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Gushing

This was my seventh -- and final -- blog entry from the ShantiSalaam tour that I co-organized with Hawah and V:shal in 2006-2007 to promote communcal harmony in South Asia.

2:37 p.m. – I'm madly inspired at the moment, coming off one of the best nights of my life thus far.  Honestly, nothing I could write could possibly do justice…

…to the feeling of encountering a first cousin in whom I found a true brother.  I wrote far too soon about my encounter with my extended family the other night, apparently mistaking unfamiliarity with coldness.  It makes perfect sense that people who have literally never met each other, and who struggle across a linguistic gulf, would be reticent.  I think I expect too much.

There is absolutely no way I'm going another thirty years before coming here, and I feel like kicking myself in the ass up and down the block for having been so blind to have never come before.  Standing with Imran on the balcony of his parent's house at three in the morning, discussing our life stories, spirituality, our extended family, our respective parents, relationships and the continuum of models ranging from arranged to "love" marriages, art, legal philosophy (he's a 28 year-old law professor at a university here), and social justice, I felt time standing still – as though once again the Universe struck me in the head with a blessing far greater than anything for which I would ever think to ask.  Al-hum-du-lillah – all thanks are due to the Source – indeed.

My Poopho Khalda (my father's youngest sister and Imran's mother) and I shared a beautiful chat before Imran came home, after shopping for a new salwar khameez (traditional Pakistani clothes – picture MC Hammer pants with a long shirt reaching down to the knees) and watching a Disney movie together with my cousin Maryam.  We talked about my parents and my family's history, with factual details about our past finally coming clear that I've never managed to glean from my parents and their scattered reflections.  For the first time, I at least understand the property dispute that split my mother's side of the family apart, my parents' thinking when deciding to emigrate to the U.S. in the late '70s, the immense financial and social opportunities they left behind in making that choice, and the tragedy in our families having been isolated from one another. 

And then, through Imran, I discovered that the Pakistan I'd feared all my life – the mythical land I'd discerned from my parents' stories circa 1960, and from which I've always felt deeply alienated – is in fact a place more like home than any I've ever encountered.  Not only does everyone here look like me, and not only does every third person here share my first name, but the habits and mores are actually my own.  People my age do the things I like to do.  They make similar choices, pursue similar lifestyles, feel the same mix of tensions between family and career, and feel warmth from the same sun.  On the other side of the world, I actually feel for the first time like I belong.

Or at least I could, were my grasp of the language any stronger than that of a two year old.  I went to bed after dawn after doing some long overdue ShantiSalaam errands on the computer, and woke to a feeling of intense déjà vu, as if I'd been in my Uncle and Aunt's house many times before.  Everything – from the layout of the house to the closets in the guest room – felt oddly familiar.  I'd never been there before Saturday.

In Ussman from Srinagar, I found a brother with whom I share no blood, but with whom I've shared a long history dating from our childhood.  In Imran from Lahore (who happens to share the same name as Ussman's younger brother in the U.S.), I met the inverse: a brother whom I'd literally never met before, but who actually does share my blood.  He's the younger brother I've never had, the lawyer and seeker from my ancestral country through whom I finally got a chance to recognize that I am in fact from here.  After 32 years of feeling like a painfully (though sometimes delightfully) estranged oddball, I have suddenly stumbled upon my roots.

He's bringing a friend or two to our show tonight, for which we're preparing as I write.  Shahid Mirza, a 50 year-old painter and musician who runs a music and arts school and gallery called Lahore Chittrkar, invited Hawah and I through for a recording session this afternoon before a performance here this evening.  We just wrote a few new pieces over the last few days – including a new rhyme with a catchy hook riffing on the War on Terror that I think is my new favorite piece – and I'm looking forward to the chance to sharing them publicly.

The mysterious ways in which the Universe makes Itself manifest continue to astound me.  My vast imagination pales next to reality.

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