The Trousseau by Samina H. Bakhsh
This is part of our special feature, The Politics of Postmigration.
The trousseau was almost full, just one final gift to add for her daughter. Just as her mother had done for her and her mother’s mother before that. Parveen slowly got up and closed the lid on the wooden chest, pausing to admire the intricate hand carvings that covered it. She made her way downstairs, passing by the flower vines that adorned the banisters, their pink and cream tones in keeping with the wedding theme. As she entered the kitchen, she could hear the melody of upbeat Pakistani wedding folksongs playing in the garden mingled with laughter and singing from family and friends who had started arriving a few days ago.
Instinctively she walked over to the cooker. Leaning down she pulled open the oven door and took out the steel tawa, familiar with its heavy weight and knowing to brace her wrist just enough to not cause a strain. The wooden handle had smoothened over the years, so she could no longer tell where her mother’s fingerprints would’ve once been. A lump formed in her throat, catching her by surprise and she quickly brushed away the moisture gathering in the corner of her eye. From the drawer she pulled out one of the brightly coloured cloths used to wrap chapattis and unfolded it. It was a red and white paisley design. It suddenly occurred to her that the tawa had been wrapped in a red and white cloth when it had made its first journey to England with her all those years ago, a new bride, travelling to be with her new husband in a new world.
‘A good wife will keep her husband and her family with this!’ her mother had said to her the day before she was to leave as she carefully placed the tawa in the centre of the cloth and began folding in the corners.
‘By beating them with it?!’ her younger sister had quipped at the time, giggling, as she made a not-so-subtle joke about how their mother would make empty threats to use it on them when they wouldn’t listen. But their mother’s stern look had her quickly pretending to be busy with the ends of her braid to avoid catching their mother’s eye.
Parveen gave a soft chuckle. She remembered it so well.
Her mother had been right. By the time they had arrived at the house she would call home for the first 10 years of her new life in England, it was late. Her husband and his cousin had taken turns to drive the several hours drive from London Heathrow to their small northern town. Everyone was hungry. Parveen had inaugurated her arrival by unwrapping the tawa and preparing fresh chapattis for them all. Her husband and his cousin had insisted there was no need, they could get fish and chips, but she had no idea what that was. In fact, she didn’t know or have any understanding of anything around her. Apart from the tawa her mother had told her to keep with her on the plane, lest it got damaged from being thrown around in the luggage hold.
Parveen remembered how her young handsome husband had beamed at her as he devoured home cooked chapattis for the first time in years. Her husband. He had loved her spicy potato and onion paranthas made with desi ghee. He never asked for them, never wanting to make extra demands of her. But she knew, so she would have two piping hot and ready for him once he’d return from his shift at the factory. The rich aroma filling the house, embracing him as he entered.
A single tear rolled down her cheek. She had not used the tawa to make his favourite spicy potato and onion paranthas for many years now. The particular aroma never to enter her home again.
Parveen finished wrapping up the tawa, tying opposite corners of the square cloth together, just as she had watched her mother do that night. She lifted the tawa and held it towards her and closed her eyes. She remembered she had held it just like this all the way until they had finally settled into their seats on the plane and the air stewardess had placed it in the overhead compartment. She hadn’t liked it when she did that. It was the first thing she grabbed once they had been allowed to start taking their things down.
Moving to the kitchen table, Parveen sat down, bringing the wrapped tawa with her. She ran her hand over the cloth, tracing a finger along the paisley design. She had bought a new modern non-stick lightweight one from the local desi store, but her daughter had not been pleased at all upon seeing it.
“Why have you bought me this, Ammi?” she had asked.
“Beta, it’s a new fashion one,” Parveen had explained. She was worried she had disappointed her daughter with her choice.
“But Ammi, I thought you were going to give me the tawa… y’know, like Naniji did for you, and Buri Nani did for her before that…” Her daughter had taken Parveen’s hand in hers. Parveen had pulled her hand back, conscious that her fingers would scratch her daughter’s delicate skin.
“Beta, what are you going to do with that useless old thing!” she had said, trying to laugh.
Samina Hussain is a budding writer with a background in teaching. With a love of reading widely, she is keen to explore writing in different genres , including contemporary fiction, romance, urban fantasy, and even children’s picture books. Her biggest champions in her author journey are her family, which she credits for motivating and encouraging her to pick up that pen and give it a go.
THE TROUSSEAU is part of the collected volume Into the Wilds: An Anthology of Short Stories & Poetry from British South Asian Writers and is reproduced here with permission of Fox & Windmill Books.
Published on May 1, 2023