Friday, January 14, 2011

No home to call their own

The other night, after work, I met up with a good friend for a cup of steaming hot latte. It was a cold evening, and the café was just the perfect place to play catch up without being caught in the snow.

Aside from our love for words, this friend and I have another thing in common: our nomadic upbringing. We both grew up across different countries and cultures. While she studied in Paris as a teenager, I went to school in North Africa for a few years until I joined my boarding school in Mussoorie, India.

Eventually, she, along with her parents and siblings, moved back to New York City; my parents returned to India. Both our families had the option to return “home” when they were ready. They could make that journey without thinking twice about “could they?”

On my recent trip to Dubai, India, and Singapore, I had the opportunity to enter the world of a high profile Pakistani journalist. For the sake of anonymity, let’s forget the “how” and “where” of the meeting. This man had to temporarily move from Europe to Pakistan due to work visa issues. The couple has teenaged children. Their son, while attending school in Pakistan, began to show signs of inappropriate “influence.” The journalist’s own father asked his son (This man I am referring to) to get out of Pakistan as soon as he could. And to take his family along with him. He feared his grandson would join the “wrong” side. The family moved. But they don’t know for sure if and when they can ever go back to the home where their extended family lives.

My friend asked, “Didn’t India and Pakistan get their freedom around the time? I replied in the affirmative. She asked further, “How are they so different? What’s up with that?”

I joked, “You tell me. I hear so many westerners want to visit India but no one says the same about Pakistan.”

Mid-way through my sentence, I turned serious. There is nothing light-hearted about what is happening in India’s neighboring nation. There is nothing funny about murder and crime. A life lost is a life lost. Color, countries, and boundaries don’t matter.

I said: “Sometimes I wonder about the same. We were one and the same country. Less than seventy years ago, we overthrew the British. Fought for freedom. Then we killed our brothers and sisters. Stole from each other. Orphaned children. Raped women. Despite all of that, India has emerged as the future while Pakistan’s future is feared by its own people.”

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s was recently shot dead in Islamabad. Facebook and Twitter were flooded with stories about his assassination. My friend and junior from school, Nikhil Kumar, shared this article written by Mohammed Hanif. It’s incredible, and I highly recommend reading it. The article makes you wonder if Pakistani culture is to blame for all the mayhem in that country.

I have been talking to a few writers based in Pakistan. And they don’t have the most promising things to say about their own wellbeing. They might have gotten used to the idea of an unsafe existence, but I feel helpless. Also, as a writer, if you live in a place where freedom of speech is a myth, how do you survive?

I visited Karachi, twice, in the days when Anil Kapoor (of Slumdog Millionaire fame) was a big hit. Perhaps around late 80s to early 90s. I didn't think Karachi was very different from New Delhi. Similar looking people listening to Hindi music and eating spicy chicken curry, naan, and gulab jamuns. So, for the longest time, I never understood the stated differences between the two countries: India and Pakistan.

But as the wise folks say, time is the best teacher. The more I drown in my world of words, the more differences I see between India and Pakistan.

Can you imagine not being able to return to the land where your history, legacy, and memories lay buried? The simple things we take for granted.

I met a poet recently who, like me, happens to be a first generation immigrant. She moved to NYC with her family when Ukraine was a part of Soviet Union. I promptly asked her, “How often do you go back?” She responded, “Never. It’s not safe.” Over two decades ago was when she last saw the country where she spent her childhood.

My Palestinian-American pals have that pining hunger in their eyes to experience their history. To feel their soil. To smell the water where their grandparents bathed. To touch the walls of their ancestral house. But it’s either a distant dream or a nightmare—if they do manage to visit. I don’t even want to get into the horror stories I have heard.

As a person of Indian origin, thank god, I have never had to worry about not being able to visit India. Yet. And I can only hope and pray India will remain that way.

Home is where your hearts is. Picking a new home out of your own free choice is one thing; but, having the choice of returning back to your roots taken away, is different.

More until next time,


Copyright © 01.15.2011

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.” John Ed Pearce


R said...

Too true ; but who lives in a home now ?? We all live in houses, whether in our own country , or abroad

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece

Sahar said...

Loved this piece of work. Your last closing paragraph sums it all up! Interacting with my Pak-side of the family & friends in the US, I have developed a better understanding & empathize with their frustrations & emotions.