Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Old Friend

Today is Pakistan's Independence Day. Today, I finished the (hopefully) last draft of my novel, which is set in the country of my birth.

We all hear about Pakistan in the news, we all know the other buzz words that follow in the same sentence. But the Pakistan I remember so vividly is different.

My Pakistan was so hot that after a rigorous game of hide-and-seek in the compound, I could squeeze the sweat from my sudrah. After an evening of swimming at the Gymkhana, where I always won the freestyle at the annual swimming contest, I cradled hot-from-the-tandoor naan in my lap in the back seat of the car, head spinning from too  many dives to the bottom of the pool. Once a week, I stood quivering in Sister Bergman's office at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, unable to explain how it was I'd lost my Blue House badge yet again.

On the night we left for Canada, my best friend, Mehereen, and I stood in the passage of Nani Nana's house in front of the lattice work through which I had always been able to see her apartment, hugging and crying our goodbyes.

I went back twelve years later to a different Pakistan. Each day brought forth a torrent of memories, wave after wave of things that no longer were. I wasn't allowed into the pool area of the Gymkhana without a member accompanying me (no one cared I'd been the free style champion from 1986-90). We weren't allowed to enter the Convent our first two tries; Mehereen had moved away. It was a trip filled with nostalgia long felt, wishes not quite fulfilled, not fully understood in the moment.

Years after that, I began to write a novel. My main character decided to go to Pakistan. I tagged along to show her the way.

I know it's a place of perpetual turmoil. I know the political history, the literacy stats, the predictions for its future. I know that when I tell people where I was born, they judge me. I know that whatever I've made Karachi out to be in my novel comes from a place of naive nostalgia, of seeing the lassi glass half full.

But what do you do with the place that holds a part of you in its dusty grip, that calls you back to its raging sea at sunset which you know will glow brighter, thanks to the pollution in the air, than any you've seen the world over? How do you keep from tearing up when you speak to your family back home, the crows nearly drowning them out, hearing the ayah- your old ayah- come in and, you imagine, get on her haunches to sweep the patterned floor with the graying chindi in great damp arcs?

Even Pakistan's Independence Day is rife with controversy. Even in my myopic state, I see that. Yet today, like many other days, it is on my mind, in my heart.

This is a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek song I discovered in my research of Pakistani pop music. Its depiction of the state of things gets closer to the truth than I've ever managed to.