There were once three brothers: Babar (the eldest, fell somewhere between jerk and player). Amir (the middle child, least attractive and I’m sure dealt with many other issues) and then Qadir (the youngest, the best looking but also the one with the best sense of humor). I once harbored a deep crush on all three. All my crushes, tragically in vain. The brothers never really knew I existed and the ones who did, well lets just say, I wasn’t the top of their list of guilty Sunday afternoon dreams either. On the other hand, Aliya (my then best friend) was the lucky biotch wooed and asked out by all three of these handsome brothers. Am I bitter?
So let’s backtrack a little. I need to first describe this superficial, pseudo best-friendship between Aliya and I. We first met during games period in the sixth grade. I was the new face in an all girl school. You see, after my failed love affair with Irfan ended in the 3rd grade with him choosing balls and boys over my luscious, curvaceous self, my father got posted in America for a few years. When I returned to Pakistan I realized that three years in the States gave you this esteemed adulation from an Amreekan impressed Pakistani world. Uncles and Aunties wanted their children to play with me so their kids could learn to speak English too. Others always addressed me in their broken English as if I had forgotten Urdu altogether. In turn, I encouraged their ignorance by always answering back in English. Hey, it’s a superficial world, so you take what you can get. In school, other girls labeled me the “American girl” and automatically assumed I was a snob since I spoke Angrezi and had once sat among goras. Frankly, I much preferred being labeled an Amreekan Return over being known as fat. Even teachers carefully treaded on instructions around me as if they were now conscious of a sixth grader passing judgment on their heavy accents and poor grammar.
In my little all girl school, sixth grade wasn’t just one class either. It was divided by many alphabets next to it. Every year, our admissions (and our fees) increased and that led to an additional alphabet next to the same grade. 6A, 6B, 6C…so on. I believe we were up to F’s when I was admitted to the school and I quickly resumed my place on a wooden desk in 6F. Aliya was in 6A. Girls from different sections rarely ever talked to each other and 6A had all the pretty, well-spoken girls with mothers who were also teachers. In my section (6F), Zara and I were the only ones who rarely committed English-medium sins such as announcing “Madam can you please run the fan” or “Madam she is chewing chingam” and my all-time favorite “Madam, there are two girls from 6b in bathroom drinking cigarettes.” Boy, did we think we were better just because we could pronounce a word or two. You can hate me for being a shallow sixth grader later but for now just read on. For the most part, Zara and I got along well and most of our conversations were about boys and crushes. That was also the time, I had fallen madly in love with the infamous math teacher and Zara had developed a crush on an older Fsc student from the boys section. Although Zara was quite pretty and teachers always picked her to play the princess, the rose or the butterfly in school plays; I always got stuck playing either the prince or the post man. Once I was even coaxed into playing a moth. By the eighth grade, Zara left school much to my dismay and as a result of desperate restructuring I was moved from 8F to 8A. Yep, the cool girl class. Aliya was one of those cool girls. At that time, being a teacher’s daughter, allowed you VIP status in primary schools because favoritism and nepotism are words some of those teachers still can’t pronounce. (Don’t even get me started on how much I cringed each time our English teacher barked layer, player and finoo-minoo instead of leisure, pleasure and phenomenon.)
I never thought I would ever be friends with a girl like Aliya but after a couple of weeks and wearing expensive jewelry, prospects began to look promising. Finally, after getting into trouble with all the other girls for something I hadn’t even done, I found myself being liked and accepted by Aliya and her crew. My only two friends before that were two girls who fashioned a conservative braid like mine and spent their recesses sitting under a tree, talking about cousin’s shaadis, Isstudies and PTV dramas. You can imagine how painfully root-canal-ish those conversations must have been for me.
After I succeeded in becoming friends with Aliya’s crew, maintaining my friendship was the simple and easy part. I knew exactly what I was to do and did it quite well. I was to be the “sweet, fat” one who all the other girls poured their hearts out to. Confided secrets and guilty revelations they couldn’t share with others in fear of being judged. The friendship required of me only three things: 1. Listening (long-winded stories that stretched for four periods about a boy),
2. Nodding (it helped them to know that they weren’t talking to themselves),
3. Not saying too much (they weren’t talking to themselves but it didn’t mean they were interested in what I had to say either.)
Easy enough. If my opinion was ever needed, I was to dispense advice (deliberate, well thought, calculated) exactly how they wanted to hear it.
“It’s ok if you don’t want to invite Shela to your sweet sixteen and not tell her.”
“Its ok if she’s your best friend but you still think her nose is bigger than her face.”
“Its ok, if you plan on dating her fiancée.”
And to this they would offer a rehearsed hug and exclaim “Oh Padash, I knew you would understand, you’re so sweet!”
Sweet. Oh how I detest that word now! But back then, it was considered the best compliment while being called a bitch was the worst insult. Today, it’s the opposite and that’s why I always say “thank you” when called a bitch and say “your mama” when someone utters the word sweet!
As the 8th grade neared an end, the hip girls knew it was time to bid farewell to the faded brown desks and secluded desperation of an all-girls school and head for a cooler, co-ed environment for our O-levels. The Matric girls were to stay behind and resume their isstudies while watching dramas and attending shaadis. Yes I am still fully aware that we were superficial, clueless and despicable and if you read further you will know we got what we deserved.
After the winter break ended, Aliya, Shela and I finally set foot in a school called Froebells. The pure mention of the school’s name invoked images of frogs and tadpoles but inside the walls these frogs had apparently been kissed plenty of times already and were now princes with hip hairstyles and better uniforms. No mommy-daddy cuts here and actual ties with knots instead of elastic. Four high walls that contained all of Islamabad’s burger kids. Far cooler than we could ever be. British accents, American accents, smokers, teen models, stoners, partiers. You name it, you found it. And as the three of us tried hard to hide our uneasiness behind smiles and giggles, we were obvious misfits as lost in this bourgeois world as a breastfed baby in a tittie-bar.
Girls with streaked hair snickered at us when our thick braids bounced on our behinds with apologetic embarrassment. Boys looked right through us. For them, girls were not fantasized species behind the cemented division of a boys-section and a girls-section. Here, no walls separated the boys from the girls. Boys completely unlike the cheapsters, cheappangas and the cheappreeses who hung outside our old school on motorbikes with greasy hair and belt-buckles as shiny and big as they were fake. Lavish, Calvin Kalein and Parade; you name the knock-off, they proudly displayed it. Remind me to one day tell you about the time a similar boy once tried to make frandship with me at a meena-bazaar and when I told him his Channel-V T-shirt was as heinous as his face, he proudly replied.
“It is designer baby, Chanel and Versays.”
But I digress. Where were we? Why yes. So the first few days in school, we were lost. I over-heard a few jokes about my weight while Aliya’s only woe was that “these boys think we are some paendoo losers….we need to act like we are cool. Come on Padash laugh loudly when a cute boy walks by.” Shela and I nodded and laughed for no reason just to appease our Queen Bee every time a boy’s ping-pong ball bounced near us. To Aliya, I felt like saying “woman that’s your only problem? I heard a boy refer to me as a Bun-kebab but you don’t see me whining!”
Slowly, as weeks passed, Aliya got her wish. She got a haircut with bangs, tilted her head lazily to the left with all her hair cocked to the side and voila, it was just that easy. Men slowly began to waft and buzz around her like flies circling crap. She encouraged them back with smiles both flirtatious yet haughty. Before you knew it, Aliya was finding roses in her bag, secret admirer cards and prank calls from boys with sexy voices completely different from the sleazy greetings of a “Hello Madam hoe are you? Can I make frandship with you?”
Shela was more gorgeous if you ask me but somehow she lacked the art of flirting and seduction which Aliya had mastered over years of reading Sweet Dreams and watching 90210. Her world became even more exciting when she began to see her name on party invitations. We had heard so much about dance parties but had never set foot in one. When people asked her which friend she wanted to bring along she always took my name and then told me to keep the parties a secret from Shela. Too flattered and excited to be going to these living room discotheques, I obediently agreed. The real reason Aliya chose me had nothing to do with her liking me as a friend. All she wanted was a girl less attractive standing besides her when she walked in to a party. Someone to help make her look occupied but someone who could never steal the limelight of attention away from her. She would then bask in the ego-massaging affection from boys on the dance floor while I sat back, smiled and held her purse for her.
If you have ever been to a Pakistani dance party in the nineties, you know the scene. A small room where usually Ama, Aba, Beta and Beti ate daal chawal, now dreadfully transformed into a mimicked version of a Manhattan nightclub. A disco ball in the middle, strobe lights on the side and giant speakers on all four corners. All on rent! It was also perfectly normal for boys and girls to dance alone (terrible dance moves with snaps and claps) and rarely was there ever any bumping and grinding. I would watch boys whisper and point longingly at Aliya sashaying her hair seductively while playing hard to get. And then somewhere between Informer by Snow and All That She Wants by Ace of Base, Aliya would leave me to dance with those boys for the rest of the night.
Now, this is where the brothers come in.
Babar the Eldest:
He was Shela’s first crush at Froebells and the three of us spotted him together in one of our free classes. A picture of such handsome perfection, playing table tennis in his – or probably his father’s – Bonanza sweater. His racquet swing always turned more pimp, his smart-alec remarks more witty; when blatantly encouraged by the giddy giggling of the three new bachiyan who stood there without a life. He was in his A-levels and a desi version of Tom Cruise, Ronan Keating and Hugh Grant all wrapped up in Bonanza wool.
“He’s so cute. I think I’m in love!” Shela immediately called dibs leaving Aliya and I cursing our luck. In girlfriend world, any possible feelings we harbored for the man were to now be immediately nipped and perished. She had called dibs on the man.
“I can tell he totally likes you too.” Aliya dealt with disappointment with lies and trickery.
What about me? I wanted to ask but if Aliya had backed off of Shela’s crush, I knew I had to as well.
“You really think so?” Shela asked. She was so naïve.
“Of course” Aliya nudged “We should walk by him so he can notice you some more.”
The “walk by” was actually staged for Baber to notice Aliya, not Shela. I knew that. Aliya knew that, in fact she had planned the whole thing. But Shela, that poor girl was too oblivious to realize. Always the innocent pretty girl, Shela’s love life never moved past secretly staring at a crush from afar. Aliya on the other hand had mastered the art of seduction by the 8th grade. The hallways of Froebells were now her playground.
That day, only I noticed the flirtatious exchange between Babar and Aliya. Later, when I tried to broach the subject, Aliya quickly dismissed it. After a few weeks, while Shela was busy coming up with code names for Babar while filling out colorful questions in sticker-heavy scrapbooks, Aliya continued to flirt with Babar behind our backs. Then, one day she confessed to me that she too had a massive crush on Babar. That made three of us now!
Even though I could not keep Babar out of my mind, I was quick to realize that Aliya’s interaction with him consisted of a lot more intimacy than mine. Besides, the flirtatious smiles, she got the raised eyebrow of interest each time she tried a different hairstyle and once he had even gone out of his way to open a door for her and compliment her on her perfume. Me, well there was that one time, he sorta, kinda, almost glanced at me but he could have just been eyeing the Frost fruit juice in my hand. Aliya had made me promise to never tell Shela about Babar’s flirting because she was never going to violate the girlfriend code. The code was violated conveniently the next month when Aliya informed me that Babar had asked her out and she had accepted. Not going to lie, I was extremely jealous. I envied everything about Aliya; she always got what she wanted. When she asked for my help to sneak out on her dates with Babar, I immediately agreed. I thought that he would someday notice my inner beauty. How dumb was I? For a Pakistani boy in his A-levels who has yet to feel a girl’s breasts, “inner beauty” are words that he only consoles himself with 40 years down the road when he realizes that the mother of his three children is the only thing left to make love to. Slowly as Aliya’s relationship flourished we began to avoid and ignore Shela altogether. Eventually, Shela took the hint and made new friends. The trio was now down to just Aliya and I and that fact couldn’t have made me more miserable.
The dates continued. If Aliya and Babar were to meet, my plans didn’t matter. I was to shut up and assume my role as their cover-up for the evening. So, as they canoodled all over town, I was left to wait in places like Old bookshops, British Council Library and once even at a cheesy Bruce Lee movie at Nafdec Cinema. I took it all, from two-hour-long karate subtitles in dingy cinemas to standing by myself all night at Muddy’s Café while they danced and made out. What I couldn’t take was how frequently and conveniently Aliya would insult me with her words. She crossed the line one day by literally slapping me across the face for not bunking a class for her date. Although we were alone when it happened, I decided to walk away. Today, I would have beat that biotch down but back then I wasn’t as strong! When Shela found me crying all she said was.
“What else do you expect from a girl like Aliya!”
Aliya and Babar dated the entire year and once Babar finished his A-levels he headed off to college in the States. The irony of it all; he was on the same flight as me. When we crossed paths at the airport, I wondered in fate and the possibility of happy endings but all he had for me was a nonchalant half-nod. After years of helping him get to third-base with his girlfriend by being her alibi for the evening, all he had for me was a half-nod of acknowledgement waved at a familiar face and that’s it. It was then that I realized, that although I had spent the past year dreaming about him, the thought of me had never even crossed his mind. Good closure, PIA airport.
After the summer, I returned to school and was immediately greeted by trashy rumors about Aliya. Apparently, Babar had told the whole school that Aliya had lost her virginity to him in the backseat of his car. I still don’t know if its true but such things are no one’s business. So as the whole school gossiped and giggled, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. Later that day, I found her crying by herself in a corner. Babar had also left behind three other girlfriends in the city and for the first time I didn’t envy Aliya for being the one he chose. Aliya had never managed to make any friends after me. Maybe because she searched for a follower instead of a friend. Insult to injury, she was now the butt of the school’s juiciest rumor. Still, I reached out to comfort her and though she appreciated my shoulder, she sobbed the words “Now, the whole school thinks I’m a slut…they think, I’m just another you.” It was a typical Aliya comment. Bitchy, callous and full of poison. Indicative of the kind of comments she often threw around when we were friends. I walked away once again. We have barely spoken more than a few cordial words since.
Amir the Middle Child:
Soon after Babar left for college, his two younger brothers Amir and Qadir joined Froebel’s as the new boys in school. I first laid eyes on Amir when I walked into a Biology class and instinctively found a seat next to my new best friend, Shela. During the boring lecture the two of us passed notes and giggled.
“Check out Babar’s brother he’s behind us in the blue shirt.” Shela scribbled on a piece of paper. When we turned to look at him while trying to stifle our smiles, the poor boy mistook our smiles as interest. Too bad he didn’t see the next note that Shela slid my way: “He’s not cute at all. I guess Babar hogged all the looks in the family!” For some odd reason, I ended up falling for Amir in that class. Sure, he had more acne than skin but maybe my attraction for him was merely to complete the unresolved feelings I had for the older brother. Who knows? All I know is that of all the boys in my school, my next crush after Babar…was none other than on his second brother.
All notes passed between friends were always carefully scratched away so teachers, classmates and subjects of conversations wouldn’t discover the thoughts we shared during boring class lectures. Amir, unaware of the conversation, walked out of class that day with a chest heaved forward and his crotch stabbing the air in front with four inches of bulging pride. I honestly don’t know about the truth in that detail but he just seems like a four inch type of guy! And I’m usually right when it comes to men!
A week later, he walked over to Shela and I during lunch break and dramatically handed her a dozen roses with a proposal to go steady. The rest of the school watched like spectators at a theatrical event as Shela turned red and quietly slipped away from the excited and envious stares. Aliya would never have done the same. She would have pretended to be embarrassed but would have walked around school dangling her bouquet with gusto; taunting those who could only wonder what it must be like to be asked out in front of the whole school
Back in those days, when a guy asked a girl out, she was allowed a week to “think about it.” That week was the most special week for a girl who now became the center of attention. People deliberated over what her answer would be. Boys teased the suitor each time she passed by. Others crawled out of the woodwork to remind her that they too were interested. Aliya used to love such weeks and would bunk every class to walk around school and bask in the admiration. Shela on the other hand, steered clear of such egocentricities. And while the whole school talked about how pretty Shela was, Aliya watched along with disdain and jealousy. She had now been reduced to old news. Babar’s left-over. A has been. How quickly beauty and popularity fades in the superficial walls of a high school.
Shela politely declined Amir the next day instead of stringing him along the entire week just to enjoy the attention. While he sulked with embarrassment in front of the school, Aliya grabbed the opportunity to move in and grab the reassurance she so badly wanted. She attempted to comfort the boy by flirting with him incessantly. I knew her far too well, even the words going through her mind “How can he ever pick another girl instead of me?” I wanted so badly to go and warn Amir but somehow, my feelings for him and my insecurities held me back.
Just as I had so accurately surmised, after Aliya had dropped enough hints for Amir to pursue, he finally asked her out with another dramatic proposal. She asked for “a week to think about it” and then declined even more publicly than his proposal. Aliya, victorious in her plan once again. The appetizing, almost nourishing taste of being desired and wooed once again fresh in her mouth, after a dry spell of rumors and unpopularity.
“What a bitch!” I overheard Amir pour his heart out to a friend. “She did everything short of asking me out herself and when I said why not, she turns around and rejects me then tells the whole school!” Closure, in the library. My crush on Amir finally ended. He too, had picked the cunning pretty one instead of me.
Qadir the Youngest:
Ok, this is where it gets very confusing. I’m going to throw more names at you so try to keep up. Take notes if you have to. Where do I start with Qadir. I obviously met him around the same time as I met Amir and although he was far more attractive, I initially fell for Amir first. Maybe because Qadir was in his O’s and Amir was in his A’s and I usually go for older men. However, somewhere between the beginning of my crush on Amir and before he trampled on my heart with dramatic proposals for my friends, I met the youngest one during an Economics class. Before the teacher arrived for a boring lecture on Supply and Demand, I sat in between friends yapping away. I could notice Qadir quietly stare at me from the corner of his eye. He saw girls who slapped boys on their knees and spoke with confidence instead of introversion. I sort of enjoyed his shy and boyish attention. The next few weeks, I ran into him in hallways and classrooms where he would flirtatiously smile. Slowly his comments became more and more bold and suggestive. (Not that I was complaining). It wasn’t till later, when we actually became good platonic friends when he informed me that it was a dare from his friends to flirt with me. What perverse pleasure do boys get by watching their buddies flirt with other women? Voyeuristic? Homoerotic? Anyway, the attention was slightly amusing if I do say so myself. When I was finally over Amir, I actually began exploring the prospects of a relationship with Qadir. It was more like “You? Anyone? Are there any damn takers in this family?” But that hopeful crush lasted only a brief few weeks as well because pretty soon rumors of Qadir dating Annie (another pretty slice in our class) were flying around the school like wildfire. Ok, no luck with that one either. I was getting used to it by now. Annie was another good friend so I was happy for her. The most interesting part was that Annie’s best friend was a shy girl called Nida. (Told you to take notes, told you it gets confusing). Nida was also overweight (actually obese) and she followed Annie around like I once followed Aliya. She weighed far more than I did but just like any big girl she had a heart to match her size. Though I could tell that Annie and Nida’s friendship was not as dysfunctional as Aliya and I; I saw a look in Nida’s eyes that no one else noticed. Very subtle but a look that could only be recognized by someone who had once hid the same look. The hopeful sparkle of an insecure best friend who secretly struggled with feelings for her best friend’s boyfriend. The boyfriend barely even aware of her existence. A mere accessory behind the girl he exchanged cards and heart-shaped candies with but an accessory who hoped and wished for a miracle that one day he wakes up and notices her. I never did ask Nida about the look and I doubt she would have confessed.
When we returned from our summer vacations that year, Annie dumped Qadir on the first day of school. Heartbroken, he began showing up at my tuition center to talk to me. Me! When I first noticed him waiting outside as I stepped out with my register hugged closely against my breasts, I realized how much I had dreamt of this moment. When I walked up to him with a smile, even more butterflies fluttered around in my stomach when he asked if I would join him for ice-cream at Yummy 36. I agreed and once again began to believe in fate and happy endings. Was Qadir the one? My first ever boyfriend? Every day, I walked out of Accounting tuitions, dressed in my finest culottes and more and more make-up to impress him. We would walk to Yummys, share banana splits and talk about school. This went on for a week. I spent my days listening to sappy Michael Bolton and Celine Dion while reading borrowed Sweet Dreams. Finally at the end of the week, he told me he had something to ask me. Instead of a date he wanted to know if I could set him up with Aliya. She had been flirting with him heavily and he had heard that I was once close to her. It took every bone in me to force a fake yet composed smile. Don’t really remember what he said after that, I had numbed myself only to prevent the tears that threatened to pop out. But, as promised, I decided to speak to Aliya after two years.
“What did he say? Does he like me? Does he think I’m pretty? When does he plan on doing this?”
“I don’t know Aliya,” I replied with irk “He just wanted me to find out if you were interested.”
“Sure, sure…go ahead and tell him I am.”
“But do you like him, he’s a friend, I don’t want him to get hurt…”
“Come on Padash, just tell him I like him ok?”
“But do you?”
“Padash, just tell him to ask me out and that he should do it in front of the school. Something like what Amir did for Shela!” Despicable.
A week later, Qadir bought her a bag of a hundred chilli chips. The school was in a frenzy with gossip of the thoughtful and dramatic gesture. (Where did these brothers get their romancing tips from? Bollywood?). A week later, the school was once again in a frenzy. Gossip of how Aliya had rejected him. My last closure!
Now you may have guessed, I never did get to marry into that family. Luckily!
Aliya…is now married. She’s now twice my size and although we send each other an annual email or two, her comments are now laced with jealousy and envy. Still brutal, still callous. Her last email was something like “I cant believe you’re the one living the exciting life in New York and I’m the married one in Pakistan.” Another one “You look so GOOD, I would never ever have imagined you to be this sexy!” Lets just say, this time around I make sure I put her in her place.
Shela… also now married. We’re still good friends and although we live in different parts of the world we call each other every now and then. From what I can tell, she was never in love with the man she is now married to but did it to settle down. Still, her husband adores the ground she walks on and I’m glad because she deserves nothing less.
Babar…is now a bearded Mullah. Yes, after college, he became a born again fundo. He now lives with a hijabi wife. And I bet the sex is just plain boring.
Amir….no clue what he’s up to. He never found a girlfriend the entire time I knew him (He should have asked me) so I hope he at least found a wife. The arranged marriage bit should have worked in his favor.
Qadir…he and I once spoke briefly on Orkut two years ago. He too is married. To Nida. Years later, they reconnected and he finally noticed the woman beautiful both inside and out. I’m happy for her.
Me…well you all already know I how I ended up. So no description needed there. But what I do want to add is that we learn from everything in our lives both good and bad. We take experiences, own them and use them to shape the person we are to become. I learned something from all three of those brothers. How men think with the four-inches between their legs. I learned something from Shela too. How innocence if genuine can be a very endearing quality. I learned something from the over-shadowed Nida. To never give up hope because some of us do get our happy ending. Last but not least, I learned a lot from Aliya. How to flirt, how to seduce, how to handle men. How to decide what you want, go for it and make sure you get it any way you can. But most of all I learned that I could do all of those things without hurting a friend in the process.