Adnan and I talk about visiting Pakistan. It’s almost every few days. The conversation starts excitedly. How he’d like to see that aunt or that uncle who haven’t been able to chat with him over the phone due to paralysis and subsequent aphasia or just by virtue of being old.
I plan to see what new renovations have happened at Dow and how it may not feel like my old medical college.
My cousins are mostly in Pakistan and I yearn to see them. They have children now whom I’ve never met so that’s a huge thing for me. They could meet my kids and form some lasting bonds.
May be they’d always later stay in touch through emails and letters and video chats. May be they’d prove to have a stronger bond than even my cousins and I.
A huge part of this whole excitement is obviously the food. Adnan tells me repeatedly how my brother just has to be in Pakistan when we visit cuz he knows all the cool, delicious places . He reminds me over and over how Bundoo Khan in Houston was nothing compared to the one in Karachi. Or how he was so disappointed at the Sabri Nihari in Chicago. He repeatedly points out how Pakistanis in Pakistan never have to worry if something is Halal, because it always is. He has a lot of sadness at our limited choices and careful vetting of all edibles in North America. All that emotional and gustatory loss has to be made up when we visit Pakistan, he says.
My interest in Pakistan is deeper than that, I like to think. I’ll be going more for my culture, to spend on clothes, to spend a lot of time with my cousins, to get to know their spouses, sing Indian songs with my cousins late at night, watch Pakistan TV and all the good and bad that it’s churning out these days. I’m not a TV fan but watching TV has always been better in Pakistan. This intense planning really is enough to make anyone a little giddy.
Then I keep thinking of all the relatives that have insisted time and again to see my kids. They can’t believe that I have kids now. They can’t believe I’ve spent so many years away from them. They have asked me so many times over the past few years why I don’t visit. Their questioning always ends with the most endearing question of all “Do you not miss us?”.
I want to see what happened to where my dad used to practice. My mom sold my dad’s practice when he passed away many years ago. Later that place was bought by a commercially savvy person and is now an absolutely lucrative multilevel apartment complex. I’d like to see how someone builds business on someone’s dream.
My husband and I talk a lot of visiting the graveyard. Most of our relatives are close in proximity in terms of their final resting place. I know it will be emotional but it will also give me some closure as I wasn’t there for many final departures. My grief will see some resolution.
Slowly and inadvertently, this conversation takes a dark turn. I wonder if people would have something to say about the way I look. I look very little like I did when I left there. I’m many pounds heavier, much more in my shell than I was before. I have an autistic daughter whom I protect and nurture every minute of my life. I have a little son who even though has been born to Pakistani parents isn’t really a Pakistani.
He isn’t really anything. He’s just a little boy. But would he be considered a little boy with no nationality attached to him? I don’t know.
My kids can’t speak Urdu. For that matter, my daughter can’t speak English very well either. She is what pediatricians and developmental specialists like to call “minimally verbal”. She’ll be going in an outrageously colorful people who like to love, eat, talk, sing, dance and then talk some more. Who have strong opinions of everything. Who unfortunately haven’t been able to give the same freedom of speech to their fellow Pakistanis that they reserve for themselves. Who, even today, like to box people as “fat”, “chubby”, “obese”, “introvert”, “extrovert”. Every person has a qualifying adjective attached to their name. I can’t just be Sonia. I have to be introduced in a way that describes who I am, what I do, how many kids I do or do not have, what my personality is like, what my domestic issues are , how I got married, and how many years I haven’t been back.
When Adnan and I discuss this, we feel suffocated. When our good friend tells us that her autistic daughter was called “mentally imbalanced” by close family members on their recent visit to Pakistan, we worry for our child. When I’m told by numerous women, both living in Pakistan and outside of it, how they’ve been criticized for raising bilingual kids, I worry for our child. I’m not fat but may be I am and that worries me. I’m not any more the social but introverted person than I was before but I’d like to change that a bit before going back. I don’t want anyone to think that I haven’t been working on my introversion.
I constantly debate about whether I should get clothes before I visit Pakistan and get them shipped here or get them once I’m there. I don’t want to wear my western outfits and look like a fish out of water. And I don’t want to wear the shalwar kameez that I got ages ago because I know they look dated and Pakistanis care so much about appearances.
In the end, we become tired of all the preemptive security strategies that we’ll have to employ for a trip that we won’t even be able to enjoy without the stress of “log kia kahengay?” We are both impressionable Pakistanis who worry about others way too much. And for this reason alone, we won’t be able to make that trip just yet.
May be when someday there’s more empathy for neurodiversity, when there is more acceptance for couples who have financially diverse roles, more provisions for parents who raise their kids according to what the kids need and not according to what the parent needs to see in them, less ridicule for a husband who sets the alarm to wake up before the wife to fix breakfast. May be when what we look like is way less important than what we sound like, what we say is nothing if what we do doesn’t match it, what we stand for is just as important as what we might fall for. May be then we will make our trip to the place that we love more than any other place on earth.