by Samia Altaf
I was perhaps ten years old when I had unending cups of Eatmore’s fresh handmade mango ice cream while sitting on the lawns of Services Club Sialkot. It was one of the brightest days of my life, with my parents all to myself, undistracted by the demands of their daily doings, and the crystal cups of ice cream brought to us. We sat on reclining garden chairs on the perfectly manicured lawn, bordered by fragrant motia plants and the chambeli vine clinging to the tall peepal tree, all in full heady bloom.
My mother ordered Coca-Cola with crushed ice—a very hip fizzy drink that had just appeared in our lives and our city, taking sleepy Sialkot by storm. She ordered sizzling –hot shami kebabs and cool cucumber sandwiches and French fries—another recent and grand addition to the club’s menu. All of these were strictly forbidden to her because of her “weight problem” and her recent bout of “slipped disc,” which her doctor thought was the result of the former. But she was happy, breaking frequently into her characteristic ringing laugh, her head thrown back.
Clad in magenta-pink French chiffon sari, a daring sleeveless blouse and a string of pearls around her neck, pearls brought back all the way from Tokyo by my father. On her feet she had pointed-toe kitten-heel slides in pearl-colored leather, hand made by Hopson, the exclusive Chinese shoemaker on Mall Road, Lahore. She had just returned from the city, where she got, from Hanif’s Mall Road salon, the stylish Jackie Kennedy haircut that along with Coca-Cola and French fries had become quite the rage. My father in his white “bush-shirt”—half-sleeves, tennis collar, buttons down the middle, worn untucked, and white linen trousers sipping nimboo-pani in a tall glass with generous chunks of clinking ice, gazed lovingly at her, and since she looked so radiant, felt that nothing could do her any harm.
Everything was part of a magical whole. I ate my mango ice cream holding the cup by its long stem knowing nothing could be grander or more perfect than us on this balmy summer evening, and that my life would forever be finer because of it. This evening in July in that fateful year, 1963.
A month later Dr. King would give the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and three months later John Kennedy would be assassinated. The waiter in white trousers and tunic coat with a bright red sash, a gold-trimmed pugri on his head sensed this, and not only did he bring the second round unasked but the portions got more generous, and after the third enchanted cup he brought out the whole 12 x 4 x 3 inch metal mold, sparkling sweat beads clinging to its sides, and placed it in front of me. It was a wonderful indulgent gesture orchestrated by my father, like a loving embrace. We smiled and glowed in the emerging dusk and I moved forward to the edge of the chair to serve myself, but then what the heck. I set my cup aside and dug in to the mold and continued digging till I could eat no more. It is the closest I have ever come to pure, unadulterated bliss.
Afterward we continued to sit as the shadows gathered around us waiting for the night, which comes with sinful speed in our part of the world. Mother ran her fingers through her hair and father with one white-clad knee resting on the other leaned back in the garden chair, an enigmatic smile hovering around his lips an aura of potency and mystery surrounding him. Ahead of us some more waiters struggled to tie a white bedsheet between two trees. This was the screen on which we would watch GI Blues with the king of rock in the lead role, all dimples and tortured soul as he gyrated his way across the makeshift screen and our already afflicted hearts.
Afterward, long after the movie was over, big brother and his friends would continue to croon the songs into the blue-black night. “A Heart Full of Love,” “Kiss Me Extra Tender, Hold Me Extra Tight,” and danced the twist on the cool grass under the stars, laughing deliriously as only teenagers can do, while grownups smiled and chatted on the veranda, waiting for them to come in so we could go home.