Where are you off to?
So, are you going home for Eid?
Yes, I suppose I am.
Well. I suppose Karachi is home.
Didn't you, like, grow up there?
So, it's home!
Why, don't you like Karachi?
Sometimes the most difficult answers to give are the ones to the most innocuous questions. The questions we find difficult to answer change, over the years, with circumstances and wisdom and some insight-into-the-soul. Yes, Karachi used to be home. Once-upon-a-time. And I really did 'own' her - dirty-streets-and-all.
I remember long, frantic-with-activity childhood days when we would be itching for it to be 5:00pm so that our parents (or grandparents depending on who was home) would allow us to go out and play. I remember the streets outside my house in vivid detail with the cricket-playing-boys of all ages, and us-girls who monopolized the benches outside the neighbor's house talking-girly-wisdom while covertly following the game (well, mostly the players if one must be honest) through the corners of our eyes. I remember the long-circuitous-walks around the block with whoever-was-currently-my-best-best-friend talking about god-knows-what but remembering how each conversation was monumentally important. It's fascinating how seriously children tend to take themselves. I remember the all-too-often fights, and slights, and broken-hearted-hurt-feelings that emerge from child-politics, a viciously accurate microcosm of politics in the grown-up world.
They are all married now, those girls I used to walk with. Most of them stayed in Karachi. Some studied little, others a little more. Very few of them actually ever left these streets, a lot of them actually ended up having children with those cricket-playing-boys. After holy matrimony. Of-course. I meet them occasionally, when I return to the city. Usually by accident. Despite the patchwork of childhood memories I discover the adult-me cannot relate very much to them, or to their lifestyle. We exchange pleasantries, are happy that we are all happy, and then move on with a slight pang of regret at the way life ensures that best-friends-forever really never are.
I remember school. Karachi Grammar School, an upper-crust landmark determined to ensure that no one who attended those hallowed halls ever shrugged aside their mantle of privilege. Because this is the school where parents are interviewed, and pedigrees are examined way before the poor child is even allowed to sit for an entrance test. Adult cognizance of childish pretensions aside, I have some very fond memories of KGS. Of Junior School, and 'Middle' School and Senior School. Of hanging out in the 'shed' in the Saddar-school. Of art classes and spending hours with an easel and watercolor paints under a tree trying to capture (not very successfully) the grandeur of the old school buildings. Of grey-shalwar-kameez-uniforms that were never bought from a shop (imagine the uncool) but instead stitched in the very-latest-fashions (long-kameez-short-kameez-low-neck-high-neck-let's-settle-for-as-low-as-mommy-will-allow-pretty-much-upper-mid-kind-of-neck-but-scooped-just-'so'-so-that-it's-still-flattering). Of the race towards prefect-hood and the absurd-kind of disappointment when I did-not-win. Of subjects I loved, and subjects I hated. Of the discovery of Urdu poetry thanks to a teacher who shaped my future in a way she will never know. Of teachers who inspired, and - well - those who did not. Of love, and laughter, of intrigues and drama, but most of all of the dreams.
I had three best friends at school. Well two 'best' friends and one who I was close to but always had ambivalent feelings about. My best-best-friends and I were inseparable for the most part. Talking to each other about 'everything' (and honestly, I do think it was everything). Spending as much time together as was possible given parental considerations. Playing truant from math tuition (well, it's MATH, what do you expect us to do) and stretching-them-rules as far as they could go. I never really thought a time would come when we would not be there for each other. It was like the three musketeers (and a fourth to substitute if ever required) against the world. Up until college decisions came in. One of us went to the USofA, another to neighbor-Canada, a third stayed right here in Karachi and I - well Lahore called to me. Suffice it to say the musketeers disbanded, never to really re-group again.
And so I left Karachi. But did Karachi ever leave me?
I don't know. Karachi is with me in the language I speak. In the jokes I love. In what makes me laugh. Karachi is with me in the resilience of my spirit, the food that I love and the clothes that I wear. When I come back to Karachi, a part of me feels like the over-confident-little-girl-from-KGS who was convinced she was destined for greatness. Another part of me, however, is painfully aware of how far this girl has traveled in order to be the woman she is today. Of the lessons that life has taught her and the dreams that have broken to pieces along the way.
Perhaps that is why I resent Karachi just-a-little-bit. Because the city - for me - is a permanent reminder of all that I had, and all that I have lost. Of all that could have been, and all that actually is.
So no, Karachi is no longer home.
But it used to be. Once-upon-a-time.