Karachi Kahani…Gurya, Gharondey, Titliyan.
(A reminiscent short story) By Meherzaidi.
Woh zamaney bhi ajab the! We played with dolls and what dolls were they. Some tall, some short, some fat, some thin, some lovely ,some well ordinary looking. Just like us. Kaleidoscopic. Almost all were handmade , Kapre Ki Guryan! Plastic had not arrived, thank god, at least not in Karachi, then. Fabric dolls are my weakness, even today. Whenever I enter a new Defence Ka House in Karachi, my eyes look around for a doll, at least one fabric doll in the showcase, somewhere in a small decoration niche, a memory, loving of a sweet grandmother, a Nani or a Daadi. But then, there are no showcases, no unique furniture pieces, polished lovingly, cherished, passed from mother to daughter, over generations. There are only over-priced, copied furniture all over the house, landscaped, interior-designed, always the same.Naanis, Daadis have also changed. Gone are the white, usually, cotton saris with coloured borders, gone are the Chooridaar Pyjamas , gone are the paraphenilious Paandans! These grandmothers were also like hand made dolls. Precious, unique, panoramous.
“ Ayiee Munni zara Mujjan se paan to laadey” . Bilquis’s grandmother would call out to me just as I was preparing to take my four fabric dolls to Salma’s house to play. Mujjan was an uncle of Bilquis, my younger sister’s friend, best friend. He always seemed to have everything ready if any thing was short ranging from Paans to sewing machine oil. I think he was very organized, unlike the uncles of today, fast, furious, proactive? Uncles and aunties in thise days or you could say Mamoos, Chachas, Khalas, Phoopis , were real. Caring, sympathetic, loving, empathetic, beautiful, elegant, handsome, masculine ,always human.
Nowadays they are either Amitabh Bachan, Aishwaiyria Rai or worst still Usama Bin Laden. I would gather all my dolls in my arms , straightening out my creases, run towards the gate. Mujjan uncle would hand me the Paan leaves, even before my asking, as if he had heard as soon as grandmother spoke. His consideration.
My dolls were four that I remember, even more but I have no love for the ones I forgot. There was the one in red saree, tissue saree. She had a shiny gold Gota border.Gota was such a real ,precious lining . Not plasticized, applied, worn once and twice and forgotten like nowadays. It was applied with loving care, on borders of Sarees, Dopattas and sometimes, though rarely on Daamans, lovingly, carefully while the crafter sat on Takhats, wooden couches or divans, with cotton Chaddors ,borderwali! Kept in steel trunks for ages, to be taken out and worn again in the next generations. Eternal, Saccah or real. Putting thread in the needle was also an expertise. “Zara Sooiey Mein Dhaga Tau Daal The, Larki”. Any older lady would ask the younger one. Eyeglasses were uncommon then . Disliked also as if they were ugly appendages, like sixth finger or cleft palate! Ladies even today go for contact lenses, blue, green to match with dresses. Vanity, female vanity!
So my dolls would wear sarees, Chooridar pyjamas, frocks Baluchi or Multani embroidered Shalwar Kameez. They usually had eyes made of black thread, imitating Kaajal, like actress Zeba, or Shamim Ara. Mom always liked Nutan and Rezia Sultana. She liked women of elegance, tall stately saree clad elegance. I have a faint, faint yet clear memory of snow, ?Raj Kapoor and Vayjanti Mala, A horse carriage, a song and an Indian film in Nazimabad number “Do”, in Naseem cinema .So my dolls would sit with us talks to us, fight amongst themselves and will be covered over with cloth at night, each night carefully lest they came alive. Tradition, grandmotherly instructions. We were also careful not to keep them undressed. Always had to dress them up carefully, quickly. I often wondered at their wirey legs, long and ugly, bendable usually. Their stomachs were also full of cotton. So till late I would buy my daughter cloth dolls from Karachi Pearl Continental Hotels’ gift shop. This shop is also like Karachi, grown with me over the years, always there in the corner.
Then there were houses to be made , for dolls, for us, for the rain. These were usually made from cardbox, an important ingredient in my childhood. No chipboard . Often mud.
I loved the mudhouses, gharondey, as they would call them.
Somehow the dolls never fitted inside. The house were small, their doors small. We would all sit happily outside, us and the dolls. All alive and happy.
Then there were Titliyan. Coloured, patterened , flitting all over the two gardens we had in our house in Nazimabad number Chaar. Full of flowers, big, big crysanthemums, red, pink and even black roses, fragrant, shiny, majestic almost doll like standing in their Kiyari , quietly, in rain, in the summer.
My sister learnt her “incessant, passionate gardening” while I played with dolls and I remember a dog doll I had made myself out of towel with two button eyes . This I put near a small side gate and imagined the passerbys to be afraid of. The passerbys so important in my childhood, real, important for different reasons than today.
Dolls would solve our problems. Dolls would give us joy. Dolls would give us life. Experience.