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.'
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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