Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan by Moniza Alvi depicts an Afghani girl trying to find her cultural identity and explores the issue of being torn between two cultures. This is through the poet’s experience of receiving ethnic clothing from her relatives in Pakistan, her culture and race is mixed making her feel like she does not belong in the community. The traditional clothes are described carefully in order to express their difference from British clothing. Place is used to show how she feels uncomfortable, trying on her presents from Pakistan the glass bangle that “drew blood”. She mentions feeling “alien”, “half-English” and having “no fixed nationality” which are direct statements about the poet’s conflict of identity and how she does not fit in.
Her family try to encourage her to wear the traditional cultural clothes, describing them with lots of visual imagery and colour depicting the clothing as looking strange and almost to colourful for English fashion. “…peacock-blue…glistening like an orange split open, embossed slippers, gold and black”. Even the jewellery that her relatives have sent her hurt and are uncomfortable showing conflict in the two countries, “Candy-striped glass bangles snapped, drew blood”. “Broad and stiff then narrow” depicts that she fills uncomfortable or “stiff” giving the impression that she feels like she doesn’t fit in if she wears the clothes her relatives sent her. The last line of stanza one places the persona as a teenager showing her lack of freedom and maturity.
The metaphor, “alien in the sitting- room” is powerful and shows how she doesn’t belong in these clothes, she is an outcast. She is insecure as the clothes are too beautiful for her “I could never be as lovely as those clothes-“. Desperate to fit in, “I longed…my costume clung to me” emphasises her feeling of suffocation. She is embarrassed of her identity, wearing her costume she feels like she “was aflame”.
There is conflict in her life, as she would have to transform herself if she wanted to fit in but then she would loose her own identity, “to consider the cruelty and the transformation”. Foreign words are used to reinforce the strikingly unusual clothes she wears “My salwar kameez”. This is supported by the fact her clothes “didn’t impress the school friend” and this adds to the feeling of her not belonging at school and in the community. On her own she does reflect and appreciate the clothing her relatives send her but trying to glimpse her self in the mirrors gives the sense that she still doesn’t know what she sees “tried to glimpse myself”. This reinforces her not fitting in and often finds her self-alone “found myself alone”.
She depicts herself not belonging by describing the differences between the two cultures, as her “aunts in shaded rooms, screened from male visitors” is very culturally different to Western culture. The conflict in Pakistan that she describes reinforces the difference between the cultures and also becomes confronting. This is supported again by the poverty of her home country. In the last stanza she reinforces that she as no identity and that will never change therefore she feels as if she will never truly fit in to either culture or country “and I was there – of no fixed nationality”.
Throughout the poem the poet depicts an Afghani girl trying to find her cultural identity as she is torn between her two countries. Her description of the two different, places, culture and identity that she is trying to transform too reinforces her not belonging to either culture or country. This is shown through the juxtaposition of the colourful visual imagery of her clothes that her relatives have sent her and the “denim and corduroy” of the western fashion. The idea of the clothes differing is carried through the whole poem and in the end is the reason of why she does not belong.
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Topic: Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan by Moniza Alvi
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