By Sarah Pervez
It has been 5 and a half years since I left my homeland. My Pakistan and my beloved Karachi. Loud, chaotic, unruly. The city of lights that has enriched my life with memories filled with a diverse topography of family and friends. The city that welcomes everyone with open arms from all over the country. A city with sounds and smells that heighten your senses. A city synonymous with chai.
My first home outside Pakistan was in Sharjah, UAE, close to Al Khan corniche which has a huge kettle that serves as a teashop. They serve all varieties; Karak chai, Zafrani chai, Kashmiri chai, you name it, chances are they’ll have it. That January if 2015, I was in an unknown city with no family or friends. Weekdays became monotonous with the drudgery of everyday routine. For an extrovert like me, those days were torturous. I was terribly homesick. An expat wife, I was yearning for my old life. One evening we decided to walk down the corniche to break the rut. And lo and behold! We came across that bubbling simmering larger than life kettle, standing nonchalantly in the middle of the road, throngs of people around it and the fragrance of chai hanging heavy in the air. That day unexpectedly I found a small cure for my homesickness. Holding tightly to the hot cup of tea, we inhaled its caffeinated scent and gave a silent cheer at finding something that made us feel right at home.
It’s funny isn’t it? You leave your home and everything you know behind to look for new adventures, for studies, for a superior career prospect, to make a better living and you eventually find yourself in a new life looking for hints of your old one. So ironic. Expats. Homesickness. Such a cliché, right? But like all clichés it is true. When you’re away from all things known to you, familiar faces, familiar life, saying hello to your neighbours, weekend routines and all the comforts that come with being in your home country; leaving and going into the unknown can be unnerving. So, you do the next best thing and spend weekends having video calls with all your parents, nana, nano, dada, dadi, khala, chachu, mamoon, phuppo and cousins. Staying in touch has never been this easy. And yet you miss home. At first, it’s hard to pinpoint why, and then you slowly realize it is because you are nostalgic for a place in time that is not there anymore. “Chor aye hum woh galiyan, lekin aaj tak woh galiyan humein pukaarti hain”.
Those places echo with the sounds of people long gone. Every one moves on but as an expat you expect things would be as they were when you actually left. When you understand that is not the case, you find comfort in things that remind you of those times. So, you try and find solace in the little pieces you bring back with you from every time you visit your home country. Placing Khaadi coasters when you serve tea to your guests, a truck art key holder hanging on your door, snuggling under a duvet bought from Solo, a wooden tray with Frere Hall etched onto it as a centrepiece for your coffee table. Pieces of home décor scattered amongst other things hinting at where they have come from, a brand plan and marketing ad for Pakistan all rolled into one. All of these reminding you of a home that has been left behind but never leaves your heart. It drums into your thoughts with every beat of your heart. Long drives are filled with sounds of Vital Signs, Junoon and now Coke Studio. Singing along to sounds of your childhood with your kids in a foreign country is an exhilarating experience. Every weekend you go to the Pakistani store and stock up on Pakola, blue ribbon and K&N shami Kebabs. You dress the kids up in shalwar kameez on Fridays ignoring their “this is itching” protests and prepare for Jummah Namaz. Saving annual leaves for December, you fly home for winters fulfilling all those cravings for dry fruit, gajar halwas, Kashmiri chais and hotspot hangouts.
Spring brings in numerous calls to Pakistani Supermarket asking for Falsa stock. Summers are planned around stakeouts for incoming shipments of mangoes. You make every effort to bring the Taste of Pakistan in your home. At Eid namaz, you specially look for those wearing shalwar kurtas for an extra jhappi. August makes you proudly wear a flag pin and finding all the greens in your wardrobe. On 14th August, Karama and Bur Dubai are filled with cars decorated with Pakistani flags and Dil Dil Pakistan playing at full blast, ending the day with a solemn rendition of Pak Sar Zameen Shad Bad. It doesn’t take long for you to gravitate towards fellow expats and build friendships that last a lifetime. Every meeting is incomplete without chaat, dahi baray and samosay or halwa puri and nihari if you’re meeting for breakfast, a thermos full of tea being the constant in your expat get togethers. Conversations over chai revolving around cricket and politics, reminiscing about childhoods that were different and yet so very similar, making plans to go try that new Karahi and Chapli kebab restaurant soon. Taking kids to the beach and marvelling how different it all is from our childhood picnics at Hawksbay and Paradise Point.
When schools announce International Day celebrations, everyone goes in a frenzy of making sure Pakistan is represented to the fullest. The resilience of a Pakistani mama in search of every Pakistani decor item under the sun is unmatched. They have been known to build and decorate trucks in a single day! Cooking large pots of desi food to share brings far more joy to you than anyone else.
In short, never a season goes by without us looking at ways to celebrate anything that has to do with Pakistan and its culture. Every interaction with other nationalities is made with the thought in mind that we are the representatives of our country. Standing tall and proud and making sure we are talking about all the good our country has to offer. Looking for basmati rice and shan masalas and ensuring we bring Biryani to every potluck to convert everyone we meet into Biryani lovers. Buying local Pakistani products to give as gifts to family and friends abroad in order to promote them makes usproud. Our happiness knows no bounds when we come across someone speaking Urdu. We linger and talk just a little bit more, savouring the sounds of a language that is like music to our ears. The connotations and the funny proverbs sounding like poetry makes us appreciate it a whole lot more and causes us to fear for its existence; as Urdu gels in with other languages so easily. Most of the things we do, we do so unknowingly; trying to build a life that is familiar to us in a new place, a result of nostalgia and habit. However, as the world becomes a global village, we also try upholding traditions that are dear to us, the ones we’d love to pass on to our kids. The aroma of a fragrant Biryani wafting through our home on Fridays, elaborate dinner parties and delicious foods, old patriotic songs, replicating Eid breakfast spreads, making pakoras every time it rains, playing Ludo and yelling “Chakka!”, wearing ghararas on Eid to look like we’re going to a wedding even when we have nowhere to go. Watching every match of PSL and declaring all teams are ours when our favourite one loses. Eating daal chawal with achar every time a longing for home awakens. Teaching kids that the only way to eat cake rusk is by dipping it into chai is like teaching them about the holy grail. Getting together to watch a big match or final and turning it into a full-blown event is one of our specialties in this Dayar e Ghair. It really does not matter what continent you are on, these are the things you’ll find common in every expat home. The things that alleviate homesickness. The things that turn our homes into mini Pakistans.
Because no matter how far we go, we will always be tethered to Pakistan. We are the bridge connecting our future generations to our roots. We take with us our identity, our language, our stories and our songs far and wide, making sure the world is listening. And we are always grateful we have a home to come back to. May it always stay safe and may we always see it prosper. Ameen.