KARACHI: 14th August simply means celebration. Be it the fireworks at midnight, the variations of flags that adorn the streets days in advance, or the crowd at sea view on the national holiday, joy and patriotism fill the streets of Pakistan. For Pakistani expats however, the same day might hold very different meanings.
According to the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, approximately 8.8 million Pakistanis live abroad. As the nation celebrates today, Cutacut spoke to expats living in Dubai, London, Riyadh, Toronto, and Budapest to understand what Pakistan means to them.
1. The little connections
While most expats may consciously make the choice of moving out of Pakistan, some part of them looks for Pakistan in their new homes. We all know at least one person living overseas who hoards on Pakola and Shan masala every chance they get. The excitement of meeting another Pakistani abroad, specially if they are from the same city as yours, is much like running into one of your classmates years down the line. You might not know the person but you know where they come from, and that kicks off endless conversations about the familiar.
“It’s a feeling of constantly searching for the familiar- be it in people, food, clothes or sports. It’s trying to piece together all these familiar aspects in an unfamiliar place. and building yourself a home far away from home.”
Biryani on the weekends, chai and biscuit in the evenings with one’s family, pakoray on rainy days are small yet important memories that many Pakistanis associate with the country. For some, however, the memories are more sensorial in nature.
“I live in Toronto on the 20th floor of a building yet even on good days with clear skies, the night sky is quite inky & blank which always makes me feel like it’s lacking something. This is because for me growing up in Karachi the night sky dotted with innumerable twinkling stars was a very important memory. I remember it like it was yesterday how during my childhood, late night load shedding used to force us to grab our mattresses and drag them to the rooftop of my grandmother’s house. The gruff vibrating noise of generators in my neighbour’s houses used to lull me to sleep as I pretended to see shapes in the stars above me.”
A few other expats, have memories associated with Independence Day in particular and the day brings with it a flood of memories.
“August 14th takes me back a very long way in my childhood, houses all decorated, PTV telecasting milli naghmas, dad taking us out to see the city at night all lit up and then in the morning, he used to wake us up around 7.30 a.m to watch the parade happening in Islamabad. Mom dad singing along with every milli tarana that played on telly and me just rolling my eyes . One fun thing that day though was, a variety program happening in our phuppo’s neighbourhood sponsored by the mohalla fund in which kids used to participate and also got presents. Yup, that was what we used to look forward to.”
3. More than one milestone
Imagine getting married on 14th August. Imagine celebrating two occasions on the same date each year. Now imagine moving away from the place where it all happened. The lady who got married on 14th August more than 35 years ago had a very sweet message to share with us.
“1965, 1971 ki jangon keh taraanay gaatay, azaadi ki dastanain suntay baray huay toh shaadi ka din bhi 14th August hi chuna. Hamare gharon keh sath pura mulk saja hua. Aj bhi Pakistan ka harr mausam yaad ata hai, kyun keh hai toh apna ghar.”
(We grew up singing the anthems from the wars of 1965 and 1971, listening to stories of freedom, and then chose 14th August as our wedding date also. Our house decorated along with the rest of the country. Even today I miss every season of Pakistan, because it is my home.)
4. The smell of the soil
Wattan ki mitti is a rather strange concept for many, for how could soil smell different, if at all? For expats, however, the concept is very real.
“Ask any expat who has experienced rain in other countries… The soil just doesn’t have the same smell. The rain doesn’t fill up the soil and your senses the way it does at home.”
5. The local vocabulary
No matter how much we try to deny it, Urdu holds a special place in the hearts of many. How a single word like yaar, can be used to express frustration, joy, disappointment. Pakistanis living abroad yearn for the people around them to understand them the same way, even if all they say is one word.
As our country celebrates today, many others feel a sense of longing for their homeland. With the recent travel restrictions, many Pakistani have been away from Pakistan longer than they might have wished for. Today, we are thinking of them.