I don’t like admitting to it but I was frankly far more imbued in the Western than I was in the local growing up in Pakistan. American cartoons, British books, English music – hell, even Japanese media – were a staple of my early life far more so than my own culture or the immediacy of my surroundings. There’s obvious advantages to that of course: I grew up a globalized person with a great deal of general knowledge and trivia about the world around me, and (it has to be said) my English skills wouldn’t be as accomplished as they are if I hadn’t been so invested in Western media.
And that isn’t to imply that an appreciation of Pakistani culture has to exist in a vacuum – my own parents are testaments otherwise, being the widely learned yet rooted people they are – but it does shame me that for many years of my life I almost, almost looked down upon my culture for being paindoo¹. I didn’t pay attention in Urdu class and considered it a frankly useless subject and that’s a bloody misfortune, one that I will regret for the rest of my life. So much beautiful text ignored, so many stories and little quirks of the language that I went without understanding the nuances of…
Until, of course, I left Pakistan and felt that deep cultural void in me, the nostalgia that comes as punishment for the formerly disparaging displaced. That’s when I opened myself up to the history of my country, to its present, and to the possibility of a future back in it. I still have a huge gap in my understanding of it (small, silly things like gun control in Pakistan or public administration services, policy things). But that attempt to understand changed me. It continues to change me as I learn more and more about my homeland and heritage. Nothing hits me quite as viscerally as its music and poetry, and through those channels I’ve been able to build upon my fluency in Urdu and hopefully guide it in a direction that can be beautiful, not just utilitarian.
Frankly, the day I realized I was taking my dad’s suggestions of taking my politics back home seriously was when I realized I was, mentally, back home. Now it’s just a matter of actually going back home.
I’ve come a long way from the girl who used to feel like a stranger in a shalwar kameez and scoffed at braided hair. The universe has a way of turning you on your head – and my suddenly braided head is full of foreign service studies in Pakistan and echoes of Sunn Ve Balori.