The Reluctant Immigrant
When it comes to matters of loyalty, immigrants are favored as much as layers of brown scum floating on a hot cup of tea . Patriots stand united in their fight against sinister immigrants. Rest assured, no in-depth research has gone into this statement. I say this mostly out of a sense of self-imposed guilt.
As a child, I was the outdoorsy sort who developed an ulcer if anyone mentioned playing with dolls. This led to a love for playing sports and reading books and of course travelling – within and out of Pakistan. Living in America for a couple of years in the 90’s was a magical time. Disney land, Hollywood, The Rockies, Ice cream sandwiches, free breakfast at school, double dutch meant only one thing for a 10 year old – BLISS. It was amusing when most Americans had no idea of what and where Pakistan was (or Paskastand, as many repeated when I gave them a short geography lesson). Yet when I returned to my home country, I never thought of moving back.
Many years down the lane, my university commenced. Prospects of education abroad soaked the air, leaving me teary-eyed with exasperation. Its not that I did not want to study abroad; the mere thought was exhilarating! However the entire process was long and dreary and ultimately in the end I decided to take the easy road by making peace and studying in Pakistan.
I graduated and eagerly jumped the corporate wagon. It did not come as a complete surprise when I saw my colleagues weighing their chances of post-grad studies, either for brighter job prospects or for an easy ticket out of the country. This was an interesting thought that I too became inclined towards. I applied to a few post-grad programs in a couple of continents. I got accepted, however by this time I had another excuse; excessive complacency.
My stressful years arrived. I had turned twenty-four and talks of marriage were haunting me like a sociopath hunting down his next kill. Now the ‘IN’ thing these days was to marry an ex-pat with a steady career, a good English accent, a six pack (exaggeration intended) and, limited family members (preferably zero). Thankfully my parents and I agreed on the fact that moving away from family was too bleak a thought to even consider. Hence the proposals tilted towards Pakistani settled families and I was rescued.
Now all the while, Pakistan was in dire straits. Ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated (December 2007). Her husband Zardari materialized from ashes and took charge like a greedy wolf waiting for a chance to attack . Pervez Musharaf fled the scene. While at one point modern theaters, malls and restaurants were being developed, many of us Pakistanis had certain other things to look forward too. For instance, whenever there was electricity, we would rejoice, enough to embarrass baboons. On the other side, absence of it for long stretches led to a fit of cursing and cribbing. Numerous other reasons ransacked our minds. Running away from home was not a bad idea anymore.
Pakistanis have always been good at migrating, enough to make birds envious. Post subcontinent divide in 1947, many Pakistani migrated to the UK. Then other countries like America, Australia and Canada came into picture. Specifically during the years 2008 and up, anyone who was anyone, was planning to immigrate. Reasons were plenty while their loyalty was as porous as cheese, with many who had genuine reasons too. I must admit; it was also a case of the menacing `latest trend`. Ludicrous ideas about having babies abroad for instant immigration ensued. I was the first to laugh it all off. But not for long, as I too succumbed to the pressure. My loyalty had suffered a gigantic blow. My immigration papers had been filed.
Three years since, I sit here comfortably in my new home in Canada, pinning down thoughts of Pakistan; with heavenly weather, peaceful surroundings and intoxicating freedom. I feel grateful to be here in Canada when I see the endless stretch of opportunities that await us. Back home I hear unrelenting news of political and economic problems and I shamefully seek refuge in knowing that my family will be safe from these apparent struggles. Yet in a deep corner of my heart, guilt for abandoning my country vexes me like an ill-shapen shoe .
I find wavering solace in knowing that I have a colossal task ahead of me; molding the crucial relationship between my children and Pakistan – a country they were never given the chance to grow up in. Presumably, all the precious memories their parents and grandparents hold on to firmly, will be as difficult for them to comprehend as perhaps rap music by Mozart.
I should not expect the impossible from my children yet my heart will be glad if they grow up to love their country; if their eyes swell up in tears every time they see their country folk in distress and take steps to help them – little or big; if they cling on to this connection like a worker bee set on a mission. Siblings like Samina Baig and Mirza Ali (http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/17382/samina-baig-and-mirza-ali-pakistan-climbs-mount-everest/ ) give me comfort.
I find tranquility in knowing that every morsel of my children’s achievements will be accredited to their native land. But for all of that to happen, I will have to do something useful for Pakistan myself, as opposed to just nostalgic talk. This will be my way of giving back to a country that has given me so much more than I can ever repay.
In the meantime, I childishly hope to return to my land when I am old; to a time of carefree abandon, to a life that will once again embrace me with open arms and a warm hug.