When I was little, I began noticing the difference between my Pakistani Punjabi mommy and the quintessential white American mother. Kyle’s mom was cool by elementary school standards: She’d sport her shades, stand by the SUV, and wait for Kyle to leave the playground without showing much eagerness. My mom would meet me after school as though I just returned from a war zone. She would be waiting by the glass door with a second serving of lunch for me in a bright salwar kameez. Tired of everyone asking me, “Hey, is that your mom?” I rapidly changed my ethnicity from Pakistani to Mexican to Eskimo.
Years flew by and I morphed into a haphazard mixture of contrasting cultures. I looked brown, I thought white. To me, the ebullience, warmth, and instant bonding in the Punjabi culture was overwhelming. I found a certain comfort in the aloof environment of white domestic life. Mom, however, didn’t approve of such an approach. That was when I began feeling the strength and beauty that Pakistani mothers have. Today I am proud to tell everyone that not only am I a product of American values but I also follow and cherish the traditions of my forefathers.
But that’s not the point of this piece. Here we’ll be skimming through some of the lovable habits of Pakistani moms like mine.
If you ever want to know how fast your mother can run, simply say, “Ammi, salan jal raha hai” (Mom, the curry is burning) and presto! Pakistani mothers win my admiration for the skillfulness they display during house chores. I used to believe there was a secret Olympic game for our moms where they race each other to the kitchen to save the karahi gosht.
Polyglot Mommy and Her Colorful Scolding
In our house, we sisters quickly figured out the pattern of our mother’s anger. When we grew up, we realized that it was pretty much the same in other Pakistani households. The difference, if any, may be in the numbers of languages chosen. It’s simple. A Pakistani mother usually has escalating levels of anger and the intensity can be understood by the language she uses to snub you. We understood that English was our mother’s colonial manner of teaching us a good lesson or two. By the time she reached Urdu, we knew her anger had intensified to a higher level, which meant that we were in semi-serious trouble. But when she chose Punjabi, we knew it was time to run.
A Pakistani Mother’s Weakness
Every Pakistani child knows the golden words that makes him of her effectively immune to all sorts of punishments, ear-pulling, duties, and, most importantly, school. They are: “Mumma jee, mai beemaar houn.”( Mom, I am not feeling well.) As soon as a Pakistani mother hears that, her tough love meter drops to zero and her unconditional protection system wakes up. In addition to her love and concern, there’s something else that is evoked as well: Hyperbole. The “beemari” is exaggerated to DefCon level 1 only because she loves her little one so. By the time we were 10, though, our smart mother had figured us out and sent us to school briskly.
Pakistani mothers know that their children have supernatural amounts of energy and zest for life. That’s adorable till it’s two o’ clock in the morning and the kids are still awake. What do they do? They chop the fairy tale by two-thirds, spice it up with suspense and add the legendary warning: “Jinn baba agaya, aankhain band karo!” (Better shut your eyes or the demon will get you.)It works for the first six times, at least.
Jokes apart, Pakistani mothers are tremendously optimistic, beautiful, and resilient women. Regardless of their ethnicity, education or creed, they remain a cogent constituent of our society, especially those who bring us up in a country like Pakistan. I will always respect the mothers who choose to protect their children from the economic woes and political lunacy of that country. To raise a daughter in a patriarch’s heaven is indeed a painful task, but our mothers do it efficiently. Many of them look after their children at the cost of neglecting themselves. I dedicate this piece and the laughter generated by it, to every Pakistani mother or mother-to-be (you know you’re going be just like my ammi), and to their prosperity. Give your mom a hug today!
After being raised in the United States and then dropped in Pakistan, Mehreen Kasana is full of stories, observations, and rants about both countries. She is an art-consuming, literature-obsessed, socially-awkward Muslim feminist and doodler. http://mehreenkasana.wordpress.com.