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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Love Letter


This is the first time I am writing a love letter to a restaurant chain. But what can I say? In the words of a big-nosed fella: you complete me. And you’re about to find out how, in a little more detail than you might anticipate.

My son has a runny nose these days. And when he gets a runny nose, he gets a nasal drip. And when he gets a nasal drip, he coughs. And if he coughs long and hard enough, he throws up. Tonight was one of those nights, Nando’s. I am telling you all this because relationships such as ours must be based on complete honesty. I don’t have help in the house these days, Nando’s. And I am allergic to detergent. The skin on my hands is scaly and splitting because of the daily dish washing. My knuckles were BLEEDING yesterday, Nando’s, and I’m still washing up in the kitchen ‘till past midnight every night. Do you feel my pain? I knew you would.

That’s why I called you tonight. Just when I thought the dishes were done, three more popped up, and the very idea of having to pick up that sponge again near killed me with misery. And then I thought, what if I had an incentive to finish? And what better incentive is there in the world for a woman than chocolate? And how else could I get hold of chocolate at 11.30 pm unless someone delivered it to my doorstep? That is when I picked up the phone instead of the sponge and dialed the number for your delivery service. I did not have high hopes, Nando’s, but an authoritative sounding guy whose name I don’t remember assured me that you deliver until 12.30 am. This was legit; I was in through the door. So I ordered one slice of your divine chocolate cake to be delivered at my house within 45 minutes. I now had a deadline in which to finish washing up the kitchen.

It was then that I heard my son coughing. And I ran to the room as fast as my horizontally ample legs could carry me, but it was not fast enough. Do you know what it feels like to confront the grossness of your poor son’s puke at 11.30 pm and realize that you now have another half hour of washing and cleaning up ahead of you? Do you understand that feeling that creeps up on the most determined of us mothers – the “I will NEVER get my life back again, ever-ever-ever” feeling? Do you get it? I knew you would. Because tonight, it was only the thought of that chocolate cake that kept me going, beloved Nando’s. Even as I believed that I would be cleaning vomit for the rest of my days, I still knew that there was chocolate cake around the corner. You saved me tonight.

Thanks to you, I will probably never need to go into therapy. Because each bite of that cake is worth an hour on the leather couch. A therapist could only listen, whereas your cake paints my troubles chocolate (yes, that’s a colour). I will finish this letter with an appropriate ode – i.e. a marketing tagline:

There are others in this business who claim to be purveyors of happiness…
… but only Nando’s delivers!

Wah wah, if I may say so myself.

With thanks (and eternal love),

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nanny McFlee

Everyone beat their heads together now, because do I have news for you. We lost our nanny. Again. For the third time in a year. Shoot me now. (No really, I’m going through such nannyless hell these days that it might actually be a relief if someone were to grab a gun and oblige.)

It could have been worse. My Khala told me she went through eleven nannies in 1972. Now that’s commitment. I don’t know how many of those left of their own accord, though. Because that’s what’s just happened to us, and believe me, there is no closure in it for the employer. Saima, aka Third Time Lucky, was a dream come true. Polite, presentable, loving to the children, hard worker, pleasant. We knew she was engaged to be married but she had no intentions of walking down the aisle until she was done putting her sister through her education. So responsible and philanthropic too. How nice it all sounds, no? Waaaaaaaahh!!!

Anyway. There was one hitch. When we hired her, she could not provide us the number of her previous employer. She’d worked at a house in Lahore, she said, and she had lost their number. In the summer of 2011, we found out quite by chance (and this is an amazing coincidence) that Saima’s employers in Lahore were in fact relatives of ours. A little investigation revealed that she had been a superb worker and that they spoilt her to the hilt so that she wouldn’t quit, so much so that when she was going for her first long leave, they lent her a large suitcase and a mobile phone. She never returned, and neither did the case and the phone. No wonder she lost their number. Ironically, before we’d left for the trip where we found out this information, Saima had asked me to please buy her a medium-sized suitcase from her salary. She said she already had a large one, but that was too big for a five-day trip to Islamabad. No prizes for guessing where the large suitcase had come from.

ANYWAY. Despite finding out this information, we kept Third Time Lucky on. Because she really was a superb worker. And she was polite and presentable and loving to the children and… waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh!!! What was I saying? Yes, we kept her on and kept checking on our baggage once in a while, just in case (I’m kidding… we’re not very good at keeping an eye on our baggage actually; it comes out of the storage with wheels missing and stuff and we're like, "Hain? When did that happen?"). Kher, it was all going very well. Then my cousin’s wedding came up in Lahore and here we were again, jetting off for a three-week trip to the other end of the country. We took Saima with us, which cost us an arm and a leg but also allowed us to participate in the wedding, frankly, so was worth every penny of the ticket. And… we lent her our suitcase.

Oh shut up.

While in Lahore, Saima said that she’d received a call from her brother in Multan, asking her to come there for some legal work. Earlier, when I had asked her how many days she’d want off for Christmas, she’d said NONE because she had no one in Lahore whom she would want to be with. Now she suddenly had six brothers and four sisters, all of whom were converging in Multan and she wanted to go for a week-long trip that could stretch longer, depending on whether her official work was done in time or not.

“Baaji,” she told me, “mujhe shayed dair ho jaey. Aap Karachi chali jaeya ga aur mein shayed khudi aa jaoon.” (I may get delayed. I might just follow on my own after you’ve gone back to Karachi.)

“Saima,” I told her, “mein ne aap ke ticket ke liye tees hazaar rupay diye hain. Aap ki soch hai ke mein aik khaali, pandhran hazaar ki seat ke saath baith ke Karachi jaoon gi.” (I’ve paid thirty thousand bucks for your ticket. If you think I’m flying back to Karachi next to an empty, fifteen thousand rupee seat, you’re sadly mistaken.)

So she promised she’d join us in Islamabad on the last leg of our trip. To cut a long story short, she didn’t turn up. She stopped answering our phone and finally her brother, whom we managed to get through to, told us that he couldn’t possibly let Saima go until their legal work was done. Fair enough, but what about our suitcase?!

We returned to Karachi with one nanny and one suitcase less, and with a vastly diminished appreciation of our own IQs. Both children were sick. The cook couldn’t come for a few days. And Azfar rejoined office immediately, of course. It was damn hard, particularly because of the children being ill. And for me, personally, there was an enormous sense of betrayal. I’d always been upfront and honest with her and tried my level best to be fair in our dealings. And Saima really loved my younger son, you know? I couldn’t understand how she could be clutching him and kissing him one day and taking off indefinitely with our suitcase the next day.

Anyway. A few days later we received a call from her ‘handler’ (the guy who had her placed at our house). Saima was getting married to her long-time fiancĂ©. She would not be returning. And yes, she knew this when she asked for leave in Lahore.

Now Azfar has a very low threshold for such behaviour, particularly in professional relationships. He told the handler to communicate to Saima that she had an item of ours and that if it was not returned, he would lodge a police complaint. Lo and behold, Saima (who had not been answering our phone for over a week) called five minutes later. And the suitcase was returned to my aunt’s house in Lahore the following Sunday. Her wedding is on the 14th. In other words, her jahaiz will now be sent to her husband’s house in another bag.

I remember coming to stay at my cousin’s place in Karachi for a month back in 2000. After thirty plus days of camping out in her room, befriending her dogs, attending her friends’ weddings, taking music lessons from her master saab and talking to her psychic adviser at 2 am, I went back to Islamabad. When I asked her hopefully on the phone, “How does it feel not to have me around anymore?” she said, “Well, the first thing I did was remove the mattress from the floor. And with that and your suitcase gone, I was like Ahhhh… space!!” Badtameez aurat. “But I do miss you!” she added a second later.

ANYWAY. Point being that that is exactly how I feel after Saima’s departure. I’m suddenly thinking what else I can do with that room and at some levels it’s actually quite nice to have the house back to myself. But I do miss her.

(Thank you, Mahwash B for providing the title for this post.)