The tough New Yorkers of Lahore

Published: December 16, 2011

We, who have left our families to work and send money back are the true New Yorkers of Pakistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

I moved to Lahore from my home town of Faisalabad, to pursue higher education at the Government College University. Although I didn’t know it then, Lahore was to be my home for a very long time.

My MBA years flew by when I lived in the university hostel. My needs were simple; I wanted nothing more than the 15 x 15 cubicle that I shared with a room-mate. There were no air-conditioners in the summer, no heaters in the winter, no maids to do my laundry, and no home-cooked food. Yet, I survived. Even though the winters were bitterly cold in Lahore, my room was warm with the companionship of some great friends.

We wore layers of clothing to keep us warm in the winter and bathed ourselves in prickly-heat powder before sleeping at night during the summer. When one of us fell sick, the other would warm milk in the hostel’s kitchen. On weekends, if we were not travelling, we would take enjoyable trips to Liberty or Anarkali. We once sneaked into this huge cathedral on the Mall because we wanted to see how Christians offer their Sunday prayers. No one noticed us and the priest simply smiled.

The washrooms were alright. Marbled, varied between being clean and not-so-clean. Sometimes you had to wait your turn to use the shower, especially when everyone was getting ready for the 9am lecture in the university, which was one kilometre away from the hostel. I didn’t have the luxury of a car and neither did any of my friends. No problem – we would walk to university every morning; it kept us in shape.

I got a job in a renowned organisation as soon as I graduated. Luckily, I was offered a place to stay with my relatives. Once again, life seemed easy. I had a place to stay, I found a great job as soon as I was out of college – I owned the world.

Unfortunately, life was soon to take a turn for the negative. The head of the family, who I was living with, passed away and  my relatives decided to move to the States. So just like that, I was homeless. I needed to arrange for accommodation.

It was a Wednesday, and I remember searching the Sunday newspaper in the hopes of finding a suitable place to live. I took note of a few telephone numbers, made a few phone calls, and visited a few homes.

I ended up feeling really low. I wished I was just an unmotivated stay-at-home woman who was taken care of by men around her. “Why am I an independent career woman?” I wondered in anguish. When I cribbed about my plight to a friend, I was told that I should stop being a cry baby, because what I was doing and the way I was living was something that “Tough New York girls do all the time”. This statement made me smile. I felt a wee bit better, if not perfectly happy again.

During this time, I came across a lot of people like me. A lot of single women and men who were living the same life away from home, trying to make careers for themselves in a city that was not theirs. I came across people from Islamabad, Karachi, and Multan, excited about their new jobs, but worried about their accommodation needs.

Although being worried about where you are going to live may sound strange to married couples or those living abroad, one must understand that in Pakistan, people generally do not live alone. We don’t move out of our parents’ home because we want to be independent. Pakistan does not accommodate people who want to live alone in terms of security or infrastructure. Thus, finding a place to live alone isn’t as simple as just calling a property dealer, looking at an apartment and moving in. I don’t even know if there are any one-bedroom apartments in most cities here – a starkly different concept than New York or LA.

During my struggle to find a place to live, I came across many young women and men committing themselves entirely to their careers, yet, skipping their lunch breaks at the office to meet with property dealers. We were all in the same boat. When one girl would have car trouble, she would instantly call her “other-single-independent” girl friend to come to her rescue. They would together fight the man at the workshop who was charging them an absurd amount for a simple punctured tyre. When one guy would miss his family on his birthday, his friends would throw him a surprise birthday party to make him feel at home. This is how we “Pakistani New Yorkers” stuck together.

Here’s to all those who are living alone or are moving to a new place for work or even to study; to all those who have been brave enough to pursue careers in a foreign land and deal with the difficulties that come with it; to those who are right now, at this very moment, saving salaries because they know that they need to pay the next month’s rent and send some money back home too.

All of you, you are the tough New Yorkers of Pakistan.


Hyra Zaka

A business graduate from GC University, Lahore who is now working in a MNC.

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

  • chris

    What is this. Every one has story, whats new in it ?Recommend

  • akuman

    Bravo Ravians,

    I am with you, nicely put article based on our daily lives :) Recommend

  • Usama Khilji

    You heat milk, not warm milk. Recommend

  • john

    Why I’m reading all this, I quite, Recommend

  • http://deleted shazaad

    its really very hard to live far from a homeRecommend

  • sour asad

    LoL. yes we are :)Recommend

  • Umair

    Since when tribune started giving such articles a plight in their blog? I really didn’t know what to make of it and Why I read it. Really was a high school essay good for nothing. The headline is catchy though.Recommend

  • Sikandar Ali

    we should remain in Pakistan, atleast this country prevent us of gaddering on need to be tough Newyorker..Be a soft hearted,honourable HomeLander…Recommend

  • Kashif Iqbal

    Great effort girl and a good piece to encourage others. I’m with all the career oriented girls :) Recommend

  • Asad

    Why call yourself New Yorkers? You are way better than them…but alas our ‘slave of USA’ mentality always makes us attribute the brave and courageous things to US of A…Recommend

  • umair

    its really brave living independent in Pakistan. i really appreciate you for that. Recommend

  • Shafi Ahmed(Deccan)

    What she want to prove???nothing “muslim” abt her…wasted my time.. Recommend

  • MH

    Another useless and time wasting read!Recommend

  • abc

    why do you have to describe urself as a true new yorker of pakistan ? how funny. and big deal ! there are millions of people all over the world who are more independent. so what ?Recommend

  • niso

    “one must understand that in Pakistan, people generally do not live alone. We don’t move out of our parents’ home because we want to be independent.”
    so do people look for jobs in the same city as their parents are ? really ? that would not bode well for the prosperity of the country.In india, every city has lakhs of students/working professionals living alone or with friends in rented apartments.pakistan is too backward. and i m not indian, i m a sri lankan living here.but i love the whole india vs pak thingy. its fun !Recommend

  • Mohammad Zulifqar

    Country like Pakistan is not easy for female … there are may other issues..female has to grow throw..

    now i am In New York City …but almost i have leaved every Big city in USA…and is easy to move here but in PAKISTAN…it’s impossible..especially for female.Recommend

  • Mustafa Hanif

    “I wished I was just an unmotivated stay-at-home woman who was taken care of by men around her”

    Sure raising children is done by really un-motivated people … Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    @Usama Khilji:
    Milk milk hota hai … warm ho ya hot !!!!! Recommend

  • Adnan S. Khan

    New Yorkers are native to New York, not from other towns and cities… You are from Faisalabad, not a native LahoriRecommend

  • Piscean

    This is what blogging really is. uninhibited loosely structured verbal vomit.
    I had similar experience.
    But I wrote about what ones gets through when you are back home

  • Haseeb

    Nice one….
    In fact there is nothing new or different but still I was unable to left reading this article. People would say useless, nothing new or time wasting…yes it is useless,time wasting and there is nothing new in it and these are the positive aspects of this article. So obvious and so ignored….
    Good one, In fact good one.
    People who lives here far from their families can feel how touching this article is….
    Simply yet perfectly describes everyone’s story.
    In fact I was feeling as some one wrote my story. :)
    Good jobRecommend

  • Shahbaz lodhi

    Nicely explained about the life of single person both official work & domestic.Recommend

  • Scr

    Dont call her americanised for the use of the word ‘new yorker’ for as much as i love using our own cultural refrences and urdu words, i couldnt come up with a better word, an alternate would be “hobe” but that’s equally american as new yorkerRecommend

  • Omer

    If i may ask, what is the point of writing this article, exactly?Recommend

  • Hira Z

    Living alone in Pakistan is ten folds tough than New York . Every second person around will ask you Why alone? and consider as if you are not good enuf to be a part of family.
    Bravo girl for living alone not the story. Recommend

  • Ali

    Maybe you should start some sort of agency for people like yourself looking for an apartment!Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Faisalabad is not to for away from Lahore, and every walk to the uni from hostel. So what is this all fuss about ?Recommend

  • amna

    i like these type of articles in tribune published often!Recommend

  • Ali

    This is supposed to be a news worthy article? seriously…Guys, come on I know we can do a litte better than this. Recommend

  • Saulat

    @Author: I am proud of your success and the other ‘new yorkers in Pakistan’. We need people like you in this country – especially women like you who are highly educated, working professionals and are independent. You are good role models for the new generation. Who did ever think a woman could study, work to earn money and support her family back home in a small town!Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    I think picture is bast and story is not concert with this societyRecommend

  • Parvez

    Enjoyed the read. Managing your life as described by you, in our environment is decidedly brave. I liked the the use and the effect of the ‘tough New York girl’ analogy. Recommend

  • Hamza

    I’m smiling after reading your article. Thank you!

    The emerging trend of qualified women not succumbing to lives of dependence and domestication must be encouraged.Recommend

  • Soph Khan

    hence the concept of mahram!Recommend

  • a 54321

    “one must understand that in Pakistan, people generally do not live alone. We don’t move out of our parents’ home because we want to be independent.”
    so do people look for jobs in the same city as their parents are ? really ? that would not bode well for the prosperity of the country.In india, every city has lakhs of students/working professionals living alone or with friends in rented apartments.pakistan is too backward. and i m not indian, i m a sri lankan living here.but i love the whole india vs pak thingy. its fun !”

    “it’s fun” to constantly compete and argue and sometimes even hate and overgeneralize people of a country. and why wont that bode well for prosperity? first of all, sadly, pakistan is not prospering very much at the moment -a nd at the moment, there are not very many people living alone. what correlation does people living in the same city as their families have to the country’s prosperity?
    “pakistan is too backward” that’s just your opinion.

  • Shahid

    Stop being obsessed.Recommend

  • Lid

    This piece of writing is simply awe inspiring. It would take utter inspirational and motivational genius to conceive such an idea and pen it down. Great work Hyra Zaka. Keep writing !Recommend

  • rizvi

    Why are you comparing the independent professionals of Pakistan to “New yorkers”…. totally not needed. Pakistanis are tough “Lahoris”, “Karachites”, “Peshawari”. You would have scored a B grade if you had written this for O-Levels essay.Recommend

  • SSR

    Interesting! not lot of women commented on this article. As usual a state of confusion.
    Living in Pakistan and wanting to branch out from family, thats what the West has done.
    Now mostly the family values are confused in the ordinary less educated people.

    Pakistani girls want to do that. Yes, do study, get a job but why run away from a security
    net that a family can offer? Is that what you think women’s lib was about?Recommend

  • Hyra

    Thank you everyone, for the feedback ! Was my first post…will keep the pointers in mind, for the next one :)Recommend

  • Parvez

    @Hyra: Advice : Write for yourself, not for others. Taking note of pointers will only stifle your style.Recommend

  • Hamza Naveed

    @Hyra: It is same every where. You don’t find ‘single-bedroom apartments’ straight away in New York even! And since I too live away from family in a different city, I know this is written out of ‘hollowness’ that comes with living independently… :)Recommend

  • blah!

    did it make very less sense or am I an exception who reads really great blogs so didn’t find anything special in it?Recommend

  • Raza

    This article is actually not bad.. Good work!Recommend

  • ADEEL759

    Lahore Is Lahore and NY is NY.Recommend

  • ahseya

    i’ve lived and worked abroad by myself in a foreign country for the past few years. never realized its very similar back home.

    Bravo Hyra! you are one of the many brave ones actually doing something with their lives!!!Recommend

  • Maria

    Great job! I LOVED you article :)..Can totally relate to it!!!!!!Recommend

  • Salman

    New Yorker ? like seriously ?? Why is our nation so compelled with Amrikiii norms ?

    what happened to good old Lahori spirit ?Recommend

  • rafi

    very well written…..Recommend

  • Shumaila

    This was a good read, I have no idea why people are denouncing it.

    Recently me and my friends were discussing this phenomenon, of how its bloody difficult to get single-person accomodation in the big cities…even in Karachi people have trouble. Its really all to do with how things are set up, how one is expected to live with one’s family.

    I loved the ‘tough new yorker’ analogy :) seriously, ignore the haters, whatever works is good, and this analogy, accurate as it is, obviously gave you courage.

    I applaud the courage and determination of everyone who lives far away from their family and struggles to make a career in the dog-eat-dog world of the metropolis. Kudos to you and those like you, and good luck! Recommend

  • Tehz

    I lived in a university hostel myself and then rented a room with an old landlady….i can so relate to it. It brought back many memories!Recommend

  • http://yahoo Farhan javed

    I don’t believe on the concept of being independent and living alone as it could be dangerous in our region but i appreciate this piece of writing.We shouldn’t say that it was like an ordinary essay of school or sth like that.Well done Writer.Recommend

  • huma

    to all the naysayers…. it was nicely written and depicted Hyra’s feelings, hence “her” blog. and its true of a lot of ppl living and working in cities where they dont know anyone, including non-pakistanis, i wud think.
    and to all the ppl not liking the reference to new york, it was a figure of speech and a comparison… stop being silly!Recommend

  • ahsan

    good work .. i am spending same life here in karachi … i can understand how difficult it is …but this life has its own charm . we should enjoy it .Recommend

  • Usama

    I’m surprised at the commenters ridiculing the author’s difficulties and the sharing of her life’s experiences. If you guys don’t already know, a blog is meant for someone to share the life, it’s not supposed to be a source of news!!

    To the author: This was some excellent writing and you did really well to explore the connection between New Yorkers and the ‘Pakistani’ New Yorkers..Kudos!Recommend

  • saad

    Excellent article!
    -From a real new yorker.Recommend

  • Sannan ZM

    A good read. Never mind the haters, they probably live with their families in their luxury homes, so it is hard for them to understand where you are coming from. Thanks for sharing the experience; I have been living like this for three years now.Recommend

  • Muhhammad A Ahmad

    I agree with you…mine story was lil bit different… I was from Faisalabad went to GCU Lahore for my MBA but unfortunately I had to travel all the way back to my hometown Faisalabad on every day for whole 1st year … I was used take train @ 6am from Fsd and catches my class of 9am and in evening after my classes I had to go to station to take train @ 6:10 pm for Fsd. In that whole year I got late once for 5min and I wasn’t given a chance to attend that class, I was shocked for a moment but then I was ok after having chat department’s Head FQ Khokhar that in professional life there are not going to be any excuses for your personal matters and I would say that was beauty of this institutes professional environment by which they create and polish marketable product to leverage maximum benefits for their students. So that was another angle that every one learns lessons from times by this way or other…the only thing you needs is strong belief and determination, you’ll see that you are heading towards your destiny. Have a good day ahead TC.Recommend

  • Umair Waheed Sheikh, Khayban e Hafiz,Karachi

    Lahoris can never be New Yorkers. Only karachiites have that honor. period. Recommend

  • Red

    I liked the article. I know how hard it to find a place to live in independently in Lahore.Recommend

  • acha bacha…

    childish write. nothing mature…Recommend

  • Saeed

    @ Author: Change is coming.Kudos to you for exercising such courage. Combating patriarchy one step at a time.Recommend

  • M

    To all the people who think this is a news item, please scroll to the top of the page and read where it says “BLOGS”. A blog, by definition, is meant for the expression of opinions and not publishing news. So unless you feel you have the right to dictate what people ought to think, please refrain from commenting unnecessarily. Thanks!Recommend

  • Talal Ahmed

    brilliant article!Recommend

  • Safi

    @Shafi Ahmed(Deccan):
    So what did you find so un-islamic in it? you werent reading a piece of islamic literature to start with so why expect something religious in it?
    On the contrary warming milk for your sick friends for instance is something that Islam teaches as as the rights of fellow human beings (Haqooq-ul-Ibad), and which im sure many of us neglect everyday.Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Good personal account of single life in foreign landRecommend

  • Matthew

    Even though many people have left negative comments on this post, I don’t find anything wrong with it. I actually thought it is very well written and put a smile on my face. Good work!Recommend

  • Farah Shafi

    Newyorker hah!!! Confused at the use of the term ‘Newyorker”, this is urban life or the lifestyle of any big city around the world. Let it be Newyprk, Manila, Hong Kong or Mumbai. Recommend

  • Jenny Thomas

    I think your comment is harsh. I found this article very interesting. For someone like me who has lived a Western life, this offered a rare and fascinating glimpse into the life of the new generation of young professionals in a swiftly changing Pakistan… Fantastic article…Recommend

  • Saad

    Dont know why, but i feel fresh after reading this!!Recommend

  • sana

    hyra – thanks for writing about this – i wish you would write more about some of the struggles you have faced living alone. it’s a cruel culture to live in alone. Recommend

  • Raja Islam

    It is much easier for a single woman to live in New York city than it is to live in Karachi or Lahore. The western and even the eastern developed nations make it easier and safer for women to be on their own than the land of the pure.Recommend

  • MAS


    You expressed in a good way.Recommend

  • Arifa Batool

    A well depicted post Hyra Zaka. I can so relate to it. Its been more than 4.5 years that I am living here in Karachi all on my own in a hostel, firstly it was for graduation purpose, and now for my job. And you’re so right about the friends part. By the grace of Allah I have got a bunch of great friends here, they are like my family, never let me feel homesick. :)Recommend

  • Arifa’s Buddies

    @Arifa Batool:
    We are always here for you. Lost of love <3

    Your Best BuddiesRecommend

  • Bon

    @ Saad: I completely agree with u :D I was feeling a bit drowsy, but I too feel fresh after reading this articleRecommend

  • ALI

    I am also living in Islamabad for study purpose.These problems which are facing by writer of this article are very common.Yes i admit accommodation problems in big cities are adequate.But one thing i realized that Man is successful through struggles.Recommend

  • Sanya Shiraz

    I haven’t read something like this in a very long time! Best of luck, and keep doing what you love.

    Well done! :)Recommend

  • Gullible Nomore

    How do you know if one’s better or worse than a New Yorker? Oh right, you’re Pakistani muslim so you have to be better than the rest…duh!Recommend

  • Mujtaba Shuja

    I agree with you few months back i shifted to lahore for my new job after spending luxury life at home, now i came to know how difficult to stay away from work….Recommend

  • Arsal Shoaib

    whats the need of repeating NEW YORKER again and again in this blog ???
    just be Pakistani cuz common. There’s nothing foriegn in this article !!!
    References to New York n USA make it sound boring….
    and lastly plz someone tell me the reason of writing or reading such a nicely written storyless moral-less and sort of an average essay !Recommend

  • Michael Chalow

    I just added your blog to my blog roll, I hope you would think about doing the same.Recommend

  • RW

    Good for you for pursuing your dreams but must you bash women who choose a different path than you ? Why are you hating on women who choose to live a life of luxury and letting “men” provide for them.

    Also, what’s with the comparison with New Yorkers, really dear you flatter yourself.Recommend