Pandora’s Box

July 3

No matter how much your mother loves you, if you go away for school your room will be used as storage.
Now that I’m finally back in Islamabad for long enough to care, I thought I should use my unemployment for the best.  Movies and sleep? Not quite.  More like cleaning and sorting.  And ever since, I have been finding old post-it notes, photographs, cards, random memorabilia whose significance I can’t seem to remember so I make something up (a movie stub for when we shared nachos and you ate more than your share? The night of the broken pinball machine or one of those evenings that I wanted to remember it in its ordinary yet lovely perfection?), faded writing, travel logs that make me laugh at first and then crush my heart like an iron fist, nostalgia bleeds a pale gray.

I’ve always liked collecting stubs and cards and paper napkins with everyone’s signatures, scraps of notebook paper with jokes from a trip that were repeated from start to finish and then remembered forever – reminds me to be grateful and remember the good times.  Of course, life has a way of writhing and turning and going in a completely different direction from what you had thought of.  Friends forever who become acquaintances, the strongest bond the memory of 12 years spent wearing the same uniform and white tennis shoes; siblings who move away, the penchant for fights and sharing parents becomes a daily ache, as common and familiar as the color of one’s eyes; and all the colors and sounds we hear as six year olds replaced by the alarm clocks of adult life and responsibilities of other people – do we ever get over the shock of becoming an a ‘grown-up’?

As if these little explosions from the past weren’t enough to drill into my heart like a woodpecker on Ecstasy, mom handed me an entire stack of nameless CDs that hold surprise videos from as far back as 1992 (maybe even further than that, I haven’t gotten through all of them yet).  Not only was my dad foresighted and determined enough to make all these videos throughout our childhoods, he even got them burned on CDs for the sake of further preservation!
I love the thrill of not knowing what the next CD has in store for me.  It is a palette of emotions and I feel like a canvas, with no control over the pictures that are being painted on me.  There are so many moments of horrified laughter at what I used to look like: the six-year-old shy Aisha that Annie aptly called ‘a Pathan boy’ who would smile with tightly closed lips, refusing older people’s cajoling to talk… the dreaded eye-roll on the swing when my chachu asks me ‘Aap kahan aayee ho?’.  I did roll my eyes when I was that old.  I blame it on the Sweet Valley kids I used to read.  Jessica Wakefield and her friends would roll their blue eyes all the time! The preteen stage in which my face was still as round as if carefully traced with a compass, the accursed fringe of light hair outlining my forehead, and my braid thick enough to be a warrior princess’s weapon.  The most painful (and funny) part of all our ugly duckling days were our voices, the LOUD, barely suppressed Punjabi accent and oh the things we said!

Imagine a 13-year-old Aisha in a baggy white school uniform, sitting with equally baggy-uniformed teenaged friends, eating Super Crisps and gulping Coke and Fanta, conversation punctured with ‘Nai yar’ and weird laughter. Three of those friends now have babies of their own!
My baby sister with her chubby, chubby cheeks, dancing with her other tiny, chubby friends (all of who had names starting with S for some reason) to Bollywood hits, who now lives in Montreal with her passion for animals and Forever 21.

All our older aunts and uncles who look so young with all that hair and unmade up faces, beautiful smiles, laughter, bright clothes, the grandparents who are no more, the friends who grew apart, the relationships that withered and died, the babies who have lost their wide-eyed stare for the bittersweet knowledge of life, the fat little legs that have stretched out to carry the weight of adults and the responsibilities that come with it…

There is a lot of material for blackmailing.  School farewells where Maina was dressed as a boy, Arshia looking like a boy in a yellow dress dancing to Dholna, Zainab following the camera and jumping in front every five minutes, shouting HELLOooO!
My dad’s constant ‘beta camera mein dekhain na!’, perpetual admonishments to look in the camera, the refusal to treat a video camera differently from the still camera, with all the men straightening their shoulders and standing side by side, still, looking into the camera with proper smiles, all the young girls shrieking or tucking their faces to the side, putting up a hand in the lens as they walk away, like superstars do when caught on camera doing something less than glamorous; the ‘abu, movie nahi banain na!’ in different locations of the world, in varying levels of whining.  The inevitable forgetting to shut the camera off and either putting the lens cap on and converting the video into disjointed audio, or even better, hanging it around your neck and shooting a montage of feet, legs, shoes and ground!  

My mom’s ability to look beautiful in every shot, no matter whose birthday dinner or which beach party, Naveed bhai’s casual stud-like silence, broken very rarely to say something practical, except for the run he breaks into on a beach in England, chased by Maina and Faiza baji, clutching wet sand in their fists.  And all that hair my dad had!     

Bad hair, sun hats, baggy shirts, bushy eyebrows, happy smiles, arm-in-arm walks, peals of laughter, high-fives, winks.  Footage to be shared with fiancés, new husbands, work friends, or even each other. 

Beware family and friends.  If you knew me in 1992, you may be in for some shocking proof of what used to be.


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