Flashbacks and reflections on immigrant grief

Several of my friends have traveled to Pakistan this winter, and I have not. I have missed the bus. As someone who left behind most of who I was in the homeland, I struggle with the pieces that are left with me, and I find myself on hands and knees, searching frantically for missing shards and bits and pieces. And then there is mortality, mine and that of others.

When Sadhana died this week, taking with her the movies my mother used to watch; the songs my mother used to sing – in her beautiful, untrained yet melodious voice – all through my childhood, I felt again like I had been robbed.

This week, I am at my cousin’s place, and I am overcome by grief. Maybe I feel loved enough to stop and nurse the long festering wounds. I remember how when I first arrived in this country, found community with Muslim Americans, and became enmeshed in these new communities. Yet there is a web of love I left behind, the quality of which has not been replaced, and cannot ever be.

بےدردی بالما تجھ کو میرا من یاد کرتا ہے
O heartless beloved, my heart remembers you always

I keep trying to remind myself that having clean water, a perpetual supply of electricity, no real emotional demands (except those I struggle to nurture myself), freedom from many of the old social gendered expectations (those have been replaced by others though) – all of these gifts make the new life in the new homeland worth the loss of the old.

Today my mamujan (my cousin’s father) is coming to stay, and I am delighted as well as overwhelmed by the past that threatens to tear me in two, reminding me of all the promises I have broken, the homeland I abandoned, the waiting hearts I have disappointed:

پلکوں کے جھولے سے سپنوں کی ڈوری
پیار نے باندھی جو تو نے وہ توڑی
Love fastened a hammock of dreams to our eyelashes
And you broke it

Maybe mamujan and I will sit and watch the old songs he used to sing, and my mother (his sister) used to sing.

رہیں نہ رہیں ہم  مہکا کرینگے
بن کے کلی، بن کے صبا
باغ وفا میں
Whether I live on or not, forever I will be fragrant 
like a bud, like the morning breeze 
in the garden of faithful love

Ammi doesn’t sing so much anymore. I think that the Islamicizing in Pakistan as well as age have both taken some of the artistic joy she took in the singing. Far away from her, where I have missed the transitions she has undergone through the years, and she has missed mine – I struggle to find those moments again.

لگ جا گلے کہ پھر یہ حسیں رات ہو نہ ہو
Fall into my arms, for who knows, this beautiful night may never return again 

I try to find her again, I try to find me, I try to find that old Pakistan that I left behind – and all of those things are gone, lost forever.

رہتے تھے کبھی جن کے دل میں
ہم جان سے بھی پیاروں کی طرح
بیٹھے ہیں انہی کے کوچے میں
ہم آج گنہگاروں کی طرح
The beloved whose heart I lived in like one more beloved than life itself
I sit today in his street like a sinful outcast

I refuse to be one of those immigrants who go back and lambast the changed homeland for not being the old one. How can I, when in the 1980s and 1990s, in my over-enthusiastic religious youth, I myself lambasted Pakistan for not being something else? We all keep trying to re-make it in some other image.

Still, wherever I go, whatever new paths I create, I take my yesterdays with me, moldy, abandoned, overgrown. My yesterdays call to me; sometimes they hammer on my door and demand I open up at the most inopportune moments, summoning me to them.

اجی روٹھ کر اب کہاں جایے گا
جہاں جایے گا
ہمیں پایے گا
Where will you go, darling, turning away from me in a huff
No matter, wherever you go
you will find me there

And more than anything else, there is a wellspring of love; painful, grieving love, that I can only access through my yesterdays, my immigrant past.

اک پیار کا نغمہ ہے
موجوں کی روانی ہے
زندگی اور کچھ بھی نہیں
تیری میری کہانی ہے

It is a song of love, the flow of waves
life is nothing but the love story of you and I

It is with a powerful intense angry desire that I wish for stability in our homelands. I wish external interference in our homelands would quit, so that we can rebuild, and become such homes that the transnational among us can revisit and love again. For immigration as a narrative of triumph and renewal is only part of the story; immigration is in equal parts a story of loss, of populations who were robbed of their roots and yesterdays; who had to reconstruct lives out of puzzle pieces that didn’t always fit easily.

او جانے والے دامن چھڑا کے
مشکل ہے جینا تجھ کو بھلا کے

O you who broke away from me
it is difficult to forget you, and then to live on

1 thought on “Flashbacks and reflections on immigrant grief”

  1. Baitee you remember so many songs. etc. I miss songs and music and what is worse I cant sing myself either too old. But yes I went through all those feelings but decided children are better off getting educatio here and yes our American habits have spoiled us. In writing my family history this is our third migration.

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