Today, we watched the heartbreaking BBC documentary, My Big Fat Pakistani Mansion. The film interviews owners of the empty mansions in Kharian, mansions built by local people who immigrated to Norway.
Over decades of often menial labor, these expatriate workers saved money, and dreamed of returning to their town. The plan was that they would build gorgeous houses, huge enough for their grown children and grandchildren to live in luxury.
Once their children were grown, and their grandchildren were in school, speaking Norwegian and a little Punjabi and Urdu, they realized the truth.
The mansions would remain empty, and they themselves would be alone, shuttling between missing and loving their Norwegian family, and wanting to remain rooted in Pakistan in their town.
The film highlights the rupture that immigration entails. It brings out the heartache and the death of roots that the triumphalist immigrant narrative neglects. Global inequality is at the heart of immigration. “No one leaves happily,” says one of the immigrants in the film. And once they have left, and then return with wealth, their return fuels inequality in their former homes as well – not to mention the isolation of these permanent exiles.
As I was wrestling with my feelings, and trying to plan my blog post, my daughter (12) produced a poem that she had just written. We titled it Mansion of Ghosts.
In a snug-but-happy
So they work–
And the mansion–
But they are alone.
Their children saw
In those places–
And found partners–
And their parents–
But a Ghostly–
Using one room–
Because in the others–
By R., September 3, 2018