Presents from my aunts in Pakistan – Moniza Alvi
They sent me a salwar kameez
glistening like an orange split open,
embossed slippers, gold and black
Candy-striped glass bangles
snapped, drew blood.
Like at school, fashions changed
in Pakistan –
the salwar bottoms were broad and stiff,
My aunts chose an apple-green sari,
for my teens.
I tried each satin-silken top –
was alien in the sitting-room.
I could never be as lovely
as those clothes –
for denim and corduroy.
My costume clung to me
and I was aflame,
I couldn’t rise up out of its fire,
unlike Aunt Jamila.
I wanted my parents’ camel-skin lamp –
switching it on in my bedroom,
to consider the cruelty
and the transformation
from camel to shade,
marvel at the colours
like stained glass.
My mother cherished her jewellery –
Indian gold, dangling, filigree,
But it was stolen from our car.
The presents were radiant in my wardrobe.
My aunts requested cardigans
from Marks and Spencers.
My salwar kameez
didn’t impress the schoolfriend
who sat on my bed, asked to see
my weekend clothes.
But often I admired the mirror-work,
tried to glimpse myself
in the miniature
glass circles, recall the story
how the three of us
sailed to England.
Prickly heat had me screaming on the way.
I ended up in a cot
In my English grandmother’s dining-room,
found myself alone,
playing with a tin-boat.
I pictured my birthplace
from fifties’ photographs.
When I was older
there was conflict, a fractured land
throbbing through newsprint.
Sometimes I saw Lahore –
my aunts in shaded rooms,
screened from male visitors,
wrapping them in tissue.
Or there were beggars, sweeper-girls
and I was there –
of no fixed nationality,
staring through fretwork
at the Shalimar Gardens.