‘On Exile’ (to borrow Edward Said’s phrase)
My post is inspired by ‘York’, by Belgian Waffle, a fascinating blogger, who has written a nostalgic piece about her city of birth.
I was born in Lahore, Pakistan and left my homeland when I was two years old. My life, if sketched as a path on a map, would be a series of zig zags, going from Pakistan to America, to Nigeria, to America, back to Pakistan, then to Kenya, to Bangladesh, to the UK, back to America again, to Italy and finally, Canada. At the age of 13, when we were living in Washington DC, Baba, my father, decided to send me to live in Pakistan with Mader, my paternal grandmother, because he didn’t want me to become “Americanised”. I didn’t want to leave my parents, my sisters, and I especially didn’t want to leave my Ami; my mother, my best friend. But I didn’t resist or fight back; racist children in school had made my life miserable beyond comprehension, and all I wanted to do was to run away from them.
I remember the day I left. Even though I was dying to cling to Ami and sob on her breast, wet her sweater with my tears and smell her perfume for the last time before getting on that plane to Lahore, my face remained straight, my eyes strained and cold.
I lived with Mader, and my father’s brother- Kaka Tarik‘s family. By the time I was 16, my parents were being transferred to Nairobi, Kenya, and Ami and Baba wanted me back. But I didn’t want to go to Nairobi, I was too happy living in Lahore with my new friends, uncles and aunts, cousins and grandparents. But I did leave, and I most certainly left kicking and screaming. And this time, there were a lot of tears that were shed at the airport. I arrived in Nairobi scared and apprehensive, but left it soon after, for uni, with wonderful friends and memories.
The daughter of an expat, moving around all my life, home was always Lahore, my birthplace, and the city where my parents were born.
Androoneh Shaihar-inner city, Lahore. Artist Haider Ali Jan. Photo by my cousin, Sara Patel, from Alhamra Art Exhibition.
That Spring day when I got on the flight to be with my parents and sisters again, I didn’t want to leave. And every time I go home to Lahore, I still don’t want to leave.
Back when I was a young girl, I wanted to stay in Lahore and continue going to Nani Ami, my maternal grandmother’s house every weekend, when she would make yakhni-chicken broth for me. And a stewed apricot pudding she served with malai-clotted cream.
I wanted to run to the tuck shop during recess with my best friend Ayesha Nabi, and have a five ruppee naan kebab and bottle of RC cola.
I wanted to celebrate Chand Raat, the night when the new moon is sighted, marking the end of Ramadan, with my maternal uncles, Mamoo Mamoon and Mamoo Tariq, driving along the Mall Road, past the Aitchison College, all lit up in candy-colours for Eid celebrations. Before returning home, my Mamoos would take me to the bazaar and buy me sparkly bangles.
I wanted to sit in the garden with Mader, Kaka Tarik and his wife, Aunty Shahla and have tea with samosas bought in Mini Market. The pedestal fan would be blowing from left to right as we would bite into the crisp samosas, the cumin-laced potatoes falling out onto our plates.
I wanted to go with my cousins Saadiya and Ashi to Liberty Market to buy ribbons, lace and adornments for our kurta shalwars, the ones we would wear on Eid.
I wanted to sit with Daddy, my maternal grandfather, in the terrace, during the winter months having khatai biscuits from the androoneh shaihar- inner city. Each buttery disc was formed by hand, brushed with egg wash and baked till a mahogany crust formed on top. With each bite it crumbled, disclosing roasted almonds and specks of musky cardamom embedded in the soft biscuit.
I wanted to be in my family home.
My home in Lahore, lit up for my sister’s wedding.
And I wanted to be in Nani Ami’s bed on days that I were feeling poorly, waiting for her to bring warm, milky tapioca pudding for me.
Tapioca pudding with roasted apricot.
These are the things I knew I would miss about Lahore, and I still miss today, so many years later.
Tapioca Pudding with Roasted Apricot
*4 tbsp medium-sized tapioca pearls (not the quick-cook variety)
*2 cups whole milk
*4 tbsp sugar
*4 green cardamom pods
*2 apricots, halved, seed discarded
*brown sugar for sprinkling
*salted butter (at room temperature) for brushing on apricots
*slivered unsalted pistachios for garnish
*Soak tapioca pearls in cold water for 2 hours till they swell. Discard water.
*In a medium saucepan, heat milk on medium heat, till warm.
*Add tapioca pearls, sugar and cardamom pods and stir.
*The pudding wil begin to thicken after around 15 minutes. Continue to stir for a full 35 minutes.
*When the pudding looks thick like a rice pudding, take off the heat and allow to cool.
*Optional: Line your ramekins / glasses with a thin layer of slivered pistachios.
*When cool, transfer pudding into ramekins / glasses and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and ideally, overnight.
When ready to serve:
*Turn your broiler / grill on.
*Brush apricot halves with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar.
*Place apricots under broiler for 2-3 minutes till slightly golden on top.
*Serve each slice atop individual tapioca ramekin/glass and dust with crushed pistachios.