My mother received a call from her friend yesterday. So, we’re at her place today. It isn’t grand but you can’t exactly call it average. Three chandeliers lined across the ceiling are intricate in design. There were other women already present when we got there. All of them stood up as we greeted them by saying Salam followed by softly touching each other cheek to cheek, which can be termed as the Saudi greeting style, in a way. They’re all wearing burqas’ with different hues. The colors range from grey to caramel to black but sorrow has only one color; grey. Now, here comes the interesting part. The women here speak fluent urdu/hindi pronouncing a word or two with a heavy Arabic dialect. They’re Saudi no doubt yet they weren’t born one. It’s an interesting sight to behold but the purpose that brought us here is a grave matter.
My mother sits in the corner consoling her friend who just lost hope or in simple terms, a mother.
There are chocolates laid out on the table. The Arabic coffee (Qahwa) and dates are never missing in any Saudi house.
I see women from different walks of life share their stories. In a way, this is the only means to share grief in a home away from home.
“She would stir the Sheer Korma (An Indian Sweet dish) standing in the kitchen” says an old woman with a walking-stick kept by the sofa she settled comfortably upon. A dramatic pause on her part makes it seem as though her memory was failing her. “She would often quote the following as I remember well:
Eid ki sachi khushi to apno ki deed hai,
Tum humse door ho to apni kya eid hai.
(Translation : The true happiness of Eid is a gift of loved ones, what’s Eid if you’re away from me)”, she said, smiling satisfactorily as my notions about her memory turned out false. The old woman’s mother married a Saudi decades ago and never went back. Years later when she asked her mother to visit their family in Pakistan she’d simply answer, “What’s the point of visiting graves?”. Apparently most of her close family members were buried 6 ft under the earth. The only home left was where she was now.
As blessed as these people are with two homes & families scattered across two continents yet the painstaking truth seldom goes unnoticed.
People like us or as the term goes, expatriates see these converts in more than one way. Yet something that always bugs me most is patriotism. How do they decide which home to put their faith in? Or are they torn apart between two like I imagine myself in their shoes? Many of my questions have long gone unanswered but a few hints here & there in conversation always reveal their love for where they’re now but no matter what, the past still makes them nostalgic.
As one of her friends asked her where her mother died, the woman replied, calm & collected, “Rourkee” followed with a briefing about the beautiful state situated in the colder regions of India. “Is it close to Saharanpur?” Asks a lady wearing desi clothes with a pixie, quite an odd sight for a native of where she comes from but it’s pretty normal for us. “No, it’s close to Dehradun” a reply is made to acknowledge the query. The chubby woman laughs bobbing her head back & forth, “Like I’d know where that is!”.
The fact that they have no knowledge of states other than their own parents or grandparents place of origin always makes me wonder if they can ever have emotional ties with a place they’ve never seen, only heard of through stories & anecdotes.
“My mother was from Dehradun” exclaims the woman who had been listening to the conversation from across the sofa. Others nod their heads in acknowledgement.
Without a doubt the conversation drifts towards fashion. “My sister sent me stitched clothes from Lahore which removed all apprehensions I had had regarding my Eid outfit” says a woman with an air of relief as others agree with her.
As consolation, advice and stories went on, a young girl with eyes that resemble a puff of grey cloud in the sky waiting for downpour, offers coffee to those who want it. Few refuse, many ask her to fill their cups twice.
Without a doubt the topic of death arises & the fact that these days you don’t necessarily have to be old to die finds a mention yet again. “She would always cry when I came back here” says my aunt, her voice heavy with vivid emotions. “But this time when I bid goodbye, she didn’t shed a tear” she ends the note with a heavy sigh. Perhaps a mere sigh wouldn’t relieve her of the pain she’s feeling. I’m sure it wouldn’t.
The girl with grey eyes comfortably settled herself on the sofa in a corner, watching all her aunt’s hover around her mother as she wailed for her mother. Her skinny feet shuffle in a manner that makes her worry evident. With eyes fixed on her mother her lips part in silent apprehension as she moves her hands excessively.
“In the beginning of this year, she told me to hurry up & visit her otherwise she’d leave for South Africa”, little did the old woman realise where she was when she asked her daughter to pay her a visit. In the care of a son & a daughter in law, the frail creature was often visited by memories of a past she cherished deeply.
As I was looking out the window in the backseat of our car, I realised how much history everyone carries with them. The part that saddens me is that they know little to almost nothing about it. Some don’t even wish to discover their origins. A new life, a new country becomes such an integral part of their lives that what was once a place they called home becomes nothing more than a distant memory.
But what really is the point of holding on to the past, right?
I’m a keen observer by nature, not by choice. This prompt is not meant to hurt sentiments of any group in any possible way. I did feel the need to let out my thoughts about this particular issue. Being an expatriate experiencing a culture that I could live in forever if I choose to yet I feel obliged to not undermine the values inside me. Even though it would be practical to consider options like safety & a lifestyle I’ve been used to since childhood. But my choices are never governed by comfort or leisure.
I’m Indian by birth & choice. Maybe I feel this way because I’ve never actually lived in my home land for more than a year but I’m sure I can find my place in a country as diverse as India. My apprehensions about moving to India demand another post which I’ll make sure to keep short & concise.
Apologies for such a long read.