“Baji aap ke liye chaai mein kitnee cheeni daaloon?” (ma’m how much sugar do I put in your tea?), he asks me. More than the question, his body language is intriguing to me. He does not make eye contact. His shoulders are slightly bent in respect. He is prompt. He reminds me of stories of jinns in human control…...jo hukm ho mere aaqa type!
The person I am dissecting here is a domestic helper at a friend’s house. I am visiting my old (not as in age!) friend in Islamabad on a work trip. It is is winters and sitting by the gas heater snuggling in my soft woolen wrap, all I had to do was utter the word “chaai” which this man heard and voila! Tea has arrived. This gentlemen is standing in front of me submissively, with a tray in his hand. And I am not used to this for many reasons! For starters, I am not used to full time servants. I make my own tea. Why, even my friends know the drill – that there is a tea station and they can either help themselves to an open kitchen or sit in my kitchen while I make tea for them. No complains. This is how I like it. And it’s not like I am not blessed with domestic help and this is a blog about deprivations. No. But in Karachi, the helpers are in any case more street smart, defiant and aware of their rights – something I actually like. They make sure we don’t become bullies!
I have seen obedient helpers but the “batman” variety is another ball game, as is being the wife of a fauji. Over the days that we are together after what seems like centuries, me and my friend talk about the dynamics. Its a different culture altogether. For starters, all of your husband’s colleagues call you either “behen” or “bhabi”. “But what if I prefer to be addressed by my name?”, I ask my friend. “Naheen yaar, this comes with the package,” she quips back.
What also comes with the package is a highly, highly, highly disciplined life! Teen baj kar chaar minute par qayloola. 9.30 pm is snuggle time and 10 pm is the time for the first dream. Everything is done by a routine. Predictable and mundane maybe, but a fresh change from my erratic schedule in which I sleep at ungodly hours at times because I am in the mood to write, or where me & my family can decide to go on a drive at 17 minutes past 11 pm because there is no dabal roti in the house!
The cool stuff is very cool in fauji wife’s life. Perhaps the best part is the “taika“…..the authority one enjoys. It was amazing how my friend just had to take out her forces identification card, flash it at the guards at the airport or anywhere where security checks were being carried out, and not have to waste time.
It is a different culture, altogether. My friend, basically a typical Karachiite at heart like myself, shares the transition. Words and names like Pannu Aqil, chaaoni, cantt and sir jee have found way into her life. The humour is different. The socializing is not so “multi-cultural”. An army, navy or air force wife has to maintain a certain decorum, and live in a certain way.
But the plusses have to make it glass half full. For one, your husband comes home in time to have a cup of tea with you. You live in serene and safe areas. The armed forces community is like a big family which is a nice feeling (even though the hierarchies are too defined for my taste). You ALWAYS have domestic help, and will get a substitute if one falls ill or goes to his village. You get free flights within Pakistan on ugly armed forces’ cargo planes. And in all probability, your husband is physically fit, and has not developed a pot belly.
So to each their own. I am happy for the fauji wives. And with that, I go back to my civilian life and make my own chaai. 🙂