Amidst the black granite laden with salvers of boiled white rice, spiced okra, and seasoned mint chutney, he reiterates, “Right, Neha? Right?”and for the third time this week, I withhold the acid and concur, “Yes, daddy. I heard you the first time.” A glower simmers at the back of my throat as my mother shoots me a hardened look, “He’s getting old, let it go!” and I do.
But I think about it all the time. How I sense my parents’ ageing as I spend my adult years ‘discovering’ who I really am. How I’m resentful of the notion, that my life wasn’t cricket games with my dad or baking lessons with my mother, but more of sitting in darkened rooms, fetching endless medications, scheduling surgeries, and knowing they tired out after the first three.
They tense up when I vindicate them of my impractical dreams of dropping out of medical school to become a writer and actor. I think of my father and how it couldn’t have been easy for him, seven brothers and all, living in Pakistan. All that implicit responsibility, to get out of that make-shift, uncemented, untiled, brown, dusty house where young boys were made to sleep on wicker charpai’s with unfamiliar older men, juxtaposing unsolicited grabs against a navy-blue sky pardoning the stars. It might’ve been a given then – to become a man, grow money out of straw, make his wife bear children. And then there was my mother, who was betrothed to a man who she never even saw when she was only 16.
When I say I never want to get married, she tells me, “I had two kids at your age.” They’re anxious that when they eventually leave, I’ll be aimless. Because there have been times when they’ve seen me aimless. When I couldn’t physically hold up a spoon, and when my parents just kept staring at me – fuck. don’t cry. fuck you, don’t fucking cry. fuck! But all I do is tighten up, drop the spoon, and let years worth of seething pain, underlying resentment, and torment escape from within me as I fall against black granite.
The next day, I wear a hat at the psychiatrists. Through the haze, I hear, “Depression, generalized anxiety and PTSD. She’ll need to attend a weekly therapy session and we’ll prescribe her with bupropion, twice a day. It may initially cause her to become a bit more sad, and possibly suicidal, so you’ll have to keep her under close observation for the first few weeks.”
I never imagined 21 to feel this way. I wanted spicy bedrooms, spicier moments, girls, and boys who carried electricity and fame. After that fiasco, my mother didn’t want me to feel so much, to write about everything. I’d apparently repressed the past three years of my life in the UK; the memories were icy-cold and dark, just like the country.
My father spoke of me going to America, the land of opportunities, though I felt it was more like the land of unmanaged racial injustice. I try to convince him that not all Western countries are guaranteed to bring you success and that western culture is not the benchmark of progress. “What will you do in Pakistan? There is nothing for you here.” I don’t tell him, but I think of how Pakistan will be the only thing to hold on to when he’s gone. The only physical part of me that I could actually recognize. A childhood home where I lived, breathed, and wrote. I’m reminded of a verse I wrote about Karachi then,
‘… Karachi was a city of lights which
needn’t ever rest – though it may have
been an estate decrepit to the visitor,
it was purely splendid to me…’