The Skates

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.

Favorite bulb?

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”
“Thanks ^_^”
“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.

Faisalabad Flights

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.

The very first bakeries

I’m a lover of all things sweet, something I inherited from my father who would sweetly ask mom after dinner every night “what’s for dessert?”. But of all things sweet my least preferred are your regular cream cakes found in every bakery on every commercial street in town. I chalked it down to the fact that there are so many bakeries and not enough actual bakers to make cakes to my taste.
Talk to my dad though, and he will tell you about the time when Karachi had but one baker, a certain P. F. Pereira, who was the only one who made cakes.
Circa 1960, my father recollects memories of going to P. F. Pereira, on Tram Pattay road opposite the Fire Temple, for birthday cakes. An old style bakery, like the famous Bombay Bakery of Hyderabad, with chips floors and glossy oil painted walls. Dad calls them the original bakers.
Then there was United Bakery, the ones who introduced square bread of today unlike the regular long ones with the curved top half that rises up above the tin while baking. Dad remembers how the loaves were sold whole but if you asked, they had a machine at the shop that sliced the loaf into slices. Something that fascinated my dad everyday.
In those days, you got BP Bread as the only brand distributed at all the milk shops. And to complement the bread, there was only one brand that made butter: New Town.
This bakery was named after the area New Town near the Quaid’s mausoleum and they had only two types of butters: the yellow salted and white unsalted. Wrapped in butter paper with a hand-drawn image in blue ink of a young girl with short hair. Surprisingly my husband can recall having had/seen the butter from New Town Bakery. I’m curious now to find out if they are still making them these days.
The next and final major contender in the initial bakeries was in the Nazimabad area, called Fancy Bakery. Dad recalls them as the ones who introduced milk bread. Not the milk breads of today that are just sweeter than the regular breads. Those milk breads were yellow and flavored with vanilla essence and were almost exactly like the pound cake of today. Perhaps this was the predecessor or the sponge cake.
And this was my father’s memory of the first bakeries in Karachi that he remembered.

Terrifying Tales of Tall Towers

The other day we were discussing how tall a certain skyscraper near my parents’ house was going to be built. From the promotions we heard above a 100 stories; my husband loved going up the Petronas tower when we went to Kuala Lumpur and was pretty excited about this new building in our city. He asked if they would make a viewing deck if it’s going to be so tall, I thought of course, what better way to use the height to advantage.
My father though did not share in the excitement, “When you’ve taken so many flights, the top of the building doesn’t seem like an exciting prospect”. He had worked at the Kingdom Towers in Riyadh for a few years and talked about going up to the observation bridge at the top. Having taken monthly flights to and from Riyadh, the view from that bridge had nothing new to offer. The landscape was the same, his office on the 20th floor had the same view but from a lower angle. The thrill of the height had died with those frequent flights.
I teased my husband about his glee at having the window seat on all the flights during our honeymoon, yet despite those flights he still felt that thrill at the top of Petronas Towers and wondered if any place could make my dad feel the same.
Dad went into flashback mode and remembered the 70s-80s when he went travelling through Europe. He talked about the Eiffel tower, how it used to be open to the public for free regardless of what level you went to. An elevator first went up the slanted legs to the first platform, there he found restaurants, an amusement park, a huge area for people to hang out. Take the next elevator from the center of that platform and you reached another platform where you could start feeling your feet shifting because of the wind and then an elevator in the center of that platform shot you up to the top level.
Right there at the top in the center was a large room with wax status like Alexander Graham Bell on a telephone and such. Around the room there was a balcony-like space for you to walk around and look at Paris. Perhaps that could have been all, but on top of that room was another small platform. Since in those days there was no heightened security protocol or anyone stopping people from being crazy, my dad also climbed his way to the platform on top of the room with the statues.
The force of the wind, the complete bird eye view of the beautiful city, the openness of his position. That is where he felt that he was truly exposed to the elements.
From that small platform a caged ladder went vertically up to the communication towers and although Dad speculated over trying to go higher up, he decided not to pump his adrenaline that high.
But in his memories, was the place he felt the thrill of being among the clouds.

A patchwork of memories

Whenever we go to meet my parents, my husband spends hours listening to my father telling stories, explaining how things work, sharing anecdotes about his career and remembering the good old days of his youth.
Twenty seven years having lived with my parents and there are still some new things I find out about them and their lives that I had never heard before. Yes there is that occasional event or time that either of them keeps repeating on and off, thinking that it’s the first time they’re telling me and my brothers about it, forgetting the last time we nodded our heads in unison when they told us the punchline of that joke.
Yet, I am always surprised by how easily I had condensed the sixty or so years of their respective lifetimes into the patchwork of memories they had shared with us over the years, always assuming that those were the only experiences they had lived and that there is nothing new that they could tell me that I don’t already know. Every now and then I find myself astonished at something my husband thinks he’s hearing for the first time, not knowing that I had never been an audience to this adventure before either.
Only yesterday when my dad told us another tale about going fishing into the countryside, I thought about how he should have a memoir, something that my brothers and I can pass on to our kids and grandkids. Just as quickly I realized that writing a memoir will never replace the magic of storytelling we experience when such and such incident is recalled over a hasty dinner with the appropriate gestures and expressions that show exactly how excited my dad had been when he got his first watch or when he saw his grandfather hunting.
So I decided to write these memories down here, a sort of live and continuous memoir so to speak, as and when our parents share some story. I may or may not get down to compiling it in a book, but at least they’ll be here for me to keep coming back to when I forget my dad’s explanation of how a Polaroid works.

A Comedy of Errors: The Baku Edition – 3

Did I ever mention that time I had to attend a literature forum in Azerbaijan during my exams and there were no direct flights to Baku?

April 25, 2013:

In the previous post I talked about the preparing for the exam which I gave in the evening, that ended by nightfall and wearily made my way back home. After passing a cursory glance at my packed up suitcase, courtesy Mother Dear, I collapsed on my bed from sheer exhaustion after four consecutive days of cramming and giving exams while trying to get the travel arrangements done with due approvals for the event I mentioned in the very first post.

I barely heard my father talk about back-to-back flights and the need to be quick on my feet. My last thought before dozing off was that “tomorrow is going to be a long, long day.” For the first time in my life I was dead-on correct…on an unrelated note, perhaps more sleep leads to such epiphanies. *scribbles furiously on random piece of tissue*

April 26, 2013:

Here is where the fun begins…all incidents in local times.


Got up, put on the first T-shirt and jeans I could find, had breakfast and was driven to the airport where my dad handed me the tickets and all travel documents with another packet of the same travel documents and their 4 copies. Fathers, they just don’t trust you with the originals, do they? As a final precaution, he put a tiny padlock on my suitcase because he also doesn’t trust anybody else.


I had gone through the airport security checks, cleared the immigration line and had finally checked-in, sitting in the airport lounge answering my parents’ various queries about how I had fared so far. Yes, I am a mature adult. No, I cannot stop the parents from worrying. My Emirates flight was at 14:15 and I figured I had plenty of time to reach Baku.

Until I checked my ticket. Approximately 11hrs+ travel time. Why you ask?



My first stop was Dubai, where I cried over my empty bank account for 4 hours or so at the luxurious and completely out-of-my-budget duty free airport.




Then hopped on a plane to…guess where?

Tehran. Yes because there were no bloody direct flights to Baku, that’s why. And guess what happened when my plane landed at Tehran airport?


They didn’t let me off the plane because my head wasn’t covered. I couldn’t step on Iranian soil because my head wasn’t covered. This was their law and because I had no clue what was going on with my life I obviously also had no clue that foreigners had to cover their heads even at the airport as well.

So the embarrassed Emirates flight crew comforted an even more embarrassed me and held me back till everyone left so they could sort out the problem. Then they asked if I had a scarf. No. A jacket? No. Could I take off my shirt maybe and put it on my head? No biraather no. So they took out a blanket and the flight attendant taught me how to wear a it over my head like I was a retard who hadn’t worn a chaadar before in my life. They joked if I would pay for it. DO I LOOK LIKE I’D PAY TO PUT A BLANKET ON MY HEAD? I would’ve if I had the cash, but I didn’t. Eternally grateful to the crew though. Respect.


My next flight was at 23:10hrs but at the Tehran airport I couldn’t find a transfers queue, there were just two long immigration lines and I ended up one of them, when my turn came about twenty minutes later I told the guy I wasn’t really going to Tehran, I needed to go to Baku. he looked at me funny then called an airport security person who took me to a military guy, I mean he looked it, can’t think of him being anything else. So a soldier took my passport and told me to wait on a metal chair in this sad little corner where everyone could see the weird zombie wearing the blanket turban. While my flight was in an hour. Apparently I had to wait for the soldier to get me my boarding pass. Like I don’t even…a soldier. I can’t get my own boarding pass, the soldier will get it for me. I can’t move from the chair they put me on.


Hallelujah the soldier came back…and yelled NOREEN QAYAM! fml x 2.He handed me my ticket and passport and escorted me to the departure lounge. ESCORTED, because of course I would have the sudden urge to roam around the single corridor and get lost somehow, right? I was actually more worried that my plane had packed up and gone.

But flight delayed. By about an hour.

April 27, 2013:


So on Azerbaijan Airlines I went and came close to my destination.


The plane landed at the Heydar Aliyev airport in Baku and being so late already, at the immigration counter they stopped me. Asked me numerous questions which I could not really connect. They couldn’t understand why I came from Tehran.

They called the head of security who asked me the same questions. They couldn’t understand why I, a Pakistani, would come to Baku via Tehran. Honestly bro, if I had a choice I wouldn’t go to Tehran either, blanket or not.

But then suddenly he smiled and let me through. The person waiting for me outside holding a very nice banner with my name on it drove me to the lovely Radisson hotel and deposited me in my room with my luggage. I had a roommate. A Bengali girl. She was asleep.

It was 2am on Saturday morning now. THE Saturday morning. The event was in 6 hours. The Bengali girl woke up, said hi, told me to put on an alarm then fell asleep. In my haste to answer the luring call of the soft and comfy bed I tried to unlock my suitcase and yank out my pyjamas. I broke the lock. At 2am in alien territory I watched the springs and pins and tumblers of the tiny lock fly over my head and spread all over the floor. The lock was beyond repair. I collected the tiny parts and dumped it in the dresser drawer, changed into my pjs and drifted off to sleep.


I woke up, got dressed in my smart formals, had breakfast in the swanky hotel lounge, introduced myself to everyone who I found had already been introduced to each other at the dinner the previous night. Which I had missed. Because there were no direct flights to Baku. So then we climbed the bus and reached the convention center.


As soon as we were seated in the concert hall, a bombshell was promptly dropped on me that since I was representing Pakistan, I had to recite a piece of my poetry in Urdu to an audience of over 500. On stage. On national TV. And since I had missed the welcome dinner for the participants the previous night, I also missed the rehearsal that everyone else got to do right then. How bloody golden enh?

So I was handed a printout of my poem that I had emailed them back when I expressed my interest in participation, and I noticed something funky the minute I started reading my own poem’s Urdu translation. To those who do not know, written Urdu’s orientation is from right to left, similar to Arabic, even in the script. The version on the paper printed in front of me was left to right. Apparently my translation was reversed due to a glitch in the Microsoft Word version and now I was looking at my poem that sounded quite retarded to my own ears as I read ‘moment a takes only it’ in Urdu which sounds even worse. So what does one do? One reads backwards. So I tried and waited for an opportunity to rehearse on stage before the guests arrived.

Not to be so. Pakistan starts with the 16th letter in the alphabet, and it was probably by the time Miss Moldova stepped down that guests started filling in. I was so going to be so royally screwed. While I was silently rocking in my seat like a condemned prisoner, guess who shows up to meet me? THE DEPUTY AMBASSADOR OF PAKISTAN. He wished me well, said he was proud of me and completely ignored the silent calls for salvation I was trying to send him by blinking rapidly. Suddenly I realized I couldn’t go ahead with my plan to recite gibberish because obviously he knows Urdu.

12:45hrs ~

So I sat waiting for my turn and then climbed up on stage and “Salam from Pakistan”. For some very odd reason the crowd loved that. I then proceeded to recite my own poem’s Urdu translation to foreign dignitaries, Azeri government officials and famous poets. Once that was done I tottered back unsteadily on my heels to my seat and pretended I hadn’t just done the bravest thing ever in my life.

Nobody told me they were recording it on camera, as I later found when they emailed the link to my shaky, trembling performance. NOBODY is watching that I guarantee you. That’s me, third from left.


14:00hrs onwards:

Once that was done we were taken for lunch which was awesome possum. Then back to hotel to change for dinner which was also awesome possum. And then I mingled with the girls from 19 other countries and somehow they thought socially awkward was acceptable. I do love them for that. Here I would like to mention that my numerous flights to Baku had resulted in my ears popping so many times that I had become nearly deaf. Some ppl probably still think the poor girl from Pakistan is deaf. And that is how I spent my weekend in Baku. Feeling like I’m underwater. I think a blog post is due on what we did in Baku itself. I’ll think about.

April 28, 2013:


So  the event wrapped up, I had to pack up my suitcase and suddenly I remembered I had no lock. My delicates could be easily be seen by anybody who bothered to open my suitcase on a whim because people like to do that sometimes no? So began a quest to find a lock. Asked the hotel reception, they said this was the Hotel District, no such markets around, will have to walk far. So Miss Bangladesh and I set off to find it a lock whose Azeri name we did not know, ignorance on my part as I realized when I made some apparently indecent gestures at shopkeepers while asking for a lock. Someone realized I wasn’t actually asking for strange favors and exclaimed “Achaar!” so we started running around asking for an achaar and the shopkeepers still thought we were stupid.

At one newsstand the guy handed me a bunch of keys and I looked at stupidly for a while till Miss Bangladesh said asked for the lock which the keys go into. The guy exclaimed “Kiffel!” so basically we had been asking people for keys and not locks which are called kiffel and obviously that was terribly stupid of us. Long story short, nobody had a kiffel anywhere nearby, but people had lots of achaars which were completely useless for me of course.

April 29, 2013:


I was dropped off at the airport for my three flights back to Pakistan, beginning with the one to Tehran in half an hour. I got my suitcase plastic-wrapped and because I’m smart, I kept a scarf this time.


I was prepared for Tehran, I even smiled at the soldier like he was my chacha ka beta. He obviously didn’t believe we could be related. But this time I had a stayover in Tehran for four hours, so I found my way into the Emirates lounge and failing to connect to the wi-fi, went and drowned my sorrows in free orange juice till my 5am flight to Dubai, occasionally dozing off and waking up to different people sitting on my table every time I opened my eyes.


The flight to Dubai was a breeze. It also landed half an hour away from the main airport where I had to go for my next flight in an hour and a half. I believe I found a hidden talent of biting my nails while maintaining my balance in that flat bus-shuttle thing that takes you from the plane to the terminal.


My flight to Karachi was at 8am. Obviously I’m no Rehman Malik for whom the plane could wait, so like Anjali in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I ran to my bullet-riddled Shahrukh Khan, i.e. the plane.


I was the last passenger. I was also late. And I was also too embarrassed to travel with Emirates ever again in my life.


I was completely deaf when I landed in Karachi. I was high on orange juice and air pressure.

Happily ever afterwards:


I didn’t have to give the exam I missed. The teacher said he didn’t have time to make another paper so he would give me the class average score coupled with my overall marks in quizzes and assignments. I would’ve declared my undying love for him but the thought of his wife and daughter stopped me. Yes I’ve stalked him on Facebook.

So then people asked me if two days in Baku were worth it. I say hell yes and I would do it again because once in a lifetime bro.

So who wants to go to Baku with me?

*the end*