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

  • Grace

    Compared to most muslim countries, Pakistan is heaven due to stability and relative peace. Things are by no means perfect but don’t believe all the hype of a confused person who acts like everything is strange after a few months abroad. Any 3 rd world country won’t be like Europe but I prefer Lahore to any city in the world!Recommend

  • vinsin

    Those are the very customs and rules that Pakistan is formed for. Rape can happen in any society or happens in Italy also. If Qawwali/Bhakti Yoga were so important then what was the point of converting to Islam? Your views are against TNT and Pakistan being an Islamic State.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

  • PJ

    Look who is talking. Someone from Hindustan where they beat up
    Muslim women at a railway station because they were suspected of
    having beef in their groceries. [it was not beef] A country that is known
    as the rape capital of the world. And foreign govts. advise women tourists NOT TO VISIT.
    Where they are conducting a Genocide in Bharati Occupied Kashmir.
    Where roving gangs of thugs roam the streets in every major city, harassing
    Muslims and other minorities. Specially if they happen to be Muslim.
    Where there is an atrocious Caste System that you can NEVER escape.
    Where a 11 year old Dalit girl was nearly beaten to death because her
    SHADOW fell on a high caste hindu.
    And on and on and on it goes….never ending.
    Same culture, same extremism,….It called Hindustan on one side, cross
    the border, it becomes Pakistan.Recommend

  • Annonymous

    I feel the same way everytime i come back from abroad too. I live between dubai and Pakistan, travelling quite frequently (monthly) , and the amount of safety, happiness and freedom i feel in dubai (which is also a muslim country) is amazing compared to the closed, caged feeling i get when i step at karachi airport. I dont live a lavish lifestyle in dubai, i dont have servants. i clean, do laundry and groceries all by myself, and my apartment is small. but im satisfied there because im not judged by anyone by what i wear or how i walk or what my religion is. i can do what ever i want to do.

    We all live and let live. My neighbors are hindu and christians. I have always gone out at night ALONE aswell for walks. In karachi i cant even walk out of my gate without getting whistled at or scolded, going out at night is not even thinkable.

    I also love how i dont need to rely on people having to pick and drop me for everything in dubai as i can just walk and take a bus anywhere i want. Its really safe compared to Pakistan. This is just how i feel as a girl living there. Despite having a big home in karachi, being stuck in my house is just suffocating. There is no communication with the outside world and it kills me. I need to walk around and see people. I like to smile at others. Over here in karachi i tried smiling with a thankyou at a shop keeper while i was making a purchase and i got a disgusting kiss noise from him in return. Never smiled here since then. Karachi is my home and i will always come back there, but it just doesnt let me experience it. Ive lived there so many years yet, i havent really seen my city because i just cant explore it. ive only been in dubai for 4 years and ive already covered every last corner of it. Karachi may be lavish, but Dubai is mental peace for me. ill get bashed pretty badly for this comment but its just an honest review. we all have our own opinions.Recommend

  • stevenson

    No one takes any of the comments of the Indian trolls here seriously. How can any Indian talk about women’s rights with a straight face when India is known everywhere as the Rape Capital of the World. Any woman tourist in India is fair game for bands of depraved skinny Indian men who attack women in groups. The author is trying to write a piece of fiction which is why she is making her life in Karachi over dramatic but we can all see through it. She is trying to make things more dramatic than they are for her own career as a writer and nothing else.Recommend

  • Arshad Kazmi

    Stability and relative peace. Recommend

  • Patwari

    Boiled up hindu commentator on the spot in nano seconds. And this commentator can’t tell whether ” Grace” the commenter is male or female!!.
    Yet he interjected himself with his foot in his mouth. A common occurrence with hindus. 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

  • vinsin

    No one forced Muslim women not to move to Pakistan to eat beef. Prove that India is rape capital of the world. Prove that there is a Genocide in Kashmir. Indian has give Muslims Pakistan and Bangladesh so why they dont they havent move to Pakistan?
    Dalits were also given option of partition or stay with non-Dalits. Who has stopped Dalits from demanding partition?

    Cultures are different in Pakistan and India. There is no country called Hindustan.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Women rights has nothing to do with rape. Prove that India is known as rape capital. India is among countries with lowest rape rate in the world with highest conviction rate. Then why women tourists visit India not Pakistan?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Women’s Rights have EVERYTHING to do with rape. In
    Hindustan low castes DO Not have ANY rights. They are
    UNTOUCHABLES. Slightly higher caste hindus will not even
    sit next to untouchables in a CLASSROOM ! Talk about
    discrimination and Human Rights. A perverted system !!
    A Dalit woman is raped by a non Dalit hindu every 7 minutes
    in Hindustan. These are the cases that are REPORTED.
    Imagine how many are NOT unreported, in the Land Of Gandhi, also known as Hindustan or Hindu Desh.
    These figures are from your own hindu govt. statistics.
    Females children are killed at birth in Hindustan. There
    are 600 women to every 1000 men in Bharat !!!Recommend

  • Patwari

    Great opinion. Everyone is entitled to theirs. There is no harm in
    expressing yourself in a civil manner. Which you did. And if anyone
    bashes you, then they are the pathetic ones.Recommend

  • Maha

    Many people in the comment section are bringing up some sensitive topics that have a long history. Before pointing any fingers, why don’t you ask yourself how much you’ve helped the society — perhaps even by giving your opinion. By judging and pointing fingers at others will not change anything. This writer is talking about how she feels. As humans, we should respect how she feels and feel sympathy towards the individual. If you want other people to feel for you and your country, you must do the same for others. We all have faults and we are all at fault in some ways. There’s no need to play the blame game. Don’t talk about what Muslims and Hindus are doing to each other, but what humans are doing to each other.

    Maheen, you did a beautiful job with this piece. Very well written.Recommend

  • Maria

    Yes, everyone is entitled to an opinion but they also have to be prepared to defend their point of view when they spew inaccuracies. How much has the author done to make her city a better place? So many people in Karachi are down on Karachi but you don’t hear of people in other Pakistani cities complain so much about their home city. Maybe the problem has as much to do with Karachiites not working to improve their own city but preferring to complain?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Well, coming from a brainwashed desi in Canada, this is
    rich. And pathetic.
    How about you pull up your tent, take your kids,
    out school and make a beeline for Punjabistan? Uncle
    Nawaz will greet you with garlands. Maybe jalebis too.
    Did it occur to YOU, the people in other cities of Pakland,
    mainly Punjab, have no recourse, because hey are illiterate. and indentured peons of the Sharif Brothers. Complain?
    They don’t even know the correct end of a pen. Let alone
    a desktop, to be able to grind out a comment. Poor them. All 119, [teeming, seething, stacked] millions of them. Plus,their kids, who are their future, don’t even know what a school is. Now that is pretty grim, would’nt you say?
    The other cities don’t give a doozy, because they have nothing to do with the ‘alleged’ PM. Who lives in London
    and shops at Harrod’s. Owns lavish apartments there too.
    Panama Sharif did start a laptop scheme, but no one knows what happened to the billions of ruppiahs that were allocated to buy them. Darn money just flew abroad. to Panama.Recommend

  • Maria

    I don’t think I am a brainwashed desi but a typical Pakistani girl which includes my Pakistani ID and Pakistani passport – both of which I am very proud. I don’t live in Punjabistan but in Punjab and I support Imran Khan although I don’t agree with his dharna politics. I would only vote for him in an election and do not want him through public unrest. This election would be the first time I vote in 2017 like many of my generation. You can hate Nawaz Sharif or any other politician all you want. You don’t seem to know much about Punjab or Pakistan in general because you would then understand that literacy is high in many urban centres of Punjab and that the province is forging ahead in development on all fronts. You are welcome to belittle the peons like me in Rawalpindi but we will work to improve our homeland and society while others complain. That is the difference. You can hate the people of Pakistan like me and my family all you want but that won’t change our devotion or conviction to improve things!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

  • Ali S

    Before you hanker on about “helping society” and “being the change you want to see”, just compare what Pakistan gave them as compared to what their host countries gave them. Being born in a certain location is geographic luck, you can choose to have whatever identity you want – someone whose talent would be wasted in Pakistan doesn’t need to be indentured to that country, Pakistan’s leadership should make sure that they don’t waste its talent.Recommend

  • 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