Scene: a graduate class. Students poring over papers. I’m sitting by, alert to signals from anyone.
Suddenly, I’m in Lahore, in Pakistan, and I see my mother’s hands. Her frail, busy hands are laboring on something as usual. And as I sit there, in a clean, institutional space on an American university campus, I’m suddenly lost. Where is the dust? The noise? The family? The chaos? The smells and sights?
Suddenly, my classroom, my space, my work and my persona are unreal. I need to reach out and touch what was real to me for so many years of childhood and adult life. How is one to move out of one real into another, and stay there?
We talk incessantly about how “people are people” and “life is the same,” but the concrete realities of life are dreadfully different between the U.S. and Lahore. I am shaken by this again. It just takes a moment of reflection, and I am transported.
The next moment, when I am called on with a “Dr Mir, I have a question -” I have to return.
Something about the chaos, the dust, the sights and smells is too real. When I go back for visits, its realness stuns me almost to the point of immobility. I can barely function in it. And yet I yearn to go back and touch it again, so that I may feel real again.
A minaret against a cloudy sky. The sound of adhan in a quiet evening. The sound of a donkey braying, a child laughing, a peddlar calling out, all at the same time. It is too much, when I go back. It overwhelms me, the routineness of it, the gray-dusty-normalcy of it. The clean, angular lines of life here sometimes feel like they are synthetically designed. They are predictable. The phones will work. Traffic will be bad on game day.
Home is noplace in particular. Home is in hot chaos. Home is in cold routine.