Solitude Sucks!

I grew up in a house full of people. There was never any solitude. If you ever wanted to have the luxury of sulking you would have to climb a tree or go sit on the roof, but the roof was off limits for safety reasons and sitting there could get you into more trouble than the luxury of sulking was worth. So we sulked behind the pages of books and a result grew up to be avid readers.

There was also no concept of private property – everything was communal. Joint ownership was the only kind of ownership that worked in a joint family. So we shared toys and books and beds and clothes. This also meant that there was sharing of parenting responsibilities. So any adult could force you to drink your glass of milk that smelt like cow and made you want to gag or scold you for sliding down the banister at breakneck speed while waving your hands wildly in the air and risking your neck and the life of whoever happened to be positioned at the bottom of the stairs. It didnt seem like a charmed existence. There were moments when I wished with all my heart to be able to enjoy my new toys by myself. I wished that the rest of the children would keep their grubby little fingers of my pristine books and that their rough hands would not push me as we ran around the house causing me to fall and graze my chin and knees and pride. There was the afternoon when one of my cousins terrorized me by throwing fluffy yellow chicks that he had just acquired at me while I screamed in fear. I’m not sure why I was afraid of the tiny creatures who were probably terrified of sailing through the air at a wailing object. At that moment and in countless others, I craved the solitude that should have been my birthright by virtue of being an only child.

Then there were the Summers when the number of people in the house multiplied as aunts and uncles from out of town came to spend the Summer. The Summers were always cramped but that the last thing I remember about them. I remember the never ending breakfasts where we devoured loaf after loaf of Dawn bread with homemade plum jam and peanut butter as we cracked up over imitations of favorite relatives and family friends or whispered furiously about the latest family scandal and then invariably dissolved into fits of laughter. All I recall from those hot and cramped summers is the endless laughter and fun.

So I grew up being unfamiliar with solitude.

When I came to college in the US, I thought it was finally time for me to be an adult on my own and lead a life of relative independence and solitude. That was not to be. At college, I learnt that being Pakistani meant being unable to survive in solitude. It wasnt just an inability to survive alone but there was an addictive dependence on each other. We all had our “other” friends, but at the end of most nights, we always ended up together, fighting over who was tasked with making the next batch of chai, devouring endless slices of pizza or cripsly fried chicken tenders dipped in buffalo sauce. And once again, I found myself in a situation, where all property was communal as were homeworks and relationship problems. Senior year of college, I often came to my room, whose door did not lock, to find it filled with cackles and smoke as my newly acquired family lounged about in my room in my absence cackling over the latest “family scandal.” It was like being ten again and sitting at breakfast, eating toast and jam laughing about whatever struck our fancy.

At college, as I began to knit together a whole new family of friends, I realized that these people who impinged constantly on my solititude and food in my fridge were the best part of college. And even though it meant no secrets, it also meant that there were never any problems that had to be faced alone or any boxes that my delicate hands would ever have to loft. In all four years of college, I never lifted a single box. And even though they all muttered and cursed and threatened to have my degree in Women and Gender Studies revoked for this very un-feminist behavior, I knew I could count on them for being there. That’s what family is for.

After college when I moved to Boston, and thought I had lost my family and would finally have to confront the demons of solitude I was proven wrong again. Through some kind of intrinsicly embeded Pakistani radar, I found friends to lessen the suckiness of solitude. There were endless cups of tea made, pots of biryani cooked and kebabs fried in my Harvard square apartment as we debated the political dilemmas of Pakistan and fought over who would make a better foreign minister than the other.

It was then that I started to realize that growing up in Pakistan, renders you incapable of existing in solitude. No matter where Pakistani’s go – and this is true of all immigrants maybe – they forge communities to resemble the ones they left. In my years in the US, I have come to realize that even the most seasoned and hardened immigrants havent let go of home. They recreate it constantly in the friends they choose and the foods they eat. At countless dinner parties at the houses of relatives, I see the older generation eagerly display their connection with the motherland in the form of wearing the latest fashions from the homeland and parading around in the best jewellery, in singing songs of nostalgia and longing and then invariably ending the night with discussions of how bad things are in Pakistan as if to reaffirm their decision to stay abroad.

Such evenings have often left me angry at those who criticize my country from abroad but will never set foot in it to help fix it. The signing of a charity check each year or attending a gala dinner here and there to support some “noble” cause seems to be the extent of their commitment to helping Pakistan as well as their pass to criticize it freely all year round. The young fiery patriot in me has often felt extremely bitter and angry at this sense of entitlement of the hyphenated Pakistanis living abroad. But then, I have also felt sad for those who remain tied to these foreign lands for various reasons and cannot return. As an independant, single, young woman, I do not have to bear many of the burdens that others do. I am free to profess and practise my patriotism in Pakistan. I have no fear of persecution – I am a Sunni Muslim and we seem to be on top of the food chain. I was not born into priviliege as some might assume but neither was I born into poverty. My parents are teachers who gave me a good education and fate was kind not deal me with any severe blows. I have managed to succeed in the US and in Pakistan on the basis of merit. This might have been good luck and I hope it doesnt run out as I pack my suitcases to return to Pakistan for a second time.

But as I leave, this country of perpetual solitude, I heave a sigh of relief that despite all of Pakistan’s faults, it wont ever subject me to the thing I hate most- solitude. I will no longer have to work to carve and collect a community around me to delude myself into thinking I am home. I will be home.


9 Responses to “Solitude Sucks!”

  1. Amin Jan Naim June 20, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    Well written and meaningful

  2. Tariq Aqil June 20, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    Best of luck in Pakistan bachoo!I hope you NEVER have to regret your decision!I hope and pray that yo are right.You were brought up to have a mind of your own and i respect your decision! its your life and your future and you are old enough and educated enough to decide your own future good luck and welcome to the land of the pure!

  3. SH June 28, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    I haven’t lived in the US but visit regularly for work. The solitary nature of people there is the one thing that I always bring home with me. Even if they have families living together, each person is much more of an island unto themselves. The fast pace and the distances and over all social structure make it almost UNTHINKABLE to pick up a friend from the airport at 2 am at night or just to take someone to the doctor when they’re not well. Theres pros and cons of having radio cabs and metros;you can go wherever you want but you also have to go by yourself (mostly). Looking at my relatives in their old age, living all alone in suburban homes while their children are on the West coast or even 10 minutes away but “not there” make me appreciate the little time I have with my family even more.

  4. Alex July 7, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    Thats perhaps the best part of being a Pakistani.

  5. BelligerentPacifist July 9, 2010 at 2:56 am #

    Before people begin stereotyping Pakistanis’ social predilections from your experience Sehar, let me say that I have had a totally different experience living in Pakistan, and abroad. I am very habituated to solitude, growing up with it IN PAKISTAN, and am uncomfortable when my surroundings are contaminated with people. I wonder now if I’d ever be able to live with a wife.

    A tip for solitud-o-philes: be reserved and polite to people around you, and your ‘nosy neighbours’ will ultimately leave you alone. They only love the gossipy-kind, from my experience.

  6. Asma June 2, 2011 at 6:51 pm #

    welcome to the land of pure:)enjoy your trip:)

  7. Arsalan December 19, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Very well put.

  8. Doomed Lions April 4, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Patriotism/Nationalism is a politically correct face of tribalism and racism.

  9. usman hashmi March 8, 2013 at 2:12 am #

    Great Post..!!

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