It was rare for young Pakistani women of my generation to move away from home for work or for higher education. I remember my ex-brother-in-law expressing shock and disapproval when I moved from Lahore to Islamabad to teach at the Islamic University and live at a women’s hostel. The people of my family did not do such things. Young single women did not move to different cities. That was a disreputable act. And there was no need! We were financially very comfortable. Why was this happening? ‘She’ll be fine,’ my mother insisted.
My parents supported me and encouraged me in my work. My mother never went to college; my dad supported himself through med school. Both were conservative Pakistanis and fiercely determined to support my career and growth.
Then three years later, I left the country for a degree at Cambridge University.I already had a career but they wanted me to pursue my dream, do what I wanted. When my scholarship fell into uncertainty and my job was threatened- because of dirty politics at the IIU when I wouldn’t kowtow to the authorities – my dad said he would finance the whole thing. Until the money came through, he did. ‘But it’s so much money,’ I wailed. ‘We will support your shauq, your passion,’ my mother said. I hated doing this to them, but they were my rock.
As much as they wanted me to settle down and get married and be near them, they were the wind under my wings. Yet they missed me. They wept with their faces turned away from me every time at the airport. I still hate airports. My heart breaks a million times. I have wept for ages on plane rides.
I left them before I turned 30, and then I only visited when I could, sometimes for just 10 days a year, sometimes after two or three or four years. They didn’t get to see me become mature (?) in my 30s and 40s. We got only celebrations and visits and phone calls. They got snapshots of me, and they still treasured it all.
But it was interrupted and disrupted. It was like a TV show with terrible transmission. Why was I now like this when I used to be like that? What was happening? Who was I now? What was my day like in America? What was Indiana like? What was Washington, DC like? Why was Stillwater so hard? How did I manage the mornings, the evenings? How did I parent on a routine basis? They were shut out of my growth and my routine for half my life, and I regret that.
You know how they say, if you love something, let it go? My parents really did this.
This is to celebrate them, their magnificent love and their unending support. I love you, ammi and abbu. Everything I am, everything I’ve done, is because of you.