"Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not."
Nazia doesn't mind when her friends tease and call her a good beti, a dutiful daughter. Growing up in a working-class family in Karachi, Pakistan, Nazia knows that obedience is the least she can give to her mother, who has spent years saving and preparing for her dowry. But every daughter must grow up, and for fourteen-year-old Nazia that day arrives suddenly when her father gets into an accident at work, and her family finds themselves without money for rent or food.
Being the beti that she is, Nazia drops out of school to help her mother clean houses, all the while wondering when she managed to lose control of her life that had been full of friends and school. Working as a maid is a shameful obligation that could be detrimental to her future -- after all, no one wants a housekeeper for a daughter-in-law. As Nazia finds herself growing up much too quickly, the lessons of hardship that seem unbearable turn out to be a lot more liberating than she ever imagined.
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Atheneum Books for Young Readers
June 16, 2008
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Excerpt from Beneath My Mother's Feet by Amjed Qamar
1 The musky scent of mustard oil �??intensified in the early-August heat. Nazia ran a hand across her tightly braided hair, then wiped the oil on the front of her rumpled kameeze. A yellowish-orange stain seeped into the cotton fabric of her shirt, and she regretted it immediately. Less than a week into the new school year, and already her starched white uniform was permanently stained. She grabbed a handful of sand from the side of the road and rubbed it in, hoping the earth would soak up at least some of the dense oil and save her from Amma's scolding. She stood at the edge of the Gizri cloth bazaar, the afternoon sun pressing against her bare arms, face, and neck. Her house was in view just across the street, past the cricket pitch where a group of boys ran back and forth between the wickets, stirring up the dust. �??The bazaar was on the outskirts of Gizri colony, a working-class neighborhood in southern Karachi, and just a few kilometers from the Arabian Sea. Because the bazaar was two blocks long and adjacent to the Gizri School for Girls, it was nearly impossible to walk by day after day without getting drawn in by the enticing apparel. Maleeha and Saira moved from stall to stall, tugging at silks and chiffons that fluttered from overhanging displays. Nazia shuffled along behind them and turned her gaze toward the main road that separated the bazaar from the cricket field. Beyond the steady rumble of cars, bicycles, buses, rickshaws, trucks, taxis, and the slower animal-drawn vehicles, the fielders scrambled forward to catch a high ball, their bare hands cupped together to ease the impact. She sighed when Maleeha called out to her. �??Why couldn't she be the batsman on the cricket pitch, poised for the bowler's next pitch, instead of looking at clothes she couldn't afford? "This one." Maleeha unraveled a bolt of cloth and held a corner of the sheer material in the air. �??The gold brocade shimmered against the pink chiffon. "It's perfect for your jahez." Nazia wrinkled her nose. "Amma could dress the entire school with the all the clothes she's made for my dowry. �??We don't need to add another." �??The strap of her backpack cut into her shoulder. She winced and shifted the weight to the other side. "Come on. I have to get home or Amma will be worried." She turned back toward the busy road and began walking. "You're always so afraid of your mother," Saira complained. "She's not afraid," Maleeha said. "She's just a good beti, a dutiful daughter." Nazia lifted her chin higher and quickened her pace to escape their playful jabs. She'd known the two girls since Montessori; she knew their lives were no different from hers. Maleeha dropped the cloth onto the cart and followed Nazia to the main road. �??The stall owner wrapped the material back into place. "Once you get married, it won't matter anymore what color you like. �??Your mother decides now, and when you get married, your mother-in-law will take her place." Maleeha looked pointedly at Nazia but kept walking. "And you, Nazia, will agree to everything. Just like you always do." Nazia looked at her friend sharply. "You know that'll never change. Our lives will always be in the hands of our mothers, whether we like it or not." Saira hurried to keep pace with them, her schoolbag constantly falling off her thick shoulders. "My mother always says that you can eat whatever you like, but you have to wear what others choose." Maleeha snorted. "You eat everything in sight." Nazia remained silent, having heard the same words from her own mother time and again. She stopped at the edge of the street, squinting to avoid the flashy sunlight that bounced from car to car. She waited for an opening to cross. �??The street was teeming with Suzuki trucks, compact cars, and ornately decorated buses. An occasional tonga clattered by, the driver and his passenger perched atop the two-wheeled wooden cart pulled by a donkey daring