A father, a daughter, and the tug of being in three places at once
The only certain thing in this life is death. I learnt that very early on in life.
It was one evening back in 1995, the time on my watch had stopped at 7:35pm. It was a Tuesday, February 28th, to be exact. That was when time rendered still for my father. And for me.
I was only a teenager. My father had been ill for a few days and the doctors had put it off as a mere cold. I still remember the day before it happened, my sister and I were at a local pharmacy and decided to get some over the counter medication to help his ‘cold’. The doctor had overlooked his actual illness. He died of a heart attack. And we stood there, shocked, isolated and alone.
It was Ramadan. Since then, I have been unable to celebrate Eid with my family. Sometimes, my sister and I take our mother out for a small family meal. I realised that our mutual grief should not continue to affect her and it should not continue to make her stop living her life.
Many people saw my father as old school. He found value in Islamic traditions and instilled those beliefs in his children – each of us taking away what we wanted from them. As the daughters of the house, my sister and I were the ones who were really subject to it. The males of the family, as always, could get away with anything outside of the norm.
It is quite often that I hear people in Pakistan talk about how those living in the West are in a time warp when it comes to abiding by cultural norms. I, for one, can only speak for myself. My father was trying to uphold his values and there was nothing wrong with that. Except, time moves on and life is fickle. Time moves slowly, as do people, leaving behind the places and people they started off with. I know that I felt like an outsider for most of my life. Both in British and Pakistani contexts, I was neither here or there.
I am a hybrid. I have grown up identifying with being British, Pakistani and Muslim – I equally value all three parts. However, there are times when I do not connect with any. There is this hollowness of displacement that takes over me. It used to primarily be a tug between the UK and Pakistan but now it has evolved further into a push and pull between the UK, Lahore, and Karachi. I always long to be where I am not. The diasporic experience goes full circle where the oft quoted “home is in fact everywhere and nowhere” can be cited.
I know that I have an identity that is complex and have often been perceived as an independent woman and with that, come thoughts of me being someone who is brave to be working in Karachi. I feel as if I am being painted as an emotionless and independent woman. Though, I am not sure how much of that is true. Every day of my life I think of my father and how things would be different if he had been alive.
My move to Pakistan may even have been a subliminal need to be closer to my father by being closer to his roots. His retirement plan involved moving back to Lahore with my mother – that never happened. Perhaps subconsciously, when I chose to work in Pakistan it was so that my mother could also visit more frequently and I could achieve some of what my father was not able to do. Every decision I have made to date, I feel, is a decision and not really a choice. Life for me, I believe is a series of decisions and choice is in fact an illusory concept.
I guess the essence of what I am trying to say is that this daughter is feeling a great loss without her father. Fathers have a moral responsibility towards their daughters, one which my father was unable to see through and which I myself have to look after.
It has been 22 years since he passed away and I remember him now more than ever before. My mother still cries when we talk about my father. Her exterior sadness will always reflect my interior grief, and that is just the way it will always be.
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