The Pakistan I Thought I Knew: Part Two

The Pakistan I thought I knew is almost gone. As a child, I didn’t see political chaos and military coups but cousins racing to the rooftop to fly and cut down kites in the clear blue sky of Lahore, my birth city. Of memories jumping in the rain because we could; boys and girls playing together on rooftops. An innocence lost as we grow older–and as I continue to visit–a country that sometimes separates gender and redefines social norms.  

Pakistani women have tried to break the barriers of patriarchy and patrilineal traditions.

I grew up with a mother, who joined the Pakistani Army because she said she had something to prove. To men. To her mother. To a military of men.

“I wanted to fight,” she boasted. I wanted to show my country that women can fight.”

I lived Pakistan through her. And a father, who excelled in English and worked for American clients in the 1960s under a famed military ruler Ayub Khan, who was celebrated by the United States under President John Kennedy. The two leaders seemed too close to be just political patrons. Almost friends. Until India intervened.

Dating Pakistan

When I migrated to the small towns of Tennessee and then the heart of Texas, I almost forgot Pakistan, a country of ongoing chaos, political confusion and conflicts that festered along its border. I almost forgot the taste of pink tea, or Kashmiri chai, made by a grandmother who would become bed-ridden and then die of knee pain. Raised in the plains of Texas, it was too easy to forget the fields where grasses lay flat and the Himalaya Mountains I had first seen from the thick green hilltop of Murree Tehsil. 

But I did not want to forget this place.

Years of visiting Pakistan–a country I have never lived as an adult–kept me on edge. I wanted to see more. Know more. Meet more people crouched in the forbidden landscape of the north. People whose lives are uninterrupted by modernity, election fever, and loud noises of a crowded city.

I have been dating Pakistan. A date that changes each time I leave the airport and smell coal and cigarettes and hear multiple syllables and words knitted together in languages I thought I knew. English. Urdu. Punjabi. Slang. And the forever sound of children’s laughter. 

 

Part Three will be published on July 5th not July 4th to honor U.S. Independence Day. 

 

 

 

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