Presents From My Aunts in Pakistan looks back at a specific point in time when a teenage girl receives gifts from Pakistan, the country in which she was born. She now lives in England and so feels kind of stuck in between the two cultures.
The gifts include the traditional dress of Pakistan, the salwar kameez, a brightly coloured costume that makes the speaker feel inadequate. It is 'glistening like an orange split open' a suitable simile which enhances the idea of excitement and goodness.
There is a lot of detail in this poem, a visual wealth, the speaker carefully noting the different colours and elaborate design of the clothes. This reflects the strength of the culture and the connection the speaker has to Pakistan and her family there.
As a teenager she notices the fashion change - same for the west and for the east - but the emphasis is on her identity being confused. The more detail the reader receives about the gifts, the more the speaker's identity is challenged.
She feels attracted to Pakistan but also overwhelmed. When she puts the costume on there is no feeling of freedom or confidence. Just the opposite. The bangles produce blood and the interesting word 'aflame' causes some alarm. Being half-English she feels restrained and uncomfortable.
For all her confusion there is something about Pakistan and its exotic traditions that attracts her. The camel-skin lamp for sure, despite the associations of cruelty she always admired the colours.
This ambivalence is reflected in the language used. Consider glistening, lovely,radiant and conflict, fractured, throbbing. Her love of the colours and the materials, their radiance and splendour, is challenged by the fact that Pakistan has become 'a fractured land' full of divisions and violence.
The way the poem is structured adds to the notion of an unsettled person. Lines are indented and white gaps appear; dashes add to the uncertainty. Reading this poem is a challenge because there are uneasy gaps between lines which cause pauses, both long and short.
And there is an emphasis on the personal. Note the number of times lines start with I.....I tried, I could never, I longed, I couldn't, I wanted...and so on. This is a meaningful time in this person's life.
Her English friend wasn't too impressed by the salwar kameez, another example of the rift between Pakistani and English culture, felt deeply by the teenager, who on the one hand wants nothing but corduroy and denim but who is also attracted to the wonder...