Magic Khalas 29 April 2008Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Humor.
My youngest Khala (maternal aunt), who is only twelve years older than me, is visiting us right now. She used to read us scary stories late into the night in the haunted hujra (storage room) where we children sometimes trapped sparrows during the day just to feel their heartbeats hammering against our fingers before freeing them.
She’d turn her eyelids inside out till they gleamed red and weird marked with green veins because she loved to make us squeal.
She never lost her baby teeth so they are teeny-tiny sharp in her giant adult mouth. She loved us so hard as children that she would bite our apple cheeks leaving half-moon teeth marks and then laugh long and loud when we complained to our mother.
Of course, we adored her. We still do.
She arrived two days ago and the three of us sisters are besotted, putty children again in her large hands. Her expressive face, still careless laugh, and nuska (prescription) for every ailment has us enthralled.
In another family or time she could have been a doctor, having inherited hands full of shifa (healing) from her Bayji (grandmother). If there is a rotting tooth, unpierced ear, or constipation within a few miles of her she comes running to heal it with wrenches, heated needles, and syringes full of olive oil respectively.
She also has reams of recipes for every skin condition and gives one heckuva facial. As I write, I am dripping with one of her disgusting but effective rosewater, yogurt, olive oil, egg, and kalvanji concoctions for my Islamabad-dried skin.
Yesterday, when I complained about my uncontrollable, frizzy hair, she massaged my scalp with mustard and castor oil while sitting in the sun and then fine-combed it. I washed it after an hour and it fell in a silky black straightness I haven’t seen for years.
This is the hair that both she and I remember me having when I was young, before I became ill, before the year-round damp of San Francisco, so along with the oil she must have massaged remembrance back into my roots.
I haven’t seen her since my wedding four years ago – physically she’s changed so much. She was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and has been battling weight gain, eye problems, and other related health issues.
As with many people who have less-than-perfect-health I feel a peaceful understanding with her, an empathy I rarely find elsewhere. We realize how great a blessing health truly is for it has been taken away from us.
Her eyes seem on the verge of literally popping out due to the thyroid condition and they frighten me. But when she starts talking in that arched brow, wrinkled nose, head-shaking way of hers I feel like a kid again and remember how much I cried at her wedding, at the thought of her being taken away and becoming someone else’s.
She still makes the best gajar ka halva and parathas around. The next generation (my young nieces and nephew) are just as enraptured with her as we are, they follow her around like tamed beasts happily eating a full breakfast from her hands to the amazement of their harried mothers.
Khalas are magic.
Having her here takes me back to the easiness of childhood, and to my mother’s youth because she laughs more freely with her youngest sister than I’ve ever seen her do with us.
The thought that I could be a magic khala to my nieces and nephew too makes me smile.
I haven’t bitten any of their apple cheeks or grimy-sweet necks yet (though I am so very tempted to) but I hope the spiritual marks I leave will be just as fondly recalled by them.
– From the collection Safarnama: The Republic of Tea 2006