Directions to My House
When you come out of the train station
Take a rickshaw (tuk-tuk) to the tar-wala (cable) bungalow
You will come out on railway road
On your left is Naqvi park, next to a gothic-looking clock tower
Railway road becomes University Road
On your right is Lal Diggi, a big pond full of water chestnuts
On your left is Victoria Gate, the main entrance to the campus
Continue on University Road, at the crossroad turn right on Shibli Road
The name is carved in red stone, In English and Urdu
Follow this gravel road, to an open area with two big fruit trees
Turn right again, you will see the red brick house set back
You cannot miss its bougainvillea-covered fence
It should not take you very long to get there
It is only seven thousand four hundred and thirty eight miles away!
Zarina’s Childhood Home – House at Aligarh
Zarina was born on July 16th, 1937, in Aligarh, India. Aligarh is a small university town in Uttar Pradesh, approximately 100 miles southeast of Delhi. Zarina, the youngest child of her family, had four siblings: Hamid, Saeeda, Aslam, and Kishwar (Rani). Hamid passed away when he was very young before Zarina was born.
She was raised in a house provided by Aligarh Muslim University’s faculty housing, where her father was a Professor of History. This house was built around a dichotomy of gender and cultures: the male quarters were quite westernized, while the female quarters were more traditional and reflected Indian Muslim values and décor. This same home inspired Zarina’s piece, The House at Aligarh, because of the architecture and layout.
Another aspect of Zarina’s childhood home that motivated her was her mother’s garden. Both of her parents valued nature and thus started a garden. Zarina’s appreciation and fondness of fragrance are rooted in the many flowers planted there.
Zarina was very close to her sister Rani, and the two were inseparable. Rani and Zarina shared a special bond that had a significant influence on Zarina and her work. They worked on several projects together, and Zarina would frequently ask for Rani’s input on her work and even did several projects together. They shared this close bond until Rani’s death in 2013.
One unique aspect of Zarina’s childhood occurred when she was about five years old – her father took her for a ride in an airplane. Seeing Aligarh from such a height mesmerized her and initiated her admiration for topology and architecture. In her twenties, she joined the Delhi Flying Club and learned to glide. Her passion for flying stayed with Zarina throughout her lifetime, and some of her works reflect this influence, like the one below: Flight Log.
From Left to Right: Zarina and Rani
The vocabulary of flying became part of my vocabulary. I wrote
the following poem to accompany my sculpture Flight Log.
I tried to fly
Got lost in the thermal
Could never go back
Having lost the place to land.
These four lines are my whole biography.
I can’t go back because there’s no place to land.
Where will I go?
HOUSE WITH FOUR WALLS
Far away was a House with Four Walls
On rainy nights the ghost stopped by the pillar
The black snake came in the house
On long summer afternoons everyone slept
I run outside to play and burn my feet
One night we heard the owl in the tree
The one-eyed maid said we would have to move far away
The one-eyed maid was right, Zarina’s family moved to Lahore after the partition for a few years, but they did return.
Partition - The partition of India and Pakistan did affect the fabric of life for millions of people. There was an exchange of populations, and millions lost homes and families in the ensuing ethnic violence. I was ten years old when the partition took place. I only witnessed this event from this side (India), and after sixty years there are still aftershocks.