I have lived all my life in a big city. But my father as a young man lived in a village in the foothills of the Himalayas and his relatives are still there till living in the old house that belonged to their ancestors. Sometimes during the long school holidays I go to see my hill cousins and for time I live a life quite different form the urban existence to which I am accustomed.
The house where my relatives live is a large rambling one. There is a central court with a fountain in the middle of it. But the fountain no longer plays. All round the courtyard is a deep verandah from which a flight of stone steps goes up at each corner to the first floor.
My grand mother is the head of the household. But three of her sons and their families live in the house as well. My youngest uncle's wife is only a very little older than I am. Her name is Sumaira. She was spinning on her verandah when I first me her. She was pretty shy girl with two long plaits falling from under her blue green head veil. She wore the hill woman's costume of a tight bodice and very full skirt with a board black band round the border.
Sumaira took me to her room off the first floor verandah. It was very sparsely furnished with two string cots several tin boxes and a line across one corner on which two hang clothes. On the verandah outside it was a white covered mattress on which Sumaira sat to spin . This was the outer verandah of the house and from it there was a magnificent view of the hills beyond. I could not help comparing Sumaira's room with mine. Mine at home was on the second floor of a block of flats. It was furnished in modern fashion with a wooden bed dressing table and wardrobe and had dainty curtains at the windows. But there was not verandah and the view was of an other block of flats about a dozen yards away.
Everybody in my relatives house was expected to pay great respect to my grandmother. When her husband was alive he was the most important person in the village. And hardly a day went by without several people coming into the courtyard to ask his advice or to bring some little present or to pay some debt. Now he was dead. They continued to come and my grandmother always had advice to give. Or a scolding to house those who were not conducting their lives as she thought they should. She knew everyone in the village and all their private affairs and who editide anyone whose ways of life did not fit in with my grandmother's ideas.
All the girls in the family and those in the village too treated me as an object of great curiosity because I was fifteen an still going to school. When are you going to get a husband? They asked and I could tell that they thought my father was a very bad parent to have left me so long without arranging a marriage. But grandmother unexpectedly took my part and told them to leave me alone. Naila will have as fine sons as any of you some day. You wait and see what will happen when she has passed all these examinations she is studying for!
I laughed and said I hoped I should pass them successfully. But when the holiday was over. I often thought of my uncle's wife Sumaira and the life she was leading in that remote village while I struggled with my bookish problems in the heat and noise of the city.