21.2.05

No longer MIA...

I was going to say it seems like ages since I've posted anything on this blog but then again it seems that way because it is (!) that way. Where on earth was I? Traipsing all over Pakistan trying to pack in some field research while I actually have a grant to do so (I love thinking about that!). Anyhow, it's high time I make my way back to the world of blogging and although I'll be conferencing next week in Hawaii :-) and returning for field research later in March I've promised myself to post something at least once a week. So for those folks who tuned out I'm hoping you'll tune back in periodically.

Of course a lot has happened in the last three months...so much that it'd be impossible to talk about everything yet I feel like I've been MIA so long that I somehow need to share it all. I'm sure most of us who have been away from our daily/regular routines for extended periods of time have experienced that feeling - you try to tell your friend whom you haven't spoken to in months but exchanged one-line e-mails every now and then to let them know you are thinking about them EVERYTHING that has happened in your life in 28 minutes...chaotic but fun. So in that spirit, I'm going to do the same and share just some of the more important things that I can think about that have happened to me since I've been absent from this blog. In no particular order (temporal or importance) here goes:

1. Most important realization...New Year's Eve 2004, Karachi, Pakistan: I'm so glad and incredibly lucky that relationships that are very important to me and that came under varying degrees of strain two years ago now feel healed. About three years ago, I knew deep down that I was in a relationship that I shouldn't be in and that this person is not my "grow old with" guy but for whatever bizarre reason I decided to ignore my instincts which meant that the realization hit me much later. During that time, everyone I loved and who I'm close to warned me in various ways that I shouldn't be with this person. Of course all that did was make me identify, not completely might I add, with every 80s Bollywood flick about forbidden love...cheesy huh! To my credit, at no point did I mope around a tree breaking out in perfectly rhymed and choreographed songs but it wasn't easy getting out of a relationship when two people are thinking about a life-time commitment. What made it more difficult: "almost-schizophrenic guy" would talk about Wittgenstein and Nietzsche with me which is a rare find in most cases, especially in mine. Anyhow, so the poor loved ones bore not only the brunt of my sadness and frustration from relationship with "almost-schizophrenic guy" but it subsequently hurt, albeit in varying degrees, my relationships with them. But I guess the cliche proves true yet again - time does have a way of healing things. "Almost-schizophrenic guy" and I parted ways two years ago (wasn't pretty sadly) and although I'm sure I've been moving towards the feeling it was shortly after midnight this past new year's eve when it hit me (yes I percolate slower than most folks) - I'm not just okay I'm fabulous (touchwood) and those who I love and care about more than anyone else on this planet are still in my life and very much a part of it. What else can one ask for? Okay a few things come to mind but I'm sure there's a time and place for me to be thankful for those that isn't right here and right now.

2. I'm finally beginning to feel like I'm getting the hang of my dissertation in ways that I hadn't before. I like to think of it as the switch from being the one trying to make sense of a Monet painting and becoming Monet myself...yes modesty is not my strongest virtue :-)!

3. Call it green point (this is what I call ideas I have after reading stuff or experiencing stuff literally because I'll type them up in green) # 104 - an emerging rant on hybridity as it has been conceptualized thus far in scholarship. I returned to Pakistan (where I was born and gew up) for the first time after having being "naturalized" as a US citizen and it was a new experience that I have yet to make sense of. What stands out amongst the stream of confused thoughts is how most criticisms that I shared about stuff happening in Pakistan were largely written off by some folks with the thoughtless statement "you've become too American!". I don't know about anyone else but being upset by the sheer hypocrisy of claims of economic progress while simultaneously seeing more people on the street, especially children, because they can't afford to eat or even rent a living space is not an emotion one experiences because they've become "American"! It was one of the most depressing trips I've made back home ever since I left 10 years ago in that respect. To be fair, I can understand that one can become desensitized to certain things around them. However, what upsets me is that it also means that there is less passion amongst a large majority of people to change things around..or at least make an effort to do so. The apathy that I observed/experienced between my visit last winter and this one was both overwhelming and suffocating.

4. I do not consider myself a feminist but I guess some of my critiques might be labeled as such by some folks (largely outside the "non-West" in my experience)...I like Nandy's response to such boxing - he doesn't consider himself a post-colonial scholar but admits that people read him that way...in the same vein, I'm not a feminist, scholar or activist or any other kind, but can be labeled that way at times. (That rant when the mood strikes me). I discovered that for whatever reason a certain segment of the population was incredibly nosey about my single status (read: 29 and still not married!). I don't mind having these conversations with, for example, my best friend and his wife (also now one of my closest friends) because I know they genuinely care about me and ask only because they know that I would like to settle down and enjoy "happily ever after" with someone. However, I do draw the line when it's a participant I'm interviewing for my dissertation or when it's my mother's sister's husband's sister...as far as I am concerned it's none of their business and they need to be reminded that :-). I'm extremely fortunate that my parents back me up like 400% on this; however, it's difficult when you're staying with your mom's sister who thinks otherwise and such telling off needs to be done in her presence and is directed at her sister-in-law. Point of the story you ask? Well there's a few here and most of them are probably relevant to Pakistan but perhaps they might resonate with people from elsewhere, especially women: A) Why is it that the majority of people assume that a woman trying to achieve something "professionally" is completely uninterested in all things "conventional/traditional"? (I don't know about others but I also find it weird that our lives are segmented that way especially when what we do in "one sphere" is linked with the other!!! For example, the way my dissertation is organized is very much influenced by what I have read as well as from stories my grandfather would tell me...in that sense I see what we do "professionally", for example, very much a part of what is "personal" - together yet separate.) B) Why is it that most noses in Pakistan stay in other peoples' business? C) Why are women still denied satisfaction in spheres of life other than the "home"? Why do people make such women feel guilty or retarded if they try to use their brains and time engaged in an activity other than gossipping or cooking?
Can I just say that this &^%&^& infuriates me to no end? But then again, I'm also intrigued by the exceptions to this rule...how is it that some people don't feel the need to indulge in this bizarre behavior? I'm talking about folks other than my parents, certain family members, best friend and his wife, a couple of other close friends at this point and thinking of a handful of other acquaintances, random lady on flight to Pakistan who also fought in the struggle for independence from the British prior to 1947, distant relatives like two of my mother's cousins, my school principals...and the list goes on - but not for very long.

5. Ostentatious displays/exhibitions of religiosity also made me feel like I was visiting a country I had never been in before. During Eid-ul-Azha (this is the one where Muslims offer sacrifice) it seemed that most discussions centered around which animal was going to be sacrificed...nothing wrong with that...except it seemed like an occasion to show off - as if sacrificing an Australian cow that cost more was infinitely superior (in what way I don't know but I would imagine socially, economically, and - by extension, spiritually) to a desi (local) cow. No-one could be outdone....somehow what's supposed to be a ritual that connects you to God seems to have become all about keeping up with the Joneses. Bizarre!

6. Perhaps I was feeling patriotic but it's immensely frustrating when a certain elite class (popularly called "drawing-room critics" by local Marxist types) dismisses and criticizes a whole group of people who migrated from Pakistan to the United States in search of greener pastures....this criticism is often linked with harsh denigration of America and everything "American". I know this will sound vicious and I know that I'm more sensitive to this than others given my own situation of having migrated but here goes any way. First, America is NOT the cause of Pakistan's problems - I don't know if there is any one cause either but even if America can somehow be implicated in making things worse for Pakistan in certain arenas it is way down on the list of sinners. Second, it's very easy to be a member of the top 1% of the upper class of the country and look down on having others for having left --- I for one know very few people who left because they wanted to but probably did so because they had to. Over the years, Pakistan has found more ways to reward those with wealth more consistently than it has created opportunities for the less-fortunate - and the situation, sadly, does not seem to be improving. As part of the middle-class and in a personal family situation where the only option was to leave, I don't think of myself as a traitor or ungrateful wretch...I'm grateful to my Pakistani life for giving me values and skills (for lack of a better word) that have helped me succeed elsewhere and to my American life for giving me opportunities that a middle-class girl in Karachi would probably never have been able to enjoy. If I'm hesitant about returning it's primarily because I wouldn't want my children to be stuck in a vicious cycle that my parents had the good sense to protect me from...in other words, I want to give my children even better opportunities than I had and without a certain amount of wealth I don't think it seems doable in Pakistan the way things currently are. Third, it's easy to find someone else to blame but very difficult to reflect on oneself. It seems a decent percentage of Pakistanis do exactly that and then proceed to send their kids to study in America and buy all of the fixtures for their homes in the "good old US of A". What I'm trying to say is exactly what Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview in December 2004: pointing to the efforts to raise funds for victims of the tsunami disaster, President Musharraf pointed out that this was one of those instances where we had to praise the West for its efforts....he added that we in the non-West, especially the Muslim world, are too eager to lodge our complaints against the West which might be a fair criticism for some to mount but that at the same time we must, in all fairness, also learn to acknowledge their contributions and their humanity. I don't think that's too much to ask.

7. Another thing that saddened me a great deal was the general lack of commitment that seems to have become quite normal. That also connects with a certain loss in terms of respect and consideration for someone other than yourself and a certain selflessness (by which I don't mean everyone needs to become a doormat but that folks need to think about something beyond themselves).

8. Even as I complain - endlessly perhaps - I'd still like to say that spending time in Pakistan for this long and not just for a vacation but for work was extremely rewarding in other ways. So many people shared such incredible stories with me - all of which were relevant to my dissertation as well as personally rewarding. Despite upsets along the way, so many folks renewed my faith that the home I had grown up in, still love, and remember fondly is not lost but still lives on through/in people who still value the traditions and passions I grew up with and learned to identify as 'being Pakistani'. Yes I know I'm romanticizing but I think we all look for ways to connect with our ancestors....and I was both grateful and encouraged that this trip was not devoid of those moments. Some of these people who I met for the first time I've now formed life-long relationships with; some were people I'd always known but got to spend more time with; the memories and stories of others who I probably will never meet again but will always be with me- all these remind me that while lots has changed it's still home.

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