Visiting home

Here I am, sitting in Gloria Jeans Coffee, not far from Liberty Market, in the Gulberg area, where I spent much of my life in Lahore, Pakistan.

On the neighboring table sits Svend, the tall white American, working on his Dell. We are surrounded by Pakistanis, both hip and not. When I glance up, I see sights so familiar they don’t even require thought. The old houses with their white metal gates and boundary walls, the big red-brick water tower rising behind it all. A great deal has changed. There are a lot of billboards, a lot more elite hotspots, a whole lot more traffic.

But the mango leaves are still dusty in the late afternoon sun, and there is still a lot of idling on the street. There is still all that color, all that unpredictable humor, all those lively spontaneous smiles – all that loud living.

Hanging out is a major pastime, and Svend and Raihana both struggle with it more than I do. Both want to go somewhere, do something, see some sights. “Why?” my parents ask. “Why leave the comfort of home?” Let’s just hang out, they seem to say. Hang out non-stop for a month. I understand. I was raised on a lifetime of hanging out. Svend and Raihana are Americans.

Not that I haven’t lost a lot of Pakistani along the way. I see it in the gaze of locals when they glance – no, stare – at me. I didn’t have enough clothes when I traveled this time. 2 pairs of black pants, 2 pairs of black tops, a black cardigan and a gray hoodie – a very Washington, DC outfit. It’s gotten really cold, and local shalwar kameezes don’t help protect me against the cold. Exposed to the wind in a rickshaw ride from Lahore Gymkhana Club, I caught a cold the other day. So I wear knit pants often. It isn’t that unusual in Lahore anymore.

The family house is colder than the outdoors. We tried the gas heater in our room the other day: I ended up sick from leaked gas. We’re still playing indigestion musical chairs. Last time Raihana brought home an unidentifiable bug that stayed with her for a month after her return. We’re eating almost nothing outside the home – which is torture because the food here is amazing.

And after all this, you say, so I won’t be visiting again soon, will I?

It will be hard. We had a nightmarish travel agent, and ended up paying almost double the price of a return ticket. Fares are worse than ever. A terrible itinerary (blame our travel agent again) meant a 48 hour trip to Lahore – with a toddler.

But of course I will return. I’m in the arms of the motherland. No matter how much it might get on my nerves, I know its every vein and fiber. It knows me. Its streets know me. It’s etched in my mind and heart. Hours – whether of happiness or boredom, it doesn’t matter – still live in my soul. I relive them when I return to the US.

The geography of Liberty, the chaos of the Mall, the promise of Ferozesons – they are all childhood dreams that I still seek out hungrily, like air and water. In the afternoon, when we walk along the tree-lined residential streets my parents’ neighborhood, the smell of rice cooked in chicken stock wafts over us. The sound of rickshaws deafens and yet comforts me.

I know you so well. I love you so well. I can’t stand you. Your sun blinds me. Your dirt and poverty horrifies me. Your food alone can send me into transports of delight, as no cheesecake can. Your qawwali music can drive me out of my rational mind. Your passionate embrace suffocates and brings me back to life. You, my country, my home, are like a troubled beloved. Can’t live with you, can’t live without you. I have been so many different people here. Along this same Main Boulevard I’ve been a naive child of 7, a careless adolescent, an intensely spiritual teenager, a thoughtful young woman struggling to figure out where she belonged. I’ve drank in with my eyes the sight of the weeping willows along the Canal as many different individuals. I’ve lived a number of lives here. How can I forget them all?

And I don’t expect others to understand. I wonder even if my child will get it. As of now, she is a bit upset with this place that doesn’t have her beloved public library with its children’s corner. There is no bookstore with a train table for children to play at. Even the nearby playground we walked over to had a broken slide and unsafe swings – no bucket swings or safety belts here.  She enjoys her cousins, but what she loves most is catching up with Dora the Explorer. But we have so many power outages that it’s hard to entertain her with TV too often. So she mopes a great deal, especially now that she has diarrhea (again).

These days we have a huge fuel shortage. Long queues of cars snaked out on the road, waiting for CNG or petrol. Yesterday my father drove for a while before he found petrol. One weekend, we found ourselves wondering if we should take Raihana out for a spin or not – because we might run out of gas.

Life is difficult, and living in the US makes it harder to get used to difficulties. I’m from here, so I can make do for a while. Raihana doesn’t seem to see why she should.

It looks like it’s going to get harder to raise a child in my culture. Will the diasporic centers of culture in the US have to do what trips back home may not?

May you all have a blessed new year.

23 thoughts on “Visiting home”

  1. Salaams sweetie & happy new year!

    There is so much here I relate to – found myself nodding or smiling wryly often. May your days be filled with happiness!

    Love,
    Baraka

  2. So nice to see you back – a new year’s gift. And even nicer to imagine you in Lahore, whose ever turn, as you say, is a marker in some lives. School, the canal, bookshops, cinemas, Go-Go, college, university, the first date, the first accident, marriage, parents… No other place to die for, no other place to die in…

    Good to know its still there…

    On travel agents, we do everything via email/phone with Crescent Travels in Illinois; over ten years, never a problem. Ask for Asif Kheiri (Asif Bhai) at 847-991-3898.

  3. hi koonj its good to hear that you are visiting lahore. made me homesick too and have goose bumps reading your blog. how i miss Lahore even the noise, the madness. happy new year to you

  4. Assalamu alaikum,

    So good to read you again. You were missed.

    May you be blessed with sweetness, happiness, fulfillment and success in the year and always.

    *hug for baji*

    Twenny

  5. I can appreciate Rehana and Svend’s frustration about being somewhat homebound in Pakistan — I too, when visiting Pakistan, am always trying to get out of the house to do or see something.

  6. It’s great to hear from you…nothing like a little back-home- boredom to give you the opportunity to post again. I’m glad you are able to visit your motherland and share with us the inherent appreciation you have for her great and minute details.
    Big hugs…
    I wish you a safe trip back to the USA.

  7. Your writing is so evocotive it brings it all back. Me as a naive convent kid, a teenager with my eclectic group of friends, a young bride and mother, and now an overseas paki full of nostalgic memories.

    Lahore will always be home for me. Even though everytime I go back my feeling of not belonging is ever present, I miss it.

  8. When I think of home….the sense of nostalgia grips me like anything….

    In the words of Iftikhar Nasim:

    Udaas baam, khulaa dar pukaarta hai mujhe
    Jila-watan huuN mera ghar pukaarta hai mujhe

    Or Khalid Mahmood:

    purkhoN ki tehziib se mahaka basta piichhe chhuuT gaya
    jaane kis vahshat meN ghar ka rasta piichhe chhuuT gaya

    Or

    yeh to makaan hai jis mein qayaam hai yaaro
    ghar to voh hai jise barsoN pahle chhoR aaye haiN

    Or

    But one has to go out…after all. that’s life….and keep coming to roots….it’s lucky for you that you are in touch with your hometown…

    And Koonj….. as a cultural ambassador…you haven’t lost this ‘basta’ as you spread the fragrance of Urdu tehziib across the blog.

    safeer-e-urdu hain jahaan bhii jaayenge
    ham tehzib ki shamaa jalaayenge…

  9. My mum always uses this word,'” koonjan” when ever she sees birds flying home in formation in the evenings.Thus, because of that one word I landed at your blog and whar a wonderful find.I enjoy your style.
    As far raising a kid in one own’s culture is concerned,I am afraid the overseas diaspora and films and music usually have to do…..there is no way of recreating that magical hold of your city in the children when they traverse roads so different from ours.

  10. I can smell the aura of ‘reverse culture shock’ in your post but it will go away soon too. We all have gone through this.

    By the way, you don’t need travel agents anymore. Most international airlines offer same or cheaper fare via online booking now.

    “Kher naal ja te kher naal aa”

  11. There you go again. Yeah everything has been said, i wanted to say.
    I wish to hear your speech someday, professor.
    I was talking about the power of speech of your nana jan that nobody has inherited so Ayesha said, no abbu you have to hear Shabana Baji.
    See my last blogs baitee and as I said
    “Jinnay lhore naiyin wekhiya oh jammiya-ee naiyn”
    I am glad oyu all made it back safe. I tried to catch you in Lahore but I guess you were busy when I called. My hearing mere sath aankh micholi khailti hay, kabhi theek kabhi mushkil.
    AApki mumani ka khiyal hay aur kharab ho gaiye hay
    Love to Raihana gurrya and Akram
    She is OK now?
    Post or email some pictures pl

  12. A happy new year to you and your family. I hope you enjoyed your time in pakistan. We are also *planning* to visit home this year inshallah. The kids are a little bit older and hopefully enjoy it than the last visit.

  13. Every time I went back home to bangalore, I used to feel more and more like an alien. At a certain stage, I felt I could never go back to india – its poor infrastructure, corruption nauseated me. The only connection with it were through memories. Everytime i came back to Singapore, I heaved a sigh of relief.

    But this time, when I went back to India with the intention of working a way to return back, I saw a very positive India. Strangely, I no longer felt that sigh of relief coming back to Singapore. In fact, I felt that a part of me was left behind in India.

    I reckon that unless one intends to come back permanently one is going to be drifting away and away from one’s place of upbringing.

  14. great post. makes me think how no one will really understand anyone’s attachment to their home/birthplace unless they were from there themselves. i try to explain why i love raleigh to people not from here when they visit, but how can they understand that every street here harbors memories for me and represent stages of my life?

  15. Dear Ms.Mir,

    I am cordinating an event on behalf of Sony Entertainment Television(Asia) called South Asian Excellence Awards to be held on May 9th in New York City. This is an annual event making an attempt to honor South Asians living in the USA in various categories and I was wondering if you could direct us to individuals, associations and organizations in the Pakistani-American community whose body of work should be highlighted.

    As you are a writer and an academician of Pakistani descent, I will be grateful if you could nominate yourself or any other deserving individual for the South Asian Excellence Award-2009.

    Our website for the event is http://www.saea.tv and there is a nomination form which you could download.

    As this blog is read by me and many others regularly, I will take this opportunity to invite all readers to participating in this event by nominating individuals whose stories are yet to be told.

    I will wait eagerly for your response.

    Regards,

  16. i forgot to check your blog all this time. your observations are so true as always. and these lines, i love:

    “The geography of Liberty, the chaos of the Mall, the promise of Ferozesons – they are all childhood dreams that I still seek out hungrily, like air and water”

    these just roll off the page like lines from your booker pruze winner (iA)!

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