The time was nigh – I had finally graduated university, and my mother was calling me home, to the motherland.
As someone who was born and lived her whole life in London, indefinitely shifting to Pakistan was pretty daunting.
My experience in Pakistan thus far had been a yearly ritual of visiting Lahore during the summer holidays, solely confined to the four walls of my grandparent’s house. At most the only form of sorrowful interaction I had was that with distant relatives I barely got along with, and two family Labradors. Venturing out of our Defence house was a family trip to the bustling H-block market where waiters turned into Wile E. Coyotes around our car. So the idea of actually integrating within Lahori society – a new place, brimming with new people and harbored by an entirely new culture – was a frightening thought. I thought it would be easy though. And boy, was I wrong.
The first few months in Lahore were pretty grim; a culture shock is real folks, it’s not made-up!
Life in Lahore is starkly different. Something I miss the most has been London’s buses and tubes. I’ve spent my entire life on the city’s public transport; even a quick trip to the groceries was on a 33 numbered bus. Walking everywhere became an inherent part of me.
Going from point A to B has become a tiring, repetitive tradition of first informing everyone in the mohalla where I’m going, who I’m going to meet, when, why, and if it is at all possible for me not to go. I mean a detailed obituary would suffice. Even going to the local shops is a nightmare. Conventional questions that start getting hurled across the room like ‘kis ke saath, kab aoge, konse shop, kya lena hai? Jaana zaroori hai? Jhoot tho nahi bol rahe,’ have been pretty overwhelming. It’s become a cyclic life of home – car – home.
Pollution has been another thing I never really thought I’d feel affected by…until I came to Lahore.
The city is pretty unbreathable, and I’m always finding myself running off to Jilani Racecourse Park every chance I get (with a family member of course), when contaminated Lahori air becomes a little too unbearable. The romance of walking everyday beneath wilted trees, with a honeyed tulip scent in the air even in the more bustling parts of London is something I really miss. I can only just about reignite a somewhat similar nostalgic feeling strolling through Lahori parks, or even a Parisian stroll through Bahria Town’s Eiffel Tower (thank you Malik saab).
Dating in Lahore exists like in London but it’s waaaay different
Let’s talk about dating. I mean we all do it; some more secretly than others. Growing up in London, dating is a very normal and open way of life. Lahore’s dating scene has been fascinating. Pakistani families frown upon a boy and a girl interacting. So much as a glance is considered the most outrageous thing to happen to mankind. I’ve only been on a few dates in Pakistan, and it’s been pretty difficult. Having dinner in a restaurant was the easy part. Finding a place to ‘hang out’ was problematic. Houses were off limits. Only the bravest of the brave would venture into that realm, with the fear of getting caught and beheaded or stoned lurking overhead. Coffee shops lacked the privacy, and cinemas would quickly run their course. Cars became the only sanctuary to really decipher one another.
Financial independence in Lahore is tough for a girl.
London was a breeze when it came to getting a little financial independence. Odd jobs like waitressing, bartending and even retail were how I earned my pocket money. It felt good, it felt liberating, and it taught me empowering independence like I’d never known. I quickly ran out of money arriving in Lahore, and finding a summer job was tantamount to impossible. I mean literally, pitching the idea to wary family members of me working in a Pakistani restaurant was pretty close to declaring a sudden elopement and sailing the seven seas with my lover.
Moving back home has had its pleasantries though.
It’s like I can feel my roots sprouting within me. It’s odd really, when you feel more at home somewhere you’ve known for six months than anywhere else before. Never have I felt more alive than I have unravelling my culture. It’s like all my senses had been in deep slumber until now. The tangled streets of this vibrant city breathe such history, and don’t get me started on the tantalising street food here. Boy oh boy, have I been missing out! Sajji and Lasani’s anday wala burger have become staples in my diet, followed by a nightly paan, and the occasional Lakshmi Chowk’s gulaab jaman with garam chai. My tummy has been expanding gloriously, as has my appetite.
There have been cascades of assumptions drowning me from relatives and acquaintances alike as soon as I set foot on Pakistani land.
The obvious ‘aap ko urdu aati hai,’ coupled with a cheeky half smile, was the popular conversation starter. I’d respond in the Urdu I had learnt in London, and it was always met with the routine surprise, ‘hain!? Urdu aati hai?’ What followed was then quite the unique palette of reactions after overcoming the denial phase and accepting that a BBCD (Britsh-born confused Desi) can actually speak Urdu; the winning one (which I see as a compliment) has been asking if I’m from the North, what with the apparent slight Pathan-y twist I have entwined in my accent. The more obvious ones have been forms of ‘aap baahir se aayi hain, haina? Goron jaisi awaaz hai aap ki.’
I mean come on guys – the Pakistani, nay, the Desi community in London is pretty legit. We know how to cook, we know how to speak Urdu, and we know a lot more than we might lead on. A lot of us might not have visited Pakistan a single time, but our love for Pakistan is rooted deep in the pardesi soil we tread on. And we celebrate it with immense fervor and zest.
Cover image via Mobeen Ansari/Facebook