Leaving for college but trying to fit ‘home’ into a suitcase

Published: September 9, 2013

I must go - away from a myriad of memories, from a city troubled and vibrant, from my friends and family.

Every time I leave home, I have the urge to pack everything within sight. Accessories I will never use, dozens of Pakistan flags I will forget to put up, books I won’t get time to read, stray tokens of days spent at home so that I may relive them at will.

However, this odd impulse isn’t nearly as exasperating as the reality that I can’t actually pack the things that matter the most, because they are intangible. My sister’s voice or the spark in her chatter; my mother’s worried frown when she thinks I’m overworked; long, honest conversations with old friends; the innate comfort of my purple bedroom, cosy and familiar.

There are also homey tit bits I never knew I held dear until I was forced into the knowledge; the beauty of the azaan, for instance. I can’t claim I always answer the call for prayer promptly. But I know now, that the moment when it echoes through the atmosphere, letting a new time of the day rush in to our consciousness – dawn, afternoon, evening, dusk, darkness – is exquisite. Then there are the colourful rikshas I flag at home, loud and gurgling, waddling cheerfully on bustling Karachi streets to deliver me to my destination.

Then there are the colourful rikshas I flag at home, loud and gurgling, waddling cheerfully on bustling Karachi streets to deliver me to my destination. Photo: AFP

There are luxuries like Sunday bazaar, the land where a little bargaining can buy everything dirt cheap. And of course, the food. No suitcase can pack enough chai, milky, steaming, soothing chai with just the right amount of powdered milk, maybe an elaichi or two. Or enough street fare- bun kebabs that are full of unhygienic deliciousness; gola gandas; french fries- Rs20 a box, covered in bright red tomato sauce.

French fries- Rs 20 a box, covered in bright orange tomato sauce.

Every time I leave, saying goodbyes, then reiterating them, giving hugs and shaking hands with promises of meeting again soon, I add to this list.

No suitcase can pack enough chai, milky, steaming, soothing chai with just the right amount of powdered milk, maybe an elaichi or two. Photo: AFP

I question myself – will there ever be a day when I don’t feel like a piece of my heart has been cut off as I board my plane for the umpteenth time?

Yet, there it is. I have chosen a life that tears me apart from everyone and everything I call my own. Or maybe this life has chosen me. Regardless, I must go – away from a myriad of memories, from a city troubled and vibrant, from my friends and family.

Of course, through every bout of homesickness is the fear that when I finally return, something might have changed. My family tree, the street I live on, household traditions, or worst of all, my ability to blend back in.

But wait.

These things I call home have shaped me. I am their product, their offspring. I am more than just a surname or a green passport. I am a vessel, full of everything I grew up among, made of ingredients that when mixed in larger quantities form what I term ‘home’.

The trick, I suppose, is to latch on to this fleeting realisation. I can’t be without home– because I am made of it, from it.

Sometimes, I make my way back to this insight as my mother reads the Ayat-ul-kursi aloud for me. Other times it is when my sister tells me exactly where I can find my suitcase keys when I get to college. It can be when my baby cousin waves bye-bye blithely at the airport with no idea that he will cease to remember my face in a few weeks. It can even be when I lean out for a glimpse of Karachi through the minute airplane window as we take off- my city, as awake as I am in the middle of a cloudless night, bewildered yet glorious.

Just when I decide this is the flight when I’ll be asked to leave the plane for wailing too loud, some peace, some strength sneakily makes its way into my heart.

That’s when I know home has taught me well. With my mind full of faces and places I love, I might just conquer a new stretch of time. Fine, I may tick days off the calendar. But only until the next time I am home.


Areeba Kamal

An alumna and former employee of Nixor College. She is currently studying International Relations and Computer Science at Mount Holyoke, USA. She tweets @KamalAreeba twitter.com/KamalAreeba

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