Pakistan just doesn’t feel like home

Published: November 24, 2013

I was awoken from my dreamy haze by my husband, creating a hue and cry about how he would get to work during the 8th Muharram processions. PHOTO: MOHAMMAD NOMAN/EXPRESS

“I have and always will live in Canada.”

Well, that was the plan until two years ago when all my plans, my vision for life – everything changed suddenly and rapidly. Quite unexpectedly, I had to make new plans, which included living in Pakistan.

My eyes still closed I enjoyed the crisp, cool weather and tried to decipher whether the heating was on or not. As I pulled the pillow over my face to block the sunlight, I decided that the heating had to be on. After all, November in Toronto was never cool; it was freezing.

This thought led me to the far less pleasant one of me having to scrape the ice off my car and shovelling the snow off the driveway. Boy was it cold and painfully so.

“Maybe I’ll get a nice hot cup of cappuccino on the way.”

Before I could decide if I felt like full cream or regular coffee, I was awoken from my dreamy haze by my husband, creating a hue and cry about how she would get to work since there were road blocks because of the 8th Muharram processions. Confused and annoyed, I sat up and snapped back to reality.

With a cheeky smile, he pulled me to the window at the end of the hall in our apartment. I was dismayed to see two containers and a truck guarded by police officers blocking the only exit of our building. Then, I noticed two officers with snipers on the roof of the opposite building, which was just too close for comfort. The main road leading to our building was eerily empty, with the exception of police patrolling each side.

With a smug smile on his face, my husband said,

“Welcome to Karachi.”

Suddenly, all the grogginess and confusion vanished, and the only concern on my mind was how I was going to get to work.

Out of nowhere the image of Ismail popped into my head. Ismail is an elderly rickshaw driver, who does not own a cell phone in this day and age.

“Mein darakht ke neechay hota hoon, agar kabhi bhi zaroorat ho.”

(I am usually standing under the tree, if you ever need me.)

Of course as my luck would have it, today of all days, he was nowhere to be seen.

So, I frantically began to make phone calls. The first call was to my office to see if the company could arrange a pick-up, then I called the cab service; but as expected there was no one available. With a heavy sigh, my husband claimed he had an idea.

Although the main road was completely blocked, there was one other way out – the dump.

There is a hill behind our building which has been made larger over time by the mound of trash piled up on it.

We got the bike out of the garage and headed out. After accelerating as much as he could, we only managed to get up to a third of the hill. Then, we got off and my husband pulled the bike up the steeper part of the hill and rode through a football field-sized field of trash!

The stench of trash still in our nostrils, we navigated through numerous narrow gullis (streets) until we emerged onto a wider road to my office. As we got closer to my office, it seemed like any other day. There was nothing out of the ordinary; no road blocks or containers. There just seemed to be little more policemen than usual. I entered my office, realising that I did not need that cappuccino anymore.

I was wide awake.

I have never really felt Pakistani. I am not saying that I am ashamed of my heritage but I always felt that Pakistan had more to do with my ethnicity than my nationality. I was born in Pakistan. I have vague memories of the places I visited when I was 11 and 14 years old.

Pakistan was my grandparents’ home. It was an all-inclusive resort for me with family, good food and all sorts of help available from cooks, maids, drivers and the ironing lady. Pakistan was long road trips from Lahore to Hyderabad; it was visiting the village where my grandfather grew up.

Pakistan was beautiful, enchanting and magical.

Yet, it simply never felt like home.

Hajra Hassnain

Hajra Hassnain

A graduate from the University of Toronto who is currently in the process of immersing herself head first into Pakistani culture. She tweets as @ImHajra (

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