“You must be missing Pakistan a lot!” Said an acquaintance I bumped into here in Cambridge, when I told her I had recently moved back here.
My instinctive response was an emphatic no. “Not at all”, I said, at which she seemed a bit taken aback. “Really? Well that’s… nice”.
This wasn’t the first time in two months when a fellow Pakistani talked about how much she misses Pakistan and hates returning from visits there, expecting me to nod in agreement while I just looked on blankly. I guess it’s just what expat Pakistanis are supposed to say to each other when they meet.
I can understand them. Although they probably cannot understand my lack of enthusiasm in such conversations. I empathize with them because I’ve been there. In most cases, these are women who moved here right after getting married. So did I. The shock of leaving home behind and adjusting to a new life is compounded by moving to a new country immediately. Very soon after moving here, I started yearning for the good life back home. Everything’s easy there. In this new setting, you have to do the unimaginable for most – your own housework. It’s cold. The kind of cold that hurts your bones and makes Lahore’s sweltering heat seem like paradise in comparison. The food is boring. It’s kind of lonely. And then there’s family back home.
Five months later I was desperate to move back. Although to be fair, a lot of it had to do with a complete lack of jobs in my field in Cambridge. It’s either science-y stuff or accounting in Cambridge (because mind-numbing accounting jobs can be found even in the smallest of towns where even Tesco Express hasn’t dared to venture). Apart from those, the only kind of jobs here seem to be in retail or admin. So I started obsessing about moving back to Pakistan and living a perfectly happy cozy life, surrounded with family and familiar faces, household help and great food.
And so we did a few months later. Thrown back into the reality of life there as soon as I got back, my illusions quickly disintegrated, obviously. If you have gotten used to the order and peace of a place like Cambridge, the chaos, the noise, the frantic life riddled with new problems cropping up everyday, really messes with your sanity. The Pakistan we yearn for when we are away doesn’t exist anywhere apart from our memories. We spent three crazy years back home, saw some good times but also the saddest and scariest periods of my life.
When we moved back to Cambridge a couple of months ago, life suddenly shifted gears. It calmed down. There was quiet, a routine which we quickly settled in to, just everyday things with no issues. A simple life. I had craved this simplicity so much over the past couple of years that, for now, I honestly cannot say I miss Pakistan.
The truth is that I don’t miss the feeling of impermanence.
I don’t miss sitting around at airports, the feeling of dread preceding every flight and when I’d reach home, the feeling that I’ll have to get moving again soon.
I don’t miss the torture unleashed by KESC throughout the year, making LESCO look way more competent (which is really something).
I don’t miss the constant drone of generators in every house and the headache it would give me.
I don’t miss the atrocious traffic and complete disregard for rules and other people on the road. Not to mention cars parked in the middle of main roads.
I don’t miss the piles of garbage all around us, on every single street in Karachi.
I don’t miss arguing with banks which are always trying to fleece you.
I don’t miss the scary firing in the middle of the night every few days.
I don’t miss how almost everyone who could deceive you in any way, would.
I don’t miss the palpable frustration in people who are taking it all out on you.
I don’t miss the fear of being at the mercy of incompetent doctors.
I don’t miss whiling away entire days waiting for electricity, for gas, for water. How your life is reduced to such a basic level of survival.
I don’t miss how money has no value there and how it would keep vanishing from my bank account. And how expensive things really are there.
I don’t miss out how the AC, the fridge, the UPS, the WiFi modem or something or the other is conking out every few days because of the near-constant electricity fluctuation.
I don’t miss the dependence on maids and drivers and how a mini-crisis would ensue on a day they don’t show up.
I don’t miss the uneasy feeling when two men on a motorbike pass by your car, almost sure that it’s my turn to get mugged. (I know this sounds terrible and I’m stereotyping but all Karachites can probably admit to thinking this at some point).
I don’t miss how news is inevitably our only entertainment on TV. And what terrible entertainment at that, the noise and the madness. The crazies constantly on the news. Watching absolute insanity unfolding on TV, reading about it in the papers and then talking about it with everyone you met.
I don’t miss inane politics dominating every conversation.
I don’t miss the constant dread of something terrible that’s going to happen because it seems inevitable when you are living there.
I’m well aware of how, with the passage of time, these things start seeming insignificant from a distance. But when you are living in Pakistan, these ARE the things surrounding you every moment of every day. It gets suffocating.
So for now, I’m happy to have a break from all that chaos. I do miss the little family we have left there. Also the food. And at the end of the day, it’s home. Over time I will probably start missing those things enough for it to cloud the reality which I (almost) happily left behind. But at the moment, my honest answer is no, I don’t miss Pakistan.