Karachi, you used to be home

Published: July 27, 2016

Every day I try to expand my box slowly and gradually, hoping that one day it won’t be a box anymore. But I know that this is my reality, this is home. PHOTO: EXPRESS/M.ADEEL

I walk out of the plane and I’m hit with humidity, heat, and a smell that I can’t even describe with words. This is home.

The airport is packed as I trudge my way to get my overweight, large suitcases. My eyes are watering, my hair is in a state, and my clothes that seemed so loose back in Rome are suddenly sticking to me as the gaze of almost every male present follows me in a carnal manner. 

This is home.

I try and relax as I look at the out-dated conveyor belt slowly moving bag after bag until I finally see my own. I push my way through around 30 males, clad in a mundane-grey uniform, to grab my bag as they all scream,

“Baji, baji” to catch my attention.

One of them reaches for my bag but I reject his offer as I can carry my own luggage. As I try to grab my suitcase, I realise that the 37 kilos are heavier than they were back in Rome. But still, I was not going to embarrass myself so I muster up all my strength and get it down. I can do this on my own, I tell myself.

Soon my other bag comes, another army of grey clad males try and stop me—again I resist. Finally I’m out. The heat hits my face and I can’t remember ever feeling this hot before. My family is screaming off in the distance, I recognise their voices; their faces are blurry because my eyes are hurting. I see the glistening tip of the M of McDonald’s as I am engulfed by a hug of multiple arms.

This is home, I remind myself.

It’s been two months since I’ve moved back to Karachi – two months of gradually falling back into the life I was so comfortable with for 18 years. Everything I depended on for comfort and familiarity is no longer comfortable, and no longer familiar. Some days I tell myself that today, I’ll do it. Today I won’t care what anyone says or thinks, but then the other night while I was blindly scrolling through Facebook I came across an article about a 13-year-old girl that was gang raped. How can we exist freely in a place where a girl is lured into rape with the promise of candy? I thought of Sabeen Mahmud and how vital a haven like T2F is in a society like ours. But they got rid of her; clearly unconventionality is not our friend.

How can we live in a place where innovation is synonymous with fear? I thought of Amjad Sabri and the joy he brought with every Qawwali he sang – but society failed him. How can we live in a place like this?

What can I say, this is home.

I stand in the driveway longing to walk to the nearest cafe, or anywhere at all – but the only way to go is by car and I can’t sit any more. I am sitting at work, sitting at home binge watching Netflix, sitting in the car only to go to another place where I’ll sit. What happened to standing? What happened to long walks? Now, my clothes are measured, the tone of my voice in public is measured. My whole life is measured by customs and rules that I no longer believe in.

I look up and stare at the grey sky from my courtyard. I am chained within four walls constantly. The walls of my house, the walls of my gender, the walls of the ever dominating patriarchy that keep growing taller and taller as I grow smaller to fit into my self-made box. I cannot breathe because I am larger than the box, my thoughts do not fit within it, and my actions do not either.

There, there were no borders, no lines—there was freedom in a way that I hadn’t known before. It tempted me with the ability to express myself in a way that I hadn’t previously been allowed to. And now that I’m home, the freedom I believed I once had has caged me. Every day I try to expand my box slowly and gradually, hoping that one day it won’t be a box anymore. But I know that this is my reality, this is home.

Maheen Humayun

Maheen Humayun

The writer studied Literature and Creative Writing from John Cabot University in Rome. She is the author of the novella Special. She is currently a sub-editor at Tribune. She blogs at karachiiloveyou.wordpress.com/ and tweets @MaheenHumayun

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • khan

    dear Author / Maheen,

    i am sorry, we as men have failed u, we have failed every female in our country, to be honest, we have failed each an everyone in our society.

    we have failed Mr. Jinnah as a whole, coz he didnt expect this! he had high hopes which we destroy everyday…

    i am pretty sure he wont be resting in peace…Recommend

  • Vikas S.

    Have you ever been ANYWHERE outside of your own country to make that statement? And you might be the only one here taking the author’s statements as “confused”. Also enlighten us as to whether youre a male or female, because that will definitely give us more insight into your thoughts. Recommend

  • ladybug

    I can identify with some of the things here about India too. I definitely can identify with that smell when the plane lands. :)
    But I do not feel boxed or chained …I feel society has grown to accept and let women be in all walks of life. I feel the men stealing gazes at me, but I see more men who are least bothered about my or any other women’s presence. The patriarchy ..the violence against women is still a reality in most parts of my country, but I feel very hopeful that it will change. Do not know why I feel this when there are things I get outraged about every other day…..but I see many men and women also debating, fighting to change the society from within…..it probably is not very different in Pakistan too, may be we need to learn to look at brighter side of things? People like you want a change, more and more people like you should speak up and bring about a change.Recommend

  • Patwari

    You changed the topic. To suit yourself. It’s flag waving now.
    Who gives a doozy when you will vote! And who gives a
    rat’s rear end about your sudden flaming patriotism. You stated, sanctimoniously, that Karachiites are to be blamed
    for their problems in Karachi.. Never mind that Karachi generates a huge chunk of cash, a large part of the
    Pakland economy and is the driving engine of the country,
    Yet it receives none of the benefits that are due to it. Nada.
    And it is treated like a stepchild, and is considered a place filled with foreigners. [meaning Muhajjirs]
    Unfortunately there there is a PM [supposedly] who just takes care of Punjabistan. And makes doubly sure that the majority of the Federal Money, somehow only ends up
    there….in the hands of his little brother.
    Karachi and the rest of the Land of the Pure is bereft.
    Actually, Karachi should be a separate province. And let
    the people of Karachi run their own city and province. No
    help needed from super corrupt, two bit politicians from
    Punjabistan, Sindhistan or Pathanistan.
    They, should stay in their own provinces,and be…happyRecommend

  • Aaryan Ramzan

    So glad to be out of there. Sorry you had to go back. I feel your pain. Never again.Recommend

  • Ardeshir Viccaji

    A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE . Left for the UK with my mother to spend time with my sister and brother in law. Then proceeded all over Europe solo for 21 days . Was away for 51 days in all , and had a lot of fun , BUT I was in for a surprise. On the return trip in a PIA plain , I listened to Pakistani music , once again . Thought about Karachi and its people and friends .Tears began to flow , and a feeling of peace and comfort prevailed.Recommend