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About the Author
MonizaAlvis about the poem
The story of the poem
Structure and meaning of the poem

About the Author Introduction:

MonizaAlvi was born in Lahore, Pakistan 2 nd Feb. She was born to a Pakistani
father and a British Mother her father moved to Hatfield Hertfordshire in
England when she was a few months old she did not revisit Pakistan until after
the publication of one of her first book of poems- the country at my shoulder
she worked for several years as a high school teacher but is now a free lance
writer and tutor living in norfalk she and her husband, Robert have a daughter
named Alice.
Peacock luggage a book of poems by monizaAlvi and Peter Doniels was
published as a result of the two poets wining together the poetry business prize
in 1991 in alvis case for presence aunts in Pakistan that poem and an unknown
girl have featured on Englands GCSE exam syllabus for young teenagers.
Since, then MonizaAlvi has written four poetry collections the country at
my shoulder (1993) lead to her being selected for the poetry societys new
generation poets promotion she also published a series of short stories how the
stone found its voice (2005) inspired by kiplings just so stories.
In 2002 she received a chalmondeley award for her poetry was published
in a bilingual Dutch and English edition a selection from her earlier books
splidword poems 1990 2005 was published in 2008 on 16 th January 2014
Alvis participated in the BBC Radio three series The essay letters to a young

poet taking Rainer moaia Rilkes classic text, letters to a young poet as
inspiration, leading poets wrote a letter to protg.
Selected Works
Poetry :

Carrying my life (2000)

Souls (2002)
How the stone found its voice (2005)
Splid world : Poems (1990-2005)
MonizaAlvis says about the poem
Alvi says Presents from my aunts in Pakistan, was of the first poems I
wrote, when I wrote this poem I hadnt actually been back to Pakistan.
The girl in the poem would be me at 13. The clothes seem to stick to her
in an uncomfortable way, a bit like a kind of false skin, and she thinks
things arent straight forward for her. I found it was important to write
the Pakistan poems because I was getting in touch with my background.
And may be there is a bit of a message behind

the poems about

something I went through that I want to may be open a few doors if

The Study of the Poem :
A young girl of mixed race, half English, half Pakistani, is sent
very careful clothes as presents for her birthday by her aunts whose still
live in Pakistan although she appreciates the beauty of the clothes she
does not fell she can wear them she wants to wear ordinary clothes like
her school friends and feels embarrassed when she has to wear her
Pakistani clothes. She is reminded of her birth place, Lahore and her
journey from there to England where her family had now where to stay
but her English grandparents once they arrived she remembers her

factured land a reference to Bangladesh was for independence in1971

when she was 3 years old.
At the end of the poem she is forced to conclude that she feels that
she doesnt belong any where and is of no fixed nationality.
Structure and making of the poem
We know who they are from the title of the poem, but calling her
aunts they in this manner is impolite and sets the tone for her negative
altitude towards the gifts she is sent, peacock blue and glistening
orange are vibrant clauses and are the first examples of the use of
colour imagery in the poem, and colour imagery dominates this stanzablue, orange, gold, black, canal striped, and blood red. The bangles
drawing blood is a more sinister use of colour imagery but how did the
bangles snap? I dont I think it happened accidently, I think she snapped
them and in doing so cut herself. If this is so then the question is, why.
Note the shape of the poem. The poet has set it out on a sort of
spiral form, not left justified as most poems are :
They sent me a salwarkameez
Peacock blue
Candy striped glass bangles
Snapped, draw blood and another
Glistening like an orange split open
Ambarred slippery, gold and black pointsculing.
This is the first reference to her overday life and the effect
that fashion is having on her and her cultural identity. Note the
enjambment on the two lines and the emphasis it places in pakstan.
The poet then details the changing fashions in Pakistan, ironically
these mirrar the changing fashions in the UK. She then describes the sari
she got for her thirteenth birthday, which may have been appropriate for
her like at school fashions changed in Pakistan.

In Pakistan the salkarbattoms were broad and stiff, then

narrow. My aunts chose an apple-green sari, silver- bordered
for my teens.
She dries on the clothes she is sent more out of deity than because she
wants to wear them, because they make her feel alien. They dont belong in
them. Ironically she does recognize their beauty but does not feel that she is
beautiful enough to wear them. What she wants is the dull blue, black, or brown
clothes that ordinary English people wear. She describes the clothes she has
been sent as a costume like something she wears when he has to act being
Pakistani. They embarrass her so much she feels like she is on fire when she
wears them and she feels she cannot escape from this metaphorical and literal
torment. Interestingly she feels half- English not half Pakistani. Again
enjambment allows attention to this line giving it importance.
Note: the rhyme/ alliteration on satin silken an costume clung and the fire
Half English, unlike aunt Jmila.
I tried each satin- silken stop was an alien in the sitting soon,
I could never be as lovely as those clothes
I longed for demin and cordeeroy
My costume cleeng to me and I was aflame,
I couldnt rise up out of its fire.
Decorated camel skin lamps are a traditional handicraft item given asgift
in Pakistan. Proximally her parents would have brought their with them when
they left Pakistan so it must be valuable or have some sentimental value. In the
same way as the is attracted to end simultaneously spelled by the clothes her
aunts send her, she responds in a similar way to her parents camel skin lamp :

she recognizes its beauty, but is appalled by the cruelty involved in its creation.
The importance of these lines to the poem is they are metaphor for her own
experience and the cruelty of her own transformation from an Pakistani maiden.
Also there is a sense have that the skin belongs on the camel so wrong; in the
same way she belongs in her English clothes not transformed by those her aunts
send her.
I wanted my parents camel skin lamp
Switching it on in my bed room,
To consider the cruelty and the transformation from camel to shade marvel at
the colours.
Her mother was English but seems at home with her deal nationality as
she chesishes her Indian jewellery and does not reject it on the culture it
represents, unlike her daughter. , ironically the jewellery is stolen, perhaps this a
metaphor for identity stolen, it is also a reminder of the seality of life in
England. Another reference to the colour and the beauty of the clothes her aunts
send her, yet ironically it is boring, dull M&S cardis they want in return !
My mother cherished her jewellery
Indian gold, dangling , filigree
But it was stolen from our car.,
The presents were sadiant in my wardrobe.
My aunts requested cardigans
From marks and spencers
Another season for her to reject her cultural looks her Pakistani clothes do
not impress her father friends; and peer acceptance is very important at this age
as teenagers shy to establish their own, unique identity. In the week she would

presumably wear school uniform but at the weekend she is free to wear what
she wants; and what she wants is it be a normal English girl, has some freak
decked out in multi coloured saris. One again she finds something to admire in
the clothes she has been given. This time it is the tiny mirrors that are sown into
some of these garments. But her selection would not be whale, it would be
fractured as she would not be able to see all of herself in anyone of these
mirrors. This notion also reflects her own view of herself and her cultural
My salwarkameez didnt impress the school fiends
But often I do mired the mirror work
Tried to glimpse myself in the miniature
Glass circles, recall the story
Who sat on my bed, asked to see my weekend clothes.
Looking at her fracture reflection reminds her of her early childhood and
to journey to England by boat ( not by air). This is the first hint that they left, or
were evacuated from Pakistan in a rush, she remembers the physical pain the
journey caused her, but the emotional pain has probably been much greater she
ends up in a cat in her grandmothers dining room. More evidence that the
journey had been rushed and unplanned because her parents hadnt even had
time to find somewhere to live before they arrive. She finds herself alone, but
this is just the beginning to what well be her cultural isabtion .this is quite a
strong image to end the stanza.
Glass circles, sec all the story
How the thru of us sailed to end land
Prickly heat had me scamming on the way

Found myself along, playing with a tin loat

O ended up in a cat in my English
Grandmothers dining room.
I pictured my birthplace from fifties photographs.
When I was olde3r there was conflict, a fractured land
Throbbing through newsprint.
Sometimes I saw Lahore- my aunts in shaded rooms.
Screened from male visitors, sorting presents,
Wrapping them in tissue
She is left imagining her identify through old photographs her parents took her
birthplace. She is then remained of the Pakistan/Bangladesh war in 1971 when
she was 3 years old. It was this conflict that probably forced her parents to leave
Pakistan when she was so young. The reference to a fractured land; also helps
reinforce the feeling she creates in the poem of her own fractured identity.
Lahore is the capital of the Pakistan province of Punjab and the second largest
city in Pakistan. The poet sees Lahore in her memory (not the photographs) and
is remembers her aunts wrapping presents like the ones they sent her. The
screaming would imply that she comes from a Muslim family perhaps another
source of conflict of her.
An interesting contrast is introduced on this line. Her family is obviously fairly
well off rich enough at least to send her all these fabulous clothes; but at well as
remembering her aunts. She also remembers the beggars a symbol of the
poverty of her birthplace of no fixed nationality; is probably the most important
line in the poem and sums up that the poet has been trying to say in the rest of
the poem. She knows where she was born and remembers her life and the
culture there, but she feels her cultural tries to her past also prevent her feeling
completely at home in England; so she feels she belongs to neither country or

However interestingly her final thought is of a beautiful part of Pakistan, not of

Or there were beggars, sweeper-girls,
And I was there-of no fixed nationality,
Staring through firework at the Shalimar gardens
This way Moniza Alvi describes the identity crises in this poem presents from
my Aunts in Pakistan. This not only tells about identity crises but also tells
about patrician of Pakistan and Bangladesh and cultural identity and fashion
about the Pakistan and England and women suffering in Pakistan and author
distinction between the Eastern and Western way of life and thinking.