Our recent trip home was the most emotionally draining one so far. Lots of factors combined to make it so: BH is not enjoying his new role in the company anymore. After seventeen years of fidelity to it, he seems to actively be considering, and in fact looking, for other options. When we landed in Karachi, the smell (or stench, depending on how charitable you are feeling) of humidity and humanity combined, stirred up nostalgia within all of us. But it affected BH a little more than the rest of us it seems, because he was visiting Karachi after so long. He discussed the possibility of moving back with me day and night. He looked quite seriously into the local job market. And then we went up north to the Punjab.
The children take on a life quite distinct from ours as soon as we land. It becomes an unspoken but well-understood premise that they will be left to their own devices in the company of their cousins, who they have been pining to see since their last visit. BH and I are not to interfere/comment/influence to the contrary/coerce. They do this under the auspices of their grandmother. Any attempt to separate them from their cousins for even the length of a night, in order to ensure adequate rest, is met with belligerence from the matriarch herself, who insists simply that this is what family get-togethers must absolutely entail.
I used to get really vexed at this erosion of my own matronly rights. I would fume and fret at the ‘bayqaaidgi’ of it all, the fact that the children balked at even short separations in order to accomplish necessary goals such as the taking of showers. Their behaviour, the late, late nights, and the waking up in the afternoons was so unpalatable to me that eventually I would begin cribbing about meddlesome grandparents in the solitude of the room BH and I were given. This would lead to BH trying to take on his mother and re-establish his authority by forcing the children to sleep at the time of his choice, in our room – because this was the other problem: it was a foregone decision, taken by The Matriarch that all the family’s children would sleep together, on mattresses, in one room. This was intended to promote closeness between quite obviously disparate children.
It worked. And though I have made my peace with Susral, this is still an aspect of things I am irritated by. I gave up resistance to it about a year ago, during our last trip home. I realised that it made me not just unpopular with adults and children alike, but immediately made my motives suspect.
This trip however was most emotionally challenging yet. On the one hand was BH, actively looking at Pakistan with new eyes. On the other were our children, actually thinking about what sort of employment they could expect to find in Pakistan as adults! There were teary-eyed remonstrances when we confronted mis-behaving children in the confines of our room about the great misfortune of being a family constantly on the move, without long-term friends. After one such conversation, we were taken aside by The Matriarch to protest our ‘treatment’ of our own child. We were informed that he couldn’t have been the only one responsible in the situation that had arisen, and surely the other children were just as much to blame. As my jaw dropped, I heard BH responding, ‘Well, I can only tell my own child off now, can’t I?’
When we got into the car to drive to the airport, Mo’s eyes became moist. He has always been like that – since the time he was eight, I remember him sobbing uncontrollably after his return from the Punjab. He feels, he has told us on this trip, that his cousins are his closest and only real friends. All those years of no-rules, no-parental-authority holidays have forged a close relationship, yes. But it also seems to be a debilitating one. I wonder if any of the rest of the children feel they are in the wrong place, the wrong country. I wonder if Aunty has any idea of the damage she has done. I wonder if she has any idea that BH and I find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to defend ourselves and our lives to three little children who are unaware of the dynamics of international job markets, what life really is like in Pakistan now and how people we meet there envy us and aspire to what BH has been blessed enough to achieve.