Watermelons. A seemingly innocuous fruit people love to eat during the hot summer months, their high water content making them the perfect snack to quench one’s thirst. They’re also great for parties – you can plug a bottle of vodka in a watermelon for a few days, then slice it up and serve (I’ve had it and it’s alright, nothing spectacular). However, for me, watermelons are like a time machine. Whenever I see one or eat it, memories of my childhood come flooding back, bringing all sorts of repressed and unexplored emotions to the surface from the depths of my psyche.
I would have been about five or six years old. My brother about four or five. Our family lived in a gated, upper-middle class community in Model Town, Lahore. There was a small park right in front of our driveway, and houses in the neighbourhood were lined along a single road encompassed around the oval-shaped park, structured in a cul-de-sac with two roads leading in and out from the residences. Our house was nestled in the far corner of Eden Villas (as the neighbourhood was called), surrounded by our friends and community.
There were two, large rectangular windows on the second floor of our house, which looked out onto the park from our living room (colloquially referred to as the ‘TV room’ in many Pakistani homes). It’s that room where I find myself mentally transported to whenever I catch the sight of a watermelon.
The summer months in Pakistan are, to put it simply, brutal. Temperatures can soar to 50 degrees Celsius and stay that way for days. Going outside for prolonged periods of time can be a health hazard. Our family spent most summers travelling abroad, or seeking refuge in the mountains of Murree. However, that all came later.
As a young girl, the summer months meant closing the curtains in our TV room (having only the halo of light emanating from around the windows for guidance in the dark), sitting on the carpeted floor with Papa, Saad and Mama, our backs rested against the sofas, eating watermelons and watching movies. As far back as I can remember, that’s what summer was.
My parents were movie buffs and loved watching Hollywood and Bollywood films. There was no distinction in my house between the two types – if the movies were well-made, thought-provoking, and enjoyable, we’d watch them. I can vividly recall watching the original Terminator with my family during one such summer. The scene in the movie where the Terminator gouges his eye out with a scalpel was too scary for me to watch, and I curled up around my father’s shoulders and hid my face in the nape of his neck as he held me tight.
My brother was closer to our mother and hardly left her side. She most often sat on the sofa slicing the watermelon in a big, circular thali (a quintessential South-Asian silver platter used for cooking and serving large quantities of food). Saad would be sitting on the floor by her side, almost dangling off one leg. That’s what our family dynamic was like through most of my childhood – me by dad’s side, and Saad by our mom’s.
It’s hard to describe what it felt like – sitting in our dimly lit living room with air-conditioner blasting on full, playing around with our father on the floor with mom to hand us thick, juicy slices of watermelons whenever we’d turn to her. The only word I can think of is ‘bliss’, but it was so much more than that. It was love. It was joy. It was the feeling that this would last forever.
It’s when memories like these come up that I realize how loved I was as a child, and how the innocence of that age can paint everything in such a way that the rest of life’s experiences can never quite measure up to. It’s knowing there is nothing else in the world except you, the people who love you, and the moment you are sharing with them as it unfolds. There is no past, no future. There’s only now, and you’re as happy as you can possibly be, happier than you’ve ever been. It’s not knowing anything about death, sadness, loss or disappointment. It’s the kind of childhood all children deserve, but most aren’t fortunate enough to experience.
I don’t buy or eat watermelons often, even though my husband loves them. I bought one last week for the Canada Day long weekend, knowing how hot temperatures were going to be. It sat in our fridge for four days before I sliced it today. I tried to imagine how my mom would have felt slicing watermelons for her husband and children all those years ago. Was she happy? Did those memories hold a special place in her heart? Did she even remember all that today?
As beautiful as those memories are for me, I’m often left feeling melancholic and sad if I think about them for too long. But I don’t want to write about why. Maybe by writing about this part of my life and not analyzing it any further, I can learn to preserve these memories and emotions as they exist in my mind (like an insect in amber, untouched for millions of years). That’s what I want most – to be able to look back on the formative years of my life and feel grateful for the family and home I was blessed with, and not mourn the loss of that family which came with my adolescence and adult life.