A NOTE TO MY READERS: I know I said I’d only post new work, but yesterday, as I was pawing through my closet of unpublished manuscripts—shelves of rejected, unfinished, abandoned, or forgotten pages—I came upon a memoir I wrote twenty years ago! I spent the next several hours reading the sixty pages. Each chapter describes a place, person, object, or activity that has sometime during my long life held me under its spell. So bear with me, friends, while I share page one. Let me know if you’d like to see more.
All my life I’ve been a sucker for enchantment, an often delicious, sometimes catastrophic tendency I trace to a day in 1949 when I stepped from a two-engine Swissair plane into a wild new world. I was seven, oldest child of a plastic surgeon who had brought his family to Lahore, Pakistan, so he could help start a hospital there. The place was pushy from the word go, urgent heat and sunlight rushing into the plane’s just-opened door. Our family of five and my aunt emerged into the smothering embrace of air almost liquid with excrement, sweat, and rot. A crowd of eager welcomers approached with garlands of spicy, perfumed flowers.
As I looked around me, the world I remembered paled. I’d never seen such violent pinks, delicious oranges, startling reds, embroidery in silver and gold. I’d never seen so many men in white, never heard such a cacophony! Everyone seemed to be shouting.
I shed my life like a rag. Like an amnesiac, I forgot my boxy brick Chicago school. I forgot the color of my yesterhouse and the row of cool green trees that lined our street. If my friend Janet had not given me an I.D. bracelet engraved with both our names, I might have forgotten her too. I snuggled into the damp, sweet garlands piled around my neck and rode to our new house, my head pillowed in roses and marigolds.
The whitewashed bungalow, draped in fuchia bouganvillea and appearing from behind a thick, green hedge, made anywhere I’d ever lived seem grayer than gravel. Slim green parrots screamed from rose-colored beaks. Pansy-winged butterflies flirted with strange-smelling shrubs. Brassy wasps sang tiny circles around their papered niches in the creamy high corners of the porch.
It was better than paradise: it felt like home, as if I’d awakened from a dream in my own bed. Falling in love with Pakistan is my oldest remembrance of joy, my first memory of pleasure, a birth and a seduction.