Snowball

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I was born at 3:44 AM on Mohammad Ali Jinnah Street, at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Karachi, Province of Sindh. Why the Seventh Day Adventist? Not a clue. Most likely our dear Doctor friend Max Meyer had selected the place as being the best for my arrival. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the founder and first President of Pakistan as a separate entity from India, much to Gandhi’s dismay.

My parents had already been living in Pakistan for a few years before I was born. Spoke Urdu reasonably well, I hear.

After a few days at the hospital, I was given a clean bill of health and sent home with my mother. Mohammad Ishak, the driver, fetched us at the hospital, in the Company Chevrolet. Ishak was as smartly dressed as ever in his black uniform and “government teeth”. He’d had all his teeth pulled out a few years back and had been issued a social security denture. Standard size. Ill-fitted. Tended to clack and click when he spoke. But a good driver he was. As the long black car arrived at the house and slowed down on the creeching white gravel, the entire household had lined up below the stairs, in order of seniority.

First, Shah, the Pashtun cook from Peshawar or beyond. He ran the house. And he would later  teach me how to talk (Urdu) and eat proper. He was an excellent cook, though he also raised rabbits in the oven, when he was not cooking. Don’t quite know how he managed it but it must have added to the meals flavor. Shah never took off his Pashtu hat. I think he probably slept with it.

Next: Zaman, the head bearer. In his white pajamas. A young handsome man, with an enormous waxed moustache. He served at the table in full dress, complete with the turban of his province. Lahore, maybe?

Then there was the Darzi, the tailor. Yes we had an in-home tailor, who could snap a cocktail dress for my mother on a drawing (by my mother) and a whisp of silk. For those so inclined for literary references, Darzee the tailor-bird plays a major role in the Rikki-Tikki-Tavi story of the Jungle book.

And the Ayahs, who would take care of the new baby boy. I’m sorry to say I do not remember all their names. One was called Azaadi, which means “Freedom” in Urdu.

All in all a dozen servants. Don’t frown at me. I didn’t do it. A dozen was a small household back in those days. Wealthy Indians and Pakistani often had a much larger household. At the time, it was a way to… redistribute wealth I guess. And “hold rank” too. Again, not guilty. I was a minor.

The car came to a halt, under the already scorching Pakistan sun. My father climbed down first, then my mother, cradling little 3-day old me in her arms. This was presentation time.

My mother walked towards Shah et al, greeting in Urdu:

“Salaam aleikum, Shah, Zaman, everyone.”

“Aleikum salaam, Memsahib and Sahib,” said Shah. “Welcome home Memsahib, and welcome to chota Sahib”. (Little or small master, as opposed to bara Sahib – my father – big master, or important person. Don’t frown, I didn’t make those greetings.)

“Shukriya, Shah.” Said my mother.

“May I hold him Memsahib?” Shah asked.

“Of course, Shah. Of course. Here you are.” My mother said handing me over.

Shah, the cook, took me in his arms. All the others gathered around him to look. Shah’s dark eyes peered into my green-blue eyes. Probably shut tight against the Sindhi sun. He stroked the small, round white head, covered with the flimsiest blonde down. He probably thought ‘our babies have more hair.’ Then he handed me back to my mother, saying:

“A beautiful baby, Memsahib. God has blessed us all. I will call him Guglu.”

“Guglu, Shah?” My mother said, lifting an eyebrow, not very keen on nicknames then or ever. “What does that mean? I don’t recognize that word.”

“Of course you wouldn’t, Memsahib. It comes from far away and a long time ago. ‘Guglu’ means ‘Snowball’. Your son’s head is all white and fluffy, like a snowball from the mountains of my youth.”

KN54-07x

Shah taught me Urdu, and proper table manners, the latter with great difficulty I might add.

kn51-22Zaman taught me how to walk.

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… and drive.

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Ayah taught me the meaning of the name “Freedom”.

This story is dedicated to the people of Pakistan – and India – who celebrated the 70th anniversary of Independence this week. Respectfully submitted: “Snowball”:

kn51-14-15And to the loving people who guided my first steps: “Shukriya. Thank you.”

112 thoughts on “Snowball

    • Well, thank you, merci Gilles. Je suis très touché. Dans le triste monde qui se forme autour de nous, je voulais écrire un texte… heureux. Joli. 🙂 (Et ça faisait longtemps que je l’avais dans la tête…) Bon ouiquande.

  1. A grand tribute. To remember fondly the people in your earliest life. That their spirits might know you remember then and have done well. They would be happy with what you have become and have done in your adulthood. Hugs

    • Thank you. Glad you liked it. They were proud and lovely people. I’ve often wondered what had been of their life. The… “staff” in Africa (Kenya) I know, because I went back many years later and sought them out. Very moving. 🙂
      A lovely week-end to you guys. (Do go to the Met for me, will you?) 😉

      • The Met is on the list alright. I am rather slow and I don’t know why! Maybe because there is the thought that it is at hand? It is strange because when I reached London I was greedy to get more of it.

        I am used to the word staff btw. In India, it is hardly a derogatory word. Those people are proud because they are earning their bread and you are giving them employment. Yet I don’t know why but I have never been quite okay with the thought of having staff. I like the dependence on the self.

      • Depends on how you stay in NY. Moma is also a must.
        And yes: “staff” was definitely not a derogatory word. Strong ties were indeed created between “staff” and “masters”. In a near feodal way. The “master” was expected to look out for everyone in the household. Illness, birth of a child. etc. Now, I can perfectly live without. Though here in Mexico, we do have a live-in maid. (Just one!) Who’s been with us 20 years maybe, has helped raise the children and really is a part of the family. 🙂

  2. A different era, indeed. It worked pretty well while those with rank lived up to the rank they held, and those in subservient positions were satisfied with their lot. That applies equally well where class rather than race is the determinant.
    You were privileged. A large staff. I had, as my tutor … a cat! He was very good at it, though.

    • A cat is probably one of the best tutors. Having a large staff, then and later a smaller one in Africa, taught me one thing: respect. My parents always made very clear that they were grown up people who were NOT our personal slaves. And that anything we ever asked always had to go with “Please”. 🙂 Valuable lessons for us kids.

  3. Brian, this is such a beautiful story, a lovely tribute to the people of Pakistan and India. As always the photos are stunning and I image evoke so many memories. Guglu is a heartwarming and endearing name, very special. Be well, Brian. ~ Mia

  4. WoW! Fantastic story and photos, at first I thought it was a chapter of a book that you are writing, but the ending showed me its about your life, what an interesting life you’ve had so far; may your life continue being a soulful adventure.

    • Thank you Genie. Will try to. As for the book… Though I normally do more fiction, I have written short stories, The cook is a spy, The Colonels gardens, etc. that may eventually form a book. Have a lovely week-end.

  5. Shukriya, Guglu, for this tender and touching story. 🙂
    I wish people all around the world could live together in peace, no matter where they come from.

      • Maybe the west – slightly above your location – is taking the appropriate measures that would bring them a huge gain. You know which industry is the most profitable.

      • On-line. (Even better margins than the military) Facebook has profit margins around 60-70% I think. Alibaba, the Chinese have 30-40%? In any other (honest industry you open Champagne when your profit is around 6 o 7%…

      • Well, then there may be entirely different reasons for striving so hard to raise all the humanity one against the other. Too bad most people can’t understand this and fall for the trap. 😦
        Gah, this page should be about peace, understanding, respect. Let’s keep it that way, shall we. 😉

  6. What a sweet memory! Love it that you still keep all the pictures after all these years. Yes, the fact that having house assistants back then was to redistribute the wealth and as well maintaining a status. It was also the case in Indonesia. My parents had employed a house assistant (that’s how we call the house maid in Indonesia nowadays), and she brought her husband (who later helped my father in renovating our house) and her baby boy – gosh, our house was small and it was a full house with her family staying with us as well!!

    • There are good sides to many old customs. And yes, I’m lucky we still have all those pictures. Took about 5 years to digitalize all the “archives”, including never before printed negatives. (Surprises!) but The result is worth it. Take care Indah. Selamat malam. 😉

  7. This was such a beautiful story!
    I too was born in Karachi and still am a resident of its hustling and bustling streets.
    I was mostly brought up by a tirade of servants (ranging from the ayah to the mochi) since I’ve always had both working parents.
    My parents and I will forever be indebted to them for never making me feel as a job they had to do, but rather took care of me as if I was their own – which in a way I guess I am ☺

    • Salam aleikum Manal! My fellow Sindhi! 🙂 Glad you liked the story. And yes, the “tirade” took care of us as if we were their own. God bless them. Take care. Brian aka “Guglu”.

  8. What a beautiful tribute and acknowledgement to your narrative beginnings… I so loved seeing the photographs which give a great sense of time and place…. wonderful post Brian☺️ smile’s hedy 😀

    • Thank you Hedy. Yes, the sense of time and place is important. (Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going to?) The same endless questions. Taje care Hedy. 🙂

    • Precious indeed. 🙂 And the love and affection is even more obvious in the 8mm movies my mother took then. Not very easy to post. I’m in the process of digitalizing them. Quite a workload. Have a great week

  9. Ha ha! Love your stories Guglu! You’ve got the gift. Clearly you were there but would not have remembered all this stuff, so your storytelling talent has knitted all the pieces together from anecdotes, scant memories and images.

    • Absolutely. I am a Darzi, a tailor. Or so do I wish to be remembered.
      I printed your wonderful analysis on “reflections on a blogger’s eye”.
      Been mulling about it ever since I read it. (But my recovery IS taking
      far longer than I expected).
      Need to draw a plan. (Or hire you as someone suggested).
      Hope all is well with you my dear Daphne.
      Yours ever, Snowball.

      • That’s a good description for what you do on your blog, ‘tailor.’ I know a lot of people put up pics and explanatory text but you have a certain (dare I say to a Froggy!) je ne sai quoi…

        I’m glad my assessment may help you hone in bit. We all get stuck in that maze sometimes and it takes someone hovering outside of the maze who can see the exit to shout ‘to the left!’
        And I expect your recovery is taking as long as it needs. Take your time! If you have decided that your pursuit is a pleasurable hobby as opposed to a highly focused and targeted plan, it should be just that…pleasurable and as and when.
        Yours, Daphers.

      • Thank you Brunehild, for the “je ne sais quoi”. 🙂 Your input has been very valuable. Decision not taken yet. (Now who said plans and pleasure cannot be mixed? I spent most of my professional life doing a job I loved – market research- soooo…)
        Yours, Rutherford.

      • Edith and Cecil – there surely is a cliched Oscar worthy film in there. Set in the early 19th century of course, with some US actors doing Brit accents amongst an assortment of Brit actors.
        Nothing much happens but they walk around in period drama wear looking at times, affronted, sometimes faint and at least once they are pleased at a child birth.

    • Merci. Obrigado. It is shaping up to be a “Mémoire”, right? Strange.
      Some of the photos I retrieved scanning old negatives. I like the resulting effect. 🙂
      Bon week-end.
      Beijo

    • I used to. My parents said I spoke Urdu before I spoke French or English. But I have forgotten (almost) all of it except for a handful of words. I am thinking to “go back” to India/Pakistan some day. If I do, I will take lessons before. Teek hai. Balancing my head laterally. 😉

      • I do wish to “go back” there as well. Part of my family -the one with Rromani descent; or better said: the Rromaní part- crossed many lands during ten centuries, from Northern India to Persia, to Ukaine, to the Balkans, to Catalonia… They kept their language (amari chib) to my sis and I, and this is a language very close to Hindi, Bangla, Punjabi, Urdu and many others which come. more or less, from Sanskrit. I cannot read Hindi because of the Devanagari script (my sis could), but often I’m able to understand some of the talk of quite diverse Hindustani folk thanks to Rromani 🙂 Te del o Del lexte baxt !

      • Fascinating! Those languages are very close. The so-called “Indo-European” languages.
        When you say Devanagari, you mean the “noodle” script? 😉
        (Joke. I can’t stay serious for very long.)
        Buen fin.

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  11. This is an amazing tribute to all the domestic help you had growing up. Your writing made me chuckle and get a gulp in my throat at the same time. The government teeth, the snowball reference, everything I can totally imagine and picture, being from that part of the world. I now understand the origins of your Urdu.

    Having grown up in India, I very well understand the living with Ayas, drivers and cooks too. Something I don’t approve off now, but at that time, it was such a way of life. I will say, like you wrote, these people were an integral part of our families and lives.

    • Glad you liked it “ma’amji”. 😉
      Now my Urdu has shrunk to just a few words… Left Pakistan too young for it to sink in. Possibly if I went “back” some words would also come back.
      Glad the words – and images – conveyed the feeling. The feeling of our previous – extended – families… May I ask where in India are you from?

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  14. What a beautiful story! You described the characters so well that I didn’t need the photographs to picture them , they were all familiar people who probably still haunt the old households today. I’m glad I stumbled on to your blog. Best wishes!

    • Dhanyavad… 🙂 I’m glad you liked it. It is of course “second-hand”. I don’t remember. It’s what my parents told me, and the help of the photos and documents, plus my personal way of telling things. 🙂
      The characters are probably all gone now, except maybe Ayah. But I felt it was important to write that story before the memory fades. A tribute to Shah and Zahman, and the others.
      I’m glad we connected…
      Have a nice week-end. Fir milenge.
      Brian

    • Shukriya. 🙏🏻 Kya baat hai I already “master”. Bharat means India. aayie means come? I remember jaldi ao, come back soon. Ao and Aayie are the same verb? Khabi comes out as sometimes or never. 🤣 Naldo? No dice. Funny how I will maybe learn “Hindustani” after so many years…

      • aayie is said with respect and ao can be just a bit casual but still better than aa. Yes, funny but i do not understand why i see old colonial houses and that world laden with smiles and endless wait without phones and wordpress, now when talking with you 🙂 It will be great if you can visit India, as it is possible and more likely than other possibilities. Write the story please. The book. Please do this Guglu ji 🙂 please

      • Interesting. So the suffix indicates a different person one is talking to? Jaldi ayie would be ‘come thee back soon’? and ‘jaldi ao’ would be ‘you come back now’? Love it.
        Whenever I manage to schedule a – long -trip to India, I will take Hindi lessons first… (I have thought about going to the Indian embassy here to ask, but with a passport “born in Karachi” some might frown. 😉

      • Please excuse me for barging in but I thought this might help. You could think of aa/ao/aayie like the japanese style ‘thank you’ suffix:
        – arigatou gozaimasu, which is meant for those younger than you or of a lower herarchy;
        – arigatou gozaimashita, which is meant for those older than you, of a higher hierarchy, or a group.

      • LOL. You speak Hindi and Japanese now? 👏🏻
        I like that distinction. Heard similar things in Thai. Suffix indicates gender and social status…
        God! So much to learn. So little time.
        PS. I think you and we met via a comment you made on a blog called Attenti al lupo. Is he still around?

      • Ha ha, no I don’t actually speak those languages, just a few words and expressions that somehow stuck with me after watching a few movies. But with Japanese I did try to learn more at some point.

        Unfortunately, my memory is not at all like yours – on the contrary, so I really can’t remember where we first met, but for a long time there have only been a handful of blogs active of all those that I was following, and none seems to be the one you mentioned. Maybe I stopped following it at some point? Really can’t remember and I don’t even have a blogroll to search through. Will try to dig around.

      • Any handful of words in any language is a small door to people’s mind. Different angles to invent the world. I will look up Atenti al lupo when I can. Truth is bloggers come and go. Some unnoticed, some are sorely missed…
        So, stick around, my friend…

      • Fortunately telepathy is not a widespread form of communication, otherwise human society would’ve been long gone. We’re not ready for the naked truth.

        Bloggers are people, and people do come and go, for various reasons. More so now. Some leave a strong impression from day one, others just fade away with the scenery. And as you say – when they’re gone some are missed, others easily forgotten. C’est la vie.
        Am I gonna be missed? Dunno, probably not. And it’s alright. 🙂

      • You would be missed. I’m glad you still stick around. We may not agree on everything, but that’s all right. There are enough intersection points… Stay safe my friend.

      • You’re only too kind.
        Truth has many facets, but lies are many as well. Hopefully we just see different facets of the truth, and not buy into the lies.
        Be well, mon ami. 😉

      • Yes, completely. Aaiyie would certainly have a ‘please’ come with it. But you are bang on right 🙂
        You live in France right. Well, just a little may be but this work is/will be something where the gods might come down to help you to get it done.

      • Oh and I completely agree with Narayan: do write and publish your story. “Memoires of a guglu”. (won’t sue you for title copyright, just send me a (hard) copy of the book 😀 )
        No kidding now, we do need real history. See how countries (Britain! US) tear down their statues, remove items from museums and so on – there will be nothing left of the real history for our children to learn from. Write, publish the book (even as e-book, doesn’t matter) and spread it all over the world, because it is important!

      • Wow. Two pre-readers already. So much social pressure… 😉
        I am gathering bits and pieces in one folder. Well, 2. One electronic. the other a shelf in my library to pile up all written documents… You will be informed of progress.

    • PS. It would be only fitting to learn “hindi”, since my family lived in India for two centuries, since the mid-1700’s. They came with Dupleix and stayed. My little sister and I were the last of the family born in “India” aka Pakistan… Jaldi milenge.

      • 🙂 you ll build a nostalgic read between two countries, and probably one of the last coming out in the generation. Please consider Guglu ji 🙂

        And wishing you a colourful and filled with light Diwali.

        Narayan

      • It is considered. I have plenty of material. Actually my greatgrandmother was born in an Indigo planter’s family near Calcutta. One of her nieces (my grandmother’s cousin) Christine Weston née Goutière wrote many books on the life of that time: Indigo and The Hoopoe are the best. One might actually find them on-line. And my father did a lot of research on the family in India. So I have a lot of material to maybe write something.
        Phir Milenge
        Brian

      • Dearest Brian, It must be initiated. Just looked up christine’s work and well, i just feel how you are the one, the only one who might dig and pull some old untouched soil of the times gone. Your generation seems to be the only ones left who can understand feel one and for this divided land. I would like to read Indigo at least, and even the Dark wood, was this also based here?

        Yes please, as we talk i also get this feeling of you starting to think about it seriously. Do keep me informed, please.

        Narayan

      • Funny how one becomes a dinosaur overnight. 😉 And the fact is, when someone asks where I was born, I almost always say ‘India’. I make no difference. And yes, we are the only ones who still have a tiny notion of what it was. A cousin of my father (Christine’s brother actually) was born in 1904 on the indigo plantation. Still alive and in good health. 🙏🏻 He fought WWII in China with Chennault’s Flying tigers… A wealth of history.
        As for Christine Weston, I have read Indigo. I also have the Hoppoe, about their childhood. Don’t know know about the Dark wood. I’ll investigate.
        I’m sorting the India pictures right now. With a photo of my great-uncle Frank hunting tiger with George V, and Maharadhah Rao Scindia of Gwalior…
        Plenty of stuff for abook.
        Phir milenge.

      • As they say, a big tree is already in the seed. If dinosaur becomes, it must have been all along one 😉

        1904 Wow. Had i had known someone of this age i would have gone daily for an hour in the evening to sit beside him pressing his shoulders, hands, legs and just hear.

        so much Brian, so much that it will be a period in history whoever would sit with the book. Ofcourse, i will book it beforehand.

        Prem 🙂
        Narayan

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