Disclaimer: (if you become nauseas easily, or are offended by gutter Urdu, don’t read further!).
…, Well Maybe its nazr: the evil eye if you will. When I moved here 5 or so years ago, people kept asking me how the neighbours were. I was not ideally placed to comment, as I had only met a few of them, the majority professional people like me, who preferred to keep themselves to themselves! That suited me fine: so long as no one was getting in my way! I spoke too soon however! The 2 flats directly above my own belong to a Pakistani landlord, who doesn’t care too much about his reputation in the building, and who rents his flats! His name has become muck in our building for not keeping up with maintenance fees, never removing rubbish from the yard: never acting on complaints! He and I are civil to one another, which is a miracle considering my father punched him following his not returning 700£ to me for mutual roof repairs! Any way, back to the post in question: after the blessed tranquillity resulting from one of his properties remaining vacant for a few months, new tenants moved in! They moved here about a week before Christmas, amidst much yelling, cursing and shifting of furniture! (let that go, moving is stressful right?). As I lay in bed one morning, their putrid Punjabi let me know they were in the house!! (those who are not Urdu/Punjabi speakers should note: Punjabi, is the language spoken in the Punjab. It’s a language of country folk, and has all the same inferences, but still, there is a way to keep it clean if you so desire: lets just say, these people did not desire!). So, they move in, and I wonder if they are Muslim etc: I wonder if they are the kind of people I can call on, or who might call on me, etc. I am becoming too old and set in my ways to rush up to people like a sad wonnabe waving my bangles and shouting “hey yo: I’m your neighbour and I speak Urdu”, so I just waited for us to run in to each other! We didn’t run in to each other however: instead I ran in to something else!! The distinctive, filthy red beetle stains of paan, all down my front door and across the mat at my entrance (oh, and a decent amount settled horribly in the conifer tree I put in the communal area!). I was horrified: now, maybe I’m being a bit too proud or ‘white about this, but come on! I’ve not seen paan spit since Pakistan, and even then, most people waited till they were outside of their apartments before staining the ground with it! rather than becoming all paranoid that it was targeted towards me (I had actually visualised the guy walking downstairs, trying to decipher the right step from which to aim up at my door), I simply cleaned it up and ignored it. Then one day, I was working away on the PC (as you do) (my computer is in a small alcove in my hall), when I heard this Punjabi dood, walk downstairs and stand for a moment at the bottom, before enjoying a good spit and then walking out! I was enraged! What the H*** was that about? Couldn’t he have done it outside? I wasn’t just annoyed because of the obvious mess: paan spit is fowl, it spreads disease, it creates a bad impression: once your building is seen filthy, it gives the OK to all kinds of unsocial behaviours: but apart from all that, paan spit is a nightmare for blind people!! If you get even a hint of it on a shoe, a cane tip or the bottom of an abaya, your belongings will be contaminated, as will any thing else that inadvertently makes contact with the red substance! As I cleaned it up (for the 5th time), I decided that enough was enough! I’d have to speak to the dood when he came back in! any way, it so happened that the following morning I was in the yard putting out my rubbish when this guy was heading out. I walked back to my flat, and left the door open a crack, just to see what he’d do! Sure enough, he wanders down stairs, walks a little past my door (perhaps noting the slight opening), and spits casually in the entrance, before moving towards the exit! I opened the door: (the paan wars begin!)
“Excuse me, sir?”, “yes?”, “aap nay ithir kion thuka?”, “ji?” “aap ni paan kion thuka mere darwazay kay samnay, koee wajha?” (basically: I asked this dood why he was spitting paan at my door every morning).
He stands there in silence, and I wonder if he’s going to answer me! He says nothing, but he doesn’t move on either! So I go “may ni notice kia kay aap rosana curt ho”, …, I want to say more, but I trail off, and then he goes, “may nay to nahin ki”, now, this really brings out the worst in me, because, I figure (rightly or wrongly), that he has clocked the fact I can’t see and will just deny it, and we’ll have a pathetic paan war of words here on my doorstep. That’s when I regret coming over all desi, because the BBC English I speak might have cut the mustard much more affectively! Better late than never I think: and I go, “look: I do not wish to fight with you: but the thing is, I’ve seen you do this every day: and I’m sure you understand, it’s a health hazard, and its really very unfair to the rest of us: I enjoy paan myself as it goes, but I really wouldn’t dream of spitting it all over the apartments: its disgusting, and any way: this isn’t Pakistan”. Then, In case he didn’t get that, I top it off with a bit of the old Urdu, “please janab, ye Pakistan to nahin, buri maherbani next time zara bahir curdain”. He just stands there, like, he says nothing! I hear his door open from upstairs, and then I wonder if he’s been texting or signalling for reinforcements, so I quickly say “any way, nice meeting you: Insha Allah firr milengay, Allah Hafiz”, and disappear back in to my flat! Now, this guy has a relative (I assume his son but I may be wrong), who has a God awful loud voice, the kind that could break sheet metal from a million miles away! So he joins his father (I think) downstairs and asks “kee hoya?”, and his father goes on to tell him about how “vahin, jo gori rehti hain naa? Us Sali ni buri lecture di hi kay aap paan spit curtay ho, nahin curni chahiye”, so I’m listening to this, with a nasty chuckle on my lips, till I hear the loud dood screaming “harami, us ki maa ki …, haramzadi! Us ki baap ca building to nahin!”. This really gets me going, and, without settling my nerves or contemplating my action, I throw open the door and come out, all Karachi, saying “or tera baap ki building phee nahin, hey naa: or haan: or bolna to mere moo pay kehdo, ithir kion gaalian detay ho oonchi awaz main! Agar koee maa behin gaali apnay khurr kay orton pay kehday to aap kesse mehsus carogay?”. Silence! I’m really on a high now! I’ve shocked these pindus in to total embarrassment: 2-0 to the Tubelight! But then, they do something that totally shocks me: they just turn, and walk out! As he passes my window, heading for the train station, he says to his dad “burri cho***** orut hi” (do I need to say more?). I’m totally disgusted at this, and the ego part of me is well aggravated that I’ve not been able to get a proper fight out of it, but hey: I may still be victorious, and after I talk myself down from the urge to go to their place and take up the gaalian issue with their women, I decide to let it go, and see what they’d do! For all I knew, they might stop spitting completely! Just because of my impromptu altercation!
So, lets fastforward a few hours in to day 2, and you guessed it; queue more paan spitting! Day 3 and 4 proceed in the same manner! Clearly my Karachi style rebuke hasn’t swung it! what to do now! I become quite busy for day 5 and 6, and have more important things to worry about than fighting with them, so I choose 0 tolerance: I come home each night, get the bleach out and quietly clean the entrance, saying nothing, doing nothing: not reacting. I wonder if the law of attraction surrounding my pretty plants will attract a paan free zone, but before I get a chance to revel in potential ‘Smug, it all starts, all over again! I’m so sick of this! Plus, with Christmas coming up, I’m determined this gets sorted before I need to head off to my parents: if I don’t, I’ll be wading through paan when I get home, and my precious little nest will resemble a pit fresh from the ‘Itwar bazaar!! The next day, I ask my compatriots on twitter (Roshni_h if you want to follow me), for their suggestions re: the paan wars saga! Journalist mate Martin says I should just bound up to them all ‘Ned and say “quit spittin paan, or I’ll pan ye!”. (for those of you not from Inner city Glasgow, you get the idea: translation: stop spitting, or I shall become extremely violent!!). I like this idea on paper, but given their silence last time, I doubt it will have much affect! But no one comes up with any thing better, and in the end, I opt for something else out of the Ned department of self-preservation: threats! For the next few days, I time my movements in accordance with this guy’s spitting routine (I do have a life guys: honest!). I make sure he sees me, strategically placed, cane out, ready for the business! I wonder if this too might have a shaming affect: and for the first day, it does! But then, as time goes by, I seamlessly vanish in to the concrete and tile surrounds: like many blind people before me, I am simply overlooked! So, after 3 really sad and freakish days of this, I go in guns blazing, mid-spit and tell him: “buri afsos kay baat hi: kion curt ho istarha! Mojhay lagta hi kay aab koee or rasta to nahin, may Yaseen co call curt hain” (their landlord). He disappears upstairs, saying nothing, but as soon as he’s inside his apartment, he narrates the story to his son, so loudly in fact, that I can hear the entire discussion from my own home, with the door shut! The result is that ignorant Punjabi son says “dafa ho: jo mirzi curna: sanu ki! Bawakoof!”, nice! The next morning, I put in a call to their landlord, narrating the spitting saga to him. “is it really that big a deal?”, he says. I take a few deep breaths and say: “yeah Yaseen, it’s a big deal man! I mean, thanks to you, I lived with dry rot for 2 years because you wouldn’t pay for your share to be fixed, but that wasn’t a big deal to me. I had water pouring in to my hall from your kitchen upstairs, resulting in mushrooms on my sealing, and black stains which still remain there, all because you refuse to pay for a painter to fix them, but hey: its not a big deal to me! We can’t get the gutters cleaned regularly, so rubbish builds up and the blocked gutters mean that water pours in to my sitting room at least twice a year: but its not a big deal! You still owe me 700£ from the aforementioned rot, but that’s not a big deal to me! …, paan though? That’s a massive deal! And I’ll bug the SH** out of you till you speak to them and put it right, cause yeah: it’s a massive deal to me!”. (just in case any one thinks this manic tirade is for the benefit of my readers, …, wrong: it really did come out like that!). “theeq hi: don’t worry, I’ll talk to them for sure!”, he says and hangs up, job done! So, I chill down for a while, and give him time to speak to the champion paan offenders, …, nothing happens! Time marches on, and he does nothing! Now, I won’t bore you with the various phone calls it took to finally spin this guy in to action: (needless to say, the paan kept coming, and I kept getting jiggy with the floor cleaner!). Then, eventually, he turns up, something to do with kitchen fittings! And I think he had forgotten about the paan, were it not for the fact that I happened to be coming in right around the time he was leaving! I said salaam and walked inside, hating the fact I couldn’t show him up then and there, but it worked though: he came, he saw, he remembered! And in his finest Shields (Urdu/English blend), he goes “yaar, wo jo hina, yaani you know, paan: yaar the thing is kay, goray nay mojhay call kia hey, you know they are complaining innit, so, yaar its better kay agar paan cariey naa, to zara outside spit caro hina!” (I won’t write any more of that, I know it’s a total ass to read!). So, I’m literally jumping up and down inside my door: result! But then (more shock). I hear the Punjabi dood (the younger louder one), asking Yaseen all about me, telling him about my confrontation in the entrance and so on. It seems he wants to know who I am, and sadly, Yaseen takes full Shields (ned) Pleasure in this! “I know yaar its pure nuts hina? Gori hi, Urdu phee ati hi: I was pure freakin out man when ah heard it innit! I think she’s divorced, but she’s a pucka Muslim: hijab phee curti hain, its mad hina? She said she used to work in Pakistan: so patta nahin why she’s so upset about the paan, and she’s blind too: crazy!!”, The blindness causes loads of hysteria upstairs, even causing the loud dood to call his father and other family members to the door, to discuss this revelation with Yaseen and debate its validity! All decide that I can’t really be blind “ye to buss, ek bahana hi” they decide, because, blind people wouldn’t bother about the paan now would they! But they also start looking for solutions between them (which should be good shouldn’t it?), err …, not quite! Their idea of finding a solution is to say “bechari andhi hi, plus akayli rehti hain, you know, is umer main, admi kay bakher: bohut mushkil hi: fazool baton pay pirishaan hotay hain log, chil renday: koee naa: bechari bhuljaaegi!”. I am so torn here, because part of me is secretly killing myself laughing at all this, yet the activist within screams (assumption, discrimination etc). Reza is horrified! He did his masters in India, and has no sympathy for paan eating at all! Not just because of the mess, but unlike me, he hates eating it completely! So when I tell him about the stairway dialogue, he’s ready to burst! And when the paan spitting continues, that only infuriates us both! I thought their discussions about my blindness (and assumed lack of a life), might have generated some sympathy, but no! they see me out and about, and totally ignore me! So …, time for plan C I think! Now, the thing is that, around this juncture, Muharram came upon us: and as expected, I got far too busy in higher things to be bothered about paan spitting and their ways! In fact, I started to get in to the zone: and feel rather guilty for all the events of the past few weeks! So, one day, as I prepare halwa to take to the imambargah, I make some extra, deciding to take it upstairs and offer it to them. I run up with it, a few minutes before I need to leave for majliss, and while the halwa is still hot and fresh! The auntie of the house opens the door, and as she’s never actually seen me in the flesh before, she doesn’t make the connection, and stands vacant when I say salaam to her! I tell her “mere nam Roshni hi: neechay wali apartment main rehti hain!”, now, I don’t know if she links me with the paan incidents or not, but I tell her how I’ve made halwa for them etc, and from behind a partially open living room door, the Punjabi dood asks his dad “kahin ye wo Sali to nahin? Andhi paan wali?”, at this point, I’m wondering if the guy has asperger’s or something: he must know I can hear him, unless of course, he belongs to the ‘blind=deaf school, as many people do! Any way, he comes out to investigate, and says nothing when he sees me at first, halwa plate in hand, his dad calls “con hi?”, and amazingly, he shouts back “yaar wohi!”. Now he comes out too: so I’m faced with all 3 of them, and I’m still holding out this plate of halwa looking like a lemon! Then the young dood, (you know now right>? The one I really can’t stand) goes “yaar kis nay banaya?”, and when I tell him I made it, he doesn’t believe me. He even says it “yaar to tu andhi hi! Kesse cursuctay hain!”. I so can’t be bothered with this, and its Muharram, and I can already feel the words, “yaar, to dectay hain jab apni G*** saaf curt hain tutti kay baad?” forming on my lips! So, I just say “any ways mojhay kahin jana hi, halwa jildi say calo garam hi, muzza aaega chai kay saath, or haan, wo paan issue ca zara tyan dena plz, neechay bohut burra haal aap logon kay wajessay!”. In a moment of supreme frustration, I bound downstairs, only realising in the serene kalm of my apartment that the plate of halwa is still in my hands! On my way out to the imambargah, I leave the plate on the ledge by their door, and can only hope they find it and take it in! after that, I leave for my parent’s, and don’t see them till my return after New Year! I returned, on the 3rd of January, to be knee deep in paan, and after forcing my father quickly out before he had me evicted for his aggression, I start cleaning it up! in the middle of this, auntie comes downstairs and says salaam to me: she’s come back to return the plate! I thank her, ask if she’s enjoyed the halwa etc, and we make small talk about that for a moment or 2. Bizarrely, despite all our fights on the paan issue, I now feel awkward about being faced with her, while I’m cleaning up her husband’s paan spit! Because I know I’d feel awkward if I were in her shoes, and I don’t want her to feel awkward, but I don’t know what to do! So we both stand there, silent, doubtless only too aware of how much the other person looks like a doofis before the stalemate gets too much for me, and I just get back to my cleaning! As I get down on my knees and resume scrubbing, she says “bohut gand hey naa yahin!”, I don’t know what to say! (yeah I know, ‘who made it!), but I just nod in agreement! She then says “paan bohut buri cheez hi, is co dec kar dil bohut kharab hojahta hi naa!”. This feels even more strange to me! But then, I wonder if maybe, this auntie is as much a victim as me: maybe, she is equally rebuking her men folk upstairs for the filth they are creating, maybe, just maybe, I’ve got myself an ally here! I go: “haan, bohut buri cheez hi, lekin wo kya: bunday jo hoay! Buss itni si baat hi kay saaf curdain, Insha Allah ek na ek din on co zaroor ehsas honi chahiye!”. She agrees, and we spend a few minutes going around and around in circles discussing the evils of paan, and not only is the discussion mind numbingly boring, but I am still feeling conscious about cleaning in her face! So I take my ‘ijazit, and head inside! I’m coming out to take in the bucket of dirty water and empty it, when I hear her spitting in the entrance herself, actually spitting! …, is there any hope for these people! I can’t resist it, I come out, and say “auntie! Kya caroon, aap nay to khud kia hi!”. I am actually laughing as I say it, the irony is too much! and she goes “no baaji its OK, ye to buss khaali spitting hi: paan to nahin hi is main!”. I just have to go inside! I mean, she calls me baaji, and I’m 28, while she’s 60 odd! Moreover, the idea that spitting in some one’s apartment is cool as long as there is no paan in it, just strikes me as bonkers conkers! I empty out the water, and somewhere between laughing and crying, I give up: sometimes, banging your head off a wall is more productive than trying to reason with a Pindu production! So, I let it go: and sometimes I clean the paan, and sometimes I ignore it! and sometimes I find auntie spitting (minus the paan!), and I try to blank it all! I began this post a while ago, not really knowing where it would end! I didn’t see the point of posting it without some kind of conclusion (the ideal one of course being, that I win the paan wars, hands down!), and that couldn’t happen! (or could it?). Yesterday, the Punjabi crew are all coming down stairs: bags in hand, moving boxes, swearing and yelling at the elements, just as they had when they moved in! I couldn’t resist sticking my head out the door and asking one of them “yaar aap log jari hain?”, and when he says “haan”, I feel like the tubelight that’s got the cream!! Coolness: now, all that positive thinking and law of attraction stuff does work! I’m happy, I’m fluffy, I’m visualising the future with lovely, quiet neighbours who compete with me in keeping the building pristine and shining! …, but as all good things generally are, this too is short lived!! This afternoon, I met Yaseen on the stairs and, trying not to appear too excited, I ask him about his plans for his apartment now that the Punjabis have gone “oh! They haven’t gone” he tells me “they are only visiting India: they’ll be back in 4 weeks time”. (great), the paan wars it seems, shall continue!