This post was also published on May 30th 2017 in India Currents Magazine.
Let’s take it easy and go eat at some place nice for a change, I said one lazy Saturday morning. You know, just spend a relaxed, agenda-less morning. Some place I can wear this to. I was fondly looking at my new dupatta, carefully embroidered with dancing peacocks.
The kerfuffle just to spending a relaxed morning doing nothing I tell you! There was hectic activity everywhere: feverishly looking for things, toddler shoes worn on wrong feet, missing cell phones, cell phones without charge all needing urgent handling in a 10 minute interval.
I ignored the daughter as she took charge while throwing me a disdainful look . The little fellow was bossed around, the big fellow was bossed around, the bosser and bossees felt the charges of love and tension squirt back and forth.
Appa! What are you doing? That’s it!
Time for me to take charge around here, she said. Amma, stop dancing! Why are you wearing this fancy dupatta-thing-y now anyway?
Because I can! Dance! Dance! More! I said in a smart repartee and chuckled. Completely lost on them of course. (For the Hindi challenged ones: ‘More’ (मोर )means Peacock in Hindi)
The husband meekly looked up from his game of chess and sighed yet again. I heard him murmur something about Men’s Freedom as we headed out.
Pretty soon, we found ourselves in an Afghani restaurant sitting quietly. I turned the menu card over and the back of the menu had a picture of the girl taken by National Geographic magazine and became famously one of the pictures that defined the turmoil of war world over. It was the cover picture of National Geographic magazine in 1985
Sharbat Gula (meaning sweetwater flower girl in Pashtun)
That was enough. The husband and I got a professorial gleam in our eyes and we tripped over ourselves trying to open the daughter’s eyes to the plight of women the world over.
Not everywhere can women boss men around like it happens in our home, said the husband. The daughter and I chuckled.
We had not even started on the political turmoil with the Russian occupation of Afghanistan when the pesky waiter came and took the menu cards away. I tchaa-ed with feeling at this tendency of waiters to hoard the menus. The restaurant is empty – what do they want to do with the menus? I am sure they don’t have to read it!
’You finished ordering and what are you doing reading the mutton and chicken section anyway? You are a vegetarian!’, the daughter said in what she thought was a scorching debate point. She thought I would fumble and drop my eyes in repentance, like a puppy told to snuff it while trying to oil the moth eaten rag doll through the door. But she under-estimated my power of repartee: She was talking to the author of the (why-are-you-dancing-now? Because I can! ) response (scroll up).
I caught her eye and took her on a wild ride through the streets of Kabul selling spices and the perils of grocery shopping in times of turmoil, past the beautiful poppy fields and the orchards of apricot, gasping through the crevices of the Tora Bora mountains and finished with a comparison of Indian, Pakistani and Afghani cuisines.
I got to admit, I like to traipse through the menu even after I’ve ordered. Especially after I’ve ordered. I enjoy reading all the entrees and getting a feel of the cuisine, the culture, the spices and a dip into life in the normal households in the area. I like to imagine their grocery lists, their dinner tables, their lunch boxes and so much more.
The daughter rolled her eyes. I rolled mine.
By the time the food had arrived, we had sent a prayer for World Peace and a goodwill message to Sherbat Gula and hoped her daughters would have a chance at peace and happiness in a strife ridden world.
I read yesterday that Sherbat Gula is now married with three living daughters and is facing deportation from Pakistan back to Afghanistan:
That evening, I casually left a copy of the book : Because I Am a Girl: I can change the world, in her room. A book that tells the story of girls from different parts of the world, and how we as women can and should play a part in changing lives for the better.
Subtle as a peacock.