Moniza Alvi's Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan

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Moniza Alvi's Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan

Moniza Alvi was born in Lahore, in Pakistan, the daughter of a

Pakistani father and an English mother. She moved to Hatfield in

England when she was a few months old. She didn't revisit Pakistan

until after the publication of her first book of poems, The Country

over my Shoulder, from which this poem comes.

The poet says: 'Presents from My Aunts... was one of the first poems I

wrote - when I wrote this poem I hadn't actually been back to

Pakistan. The girl in the poem would be me at about thirteen. The

clothes seem to stick to her in an uncomfortable way, a bit like a

kind of false skin, and she thinks things aren't straightforward for


I found it was important to write the Pakistan poems because I was

getting in touch with my background. And maybe there's a bit of a

message behind the poems about something I went through, that I want

to maybe open a few doors if possible.'

Subject Matter

What is Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan all about?

* The speaker in the poem, who is of mixed race, describes the gifts

of clothes and jewellery sent to her in England by her Pakistani


* She is drawn to the loveliness of these things, but feels awkward

wearing them. She feels more comfortable in English clothes -

denim and corduroy.

* She contrasts the beautiful clothes and jewellery of India with

boring English cardigans/from Marks and Spencer.

* She tries to remember what it was like for her family to travel to


* Her knowledge of her birthplace, which she left as a baby, comes

to her only through old photographs and newspaper reports.

* She tries to imagine what that world might be like.



... middle of paper ...

...n Hatfield at that time, of a

mixed race background or indeed from any other race, so I felt there

was a bit of a blank drawn over that. I think I had a fairly typically

English 50s/60s upbringing.

When I eventually went to Pakistan I certainly didn't feel that was

home, I'd never felt so English. But I never feel entirely at home in

England, and of course I'm not part of the Asian community at all. And

it feels a bit odd sometimes that because of the group of poems that

I've written about my Asian background, I sometimes tend to be

identified as a black writer. I tend to think of England as being very

culturally mixed now.

But it's important to know where you come from, which is perhaps what

I was lacking as a child. I think it's important to know what has gone

into your making, even quite far back, I think it gives you a sense

perhaps of richness.'
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