Mixed Heritage in 'Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan' by Moniza Alvi

Topics: Birds

We have studied the poem ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ by Monzia Alvi; she was of a mixed parentage. Her farther was Pakistani and her mother was English. She was born in Pakistan but then moved to England long before she could even remember. It is very difficult for people to move from one culture to another and having to adapt can be tough. This poem expresses her confusion and her search of her true identity throughout her life.

The Pakistani clothes that her aunts send to her symbolise a small part of who she is expected to be, and a part she doesn’t feel at-all comfortable with.

Her poem is mostly about living in one culture but having long lost roots and memories from another. It describes her journey as she searches all aspects to try and reveal her true identity. Because she has no memories of her birthplace her poem describes how she desires to just fit in with everyone else and just feel almost unnoticed and ‘normal’.

‘Presents’ is an autobiographical poem and is written in free verse. The lengths of the stanzas vary throughout as well as the line lengths which are thrown randomly across the page. Alvi uses these poetic strategies to show how she varies from confusion to resignation about where she belongs and her feelings of alienation. There are end stopped lines to describe her sudden emotions. It would be impossible for her to fit in completely with British society because her life is jam packed full of reminders of her home culture and her roots in Pakistan and as she states this quite clearly in the poem.

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In the first stanza Alvi describes how she receives her two Salwar Kameezes outfits. She uses colours and references to food to describe the beautiful vivid colours that appeal to the reader, with the second Salwar Kameez she uses sensual imagery and it is described in a more intense way; ‘Like an orange split open’ symbolizes how she feels as if she is being split between the two cultures and the plosive in ‘split’ stresses the sense of division within Alvi. She also expresses how similar to oranges, she feels she has to appear tough on the outside but she feels weak on the inside and has to put on a front.

The colours of fruits in the fabrics add to the fact that the clothing is fresh, vivid and vibrant. The clothing is lush, luxury & rich in colours which are traditional in India and compared to British clothing seem striking and beautiful. The use of bold and flamboyant colours such as ‘peacock-blue’ is a good comparison; the peacock is a bird that is native to India and a very decorative animal. Like the bird, Alvi feels that when she wears these clothes she is on show just as the bird is when it walks around showing off its beautifully marked feathers. Alvi however feels unworthy of such beauty as she thinks she is not truly Pakistani.

Alvi tells us that the style of the salwar trousers move in and out of fashion just as the fashions change in England and this increases her confusion as she is not truly Pakistani The aunts send Alvi some oriental pointed slippers, which are magnificently described as ‘gold and black’. The colours are rich, expensive and almost royal kind but, although they are very decorative, the slippers are extremely impractical for our culture and climate and would be of no use in England. The ’embossed’ part suggests that her past is also imprinted onto her life, just like scars which are a deep and a hurtful reminder of who she truly is. Alvi goes on to talk about her colourful jewellery.

‘Candy-striped bangles Snapped, drew blood.’ The ‘candy’ appeals to our senses using food imagery but the image is tainted as the bangles are exquisite but a painful and constant reminder of her culture and past life. The bangles ‘broke and drew blood’ and this seems as though the ‘snapping’ of the bangles is symbolic of how her life in Pakistan was broken off like a branch off a tree in a storm and the items are hurtful as they constantly suggest she does not deserve such beautiful jewellery.

In the stanza two ‘I tried each satin silk top’ relates to how Alvi attempted to try on the clothes, but they did not suit her at all especially within her Western surroundings, she just did not blend into the scene. The british and Indian influences definitely conflict and there is no possible way she believes they could come together. The Indian clothes absolutely stand out, clashing with the typical British ‘sitting room’ as this makes her feel almost like an ‘alien’ in her own home despite her efforts.

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Mixed Heritage in 'Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan' by Moniza Alvi. (2017, Nov 01). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-7882-presents-aunts-pakistan/

Mixed Heritage in 'Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan' by Moniza Alvi
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