"Wake up, baby dolls," my dad sang to us. It was still dark outside and I was disoriented simply by the fact that it was my father's voice waking me up rather than those rabid, flea-bitten mongrels next door. The ancient routine was followed as Dad hovered in the doorway to see if there was any movement forthcoming and when the only observable motion was us burrowing deeper under the covers, he would repeat the wake-up call until one of us (me) got up. Today was the day we were going to visit "the village" which is really a misnomer because it covers several villages but the sun was not even out yet and it was too early in the day to debate semantics.
We had stick-to-your-ribs porridge (liberally sprinkled with sugar and full-fat milk) and some chai (equally sweet and fatty) for breakfast to carry us through the drive to Lala Musa, about 90 miles southeast of Islamabad. The drive was smooth and pleasant with my uncle as pilot and tour guide and me as co-pilot (with no map, no directions, and no sense of where we were) to provide the questions and the chatter (nod to Brian Regan). Along the way, we passed Pajeros, Mehrans, Margallas, and brightly decorated buses that are commonly seen trundling down the streets.
Occasionally, we would see a line of goats being lavishly treated to a buffet of rich, leafy greens - little did they know that Eid Ul Adha was right around the corner and that their V.I.P. treatment was going to end in an R.I.P. ceremony! Poor kid.
When we arrived in Lala Musa to pick up my aunt, we were treated to our second breakfast and had more chai, roasted chilgozas (pinenuts), and these delicious sesame-themed, brown sugar-sweetened, cracker-like thingies (can you guess that I don't know the name?).
We drove through the district of Gujrat which, despite its dusty roads and equally dusty children, is incredibly lush and green thanks to the irrigation provided by the Jhelum River and Chenab River, two of the five rivers of the Punjab which merge to flow into the Indus. My uncle deftly navigated the car down the roads that were becoming less paved and more ditch-laden until we reached Ladian, the Bhatti family's ancestral village. We paid our respects at Aziz Bhatti's grave, Inna lillahi wa inna ileihi rajioon (We are from God and to Him we are returning). Uncle Aziz, my grandfather's brother, was honored with the highest military award in Pakistan, the Nishan-e-Haider, for his part in the 1965 war with India (here's a detailed account).
We strolled around my great-grandfather's house where my father and aunt shared their memories of the place: there's where Babuji used to sit us down and teach us; this room was shared by two families; all of the cousins would line up and sleep here on the rooftop during the summer. I waved hello to the neighbors - Madame Water Buffalo and Donkey Sahib. We visited a nearby school and were allowed to peek into several classes where the uber-obedient, neatly-uniformed children would leap to their feet and stand quietly at attention while the principal introduced us (even though it was time for recess and they were itching to run outside). The school was very well-run, had a strict curriculum, was divided into houses (lil baji is from Hufflepuff!) and even had its own mascot seen here in repose-
Over lunch at our relatives' house, we listened to the on-going debate over whether the village of Ladian (site of the famous Aziz Bhatti's grave, access to a major roadway, near a good school) or the village of Bhurch (bigger population, on the route from Lala Musa to Ladian, large mosque and good school) was better. We then called on more relatives and friends in Bhurch where we were running (and by 'running' I mean 'briskly walking') from house to house, poking our heads in to say hello, and taking a quick tour of the public school (Fun Fact: in Pakistani/British terms, a private school is a private or fee-paying school and a public school can also be a private school. Whaaa?). The sun was starting to set and we did not relish the idea of our fragile car swerving in the dark to avoid a barreling truck and then falling into one of the massive craters on the dirt road that led back to Lala Musa, so we said our goodbyes, I got a quick motorcycle ride out of the village, and we headed back through Kharian.
Stay tuned for the next episode: Well, not much, but wasn't today's entry enough to satisfy you?! Honestly!