Returning Home: Musings of a Pakistani Self-Exile

In one of his essays on exile, Edward Said shared an observation of the famous poet and his friend, Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Both were exiled from their homelands — Said from Palestine and Faiz from Pakistan under Zia al-Huq. Both found some refuge in Beirut. Said says of Faiz:

“Naturally his closest friends were Palestinian, but I sensed that, although there was an affinity of spirit between them, nothing quite matched–language, poetic convention, or life-history. Only once, when Eqbal Ahmad, a Pakistani friend and a fellow-exile, came to Beirut, did Faiz seem to overcome his sense of constant estrangement. The three of us sat in a dingy Beirut restaurant late one night, while Faiz recited poems. After a time, he and Eqbal stopped translating his verses for my benefit, but as the night wore on it did not matter. What I watched required no translation: it was an enactment of a homecoming expressed through defiance and loss…”

I have often thought this is what it feels like, this exile of immigrants. My family and I moved from Karachi, Pakistan to California when I was five years old. It was a self-exile, in that way. My family chose to move to the US–though circumstance kept us here, and circumstance kept us from visiting our home country often. When my homecoming happened this past October after 22 years, it was one of defiance –an ambitious attempt to reclaim what was lost. Looking back now, I found happiness in it, but its, still, the enactment of the homecoming that gives me comfort.

Badshahi mosque

Badshahi mosque

Continue reading