Here's the honest truth: I've never been too big on clothes. I've usually just been too big for them. As a child, I was probably the only one out of a crowd of cousins who was constantly wearing someone's or the other's hand-me-downs and had no issues with it at all. As a teenager, I was perpetually in awe of the girls in class whose uniforms always looked so bloody immaculate (somehow, I was never able to emulate that neatness... I still think it's because they had heavier irons at home).
One of my good friends in A'Levels told me that he'd noticed me for the first time during O'Level exams. "You stood out," he said. "Oh really?" I asked, flattered like nobody's business. "Yes," he replied. "All the girls were dressed like babes and we were like, 'Who's that maasi?'"
POINT BEING that dressing up - and the shopping associated with the endeavour of dressing up - has always been a bit of a chore for me. My poor parents-in-law patiently waited for three years for me to transform into a butterfly bride, which of course I never did. (Their next daughter-in-law did a far better job of dolling up post-shaadi, thank God, otherwise one would've laboured under the guilt of failed expectations for years to come.)
So lawn season meant nothing to this apparel novice... until this year. Nothing can prepare a native Islamabadi for the mind mushing, electrode-exploding advertising and marketing brouhaha that marks Karachi's lawn season. Indeed, the lawn itself becomes kind of secondary. Take Asim Jofa's massive ad campaign, for instance, which featured the biggest billboards in town with Iman Ali as the Brand Ambassador. Unfortunately for Jofa, the mammoth-size photos of Iman sullenly staring into the camera while stretched out in one strange pose or the other couldn't disguise one little fact: the prints looked God-awful! If he'd limited his campaign to, say, postage stamps I may still have made the effort to check the exhibition out. Not that it matters what I thought - the day after his exhibition there was a slew of massive Jofa billboards shouting THANK YOU all over Karachi. Iman Ali - 1; Aafster - 0.
Nadia Hussain's campaign, which was running around the same time, was utterly uninspiring, looking like a drama shoot from the 1980s. Nice earrings, though. Vaneeza followed up with an interesting spin on the classic chick-in-tight-bright-jora-with-dupatta-flying-in-the-breeze formula: she didn't do it. All her billboards featured just close-ups of her face. The most you ever saw of her clothes was a random brooch peeking out from the corner of the billboard, or a tiny patch of print on her shoulder. It was odd but nicely no-nonsense. "Hi. This is Vinny the Pooh-pooh. Yeah, you know me. See you there."
There were uncountable other campaigns, one of the more striking ones being Umar Sayeed's model in a stunning red and green lawn print draped over her like a sari (but probably most memorable for her freakishly skewed eyebrow). The campaign that won for creativity, however, was Junaid Jamshed's (J. lawn). Not a single bored/angry/sexy in a maladjusted way model in sight. Instead, we got balloons. Yes, hot air balloons. Beautiful, whimsy, mad coloured balloons. And little, colourful gift bags with elaborate designs. It made me think of festivity, tissue and great ideas.
And so I attended my first lawn exhibition ever in thirty-two years of... not attending lawn exhibitions. And I was not disappointed. JJ (we're buddies now, see?) had put together a really great collection of prints. Attractive colours; pretty, wearable, sane designs; excellent fabric; a price that put some stress on the wallet but didn't break the bank. Well played, JJoo darling (astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah!).
Under normal circumstances, HSY would deserve special mention in this blogpost for THE most elegant, suave, IN.YO.FACE classy billboard on Do Talwar, showing him in a dapper as hell black suit and announcing the HSY World of Prints with a series of uber cool adjectives listed along the side. But his exhibition sucked. It was actually worse than Deepak Perwani's. Let's just pretend we never had this conversation, okay?
So, ladies and ladies, yes I never made it to Sana Safinaz but having attended three lawn exhibitions this year I feel like I've had a bit of a breakthrough here, ya? The only person I've dished out money to so far: Hazrat J. (RA). Now you tell - whose exhibition did you feel most at home at? Where did you be-lawn-g this season? ;-)
The name's Zohra. Bengali origin. 40+ with references that checked out; not geriatric with dubious employment background. Definitely deaf in one ear. Friendly and hands-on with the kids (a little confusing for the kids, who are wondering who the heck this enthusiastic lady is). Scrubbing kitchen as we speak. Yahoooooooooo!!!!
Disclaimer: The following story is not going to surprise anyone.
We let our maid go last week. This is the infamous Imtiaz who Suleiman claimed was my sweetheart. Anything but, as it turned out. She was hired a day after I landed in Karachi in January with my kids, exhausted and beleagured, looking to settle down again post-international move and desperate to get some rest. She immediately hit it off with my kids and came with the guarantee of someone who had the guarantee of someone else. So we hired Imtiaz.
We were initially a little unsettled by the new nanny's top-to-toe abaaya and nikab action. Who knew what hang-ups came with that garb? What if she refused to run to the store to get a packet of milk? What if we had to leave quickly and she was taking forever to get all the layers on? Even worse, what if she considered Azfar, the driver and the cleaner all na-mehram and I was doomed to have Darth Vader gliding around my house all day?
Our fears were misplaced. The moment Imtiaz's guarantor left, off came the abaaya and underneath it was revealed the most bejewelled, exceedingly pink jora I've ever seen in my life. I wouldn't be surprised if her previous employers are missing a chandelier. I'm still picking up the stray diamontees from that jora from around the house and am fully prepared for one to appear in Zain's potty one of these days.
Next, a comprehensive collection of creams and cosmetics quickly got arrayed on her bathroom shelf. Imtiaz, as it turned out, was an early bloomer; and once she'd started, she wouldn't blooming stop. A week into her employment, Vader's dupatta was casually flung across her neck; two weeks later, it was nowhere to be seen. When she was going to her brother's house to visit, however, she'd appear from her room in Dark Lord mode. And when she would return from there, she'd bring more fantastic outfits with her. It was all extremely confusing.
One thing we realised quite early into her stay with us was that she loved talking on the phone. I'm pretty sure she must've had a post-paid connection because no phone card on Earth could let anyone talk for that long. (Our friend Sarfraz told us recently that his son's nanny has a similar issue and he is expecting her to grow an extra bone that'll help hold the phone between her ear and shoulder. He thinks it may lead to an evolved race of skewed-shoulder people.) Anyway, so we told Imtiaz that she should avoid the phone while she was working. We told her that it was unprofessional. She looked like she had no idea what we were talking about (professionalism? Whaaat?) but cut down on the calls. Now she would skip dinner and retire to her room early to talk on the phone.
By this time, I was beginning to imagine what might happen if one day Imtiaz's husband in Punjab, father of her five children, turned up at our door in Karachi to meet her and discovered that she'd absconded with a phone buddy three days earlier. Although technically she wasn't a minor, it was understood that because she lived in my house I was responsible for protecting her and her Virtue. (This is not an impossible scenario, btw. Another friend's maid ran off with the neighbour's driver one day and her family started harassing the employers about her disappearance, first lodging an FIR against them for abducting her and then going to a Minister to ask for justice. Unfortunately, my friend's brother-in-law looked like the classic villain you see on PTV, replete with white shalwar qamees and big moustache. Within a couple of days, there were television crews outside my friend's house, covering the tragedy of a young, innocent girl who'd been kidnapped by a rich man for his pleasure. The aforementioned rich man immediately pledged his cooperation to the police and, on HIS suggestion, when the police traced the girl's cell phone calls, it turned out she'd been talking to her family all along. They'd set the whole thing up to get money out of the employers. Yes, that was a very long incident to relate in parantheses.)
(Ooh, wait, here's another one: yet another friend had an amazing nanny who worked with them for six years or something. When she left, they found out that she'd regularly been entertaining the neighbour's gardener and one other man in her quarter and had gotten pregnant TWICE during the period of her employment with them. There's no moral in this story; she got away with it.)
Things came to a head when Imtiaz suddenly took off on the 22nd of March with her brother, claiming that he was taking her to the doctor. After that, her phone was constantly off. When we got through to the brother, it turned out that he wasn't her brother at all... he was her cousin (if you're desi, you'll understand that that's a game changer). He wasn't even with her at the time and didn't know where she was. She didn't call again until the evening of 23rd March, which not-so-coincidentally happened to be a national holiday and the day of Pakistan's World Cup quarter-final match against West Indies. In fact, what really annoyed the hell out of Azfar was that she called right after the man-of-the-match ceremony!
We decided that evening that we weren't confident enough to keep Imtiaz as our children's nanny anymore. If we didn't trust her, we couldn't leave our kids with her. So we let her go.
What idiots! The house is in a mess, the children are upset, breakfast does not magically appear on the table every morning and lunchtime is complete pandemonium! Even the driver's annoyed because he doesn't get his tea on time (and sometimes not at all). We went today to an agency to check out another option for a nanny. We'd asked for a 40+ year-old with proper references this time and were confronted with a lady who was at least in her mid-sixties and couldn't remember her previous employers' name. It was extremely difficult to imagine this person trudging up and down the stairs with Solom, or sprinting after him in the park when he made his usual mad dash towards the road.
Bottom line: it's BEEN HELL! I've got work and laundry piling up and it's taken me eight days to write this blog entry! I'm drowning here! So if anyone in Karachi is migrating to Dubai or Chicago or wherever and is looking to pass on their amazing maid to a good household (yes, that's us) PLEASE LET ME KNOW.
And if you have a maid horror story, of course, do share so that I can convince myself that letting Imtiaz go was, in fact, the right thing to do and not the stupidest act on the face of the planet. Thanks.