Monthly Archives: October 2012

day 100


admirable dedication to cleanliness

sabbah might have gotten the cuter one, but madhuri got the smarter one

money garlands

the cooking squad

the groom’s horse

the self acclaimed queen, bestowing dots of cream on the faces of her loyal subjects

let it snow let it snow let it snow. the groom being carried out the house and on to the horse


okay i lied, it’s just party spray. bwahahahaha.

the groom’s procession making their way to the bride’s house

the groom and company waiting for the nikah (marriage ceremony) to begin

the bride looking rather glum. sabbah assures me it’s custom for the bride not to smile. she is not unhappy

the paalki used to carry the bride from her house to the house of the groom

To say that the delegation woke up just after dawn would be to imply that they slept at all. They had left the festivities a little after midnight but their absence, simply fueled the party and all inhibitions lost now that the strange trio had departed, ensured that the parties continued till dawn. The old one and tall one braved the bathroom but the young one, unwilling to relive the trauma that was her 2am visit to the sole outside bathroom, 3 stories down, popped a stick of gum into her mouth, rubbed some cream on her face and decided that that would suffice for the day.

Breakfast was brought to the room by the kind uncle and after intensive negotiations between him and the older one regarding their departure time for the city, the older one won, mostly because she is quite scary. They grabbed their stuff and headed down to one of the teacher’s houses nearby so that the old one could brush her teeth before returning to the groom’s house and seating themselves on the edge of the porch so that they could watch the morning’s activity.

They heard the wanwun, softly at first, drifting toward them from the tent. Wanwun, the old one explained were traditional Kashmiri wedding songs, the tune of which remained the same, but the lyrics altered according to the function. They saw scores of five and ten rupee money garlands making their way to the tent to be presented to the groom. They saw the cooking contingent down below serving up plates of halwa and bowls of chai, mixing the contents of pots with huge sticks and moving pots with carefully selected y-shaped branches.

They saw the beautifully decorated horse arrive to carry the groom to the bride’s house. They saw the uncles, aunts, cousins and elders from the night before, all dressed up for the wedding, in high spirits and showing no signs of evident sleep deprivation. They saw Mr I-am-the-after-party tending to his two kids.  They saw snow, which after a moment’s shock turned out to be party spray, as the groom was carried out of the house and onto the horse. They saw unprecedented numbers of camera phone photographers positioned at every corner of the house, porch and outhouse roof. They saw the wedding procession leave, the groom on the horse and the rest following on foot, to the bride’s house. They saw the groom seated in one of the top rooms of the bride’s house surrounded by his family and representatives. They walked down the side of the house to a room below and saw the bride, in a crowded room, standing rather glumly against a blanket backdrop, with one of the ladies holding up a gas lantern to light up the room. They saw the paalki on which the bride was to be carried to the groom’s house, luckily for the carriers in this case, not so far away.

The young one looked hard for the imported napkins she’d grown accustomed to at weddings back home. She looked for the predetermined seating plan that dictated at what distance from the bridal party she was allowed to sit. She strained her eyes to find the guest list; surely there was a mistake. There were too many people and far too many kids. Didn’t the invitations have a family quota? She combed the room in search of the judgmental aunties, criticizing the décor, food, outfit choices and flower arrangements. She searched the faces of the family for signs of wedding frustration and fake smiles. She even lurked in the corners to see if she could witness tension filled arguments between tired family members. She searched tirelessly but after yielding no success, several hours later, she eventually gave in and trotted off in her two day old jeans-mexican-dress-hiking-boots wedding ensemble, to find the other two.

day 99 (part 2)


the meal tents

the musical group. scary man looking up was the drummer

the groom recording the evening’s festivities 

motion shot of lattah, totally a crowd favorite, styling in his Michigan pullover 


one of the ladies handing out sweets to everyone in the tent; or throwing in this case.

living up to his shirt’s ‘i am the after party’ print. on a disturbing note, we found out the following morning that he was married and the father of two

elders from the family rinsing the hands and feet of the groom before applying henna (held in the bowl by the lady on the left). behind the groom, the two clever men who decided it was far too crowded in the tent to get a good view and so resourcefully found themselves the best viewing spots in the house.

the room on the second floor from which the groom’s mother (second silhouette from the right) witnessed the formalities

The delegation reached the outskirts of the village to find two boys with torches who had been sent ahead to usher them to the wedding house. After quick greetings, the first boy led the way and the second brought up the rear; even the moonlight rose to the occasion and bounced off the tin roofs, following them like a spotlight. They passed through a second pine forest and as they emerged, they saw in the distance a house covered in brightly lit lights and buzzing with activity and they headed in its direction.

There were hundreds of people scattered around the house and even more inside. Everyone stopped and stared at the delegation as they entered the courtyard and to make the walk less awkward, the older one started talking. She explained that weddings in the village were big affairs with the average wedding involving no fewer than a thousand guests, no matter how rich or poor the family was. The elders of the family decided on the wedding particulars and everyone in the village contributed to the wedding in someway or other whether it was through a spoon of butter or an animal, making weddings a very easy undertaking for everyone concerned.

She stopped briefly to greet some of the family members and as they continued on through the house, past hundreds of staring eyes and up the treacherous staircases, she continued on. She pointed out the cooking area, a big open space outside and the dining area, a large tent and explained that long dasterkhans (mats) were laid out on the floor of the tent and meals were served in as many shifts as it took to feed all the guests. The young one tried to concentrate but between trying to negotiate her way up the staircases and wishing she had worn her Indian attire, she barely heard the rest of what the old one was saying.

They finally reached an empty room at the far end of the third story and were escorted in and handed blankets to keep warm and every so often the door of the room would open and someone would enter to greet the delegation. Tea was served by two handsome young lads and dinner, served by the groom and a few others, followed soon after. The older one, in between spoonfuls of rice and some type of animal stew, explained that women did no work during the wedding. The males were in charge of setting up, cooking, serving, clearing up, organizing and well basically everything. And the ladies? All the ladies had to do was eat and look pretty. Definitely worth moving to the village for, the young one decided.

Dinner came to an end and the wise man, slid slowly down from his upright position until he, quite pleased with himself, was lying straight down with a blanket on top of him, ready for bed. Just as the young one contemplated following suit, the sound of music and excitement drifted up through the windows and led by the Uncle of the groom, she along with the other two, went down to investigate. Three chairs were squeezed into the already bursting-at-the-seams tent and the old one, tall one and young one stepped gingerly over heads, fingers, babies and toes to reach the chairs and the two handsome lads from earlier followed closely behind with a blanket to keep them warm.

Not much can be said about the musical ensemble who were mediocre at best. The drummer, through no fault of his own was rather frightening with his lazy eye and the only band member worth looking at was allocated a steel cup and spoon as an instrument, tragically killing his appeal. The band continued on with regular smoke breaks punctuating their performance and the young one pinched herself several times during the course of the night, not quite believing that this was real and after realizing the blatant camera phone picture taking that was going on, abandoned all tries at discreet photography and tried her best, despite the poor lighting, to capture it all.

The musical entertainment came to a temporary stop an hour or so later to allow for the formalities of the mendhi-night (in which the elders apply henna to the finger tips and feet of the groom) to be carried out. The band was relocated and the groom’s seat placed strategically near the opening of the tent, easily viewable from the upstairs window, through which his mother peered silently from the corner. The young one remembered being told that the mother was gravely ill. She had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and after the operation and continued treatments had failed to yield positive results, they had brought her home to make her last days as comfortable as possible. They had moved the wedding forward for her benefit and had done it properly in accordance with her wishes. She was so young, pale and frail and as the young one looked up, a little part of her died. It made her sad that the mother was too weak to make it down the stairs. It made her sad that the mother didn’t know that it was cancer that was killing her. It made her sad that the boy would soon be without both parents. It made her sad knowing that such tragedy existed amidst the festivities. It made her sad that such good people had to endure such hardships. But mostly it made her sad that life was so fleeting and she took so much for granted.


Day 99 (part 1 of 2)


The card arrived on a grey afternoon a week ago. It was maroon with a dash of gold and read:
‘Mrs. Tahira Begum (w/o Late Ghuman Nabi Batt) feels extremely grateful to seek your benign presence and solicit distinguished presence on the auspicious occasion of the marriage ceremony of her son Nadeem Ahmed with Taseema (d/o Mrs and Mr Abdul Rehman Batt of Zalla) at her residence.’
It went on a bit more explaining the details and much to the young one’s excitement, it was decided that they would postpone their trip to the city by a day so that they could attend one of the wedding functions.

It was dark by time they set off for the pre-wedding function to be held in the village of Cherot, 80 minutes away and so they each carried a torch for the stretch where the moonlight was blocked out by the pine forest trees. The wise man had contemplated taking his gun in case they came across the grizzly bear that had been frequenting the corn fields for awhile now but returned from the house empty handed as it had been decided by his fearless daughter that the gun was unnecessary; an assessment not entirely understood by the youngest. In place of the gun, a quick bear recap was done and after it was decided that the party would opt for ‘play dead’ instead of ‘run’ if they did indeed stumble across the grizzly, they set off. The youngest amongst them, hailing from the city, turned on her torch long before the forest began and the older one reprimanded her soon after for ‘blocking the moonlight’ and so, scared and ashamed, she turned it off and stumbled along.

The path to Cherot cut diagonally through the side of the mountain. At its widest, the path was a little over half a meter in width and at points, alarming in their frequency, barely a foot wide. The older one led the delegation and the wise man brought up the rear, forming a sandwiched layer of protection against bear attacks for the two volunteers. Attacks were only a concern from the front or back, it was explained, as the mountain towered above them to the right and fell at almost ninety degrees to the left. ‘If you lose your balance, make sure you lean right’ the older one had said, ‘and if you can’t manage that, grab onto anything and at some point you should stop falling’. 

The young one thought about the weddings she had attended back home and wondered how those ladies in skin tight clothing and six inch heals would negotiate their way along this path. The thought amused her and after glancing down at her Mexican inspired dress, now tucked into her jean’s pockets to avoid tripping and falling to her death, complimented with her designer hiking boots (which did absolutely nothing for her posture), she chuckled to herself.

They cleared the forest without incident and the wise man pointed to clusters of lights on the mountains across the village. ‘Can you see that?’ he asked to no one in particular. ‘The opposition says there has been no progress, but look. Look there,’ and he pointed again before continuing on, ‘look where electricity and running water has reached. How can that not be counted as progress?’ We looked to where he pointed and gazed at the sprinklings of lights that broke the seemingly endless darkness. Maybe their ‘thank you’ emails hadn’t reached the opposition.

The delegation stopped a little while later and the youngest amongst them pulled out her camera, knowing full well that the scene could not be captured, but determined to try anyway. They rested for a bit and when they finally got up to leave, the wise man told them to switch off their torches and allow the moonlight to guide them. Apprehensive at first, they followed his orders and after a few dangerously misplaced steps, they seemed to get the hang of it and trekking 80 minutes through the mountains to get to a wedding on a Monday evening, seemed like the normalest thing in the world.

day 94 (in recoverable pictures)


So four hours of downloads later I finally managed to install two photo recovery things on my computer. The one shows all 159 photos from the day but shows them only as thumbnails and will not let me make them bigger or save them without purchasing a passkey which costs thirty something dollars. The other one allows me to enlarge the photos but not to save them which is fine, because I can just screenshot them and save them but sadly only 43 pf the 159 photos show up as recoverable in this program and as Murphy’s Law would have it, most of the 43 are dispensable ones in comparison to the others. Anyway, I have included a few of the photos below. Most are of random faces for whom I have no names but until I somehow manage to retrieve the remaining photos or visit Shadiwan again, photos of the kids and not of the school, will have to do.

morning assembly

akleema and party

exam lines

girl scholar from the second standard

akleema (maybe) from the first standard

boy scholar from lower kindergarten

telling kids to smile for a photo has been a resounding failure I have realized. They always look scared because you’ve without explanation, shoved your big camera into their faces. So in an inspired move, I have noticed that if you take a picture of them and then turn your camera around to show them their photo, they almost always crack-up/laugh because they find cameras hilarious. And so in that exact moment, you capitalize on the situation and quickly turn your camera around and picture them smiling/laughing. works every time. so much brilliance

adorable boy scholar from upper kindergarten

rarely seen fat scholar from lower kindergarten

Adnan, son of the school’s helper, Hamida

girl scholar from upper kindergarten i think

beautiful boy scholar from the first standard

the poster child for pure bread villagers

day 94


Haji Public School, Shalima

school bell

Examinations are finally upon us. Today is Math for the third and fourth standards and in light of the fact that I truly believe half of my class (of 4 students) are going to fail, I was only too happy to be sent to the other school for the day for exam invigilation.

Deep, Billu the horse and I set out for Shalima at 8:34 (yes I was 4 minutes behind schedule and while it was obviously the fault of my shoe laces that take so long to tie, Deep did not let the 4 minutes go unnoticed and subtly brought it up in conversation along the way). I walked for the first bit of the way until Deep, satisfied that he had dispensed all necessary tales on and demonstrations of his expert riding skills, insisted I get on. I would totally have carried on walking, now that im fit and everything, but Deep was running rather than walking which I, not even in all my fit glory could keep up with and so I jumped on Billu and we trotted on to Shalima to the sound of Shankar Mahadevan’s breathless song on repeat.

Some time after Haji Public School was started in Breswana, a few of the surrounding villages requested schools in their villages and so two more branches of the school were opened. One is in Parshula, 40ish minutes away from here and the other, where Kuldeep Sir and I are headed to this morning, in Shalima, about 70ish minutes away. The school, situated on a plot of rented land, overlooks the cornfields and the Himachal mountain range. It is a small, one-story building and with it’s turquoise exterior, earthern floors, suspended school bell and beautifully carved wooden windows through which light streams into each of the 4 classrooms, it looks like one of those carefully designed movie–set village schools.

The morning begins in pretty much the same way as it does at our school. The children make their way out and line up in four rows, making sure they are exactly an arm’s length away from the person in front of them. Zubair, the UKG teacher, satisfied with the lines and straightness, walks to the front and begins the assembly with ‘goodmorning dear children’ before handing over to ‘akleema and her party’ to lead the morning prayers in both English and Urdu. The prayers are followed by a thought for the day, poem and topic by three of the students after which a quick hygiene check is conducted, exam rules reasserted and the kids dismissed. Lower Kindergarten stays in their classroom for the exam while upper kindergarten, first and second standards make their way outside, clipboards and geometry boxes in hand, to be allocated places along one of the three mats that have been rolled out on the floor.

The exam begins and I am brought a chair to sit on in the sun and ten minutes into the exam, a toothless old man from heaven knows where, brings me a freshly roasted cob of corn and a little while later, Kuldeep is sent to ask me if I’d prefer noon or lipton tea and feeling rather useless and purposeless, I politely decline, hastily finish my corn and camera in hand, get up to do some photoshooting/ exam invigilation. The level of English at the Shalima school is nowhere near the level of English at our school and after several failed attempts at answering student’s queries, I return to my chair at the front and spend the rest of the exam granting toilet permissions to the kids with weak bladders and short attention spans.

I return home a little after 2, have a rushed lunch and pop my camera’s SD card into my computer eager to post the amazing pictures immediately, only to find no pictures of the day on the card. I tried several things and when all failed, plummeted into a black-holed depression, curled up on my bed and went to sleep which depressed me even more because it was freezing cold, I wasn’t tired and now had to make wudu all over again.

Anyway I am currently trying to download some picture recovery software that is downloading at an amazing speed of 2.3kb/sec and considering it is 29MB in total, this could take awhile and so it is with a heavy heart and deep regret that I include the two instagramed photos that I have from my phone.


day 93


looming exam emotions: resignation

looming exam emotions: trauma

looming exam emotions: exhaustion 

looming exam emotions: anguish 

looming exam emotions: indifference 

If as a student I ever thought exams were a stressful affair, I realise now as a teacher, that that stress was truly laughable in comparison to the stress examination procedures present for teachers. Unlike students, exam stress for teachers begins from the moment the syllabus is completed and revision gets underway. Revision sessions predictably lead to tests which inevitably show gaping holes in the understandings of several concepts by an alarming number of the students which, while cause for some concern, is not that major because that’s what revision is for; to fix the problems.

And so after sighing in relief that you have finished the syllabus with ample revision time, you begin reteaching sections, still focusing on all spheres of the syllabus, even portions not tested in the exam because well this stuff is important even if not examinable and generally because only you know that it is not in the exam, you still hold on to the hope that they will think it important enough to learn. You then follow up this stage of revision with yet another lot of tests and at the exact moment that you cannot recall the last tick you awarded, the panic starts to creep in and you proceed on to target teaching.

In this stage, all pretenses of the importance of non-examinable material are dropped and focus is shifted solely to the sections that are present in the exam. Obviously, in the spirit of fairness, you do not actually tell the kids this but rather hope against all odds that they realise the unnatural attention being paid to these chapters and use that dormant mass residing in their heads to understand its importance. Still trying to hold on to the significance of all knowledge, while you may single out the important chapters, you are careful to go over all the content in said chapters and not just what is in the exam. When tests that follow this phase yield answers to questions of ‘what is a diagnosis?’ that resemble, in alarming frequency: ‘a diagnosis is a diagnosis’, despite the forty minute recap on The Hospital that included visual aids, true life stories and hypothetical reenactments, you then allow yourself to plummet into a depression.

Exam related depressions need to be carefully calculated and held off for as long as possible because once the depression sets in, there is no turning back. From this point on, everything will annoy you. And when I say everything, I mean EVERYthing; be it misspellings of words like sanctimonious, out of sync breathing or exam unrelated questions. It is a given that everyone will get screamed at at least once and their ignorance of topics not taught to them will grate your liver beyond reasonable extents. The depression manifests as rage and punishments become frequenter, with drastic measures like duct taping mouths becoming commonplace. Not even the end-of-day school bell provides reprieve as the rage and irritation simply converts into dark depressive thoughts that haunt you for the rest of your waking hours. You start second-guessing your abilities as a teacher, rereading chapters over and over again to check you have not missed anything out and stare, for hours on end, at the exam paper, questioning its difficulty. Then you try to take your mind of it by consuming ridiculous sums of food, watching unforgivable amounts of reality television or sleeping, which simply invites your sub-conscience to kick into overdrive and your dreams are haunted by mundane facts relating to a host of obscure topics, often truthfully terrifying in their sheer dullness.

A good teacher can hold off the depression phase until almost a day or two before the exams begin which is advantageous in that it minimizes the unfavourable effects of the stage but not so advantageous in that it allows a very limited time for the last pre-exam phase: the crash course. The crash course stage, as the name suggests, focuses only on material that is tested in the exam and without being too obvious, the teacher resorts to mixing up actual exam questions in between phantom ones, the ratio of which, depends entirely on the guilt and moral conscience of the teacher. All previously held beliefs that warranted it okay for some students to fail are discarded and carefully concealed blatant tips and warnings are continuously dispensed. No additional talking is entertained, no bathroom breaks allowed and not a second of teaching time is wasted. Generally by this point most of the kids have caught up to the seriousness of the situation and are, with a diligence absent the rest of the year, jotting down notes of their own accord.

As is the case with most things in life, time eventually runs out and whether you think your kids are sufficiently prepared or not, the culmination of the pre-exam process for all teachers, stressed or not, is marked by the abundance of the universal last resort to almost any and all situations: prayers.


day 92


amjed: you want me to get married because you think i can’t cook? oh you’re so funny bwhahahaha

amjed: you really think we can't cook? wait! that's too funny. let me just wipe away my tears of disbelief

amjed: you really think we can’t cook? wait! that’s too funny. let me just wipe away my tears of disbelief

break time reception spot

We’d finished the last of our exam revision and I figured that if they didn’t know it now, there was a slim chance they were ever going to know it and so instead of utilizing the last fifteen minutes to go over more shapes and angles, we had a chat about their future. Wedding season here in the village starts after the harvest, round about the end of November, but I am leaving before then and so am going to miss it. Either way, I really wanted to attend one and so I tried to pitch the idea of marriage to the three boys. Granted they are all barely twelve years old; but hey, in the village people marry young and so to be honest, twelve is bordering on the marriage-expiry age.

Sadly, they countered all my marriage motivations and finally, very impressed that I had found an indisputable reason marriage, I commented that without a wife, they would not have anyone to cook for them and then they would starve and eventually die a tragic death. They looked a bit confused as to why I would think a wife would be the only one who could save them from starvation and Yaseen proudly announced that he, actually that all three of them, knew how to cook.

Obviously I didn’t believe them, because besides those weird kids on Masterchef: Junior, no normal twelve year old boy knows how to cook chicken, rice or vegetables, but determined to show me that they were not at all lying and were in fact very competent cooks, they typed me the following recipes:


First bring wheat and put some water and mix together.

Take some aatoo (dough) and make a circle.

Add some whear and make flat and roll it to round.

Put on the tawa (pan).

Turn after some time.

Put on the side of fire so it rises.

Round side is katcha (uncooked) on tawa, so we cook on the fire.



Boil water.

Bring rice.

Wash rice.

Put in the cooker and then close the cooker.

After 1 hour see if it is katcha (uncooked) or pakka (cooked).

If it is katcha, close cooker and leave.

If it is pakka, then put half a glass of water and close cooker.

After some time, eat.


Chicken curry:

Cut the chiken.

Wash the chicken.

Put oil in the cooker.

Put in onions and tomatoes in the cooker.

Put in the meat.

Add one teaspoon of haldi (turmeric) in the cooker.

Mix haldi and meat and some chilli.

Close cooker.

After some time (half an hour) open cooker and put some water in.

Close cooker for 2 minutes.

Then open and eat.



First wash the potatoes.

Put in cooker.

Put some water till it makes bubbles.

Open the cooker.

Take the skin off the potato.

Cut the potato.

Wash the cooker and put oil in the cooker.

Add onions and potatoes.

Then add haldi and chilli.

When they boil, open the cooker and eat.



First take soojee (semolina).

Put the soojee in the net and channing (sieve) to take the dirt out.

Put butter and oil kry (pot).

Soojee in the kry and mix it.

Bring sugar and put that in the kry.

Take some water (6 glasses) and put in the kry and then mix.

When there is bubbles, then take it and eat.


I hung my head in shame and left without another word.