Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem.
Inshallah (Godwilling) you are doing well in health and faith.
I write to you with the purest intentions but with a few confessions that may startle you.
I admit, I am a little nervous to see you again. But in a good way. Even when the “evil eyes” and so many things around me are trying to bring me down, the excitement of being able to embrace you again is overwhelming.
As I approach my mid-thirties, my love for you has emerged stronger than ever.
I knew something flowing through my veins made me feel your presence before I met you. And it wasn’t just the chapli kabaabs my mom fed me while in our humble Wisconsin home. 😊 I felt it even when the distance between us suggested you were planets away from me.
I don’t remember when we first met, obviously because I was so young. But I will always be grateful to my parents for introducing us, and taking me back to you from time to time, to learn about you, and understand you. And to fall deeply in love with you even more every time I stepped off that airport in Karachi and inhaled a type of stench which eventually became an aroma for me, bringing back an inexplicable nostalgia of a connection I was always missing.
Gregory David Roberts, in his beautiful novel, Shantaram, describes it best, in the context of Bombay, India, suggesting “it’s my first sense of the city – that smell, above all things – that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.”
As an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi), I admit, it has been challenging finding my niche here in America. It is a funny acronym they have given us. Or perhaps we have given it to ourselves to give some definition or understanding to our “fragility.”
And as an ABCD, for some reason, I am not supposed to love you.
They have called you a “fragile state.” Sometimes a “failing” or a “failed state.” I must apologize. I’ve done the same at times, when immersed in the literature of my studies that tries to convince me that you are “fragile.” But I promise, I will be careful of that. Granted we all have that “fragility” within us, but it doesn’t define everything about us.
I think you and me have this struggle in common. And despite whether you approve of this label, “when you love someone, you love them not only despite their fragility, but also because of it.”
Do you remember my“pehla nishaa” (first love)? 😊 I think we were just 10 years old. The more I came to you, the more the love grew. We are good friends now, but the sentiments never subsided, and I sometimes find myself equating my time with you with the “idea” of him. And ultimately, it became an “idea” in the end. Or perhaps it was always just an “idea.” But everything has to start with an idea, no? If you allow me to be my brutally honest self, I must tell you I have always been quite bold and forward with my feelings. Lol. Even as a kid when I didn’t know what “love” meant. Not sure if I still do. I know, It’s probably very silly. And I know it is probably the wrong move, and I tell myself that every time. 😊 It is also perhaps socially taboo from the lens of the traditional or conventional Pakistani or Indian. But even when I knew nothing could happen, I wanted them to know how much I cared. I have never been “the girl who gets the guy,” like in the romantic comedies. Always gave off the “girl next door” vibe, lol. Except I think in the movies, they make it so she does get the guy. But that really only happens in the movies. Don’t worry, I’m not seeking your pity, I am just being honest. Sometimes my honesty gets me in trouble.
And I guess, there isn’t much room for an old Romantic like me anymore in today’s relationship dynamics. I know there are other ways that we can profess our love for humanity and it seems to be my path at the moment. You have taught me that.
So as I reveal my heart to you, I just have to make a few confessions that may break your heart. I never felt “welcome” here: The United States. I probably was never welcome, even before I existed. I was always a “foreigner.” There is nothing wrong with being perceived as foreign to a country, unless it is your country. And that hurts. I think we underestimate how much it hurts. I think you understand that from your experience.
I like to say sometimes that I will always be a “student for life.” I love being in the classroom, but I have never been welcome there either, and I have always been misunderstood. Everything about my presence makes me an “international student.” It is not a bad thing, but I can’t accept that categorization because I am ACTUALLY an AMERICAN….and I do enjoy and love being American. There is nothing wrong with that. When I wear the clothing you give me in public, I am mistaken as as a alien to this land where I call Home. To me this clothing is American too.
My ancestry is Muhajir, so perhaps there is something in my kismet.
As a child, I would be hurt when my relatives would tell me I am not Pakistani, and I would feel the same hurt when my fellow Americans would tell me I am not American. Why can’t I be both? Foster the values of both cultures? I would wonder. There is a community for someone like me, no? Yes, there absolutely is, but I don’t belong there either. Too many “confusing intersections” about my existence that further marginalizes me from that community as well.
Regardless of how little I have felt welcomed in the communities here in the US, You, Pakistan, have always welcomed me.
Even with my broken Urdu with that annoying Midwestern-American accent. Even with my occasional judgments about your ways when I was younger and didn’t know any better. Even with my fear of the gigantic cockroaches and ants. Even with my OCD when I went into shops and bazaars with swarming flies and started crying. lol. Now that I could put a label to that behavioral response, I don’t care so much about the flies anymore.
I am not sure why you love me, or that you even love me at all, but it is endearing that you trust me, even as an American. I may be many things, but I am always loyal. Sometimes I feel there is a little Pashtun in my heart. Know that I will be loyal to you.
Many people believe your “IDEA” was magnificent. Many people believe you are flawed. It is true. You are not perfect. But you have always sought perfection it seems on your quest to become a “land of the pure.” In the process, sometimes it would lead to policies that hurt yourself and possibly your friends. You and me are similar that way.
We share several other things in common.
There is not one element of my existence, not one label that can correctly attribute to my being, as Elsa. There is not one thing that makes you Pakistan. Some governing entities within you have done you grave injustice. I have done many injustices to myself, some which almost cost my life. The diversity within you is what makes you complex and fascinating. Some say that your identity doesn’t make any sense, that you have this thing called a “National Identity Crisis.” These complexities remain alluring to me.
I feel the same way about myself, suffering a “crisis of identity” as an ABCD, sometimes so much about me hasn’t made sense to me, and in turn, to others around me. Sometimes I am a very misunderstood person, and sometimes I am mistreated because of the confusion that others have about me. We have that in common as well. The world doesn’t understand you and that reality has its costs and negative repercussions, to your neighbors, and to others around you.
I have learned that my confusions in part may be influenced from my ancestral origins as a Muhajir. Even though I am not a Muhajir (an emigrant), but it is quite possible I am “Muhajir” in some ways, as I have been searching for a “home,” even when I may have one.
It is painful for me to trust. But I do it anyway. People attack you for your mistrust, but they won’t take the time to know where this mistrust is rooted. But I am glad, despite your suspicions, you can see some value in my presence.
And one critical identity intersection within me, will always remain you, Pakistan. Because no matter where I go in the world, and what I do with my life going forward, I will carry you with me, and the memories of what you have given me, in one way or another.
I am grateful to be given the opportunity to give back to you in some way. I hope you can keep me safe when I come to see you. I hope that after my doctorate studies, I can be there for you in a way I haven’t been able to yet, and give you what you have given me, a sense of purpose, presence, and a realization that I too have the right to experience “joy.”
Over the years, my love for you has deepened. And in my past trip, which was an incredible experience, after 10 years, I got to know and experience corners of you and your world that I never have before.
Forgive me for being emotional. It’s interesting, because every time I leave this country for long periods, there is certainly excitement, but a lot of emotion. Something about airports too. I sometimes wonder what is easier. Having my family be there when I leave at the airport, or having to depart alone without a proper goodbye to someone I love. The anticipation of being with you, is what makes it easier. And I am a bigger mess when I leave you too. I remember as soon as I was on the plane in Karachi last January, heading back to the States, I was dreaming of the moment I will see you again.
And that moment has come.
I am not sure if we can always be together. I don’t know anything. All I know is when I drank the karhak pyala chai underneath the stars in Nooriabad, Hyderbad, when I ate the most scrumptious Chapli Kabaabs near the Khyber pass gate on the border to Afghanistan, when I greeted the beautiful women in Chaadr on the streets of Peshawar, when I wrote my names on the rocks of the Margala hills of Islamabad, when I danced to the Sindhi music in the extravagant malls in Karachi, and when I established an intimate connection with the Balti, I knew there was a part of me that felt loved, and that wanted to unleash the love I tend to suppress from time to time.
There was indeed a part of me that felt some belonging, some welcoming, a realization that my presence was wanted and appreciated, something I don’t feel too often in my life. I look forward to seeing you again very soon, to getting the soles of my feet dirty again, to smelling the odor or aroma in the streets, to tasting the soil and licking my lips shielded with your dust.
I recognize that these sentiments may come from a place of privilege. I recognize my place and my biases when I experience you.
But as a #NayaPakistan emerges, I hope I can offer in any small ABCD way, just another bridge, to a world that is too often misunderstood in my country.
I think you would agree that sometimes those who are most vulnerable, most misunderstood, most “fragile,” can bring a type of understanding to worlds perceived as “most fragile” to the rest of the world. And we can work to change the “perception,” can’t we Pakistan. We can show the world how resilient and strong we both are, and the value of our presence, and what we have to offer. We can do that together. We will evolve together. We can change our stars.
This letter has to be incomplete. But that’s okay, because our story is incomplete. Our story will continue if you allow it. If you continue to trust me. And if you have forgotten me already, I will work hard to win you back, and I am anxious to make you fall for me again.
As I had noted before my last trip, if I return to America just a little more “Pakistani” than “American,” I pray that people won’t be confused or afraid, but rather know that you, Pakistan, have transformed me for the better.
KhudaHafiz for now, my dear Pakistan. We shall be together again, and very very soon.
With heart, sincerity, peace and warm salaams,
“You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.” – Rumi
“My heart, so precious, I won’t trade for a hundred thousand souls, yet your one smile takes it for free.” – Rumi
“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. If they don’t, they never were.”
“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.”
“Eh Ajnabi tu bhi Kabi Awaaz de Kahin Se.”
Shah Rukh Khan (aka King Khan) from Dil Se