KARACHI: In the city of lights, an 80-year-old woman, away from home, has lost her way.
Waiting for miracles to happen is not the most effective solution — but it is the only option Noorma, who is Malaysian by birth, is left with.
Hollow-eyed and with wrinkles which are proof of more than just her aging years, she sits quietly outside a meat shop in the narrow streets of Pirabad, a Pashtun majority area of Orangi Town.
With longing in her eyes, she is waiting for the day when she gets to go back home to Kuala Lumpur — the city she left over 65 years back, involuntarily.
“Going back to Kuala Lumpur to see my family again is my last wish,” says Noorma with a hint of a tear in the corner of her eye. Hundreds of flies hover over her head as she tries to cover her red-dyed hair with a white shawl.
Thirteen years old at the time, Noorma was brought to Karachi when she married Asghar – a young Pashtun hailing from Torghar, District Kala Dhaka of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa – who used to work with her uncle in Kuala Lumpur.
“He (my husband) tricked me and got me here. He promised that we will go back to Kuala Lumpur after six months when I insisted on staying back.
“His promises turned out to be false and that was the last time I saw my brothers and sisters,” says Noorma, who reached Pakistan via sea a year before the partition.
Young and confused, alien to the rugged terrains of the tribal belt, she could hardly understand Pashto. One day, observing little
girls dancing in her house amid fireworks and songs, a horrifying realisation struck her.
She was a guest at her own husband’s wedding.
Asghar had married another girl, a year after they reached Torghar, without telling her.
“Asghar’s little sisters told me that it is their brother’s wedding night and then I understood the fraud.”
Gathering strength and resolve in moments of utter betrayal was not easy, but Noorma decided to leave. But little did she know that her husband had burnt all her documents including her passport, her addresses in Malaysia and contact numbers.
Forced to live in her anguish, she spent the rest of her years collecting wood and grass in the mountains till 1988 when her husband died. Out of six of her children only one survived and she came to Karachi with him.
“He (Asghar) was never good to me because of his second wife. I’ve led a painful life because of him which is why I never miss him,” she says matter-of-factly.
Noorma’s troubles are far from gone — like most other residents of Karachi, she prays for the safety of her son and grandchildren when ever they leave home.
Given the deteriorating law and order situation of the city and an uncontrollable need to reunite with her long-lost family, she does not want to live in Pakistan anymore.
“There is too much suffering and pain here. Life has not become any easier.
Besides I am always worried about the safety of my son and my grandchildren. Every time they walk out of the door, I wonder whether they will come back alive or not.”
Her son works as a waiter in a small hotel and money is never enough. Debt is rising and she hates the fact that she has to hide her face when she’s walking in the street, to avoid confrontation with her lenders.
The youngest daughter of her parents, Noorma believes that her siblings would recognise her if they see her today — although she hasn’t been able to contact her family since she left Malaysia.
With old age and a weak memory, she hardly remembers her mother tongue. But she does remember the names of her four brothers and two sisters.
Covering her face with her shawl to avoid her neighbours, she grabs lunch for her grandson and wonders which route to take to her house — the streets might be familiar but it is far from home for her.
Noorma might have lost everything in Pakistan but there is hope in her eyes.
“I can find them [my family] no matter how big the city of Kuala Lumpur is. I still remember my home.
“My grandson will go with me when I finally go home,” she says against all odds before disappearing off in the city of lights.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2012.
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