Being the Other

Spring was short this year, it arrived late and is in a hurry to go –dusty winds are taking over fast. But there’s a bloom in my backyard, the least likely place in the guesthouse. Not many in the guesthouse know that my room has a backyard. Filled with streams of white roses and broken concrete path, and aged walls, the place has a character … it’s right next to a noisy road, so noisy that unless I play music at a high volume I cannot hear it. Sometimes I wake up in the night at the sound of screeching wheels. But just the thought of white roses between the road and my room makes the noise fade away.

The backyard is a safer place, it has high boundary wall so I cannot see all that exists beyond the walls … but only after I get in the guesthouse. I have to cross the road everyday before I see the white roses - it is interesting that the rose bushes do not have flowers on the side of the side of the road.

Before the rose bushes turned white, I used to think more about the road … more about the gaze of some eyes, some extremely painful, some extremely angry. I wonder if I instigate such expressions or they are just there, part of the person’s being their emotional state of being. I will not be surprised if it provoke such look … after all, my status as a humanitarian worker does privilege me in some ways … kind of privileges I will never I have in my own country. And the thought that I am hardly of any use does cross my mind sometimes, more till a month back, this month the white roses have occupied most of my free time. I do take a lot from this land – money, a greater measure of security which is not available to an ordinary Afghan, least to an Afghan woman … I have also received a label of a specialist. Sometimes, it does seem unfair relationship.

Before the bloom, I wondered about the women in blue burqa, briskly walking past or young and adult women in fashionable western-wear and high heels walking past with their head bent down and unlike me not looking in this way and that way. Sometimes, a woman would catch my uncovered head and slow down … and some of them eventually smiled and a smile in return would bring the polite greeting, ‘Salam, khub asten, jan shumo jor as, zinda bashen’ followed by a question, ‘Hindi asten’. The moment I would say yes, there will be so many other questions, mostly about cinema, television, and women. Sometimes, also about marriage and children. It never crossed my mind that most likely I will never meet the women again. I used to be keen to talk as well, to get a sense of normalcy and not remain caught up with expatriates alone. These days I rush to the guesthouse, to make some chai and sit in the backyard. I worry that the dusty wind would have blown away the rose petals.

Sometimes I saw children with expressionless faces as if they were buried under heavy stones … their emotional landscape dry. They made me wanting to reach out, get closer to their hearts, to pick the small ones and to hug the older ones. Some of them beg. Most children called me chachi (father’s brother’s wife), they are either returnees from Pakistan or have access to the Indian television soap operas. Among the older teenagers, some were bold, they would break into a Hindi song and ask me if like this actor or that actor. A not so enthusiastic reply would disappoint them. Often I would get angry at them and scold them. These days I ignore them and rush past them.

Before the white roses took over my backyard and my thoughts, I saw children who would break into a smile as soon I smiled. Some of them used to be shy smiles, some spontaneous smiles happy that they are liked, some giggly, some smiles were followed by a volley of questions. Nowadays, I tend not to see them. All because of these white roses. What will I do when the roses wither away … will I go back to thinking about the women and children across the backyard …

By: on 5 Dec 2009