Lost in the memories, I was thinking of the most golden pastime I had spent with my precious and favorite people. I always wondered if it is nearly impossible for one to forget those days, sometimes I thought even Alzheimer’s patients, could really forget those. My husband is a great psychologist and he dealt with several Alzheimer’s patients, and of course, I am an inquisitive person always wanting to know the things that I find of interest or that prompt me the most, but yeah it is another debate that I feel too indolent to indulge in.
In these years I came to realize that I have become more of a social person than I was in the past, in my university days. My husband also discerned this progression in me. About this, I had a vast discussion with my husband. Now, I have a lot of friends in my workplace Azher, Paul, Aima, Jeh, Samantha, etc., etc. but I still reminisce about my old but gold friends, living in Pakistan.
Now, I am currently living in the United States, New York for the past ten years, having a hybrid identity American-Paki, therefore having diversity in friends who come from different countries and some are even Native Americans. Last night, I opened my email to check whether I got some important mail regarding my work and I found the most thrilling and exciting email, guess from what______ from the Alumni club of my university.
I read it all at once and it was more of a relief than excitement to know at that moment that I am about to go to Pakistan after ten years. They held this get-together of my batch called “reunion” and I am about to meet my old fellows and friends. I am going to discuss it with my husband today and asked him to arrange a visa and ticket for me.
After having a long conversation with my husband and discussing with him all the pros and cons, he finally permitted me to attend this reunion and to travel alone because due to his work he won’t be able to make it to Pakistan. I am doubly excited, firstly I am going there after a whole ten years, secondly seeing my old friends is super exciting.
This reunion party is going to be held after a month, though I have a lot of time, still, I need to prepare a lot of things, as it is going to be my first visit to Pakistan after being in New York. I decided to go shopping this evening so I could buy some gifts for friends and family.
My husband has excited me with the great news by putting both the visa and the ticket in my hand and in the next week I am about to leave for Pakistan, saying goodbye to my beloved New York. At the airport, I said to my husband, “Goodbye honey” and then the plane left. Standing here on my very own land amplified all sorts of emotions in me and sentimentalize me.
Waiting here at the Islamabad airport for my relatives to come and pick me up. The long wait ends and finally, Baba Jaan is there at the airport, seeing him after so long brings tears to my eyes now and I say to him, “Salam Baba Jani” and he hugs me. After a while, I sit in the car open the window and start the music in the car as baba has saved all the old classic collections and it plays one of the classic qawwali of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, “Apni Kahani Kaise Kahein” it amuses me and takes me into my childhood memories and breeze follow my path to home.
Baba Jani calls Hassan to take my luggage to the old room where I used to live before marriage. Hassan Ali is our old servant since baba Jani was in their university days and we used to call him Hassan Rehmani. All my emotions stir up when Ami fried the samosas in the hot oil and put the tea on the stove and complains to me about my arrival after ten years, as emotionally utters, “you seem to have forgotten me now since it’s almost ten years alas, and further you come_________, come only for the sake of attending this reunion party, but not for your own parents”, which makes me little embarrassed somehow.
I questioned myself “is it true?” then I come to my room and first get stunned because nothing has changed in my room, the way I decorated my room ten years ago, it is the same but tidy as used to keep it before my marriage. Then I thought of going downwards standing in the verandah and inhaling all the eastern air and exhaling all the western air at once seems pleasurable to me. At the dining table, I talk with baba jani and ami and baba asks me about the weather, I reply, “though the weather is chilly I miss the days, evenings, and mornings I spent here on my own land”.
Baba smiles and I don’t know but I like it. I miss Hateem at the same time, “Hateem my husband” I have never left him alone on his own since marriage this is the first time and I realize that I love him so much and cares about him which I never realize living in the US with him, but I forget to call him, what does he think of me. I am now thinking, does he miss me or does he feel the same the way I am feeling right now, but then lying on the bed I fall asleep because I am tired of the long journey.
The other day, I have to go to the university to attend the event, so I already set an alarm and told ami to wake me up early in the morning, so I will make all my preparations for the event and my mother assured me. I don’t know but I feel reluctant and hesitant about attending the event and my inner self tells me consistently, not to attend the reunion, but on the other hand, the excitement cannot be neglected as well.
Finally, the day comes, and I get up earlier, without an alarm, without being awakened by my mother, first, enter into a kitchen where Hassan Rehmani is making tea for baba Jani, and he asks me “would you like some tea” and I simply nodded in affirmation. Then, I moved to the garden where Baba is sitting and holding a newspaper in his hand, as soon as he hears my approaching him, he gives a pleasant smile just like he used to before my marriage, but he gets old now, on his forehead there seems a lot of lines, crumpled lines, his hands get skinny and it seems more bones than skin and veins gets more prominent, transparent like.
I greeted him, “Salam, baba”. He replies, “Walikum Salam”. I ask baba “You have the same old habit of reading the newspaper in the morning with a cup of tea in your hands” and baba replies, “Some things are never meant to change, beta”. He asks me about my visit to the university and attending the event and I tell him that it is going to start about late in the afternoon, but he is the same old baba who commands me to get ready on time because for him punctuality is something that always comes first, he never compromises for it. I’m going to the university with baba, he drops me there.
I have been in the room, getting dressed for the event, looking in the mirror, I realize how much I change these years have turned me into a mature woman, as I was never before in my university life, where my life is free of all tensions, all worries and concerns and it also impacted my physical appearance.
In my youth, I was very popular at university because of my active participation in all events; I also took part in the organizing team committee of those events, but if someone asks me now I totally refuse. Sometimes these changes are unbearable to accept as your perception changes with the passage of time and so do your priorities.
I get ready by 11 AM then baba calls me I walk past the verandah towards the parking area where baba used to park his car, baba takes out the car from the garage, ami is standing near the front gate so she opens the gate when baba starts the car, but it is not just the reason, also she is there so that she prays to Allah for our protection after we leave the home “Fi Aman Allah”, as it is a part of the Muslim Asian culture where most of the women, particularly wives and mother do, in almost all the houses.
On my way, I pass the same old streets of Rawalpindi reminiscing, about how I used to pass the similar streets starting from school till university, infrastructure changes a lot, but some areas are as same as they used to be, like street vendors, “Jang Newspaper Building”, “Liaquat Bagh”, it gives me Goosebumps that how I missed all of it in New York so much.
This place reminds me of so many dreams that I once had that may me I do something remarkable here and serve my own place well, the affinity I once had is still the same in New York but it takes its life reaching here is something that I come to realize after passing through these streets. Just a few minutes and we enter the remarkable territory of Islamabad where my university is situated, and here I meet all my friends some lost my contact and some are still there on Facebook.
I don’t know I feel nervous both inside and outside. The changes which I witness in myself today, do my friends recognize them or do they accept me for who I am now, or do they want the same old me ten years ago. Baba turns on the music on the way, and once again it plays Ustaad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s “Kali Kali Zulfon K Phande Na Dalo Humay Zinda Rehne Do aye Husn Walo”, it mesmerizes me, giving me Goosebumps.
After, an hour we arrive at the front gate of the university where they ask for baba’s id card, in order for his car to enter the campus near the parking lot, “sir we need your ID card for you to go inside the campus”. Baba, put his hands in his trouser pockets reaches for his wallet and then he pulls out the card and hands it to the guard by saying, “keep it safe, I’ll just come in ten minutes just after dropping my daughter inside the campus”.
After we arrive inside the campus baba drops me off and he says to me before leaving, “Give me a call half an hour before you are done with this event, so I’ll pick you up” I just nodded.
Walking through those paths where I used to laugh with my friends by cracking jokes on all kinds of people we hate or that infuriates us, including our teachers, classmates, bus mates, and security guards at the gate that scold us when they catch us climbing the walls and climbing the trees. I came across this spot where we used to sit and did group studies during our exam days and we were exam phobic; our long discussions on the food, aunty, and uncle in the café cooked, like Biryani, our all-time favorite.
In university now I realize that much has changed, in the café uncle and aunty are not seen but some young people are selling food items. I see here and there so I would find my friends and any other class fellow, but I find nobody and a weird strangeness crosses through my whole body. I don’t know if by seeing different faces I felt crankiness here. I just wanted to go back to my home; I really don’t want to go further ahead. Meanwhile, I feel someone at the back touch my shoulder and call my name Nahal and I turn around. I don’t recognize a face for a moment, my mind goes blank.
I see a bulky woman holding an infant in her hand and another child is standing with her looking at me curiously. Then, I recognized that she is one of my friends and group mate Shamsa. Back in university, she used to be slim, with fair skin and long black hair, but she turned into a bulky woman with golden dyed hair and the color of her skin is not the usual.
She catches my astonished look and asks me “what happened, don’t you recognize me”, and I little embarrassed replies “Yes of course, how can I not, you are beloved Shamsa”. She smiles and says, “let’s go to the venue, it might be everybody is there”, I reply, “yeah, sure”.
While walking towards the auditorium she asks me, “After our marriage and your settlement in the US you have lost contact with almost all your friends. I tried to contact you on your number, but I guess you have changed your number. I just simply nodded. I remember that I used to talk with her a lot in the past without any hesitations, without embarrassment and we had a lot of fun talks, though her appearance changed a lot. She is the same usual talkative person, but I’m not the same as usual. She says “Oye, cat hold your tongue, why so silent?” and I smile.
When we reach the venue, we see some old class fellows, one among them I remember is Waqar, who was famous for his soft, long and silky hair, he always kept a band on his hair and now he is half bald which kind of shocks me for once when I recognize him. One is Shadab, who used to be very handsome and a lot of cross-departmental girls have a crush on him but he was so arrogant, when any girl confessed to him, he was badly rejected.
Now, looking at him, he holds no similar charm, arrogance is still the same, but his personality does not; his belly expands, and he wears spectacles now due to myopia. Most friends of mine are absent from this reunion and a little which I know so far, all of it is not really a kind of happiness I guess. It upsets me and I myself don’t know why.
I meet with all of them with a heavy heart, then I turn around and go to the edge of the hall, a few seconds and I come out of the venue on the lawn. I call baba and say to him, “baba are you free? Can you just pick me up?” without asking any questions like why so early? he says, “Yeah, sure, I’ll be there in half an hour”.
On my way home, I wonder what causes them to change so much. Why are they not similar ones, my old friends? Why are some of my friends missing from this reunion? Do they already know that it is not going to be fun at all? Why did I fail to recognize all these? Did I waste my money and time, which I invested in traveling from New York to Pakistan? All these questions give me a strong headache.
When I reach home I tell ami, “I am going to sleep, please do not wake me for lunch, I want to sleep”. When I get up, it’s almost 6 o’clock. I go straight to the kitchen where ami is cooking Yellow curry and boiled rice. She asks me for a cup of tea and I say “Yeah, please”. She knows how much I love Yellow curry with boiled rice; I know that she cooks it, especially for me.
Though my visit to university is not good, not as expected, it shatters all my hopes but what never changes here, and one good thing about visiting Pakistan is the taste of my mother’s food and traditional flavors here that I usually miss in New York. At the dinner table, baba asks me about my visit and have I met my friends, instead of telling him about how I felt, I prefer to lie and I say, “It’s been fun there, baba” and baba responded, “good”.
Next week I decided to spend my time in Pakistan. I visited bazaars with my mother including “Moti Bazar”, “Urdu Bazar”, “Qilah”, “Madani Market”, “sixth road” and “Saddar”. I have bought a lot of stuff from these bazaars, especially Kurta Shalwar for Hateem because he lacks the traditional dresses we need for special occasions like Eid and Ramadan.
I pack all my stuff in a suitcase as I have to leave tomorrow for New York. I am now ready to leave and my mother is crying with all her tears rolling down her cheeks, it hurts me. I really feel bad for her. Baba drives and I sit in the back seat with my mother and calm her, and reassure her that I will soon pay my visit to Pakistan with Hateem but she looks as if she doubts everything I say.
Passing through those streets torments me and in my heart, I regret my visit, as I have to leave it again and visit a strange land again. Flight lends and at the airport I see Hateem waving his hand while looking at me and I smile. He asks me about ami baba and how everything is at home while holding my luggage and I reply, “Alhamdulillah, everything is perfect”.
He is wearing his white shirt and denim pants, he is though handsome, but today he looks more handsome than usual with his shirt sleeves half role, wearing transparent glasses, I wanted to tell him how much I miss him and how strange I feel there without him but says nothing and just looking to him and listening to all what he says. He asks me about the reunion and I simply reply that it was good but a lot has changed he smiles and his dimples appear on his cheeks and I feel like I have once again fallen in love with him.
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Read more book reviews in our September 2022 issue featuring The Wizard of True Crime – Anirban Bhattacharyya