My 3year old niece just started learning how to skate. We saw a video of her zooming around the skating rink in her brand new pink and purple inline skates, slightly wobbly but getting there.
Dad smiled a little thinking about his own childhood days when he used to skate around town. “These days you have these in-line skates which need that smooth surface, back in the old days I had iron skates which I could even take out on the roads”, he said.
I remember those skates: heavy, made of iron and with tan leather traps. They had a screw in the base to fix the length of the skate to your foot size. You placed your shoe on the skate, adjusted the front and back placeholders and screwed the bolt tight, then you buckled the leather straps on top to hold your foot in place. The wheels were narrow and also made of iron. These were the types used by acrobats in those days.
I remember when Dad took them out when I must’ve been around 5, I took to them instantly and have faint memories of circling the 12 seater dining table so fast that the room was a blur. Can’t remember where those skates went but I know I put them to good use and only graduated to the modern inlines in my teenage years.
Dad recalled how he used to cycle all the way from his home in the north of the city to Hill Park in the center. The skates hung by their straps at his back. This was in the 60s when in Karachi there was only one skating rink in the city found at the top of Hill Park. Those were the days a ten or twelve year would safely cycle across the city, no worries of traffic or speeding cars as there were so few automobiles around.
Dad talked about how there was even a boy who came all the way from Lahore Karachi on skates. Only difference that his wheels were made of thick and wide rubber made for speed in straight line, unlike Dad’s skates which were made for sharp twists and turns.
As we rewound the video of my niece I wondered about my own childhood skating accomplishments which I could one day tell my niece all about.
There are two keys on the keychain, facing opposite directions. They look the same because they are of the same brand and because they face opposite directions I can never say which one is on the left and which one is on the right, because it looks the same either ways. One key opens my room, one my parent’s. Every time I come home and Dad hands me the keys, it always takes two tries to unlock my door.
Everyday it happens and there’s no changing it. I thought it happened only with me because I prepared myself everyday to be defeated by the first key. But the other day when I got home and Dad handed me the keychain, instead of going back to his desk he stood behind me as I readied for the first try to fail.
“It’s always the second key”.
I turned to look at him in shock as he stared at the lock thoughtfully,
“It is a rule, only the second key will fit.”
I held my breath as I picked one key and fit in the lock. It didn’t turn. I quickly put the second key in and heard the satisfying click and smiled. I turned to look at Dad and he was mirroring my amused expression.
“Told you, it’s always the second key.”
I’m a very neutral person who doesn’t like to waver to either end of the spectrum for any argument. People don’t necessarily agree with my head over heart philosophy; my friends believe it’s important to have an opinion, but I feel like as soon as you develop an opinion, your ability to listen to an opposing one diminishes.
In that sense of neutrality I don’t think I could say I love a place, restaurant, experience in the usual order of business. The movies that I love, the cities that I enjoyed have impacted me greatly to make me come to the conclusion that I “love” them. But for the everyday experiences I find myself unable to identify if I love it or just like it.
Just the other day I had a girls’ spa day with old friends and tried out a new salon. The girl who did the service handed us review cards to rate the service and our experience. I didn’t think too much over it and marked 4 stars out of 5. Coming back home I noticed a little piece of hangnail the girl hadn’t removed and I wondered what was the 4 star for? Why hadn’t I thought it over harder. Did the service really deserve 4 stars? I figured that I might not come back to this place if ever I wanted to go for a manicure. Just as suddenly I also realized that my trips to the salon near my house, what I had labelled as convenience and practicality, was actually a liking for that place and the service. I would go there again and again. I was comfortable there. I was satisfied there. Perhaps that place actually WAS my favorite, without realizing so.
When I thought about it, I figured that I did not necessarily have to NOT have a favorite thing. I could love something just by the sheer want of it over other options. I love Anda Paratha because I can have it any day. I love Cosmopolitan because I love the food I’ve had and I could go there in a heartbeat. I love the movies Speed and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham despite the poor ratings because if they’re on I would watch the whole thing. Even if it is up every day.
This realization was so strange to think of that I’m nearing 30 and I still am trying to figure out the difference between my likes and loves, that it is okay to love or hate something. Try as I might I cannot always remain neutral because the heart will always find it’s way to the head.
Dad and I usually get rashes in winters, eczema you call it. While we were discussing my 3-month-old nephew’s rashes, Dad said it must be the clothes. The little one was getting all red wherever his furry blanket touched him. Dad pointed at the elastic cuffs of his sweatsuit and said “it’s not the allergy , it’s the electricity”.
Strange as it may sound, he explained how there was the rubber elastic material that was creating tiny sparks of electricity which were actually burning his skin on the wrists and ankles. The itching made it seem like an allergy, but now I know better.
Last night baby brother sent some pictures from his new project on our family chat group. Dad marked a frame on the ceiling in one of his images and asked what that was for.
“Led filament bulbs”, brother said.
And then he took out one, plugged it into a holder and took a picture of it dangling on a wire from his hand.
“What do you think?”, he asked me. I told him that I had been searching for the exact same thing for my own projects.
“It’s called an Edison bulb”, I told him, as I studied the long slender glass bulb with the filament inside wired haphazardly. It gave a very steampunk feel as it glowed warmly and you could see the brightly lit up filament not zigzagging inside as if wired by hand. I asked him where he got it as my own procurement team was unable to find it locally.
Only one company was supplying these locally. I noted it down for reference and congratulated baby brother on his project shaping up nicely, comparing the interior design themes and jargon as the rest of the family silently scrolled on.
Suddenly Dad started typing in.
“Where did you find this bulb?”
“Denso Hall, papa”
“It is very nice”
“This same bulb used to be in my maternal grandfather’s home, but with the real filament”
“It got fused the moment my grandfather passed away”
“Was it possessed?”, I joked.
“Maybe it was possessive”, baby brother replied.
“Yes we all wondered what had happened to that bulb”, Dad said, “It was my favorite bulb, I loved it so much, but it was round like a football, not slender like what you got”.
Of course he loved the bulb, he was a born engineer. But in that small flashback I saw my father as a young boy, ever so curious, wearing his thick glasses and tinkering with the fused bulb as he thought how maybe when he grew up, this moment will make more sense. That there would be a perfect explanation for his favorite bulb burning out the moment his grandfather passed.
Baby brother just landed in Multan and we were all surprised by the modern, shiny new airport whose pictures he sent.
Into flashback mode Dad went and began his tale of how small and lousy old airports used to be in the regional cities, especially in Punjab where the airports would be found in between crop fields.
Recalling one of his projects near Faisalabad where he stayed for over 6 months, he talked about going on a straight road out of Faisalabad until you reached a cross roads. A small sign on the right said “Jhang” and another sign on the left said “Airport”. You take that road and you’re led through rural fields until you suddenly notice a building in the middle of nowhere. That was the Faisalabad airport.
For the duration of the project my father made weekly trips home on the weekends. His tickets were booked and given to him beforehand in the form of a booklet, as done in the old days. Every time you had a flight you would tear off the ticket at the counter.
He had become such a regular on his fixed weekly flights that the whole crew at the Faisalabad airport started greeting him like an old friend. Compared to the large Karachi airport where the crew wouldn’t look at you twice as they catered to large international flights, the Faisalabad airport was so small that everyone started meeting him with a familiar smile. Even the porters who he never had to use since he only carried his briefcase, even they would come over to say Salam.
The clerks at the check in counter even had his seat reserved. He had the same fixed seat in business class on all his return flights. He was always placed on the window seat opposite to the direction of the sun so he could have a comfortable flight. Often times he would be all alone in the business class. He wasn’t afforded the same luxury at the Karachi airport but atleast it was still business class.
And that’s how he remembered the airport of old.