Our house was built in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the city nestled at the confluence of the Jhelum and Neelum, clustered beneath steep alpine slopes and nightmares of tremor.
We are born of warrior lineage. Our illustrious genealogy extends deep into the fathoms of myth. Our crimson Rajput blood is as ancient as the mountains. Descendants of the fabled Prince Arjun of the Mahabharata, we Khakha Lords defied the Afghans and the Mughals, over the centuries we were feared and awed, our influential Musalman dynasty slowly diffusing into legend. The children of our enemies, when chided by their parents, were warned that if they were not good children that the Khakhas would come for them, such was the influence of our clan. Our respected ancestors, once brave and fierce, now lie in the earth, facing Qibla, a thousand wild flowers scattered like stars over their graves. Inshallah they will eternally ride in heaven where we will one day join them. No jiin can harm us with their protection.
The eyes of our women are so light that they will take your breath away. Kashmir-green, they are born of the mountain jungles that surround our paradise. Their elegant shalwar-kameez are woven in every colour under the sun, on market days dozens of their floating scarves amalgamate into an array of radiant hues that shame even the rainbow. The streets throng with our mothers and our sisters, our aunties and our grandmothers, our first cousins and our second cousins, and our cousins’ cousins and all the people who we call cousin even though they bear no relation whatsoever. Our families are vast, and close, and filled with love. Weddings are three day affairs of gifts and feasts, costumes and decorations, ceremonies and celebrations. The tents are erected and the music of the harmonium and tabla floats through the air, played by various visiting relatives of mixed musical ability, and when they get tired we will listen to Qawwali, the ghazals of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tell more about our spirituality than we can express in words.
After the weddings the relatives who have come from near and far depart in our famed trucks. You see, our transport is second to none in its beauty. Each truck is a carnival, a celebration of patterns and pictures. There are tassels and tinsels, paintings and prints, horns and bells and mirrors, in every shade that paint can be mixed, crafted by the most unappreciated artists in the world. You can keep your cold, sleek metal trains and your dirty, plain coaches. If you have never ridden in a Pakistani truck then you have never lived.
We pray to Allah, the all-merciful, the giver-of-all, the source-of-peace, and we love our families, and after all the praying and all the loving, there is something else that is holy, which is etched into our hearts, and this something is Cricket. It is more than a game and more than a sport. It inspires our daydreams and infiltrates our night dreams. The national squad are heroes. Every little boy wants nothing more than to hit a six for his country. In our streets, and our fields, our schools and our parks, impromptu cricket games will be played habitually by excited children, jubilant with each run, and overcome with frenzied, delighted cheers for each wicket. Cricket bats are objects of beauty, prized possessions that are respectfully and carefully shared between brothers and cousins and friends in each match. Even much loved Bollywood films will be declined if a big game is being played.
Our appetite is as fiery as our history. As infants our beloved parents present us with scorching chilli peppers instead of pacifiers. Blandness is not an option. The fire that we eat fuels our soul and invigorates our bodies. Spicy dhal, powerful biryani, sizzling aloo-gobi and palak-paneer, and curried chicken and goat and beef are contrasted with cool yoghurt and raita. Creamy chai-masala is essential for any conversation with a friend. Our cupboards are stocked with spices: yellow woody turmeric, and burnt orange paprika, green cardamom pods, golden brown cumin seeds, scented cinnamon and fresh ginger and homely cloves. And, of course, chillies, in reds and oranges, yellows and greens.
Chilli is good for your health. We have one Khala-Auntie who decided to stop eating spicy foods. She lived on kulcha and yoghurt and rice. There was nothing we could do to change her mind. One day when Khala was walking in the countryside she was bitten by a snake. A short while later, the snake died. Khala was not hurt. Without chilli, our blood becomes poison. We need no doctor to tell us this. We know from a young age that the spice and fire that is on our plates and in our hearts is part of our identity.