It’s good to be back…
There are expats and then there are people like me, returnees. I’m going to take a literary liberty – without meaning to offend any intellectuals – and call myself an ‘inpat’. I think people like me deserve a special made-up name.
Mine is a story like many others. I went to London 25 years ago to study and it took me that long to return. Not because I was particularly dumb and took 25 years to finish my education, but because the rat race rollercoaster of life took over. To cut a long story short, after 13 years in London and 12 years in Dubai, my husband’s work has brought us full circle. And I am now writing this piece, on a hot sunny morning in Karachi, sitting in my study with the good ole split whirring away in the background.
It’s been a whirlwind five months since we’ve been back in Pakistan. I get asked all the time how the move has been and whether we are settling in well. People generally ask quite perfunctorily, mostly expecting a whiny response – and many are surprised when I reply that it’s been amazing. These last few months have been a journey like no other.
Logistically, a move is a move, whether it’s to London, Singapore or Karachi. Some moves are more challenging than others, but none are easy. Each place has its own idiosyncrasies, joys and frustrations. So from that perspective it certainly wasn’t a move free of ‘give me a break’ kind of moments. If people want the logistical details, they can get that and more by reading my blog ‘Returning to the Motherland’.
For me personally, from an emotional perspective, coming back to Pakistan has been wonderful so far. Maybe deep down I was ready to return, even if it’s not a ‘forever’ move – although if anyone had asked me a year ago when we intended to move back to Pakistan, the answer would have been a ‘who knows’.
It’s difficult to put the feeling into words, it’s as if all those years my husband and I were busy working and raising a family was, in farming speak, like being out in the fields. And now we are home.
The busy noisy roads, the hustle and bustle in the markets, the people on the streets – everyday struggles on such a basic level, but it’s so real. It’s messy. It’s busy. And it makes me feel alive.
Is Pakistan still the same 25 years later?
Of course not; I would be horrified if it was.
Is it better?
Yes, in many ways. Is there room for improvement?
It’s certainly not utopia but its real and its home in more ways than one. Speaking about utopia, just recently I found out that in line with its vision for 2021, Dubai has appointed a ‘Minister of Happiness’. If that’s what societies do once the infrastructure etc. is sorted, then I can’t wait to see who the equivalent incumbent in Pakistan will be!
Can someone be tasked with helping others find happiness?
Definitely a great subject for another article.
Coming back to the current topic, law and order, infrastructure, education and health services are always going to be areas for improvement. But looking at these purely from a ‘user’s’ perspective, I can’t complain much based on my experience so far. Yes, there are many things that need improving and it can be frustrating when you get pulled and pushed in different directions until you finally dig out what you need, but that’s true of most places in the world.
Contrary to the global view of security in Karachi, after the clamp down by the army and the rangers in the recent past, there hasn’t been a single moment since returning when I’ve felt unsafe on the roads or in the house. Our children feel safe and secure, whether at school, at home or out with friends. The schools are certainly more structured and better organised than they were when I was a child in Pakistan – not that my convent education wasn’t good enough!
The couple of times we’ve needed to see a doctor or a dentist it’s been quick, clean and very professional, so I haven’t yet had any ‘quack-like’ experiences my friends sometimes refer to.
I agree that traffic is chaotic and traffic signals are generally treated like decoration pieces and maybe that’s because time is money, even more so here than in the west. But then, look at the Italians. They drive like maniacs too and we just smile graciously and call it a cute quirk! It’s nothing we can’t fix if the right people decided enough is enough.
All it takes is for the traffic police to be a bit more vigilant – just look at the roads and the traffic system in Dubai – with those road fines and penalties, no one dares mess about. The only ones who do get away sometimes are the local Emiratis but then, don’t we all get away with quite a bit on the roads here too?
Grocery shopping is a breeze. So much great stuff is made locally and a lot is imported for the palate that requires it. Fruit and vegetables are so organically fresh – and free of hormones and preservatives – that if you don’t use them in a couple of days they start to rot.
I do sometimes wish we had more restaurants to choose from, but Karachi is certainly better endowed – from a ‘variety of cuisines’ perspective – than most other cities in Pakistan. It’s lovely to see art galleries sprouting up like nurseries used to in the old days. There are musical events, festivals, theatre and plays. Quite a lot to do for those artistically inclined.
The malls are havens for the masses – just as the ones in Dubai are – and so much of everyday street shopping is available here. Our own designers are amazing – so many in demand globally. Some of our fashion events are on par with the rest of the world, at least the pricing certainly is!
Television dramas and music are miles ahead of where they used to be. In fact some of the best entertainment can be those debates on the news channels when everyone shouts to be heard; if you’ve got a nice supply of headache pills at hand.
In a nutshell, Karachi might be a bit more disorganised and haphazard than places like London and Dubai, but it’s already home, in a comfortable kind of way. The motiya sellers are out, Ramazan is in full swing, the mangoes are here and so is the summer. Oh, what a wonderful world!