Lake Michigan was frozen tonight. I saw a pool of light in the snow under a lamppost, and flashed back to grad student life in Bloomington, Indiana. Trudging to the library in wintry nights. I used to feel like I was so alone in the world that if I vanished, no one would notice.
I lived alone – London; Bloomington IN; Charleston IL; Arlington, VA. I checked in with no one when returning on foot late at night.
And the worst part was the utter aloneness. As a child, I used to relish, solitude. But as an adult in the US, I learned to fear being alone.
It was no longer a creative, refreshing solitude, but a crushing, destructive, total unitization of humans into disconnection.
My ammi wrote a sehra, a wedding poem for my nephew.
It is actually on the meter of the sehra that a local poetess of my mother’s time, Shu’aa, wrote for ammi and abbu’s wedding in 1961. That sehra was framed and hung up in their room; I used to read it regularly as a child, and could probably recite it in full for you.
The sehra is a poem written in honor of a specific wedding. Sehra is literally the handmade ornament, made from roses, tinsel, and often banknotes, covering the bridegroom’s face, decorating him as well as protecting him from the admiring and harmful gaze. Sehra bandi is the moment when the baraat (the groom’s party, including his family and friends) prepares to go to the bride’s home (or wedding hall), and at that time, they actually or metaphorically put the sehra on the groom.
The poem mentions by name the groom, the bride, and important family members on both sides. The last word of the couplets is often “sehra.”
So this sehra mentions my nephew Taha, his parents Imran and Tayyaba, his sister Izza, me and my sister (aunts), etc. It’s quite lovely, and I am so proud of my mother. She doesn’t fancy herself a poet, but this perfect and beautiful composition just flowed from her mind.
I recited it while I was visiting in 2018. When I mentioned “dada” (grandfather), i.e. my abbu, who had passed away just months ago, she broke down.
And to demonstrate yet again the worlds that a language occupies, I find myself baffled as I attempt to translate. Hoor? Arman? Sanwara? These are not concepts easily translatable without extensive commentary. Moreover, the poem reflects the emotional lives of the people as well: she mentions the ‘hasratain’ – the unrealized hopes – of Taha’s nana (maternal grandfather) – who passed away many years ago and never saw Taha’s engagement or wedding.