By Saba Mahjoor
SMALL hurts accumulate. They are like buttons that you end up collecting and then saving in that old milk powder tin that you hide at the back of your dresser. You keep thinking (or hoping if I am honest) that one day they will come in handy, even though you know deep down inside that all you are doing is stopping yourself from thinking about them in the present. It is always better, no matter how inconvenient, to use the button there and then or just throw it away.
Phuphee had a beautiful maroon velvet throw which she said she had brought as her dowry. Over the years, it had lost its sheen and had frayed around the edges.
“Yeme zindagi hinde paeth” (much like this life), she would often say wistfully, when she would tell me for the millionth time about the throw.
After she got married and had to take over the responsibility of a home, she never had any time to do anything else apart from housework.
“After marriage a woman only exists in the work she does or the role she plays”, she would say, while playing around with the buttons on her velvet throw. “A woman is never just a woman. She is always something else. A daughter, a sister, a mother, a wife, a grandmother. But never, just a woman”, she added.
“Assyi chu aasaan yi aabe noate” (a clay water pitcher, that women use to carry water in, typically balanced in top of their heads) hameshe kalas pyet” (we always carry this burden on our heads), she would say.
“Mei khetre ausne zanh wakhtai” (There was never any time for me). At least never enough to do anything substantial, she would say.
“Mei aes khaelyi mealaan paanch minute yetyan yaa dah minute hotyen. That manz kyah kar ha. Bas yima button aases suwaan yath lefyi manz. Yima sariy button chi haawaan mea kootah wakht aus paanas khetre yiman wuhan wariya” (I would only ever get five or ten minutes here and there. What could I do in that time? So, I started sewing these lost buttons onto this throw. All these buttons here represent the amount of time I have had to myself over the last twenty years)
“It is not that much”, I said, thinking out aloud.
“I know”, she replied.
We sat both of us, looking at the throw. I saw a small tear form in the corner of her eye which she wiped away quickly with the back of her pheran sleeve.
“Come”, she said, “I have to make doade alle for one of the ladies in the next village”.
“Who?”, I asked.
“Haneefa, Mushtaq’s wife”, She replied.
“Oh her, the one who hasn’t had any children after five years of marriage. I have met her a couple of times”, I said.
“She is always in a horrendous mood. Why would you want to make anything for her, she is a sour faced toad”, I added, making a toady face.
“Magaez chi daelmit”, (you have dislocated your brain), she snapped back.
“Don’t ever talk about another woman like this. Come, let’s go”.
We went down the dark corridor which was lit only by the colourful light that streamed through the stained-glass windows. You could see the dust dancing in the light beams if you stood close enough.
She had already got a lovely orange pumpkin from her vegetable garden. She chopped it in half and scooped out the seeds which she would save for replanting or eating after sun drying them. One half she kept aside and the other half she chopped into more pieces. She steamed the pieces until they were tender. Then she peeled the hard skin off the pieces. The peeled pieces were then left to cool down completely. Once cool, she mashed them into a fine paste and added yoghurt, fresh cream, a little salt, some toasted cumin seeds and some toasted crushed almonds and gave it all a good mix.
She scooped a huge spoonful into a bowl and handed it to me.
It was delicious. The warmth of the pumpkin was balanced out by the coolness of the yoghurt.
She picked up two cigarettes and lit them. We sat in complete silence until she had finished smoking.
“No woman is ever horrendous, I want you to remember that”, she said.
“Zanaan che aasaan hameshe thitchmich ti phitmitch, magar kharaab ti chena aasaan” (a woman is always tired and exhausted but she is never bad or horrendous), she said.
“Amyis maa chu zahn kahn pritchaan, walle yi aabe noat maa thavakh pathar” (no one ever asks her if you want to put this water pitcher down for a moment) she said, sighing.
“Is Haneefa tired? Is that why you are going to see her?”, I asked.
“Mei chena pai soa cha thitchmich kine na, magar pritchas, aabe noat maa ratai taanyeth?” (I don’t know if she is tired, but I will ask her if she would like me to hold her water pitcher for some time), she said.
She gathered her burka, the doade alle and left.
- The author is a full-time mother and a Kashmiri based in London
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