The Brigadier’s Military rule.
My Khala was born and bred in London but then she got married to a man in the military and moved to Islamabad, Pakistan. I suppose she adapted to life there quite well, but ask her London’s weather forecast for next week and she’ll reel it off to you. Through the years and visits we’ve always been connected and I suppose it’s no secret she’s my favourite Aunty. Although we would always go and stay with her for a couple of days during our holidays to Pakistan, I never had the opportunity to spend time with my Uncle, her husband. As during most of our visits he would be busy with work and hardly at home.
Before leaving London this was one of my biggest worries and I was crazy nervous and a little scared. I would obviously be spending more time with the whole family and would have to live under my uncle’s roof. On first glance he’s an intimidating figure, tall, bearded and his presence alone makes a person nervous let alone when he’s uniformed! I suppose that’s part of his job he is responsible for others and has to be intimidating and stern to a certain degree.
We arrived in Islamabad at around 4:30am. I had travelled with my cousin ‘the bride’ and her mother. The bride’s mother had rang my Khala and her husband to let them know what time our flight was expected. I’m used to coming out of the airport and having someone familiar like my daadi or chachu to pick me up but this time it was different. So here we were, baggage stuffed onto 2 trollies waiting for uncle to pick us up. If anyone has ever travelled to the south Asian continent you’ll know. Even if you have no one to greet you at the airport you’ll be greeted by hundreds of strangers and their almost eagle like glares, it can be a startling experience for any newbies. We had to find a non-existent ‘quiet corner’ and ring Uncle to see where they were. They arrived 35-40 mins late and after having to endure all those weird stares from strangers I was tired, uneasy and annoyed with Uncle, after all he was meant to be a man of discipline, wasn’t he?
It took me a couple of weeks to settle into the house and the family’s routine. It was in stark contract to my usual surroundings of my daadi’s open courtyard scattered in lemon trees and the small sized traditional rooms. The house I was staying in was in the NDU, the Army and University’s joint gated complex. We would always have lunch and dinner together around the table. My Uncle’s office was only a couple of minutes away and he made sure that he was always home on time for family meals. “We always have lunch and dinner together which is cool, but there are a lot of formalities and protocols here. Mamuji (uncle) uses a fork to eat roti and salan” reading back through my journal makes me laugh as to how I noticed and wrote all the little details.
Nearly every meal time without fail my Uncle would pick on me and tease me. He would put questions to me “so Miss lawyer what would you do in an xyz situation” and then he would joke about the way I would respond. Although he was always teasing me I came to realise it was his way of showing love and care. I looked forward to our family meals and the banter that bounced back and forth between us all. My uncle is definitely the heart of his family and it was really amazing to see that. Although I’m connected from his wife’s side he never let it be felt, he treated me like I was his very own daughter. I felt that was heart-warming and one of the reasons I was able to live there so comfortably.
In the past few months as other younger family members have been getting engaged/married. I’ve been feeling the pressure and comments from various family members. Not just marriage comments but also about my career or lack of, none of these comments have been helpful and have been at times downright spiteful and bitter. On many occasions I haven’t been able to respond out of respect I suppose, on account of them being older aunty tpes. This happened a fair few times in Pakistan too.
One night following dinner my khala and uncle were about to go on one of their late night walks when my khala asked me to join them. It was fairly chilly so I wrapped myself in a shawl and joined them. We ended up speaking for hours. We walked around the army complex twice and then continued into the night after reaching home, whilst my cousins all went to sleep. I’ll never forget that night; it was the first time my uncle and I had the opportunity to really talk properly. He told me that he was proud of me that I had achieved something many in our family circle hadn’t and how regardless of what anyone said I was a law graduate, I would always have my education. If I had achieved that, I could do anything I set out to do and anyone who had anything to say was to be ignored and silenced because they weren’t worth anyone’s time.
It was an emotional night and obviously involved a bucket full of tears, I hadn’t realised I had been building everything up inside and it all came tumbling out. All the stresses; graduating, my dad, searching for work, marriage pressure, self image the lot! My uncle told me ‘the way you carry yourself is so important don’t let people think of you in any different way’ He emphasised the importance of education over typical pressures of marriage. I saw this in the way he supported my cousins with their education and the way he encouraged them to follow their interests and to be able to succeed in whatever field they chose. I think it’s quite ironic I found the non desi values and life lessons in Pakistan itself and from Pakistanis, moving away from the typical Asian norms and ideals.
That evening was special my Uncle and Khala had the chance to understand me a little bit more. He would often get phone calls and I ended up joining the cousins in rolling our eyes, the phone calls would occasionally be from friends and family asking for advice or help and he would never turn anyone down. Following that evening I was inspired and felt refreshed; I had been inspired by a man who even in his late 40s was studying for his masters alongside working up the military ranks and taking care of his family and others. After that he would refer to me as Miss lawyer/vaqeel even when we were out haggling with shop keepers. The dukhaan wallah actually thought I was a qualified lawyer! So you see the Brigadier Uncle didn’t turn out to be too bad!