas around themselves before stepping out and into a rickshaw, back to the kids. It astounded me how, as poor as they were, they would still, without fail, make an appearance every fortnight. But it touched me, being taken in as their daughter, being taught things that I have taken with me ever since, (and not just how to give a mean neck massage) and that’s appreciating what I have. I loved how together everyone was, even if two customers didn’t know each other, they would bond and become friends, there was a real sense of community there, and I loved that. 

Until I stepped out onto the sand for the fourteenth time. 

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An Introduction to Living in Pakistan.

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.

Until then!

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I’ve rediscovered my childhood.

I have a weight on my shoulders, it comes with age, I think (I’m not even twenty, ugh.) Everywhere I look there’s a flaw, within myself, within the way we interact with each other and I know it’s a cruddy outlook to have on life in general. So, one day, a fortnight ago, I was looking for a remote control and was advised to check out a neglected cupboard in an empty room. I did, and I spent the next four hours engrossed in old photo albums.

What is common knowledge yet still somehow forgotten in our family is that my father was a photography enthusiast, he would never be without his camera thus, thankfully, I have many memories from my childhood. Seriously, like, really cool retro photos which hipsters would drool at the prospect of having legitimate cool baby photos like this:


Check out the shades, brah!


I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but it seems like I am an infant, therefore unable to drive.


This isn’t cool, dad, you’re letting me run amok with some poor OAP’s walking stick. .__.

And my life without him in South London, I can’t tell you. There’s no one here to take photos but the joyful moments seem to have evaporated, only to be contained in these special photographs. This blog is basically just me sharing these special moments with you, and I’m typing this with a small smile on my face because for the first time in quite a while I feel at one with myself. I have the standard childhood photos and then some, I had a father who loved me more than I can possibly imagine. Looking at my family now, it almost pains me to see that we were so content and wholesome at one point.

Don't mess with our styyyyyyyyyyyyle.

Don’t mess with our styyyyyyyyyyyyle.

This is how much my father took his hobby seriously.

prolific man.

prolific man.

And these are only the photos and some videos and cassettes. He’s made more. I never really questioned why my father was such a fanatic, the only thing I could tell my friends is “oh, he never really left the camera, and I was a right little daddies girl!” blushing with pride, I’d listen to the stories distant family members would tell me as I heard how much my father loved me, how fair my skin was, how I was the apple of his eye. Being the youngest child and only girl, with three older brothers at least twelve years older than me, I had that one thing over them (and that’s nothing to complain about.)



How suave!

How suave!

I found pictures of my parents wedding! Look at how damn cool they are.

wedding1 wedding2

My dad moved here when he was fairly young and started a job as a black cab driver, when he eventually started driving for the BBC. So he’d come home and tell wicked stories about how he was driving the flamboyant John Ingham and even David Jason. He was pretty inspirational, always had a joke or an interesting anecdote to tell.


Yeah let’s just reinforce stereotypes…

It’s hard to believe such a jaunty bloke was living in India/Pakistan not too long ago. So when I was very young I visited with him, back to his old house, and to wander around Lahore. I don’t remember much, apart from the blurred visions of chickens running wild… it’s tough living, there. Lavish meals were made with barely any equipment and yet it was so fun, running wild, the earthy roads and um, liberation. 

Ch'yeah liberation!

Ch’yeah liberation!


The kitchen.

The kitchen.

Pakistan - India

Pakistan – India

A fortnight ago, as I was scouring each and every single folder of photographs (I had no energy to crack open cassettes and tapes) I stumbled upon something incredibly personal and sentimental. After I was done with this particular folder I didn’t know how to handle this beautiful discovery. Now I know I can just blog about it. 😉

entry1 entry2

My father created a folder for me. Painstakingly captioned it, I remember he converted the bathroom into a dark room to develop these photographs a few days a week, I sat on the toilet precariously as he explained to a perplexed six year old how he did everything, peering through an empty lens at me as I giggled and shrieked. I don’t really know how it feels to have someone so devoted to you, I reject those who try, but I swell with admiration whenever I think about him. My dashing, funny, incredible dad. I guess I don’t want his hard work to be forgotten when his children die, as well, so it’s best left in an online diary, never really deleted from anything until the world ends.

Colonisation is a fact, and it was pretty horrible, but just knowing that it affected my father in such a way really hits close to home. His life changed because of it and it shook his foundation for the rest of his time here; it made him want to keep a record for every aspect of his life as long as he could. I even found this.

diary ]

He actually documented as many of my movements as he could’ve done for my first year alive. Here are a few of my favourite quotes…

“Shirin poked her brothers eye and it bled because he wasn’t responding to her tugging on his shirt.” 

“Shirin said “shut up” for the first time.”

“Shirin tried to climb up the stairs but always falls back on the second step.

I was adorable, shut up.

I don’t mean to waffle on sentimentally. It’s funny, when I think about how laid back life was back then and how stern and cruddy it is now it makes me think of the Islamic revolution that took place in Iran. Only, the revolution was a move to a different area of suburban London and it was just closer to a mosque… Let me be as dramatic as I want, dammit!

I had a pretty sweet childhood with awesome people around me, and that’s more than I could ever ask for.



Me, looking pleased as ever.

Me, looking pleased as ever.

Adorable villain in cheesy cop movie's got her hands up!

Adorable villain in cheesy cop movie’s got her hands up!

I don't get the obsession with putting me in things..

I don’t get the obsession with putting me in things..




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