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Voice Notes

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Safura Saeed

The writer’s exploration of motherhood from the unique perspectives of a husband and two children artfully highlights the ironic and at times comical contradictions inherent in the role. Curated by Digital Guest Editors Shahbano and Alia Bilgrami.

Motherhood – n. The state and time of being a mother. The Cambridge English Dictionary


Every morning, Mommy and I sit on the sofa because I don’t have energy after I wake up. I put my head on her shoulder. She smells of laundry detergent and face cream.

“Good morning, beta. Can I hug you?”

“No. No hugs.”

“Well, I love you, beta.”

We wait for Daddy and my sister to leave for the day so that we can have our secret-fun time. She says it’s important to start the day off with good humour and something to encourage curiosity for the world around us. So she always has at least three short Instagram reels to show me in the morning. One video is always of an animal doing something cute or crazy. Another video is usually of a baby making funny faces. And the third video always includes amazing facts about history, science or engineering.

When she takes me to school, she lets me sit in the front passenger seat. She says she loves that I can sit in the front now because she can look into my eyes and talk to me easily.

“Goodbye, beta. Can I hug you?”

“No. No hugs.”

“Well, I love you, beta.”

When she picks me up from school, she always shares a new song she’s discovered which she’s added to our special playlist. We have the same great taste in music. She lets me be the DJ on our way home. Mommy says a drive with some music is a great way to unwind. I don’t let her sing in the car because I want to hear the singers do the singing. I can tell it’s really hard for her to just sit there. She will pretend-sing, usually the wrong lyrics, and car-dance at the same time, totally embarrassing me as we cruise in front of my school.

When we walk into the house, she puts down my school bag.

“I’ve missed you all day, beta. Can I hug you?”

“No. No hugs.”

“Well, I love you, beta.”

We sit down to read Qur’an together. She points to each word as I recite aloud. She wants me to finish this year, but it’s so hard. After our thirty-minute session ends, she holds my hands and smiles.

“I’m so proud of you, beta. Can I hug you?”

“No. No hugs.”

“Well, I love you, beta.”

During dinner, she dips the roti into the saalan to feed me by hand. Her nails get stained yellow and stay that way, even after she washes all the dishes.

With Daddy in the office and my sister up in her room doing homework, Mommy and I sit down to watch our favourite show. I stretch across the chaise lounge portion of the sectional. Mommy always tries to sit next to me and wants to share a blanket, but I don’t let her because I don’t want to be squished.

When our show is over, I’m really sleepy. We go upstairs together so that Mommy can tuck me in. I get into bed and can’t keep my eyes open. I can feel Mommy evenly place the covers over me, kiss my head, turn off the light, and walk toward the door.

In the middle of the night, I wake up scared and run to Mommy.

“What’s wrong, beta?”

“It’s your fault I can’t sleep. Why didn’t you give me a hug when you tucked me in?”

“Oh, I’m sorry beta. Come here, let me hug you. I love you, beta.”

“Mommy, you don’t have to always say ‘I love you.’ I already know.”


I was ready for a weekend of fun with my better half. We left the kids with my mother so that the two of us could attend my wife’s work conference. As the plane lands on the tarmac, I stretch out. My wife sighs and immediately pulls out her cell phones. She takes them off airplane mode. Then she checks her work calendar and messages her team to tell them that she’s arrived. She checks her personal phone and her eyes grow wide as the notifications start streaming in. I pretend not to notice the never-ending assortment of messages.

First, she scours through her texts. She thanks the neighbours for their garden vegetables, confirms a playdate and a dental appointment.

She shifts to the healthcare app and completes the paediatrician’s health questionnaire. She Venmos money to contribute to the class teacher gift, troop leader gift and theatre director gift.

She looks at the notification from our washing machine app and sees that one load was washed and another has dried. She texts our daughter to do her chores and to fold the laundry.

She goes into her email. Reads through the Sunday school newsletter. She completes the Google form for summer science camp registration and responds with the preferred meal selection for the end-of-year athletic ceremony.

She moves to her calendar and scrolls through the week ahead. She adds, school lunch money, return shoes, car inspection, drop off library books into her running ‘To Do’ list on her phone. She sends a text-to-voice announcement via Alexa to tell our ten-year-old that the ride for her playdate will be coming in 20 minutes.

She shifts to WhatsApp and the family groups and threads. As requested, she sends pictures of the kids to her cousin. She wishes family members happy birthdays and sends congratulatory messages to recent graduates.

She looks out the window and sees we have arrived at the gate. She smiles. She goes into the WhatsApp group ‘The Fam’ and sends me and our two daughters the message, ‘I love you,’ with the day’s best and most funny Bitmoji of herself included, as always.

She glances up at me and when our eyes meet, she says, “What the hell are you daydreaming about? Grab the bag from the overhead compartment, and let’s go, go, go!”

I’m lucky she’s not my boss. And I love that she’s ‘the mom’.

Maparazzi and the Boys by Samar F. Zia (inkjet print, photo transfer and oil on canvas, 2022)

Mother Tongue

My mom loves to speak in Urdu. She spoke to her mother in Urdu before Nani passed away. She speaks to her brothers in Urdu, but they don’t really speak it as well or as clearly as my mom does. She speaks to Daddy in Urdu, but since he’s a pretty quiet person, he doesn’t say much back. She speaks to me in Urdu throughout the day and not just in situations where she chooses to speak in ‘code’. ‘Code’ is for those occasions when she needs to give me instructions that would otherwise embarrass me if said aloud in English.

She tends to transliterate chat messages. She insists I practise my Urdu with her, or anyone for that matter, anytime an opportunity presents itself. I don’t know why she cares so much. She is first generation, born in the West. Most of her first gen friends don’t speak Urdu. Even her friends and family in India and Pakistan who can speak in Urdu usually speak in English.

When I was a kid, she would send me transliterated messages. After I completed reading the Qur’an in classical Arabic, she insisted I learn the additional Urdu alphabets, so that I could read Urdu as well. She reminds me that she learned Urdu formally in college and that I have the chance to be ahead of where she was at my age. Then she got the idea to get ahead by signing me up for online Urdu writing classes. Following that, she signed me up for Urdu conversation classes, where I found myself saying ‘ji’ more than anything else. After all that, I’m still not very good at reading or conversing in Urdu. I am, however, a pro at knowing what someone is saying when I’m yelled at in Urdu and a pro at singing along to Bollywood music. It’s easy to understand a language when everything is about me finishing chores, being redirected to avert disaster, or understanding lyrics about falling in love. Do I really need more skills than that?

Apparently, yes.

We attended a wedding recently. It was the shaadi of my Nani’s best friend’s grandson. He was someone I’d never met in my life, but somehow we are like family. When we entered the reception hall, my mother’s face beamed. This reunion was a long-awaited one for her; she hadn’t seen anyone in that room for over twenty years. They were all a part of her childhood visits to India and Pakistan. There stood the friend she went to the corner store with for bread and biscuits. The pen pal she exchanged letters with for years. The person she shaadi-shopped with for sarees and jewellery.

I watched her from a distance and saw a different version of my mom. An entire personality in Urdu I was never aware of before. Not the one telling me to put clothes in the dryer or admonishing me in ‘code’ to redirect me. She wasn’t the one ordering biryani at a restaurant or exchanging greetings at the masjid.

Here, her usual charm was amplified somehow. She was extra bubbly, extra witty, and full of an extra bit of masti. Aunties and Uncles said over and over to me, “Your mother hasn’t changed at all. She is exactly the same.”

The same? I’d never seen this person before.

And then I realised why she was so ‘extra’. Her friends responded to her call. All these years, I thought she wanted me to speak in Urdu well enough so that she could understand me. But that wasn’t it at all. She wanted me to speak in Urdu so that I could understand her. So that our banter was friendly and loving, just like hers was with Nani and just like hers was now with her childhood friends.

As we stood in the buffet line for our dinner, I leaned over and said with a wink, “Main aap ko pyaar karti hun. I love you.”

She looked at me, bit her tongue and snapped loudly, “Please don’t be clumsy and get anything on your clothes. The oil stains will be impossible to get out.”

In English.

A note on the artwork: Samar has always been fascinated by scientific research and technology and their effects on the natural order of life. Theology, myth and memory inform her practice. Maparazzi and the Boys measures the extent that technology has infiltrated our lives, particularly as mothers. This is a two-part piece that presents an audio-visual glimpse into motherhood. The sound piece, a recording of an art activity with her children, reflects real-time parenting and is available via a QR Code, which can be scanned and accessed on all cell phones. By presenting this work as a QR Code enlarged and printed on canvas, instead of as a simple sound bite, Samar highlights the pervasive impact of technology on our daily lives and relationships. It also suggests that we have a choice in allowing or disallowing that technology into our lives.


Safura Saeed is a life-long student, a seasoned civil servant, and now a (newly) published author in The Aleph Review. Her love for the humanities and personal narratives is launching this fall in the form of a podcast titled Humoranities, which explores the charm and humanity of everyday life and its nexus with the latest artistic pieces Safura has read, watched, heard or tasted. Safura was born and raised in the United States where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Political & Social Thought and Asian Studies, and a Juris Doctorate.

Samar F. Zia is an artist, art critic and independent curator based in London. Zia graduated with Distinction in BFA from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, and She holds an MA FA from Central Saint Martins, London. She holds the position of Curator of Events at her Alma Mater, University of the Art’s (UAL) Alumni of Colour Association (AoCA). She is also a Trustee of the Fitzrovia Chapel. She has exhibited widely in Pakistan and the UK, as well as participated in many Art Fairs in the UK. Zia has curated exhibitions independently in London and worked as exhibition guide at the Hayward Gallery. She has served as visiting faculty at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, Karachi, and the Art Academy London (AAL). She continues to contribute to the Fitzrovia Community Centre, London, in various capacities where she has been artist-in-residence. She also writes culture pieces and art reviews for various publications in Pakistan.

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