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 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.”


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

kn51-22Zaman taught me how to walk.


… and drive.


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.”

63 thoughts on “Snowball

  1. This I just a beautiful read. It’s so lovely for me to read this. I’ve only been to Pakistan twice and yet your narrative transports me there. I love the photos too…How long were you there for?

  2. You write beautifully! I liked this one in particular because it gives a glimpse into your childhood and your family’s history.

    It’s amazing how you have been to all these magical places and even more amazing that you have the gift of telling stories so beautifully. It gives us the opportunity to share your adventures (and the beauty of the world) with you!

    • Thank you. Glad you liked it. 🙂 Yes, the world has changed. For the worse I’m afraid.So much hatred based on misguided “identity”. Cook and Ayah treated the “snowball” baby as their own. 🙂

      • Brian, I am risking being ostracized, but I have to confess I am blaming the media. It is them who is stirring people against each other. Respect towards other people has nothing to do with color or anything else. It is also taught at home…

      • Agreed. Some media… how shall I say? Stir things up? When France just won the World cup, most media couldn’t stop reminding the black players that they were blacks. And what about the white players? They did nothing? But… some like to pitch the ones against the others. How unfortunate. (And there is much hate taught at home. On all sides). Anyway. Let’s move on.

  3. That they treated the snowball baby like their own reminded me of my little sister. We lived in the Philippines for two years during the Viet Nam war, Dad headed up a province there and so the PI was closest. But, we had local help with house, yard and sewing. The lady who helped with the house loved my little snowball sister and cried when we were reassigned. Lynda was about 2 then with blonde hair tied up on top with a spray of tendrils like a pineapple. So cute. The lady who sewed was as you described too. You could draw a picture of a dress and she’d measure you and produce a perfectly apparel and with the Philippine embroidered fabrics, every little flower was perfectly matched on each side. Not being very domestic as sewing goes, that was a marvel to me. Mom did make us clothes but with patterns. You should have seen my home ec project….my dress was still pinned together when the time came for ‘final exam’ which was a fashion show of sorts of everyone’s work. Yikes!!

    I have only just begun to visit your blog, but am immediately charmed and looking forward to reading more of your writing. Little snowball is a great writer.

    • Thank you for your visit and comments. Yes, that was the way in Asia and in many places. Actually Cuarón’s fil “Roma” is exactly that: how the maid, or “nanny”, or Ayah in India become part of the family, maybe through the children. Look forward to seeing you again. (Love your blog. You make great pictures)

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  5. What a nice story. You were lucky to have someone to give you a nickname with such wonderful meaning. My nickname was given to me by a German prisoner of war who tended to me at a POW camp my father commanded in New Mexico. Although, I don’t think they called him Commandant, more likely Captain Strutz. He called me Butch. My mother could never figure that one out.

      • They were quite a few in the US mostly in warmer southern states. They brought the pows over on empty supply ships that were then sent back to the warzone with supplies. I don’t think many people know about this, but there were some big ones and then a lot of little ones scattered around to help the farmers with their field work. Those guys didn’t care about escaping and just wanted the war to get over and go home, besides all the farmers were deer hunters with rifles and shotguns, my dad said. The camp was across the street from the high school in Hatch, NM. The prisoners were German and Italians.

      • Wow. I had no idea. Yet, I do know a bit about history and WWII. Everyone knows about the camps in Russia, but not in the US. No escaping then. What happened to the prisoners after the war? Were they shipped back? Or did they stay?

      • Some stayed, most went home to their families. I read there were almost a half million pows here. That would be an interesting story on the logistics of returning them to their countries. I have some letters that the guy I spoke of, at least I think it’s him, that he sent my father years later. They had a very tough times and my father sent him some books and money.

  6. What a beautiful story Brian! Not sure how I missed this one but glad I found it – a wonderful read.
    You’re so lucky to have had so many lovely people in your life teaching a myriad of life skills…

  7. What a delightful and mesmerizing way to enter this world. Your writing certainly reflects this. Have you, or do you plan, to write a book? I feel lucky to have found your blog. That’s for sure.

    • Much honoured. Dropped by your blog, I see you have a lot of material. Will be back.
      I have written a few books, in Spanish and English. Plus many short stories. nver published. I tried the New York Lit Agent scene. P… me off a bit…
      I might change my blog radically or open a new one with more writing in mind.

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