Thursday, 24 August 2017

10th Year Anniversary - Mum, Trees and the Swings of Life

It’s been 10 years since I started this blog. I was a Ph.D student in theology and religious studies at the University of Glasgow.  Endless hours and days at the library reading led me to producing this blog. I still haven’t figured out what ‘progressive Scottish Muslims’ is all about but what I do know is that it is about thinking and questioning Scottish Muslims. And that it is not the domain of any one ‘side’ – thinking cuts across the political spectrum. I believe passionately about differences of opinion and the depth of diversity which agitates and disturbs us to something good. Something to build bridges with.

A lot has happened in 10 years. I graduated with my Ph.D. I moved to the USA for 6 years and now live in Ireland where University College Cork is my academic home.  It’s lovely to be back in the Celtic fringes. I continue to play a part in civic society in Scotland and now in Ireland.

On this 10th Anniversary of this blog I wanted to write a special piece dedicated to my Mum, Nasim Akhtar.  I’ve been following the development of GlaswegAsians which showcases the history of Asians in Glasgow. A great project. I’ve written previously on my Dad, Inayat Ullah but this ones for my mum. The stories of our parents need to be given a platform. They are the roots of who we are today as Scottish Muslims.

When I was growing up in Glasgow’s west end there were some enormous trees around Great Western Road but the ones I could see from my house in Napiershall street were removed to make space for parking.  Urban societies are not always hospitable to trees. For those who have no fixed place of shelter - a tree offers cover, space and possibly fruits.  Trees are a world in themselves. There was a lone palm tree that was planted outside my apartment block when I lived for five years in South Beach Miami.  It grew slowly but strongly. I now live in an area of Cork with some beautiful trees.  Trees offer much to our world.

My Mum talked to me about trees in her village in Sialkot, Pakistan.  They were marking points for the girls to meet up.  They were the places where swings would be hinged for playful moments.  They rooted a moment of innocence in these young girls.  My Mum’s face lights up when she talks about those swings.  We recently had a family barbecue at Strathclyde Country park where my Mum immedietly lept on to the swing and swing she did. Higher than many of us could get. Giggling like she was back in her village in Pakistan.

Coke Studio Pakistan re-produced an old folklore song that resonated with me as I was thinking about my conversations with my Mum.

The song opens with Javed Bashir singing the following lines:

My husband has come home
Oh my dear friend, my husband has come home
Fortune has shown favour to my home
I gazed upon my beloved’s beautiful face
And became devoted to him with all my heart and soul

The times were not of courtship but of arrangements and family honour. It was just the way it was. Marriage was a right of passage. It must have been a difficult yet exciting time. Marriage of a daughter was a moment of pride for a family. Fathers would be fulfilling their understood duties. I find the line about devotion and love difficult to comprehend. Ironic? Is it happening naturally or does it have to happen? A lot is at stake. I try to understand these lines from my Mum’s eyes – from the moment her wedding palanquin arrived. Without enforcing my own mixed identity and the western ideals of romantic love and marriage. I may never understand the feelings that my Mum had on her wedding day.

Humera Channa then picks up with Javed Bashir accompanying:

Put down the palanquin beneath the mango tree at home
The rainy season has blossomed
I was in my father’s place happily playing with my dolls
Palanquin-bearers arrived to carry me to my husband’s home
O my dear friends, I could play with my dolls no longer
My husband sent the palanquin-bearers for me
I am a servant, submitted, Yearning for love. I sing my beloved’s praises.
Dear friends, I devote my very being to him

The tree where she played with dolls and met her girl friends was now the site for a new life as a wife.  There’s an urgency in these words. It seems to be happening quickly. What is blossoming? A world where girls are passed from father’s to husbands.  Patriarchy. The dolls will become children soon. 

Humera Channa adds:

I was in my father’s palace happily playing in the swing
Palanquin-bearers arrived to carry me to my husband’s home
Oh my dear friend, I can no longer swing (like a child)
Fine little raindrops drizzled down from the sky

The time of innocence has ended. Rain has arrived. It has the ability to dampen play or blossom the fruits. The ‘little raindrops’ are also pushing me to think about associations with little kids - playful and innocent.  It’s a move from the outside to a world inside. The roles of homemaker and breadwinner were being entrenched.  These folk songs from Pakistan are magical. They give me an insight to a world that is not mine. A slight look into the world where my Mum and Dad grew up.  For my Mum who always brings a cheer and laugh to any crowd. It must have been those dizzy heights she achieved on that simple tree.

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