Discomfort Defines Me

I’m easily distracted. Too easily. I enjoy reading but I find myself thinking on tangents as I read, much too often for my liking. Grad school was particularly bad as it would take me much too long to finish a scholarly article because one phrase may trigger an indirectly related thought which would then take me down a rabbit hole of searching for information related to the musing. But, luckily, it was being distracted that actually lead me to write this post before I got distracted again.

I was reading this piece by Fatima Bhutto on her travels between Lahore, Pakistan and Amritsar, India – her impressions of the similarities between the two Punjabi cities and how they are inextricably tied together through not only history, but culture, language, and struggles. Perhaps it’s age, or perhaps it’s my constant struggles with identity, but I have found myself thinking about Lahore, in particular, and Pakistan in general, a lot lately.  Lahore is a city I shouldn’t get emotional about. I’ve never lived there after all, only visited a few times. I wasn’t even born there – or in Pakistan for that matter. But my history is there. My identity is tied to the history of that city, and, despite never having lived there, I have a certain affinity for that place.

Old Lahore. Photo by artasiapacific. From http://tinyurl.com/phnlyrn

Old Lahore. Photo by artasiapacific. From http://tinyurl.com/phnlyrn

To be fair though, it’s not just Lahore to which I’m attached. My roots span a few areas of Pakistan. My father and his entire family of many generations are from Lahore, as is my maternal grandfather’s family. My maternal grandmother’s family, however, hails from the KPK, specifically Bannu, a part of the country I have never visited but have heard so many stories about from my grandmother (Allah bakshay) and a place I long to visit. But my mother grew up in Lahore’s sister city, Kasur, and that is where I spend most of my time when I visit Pakistan. Despite my teasing my mother for loving the city so much (I always saw it as a boring and neglected city) it holds so many of my childhood memories. Memories that I can’t see in my mind, but that I can feel.

Even today when certain  memories are triggered I feel all warm and fuzzy inside – when the power goes out and we light candles; when I smell a diesel engine; the combination of warm summer air, street food, and cars (that’s my favourite); South Asian shops in Toronto with their neon lights flashing brightly at night. There’s a warm sort of comfort and relief I associate with all these memories that Canadian childhood memories don’t elicit. And this makes me wonder.

I wonder if my own sense of comfort and relief comes from the comfort and relief my parents most likely felt on our visits to Pakistan. Perhaps I picked up on their ease of mind and happiness when we visited. And perhaps my Canadian memories were associated with their stresses of trying to survive, on their own, in a culture they were learning to navigate every day. Alhumdollilah, they’ve done well. But balancing two very different cultures, and learning how to negotiate with them, is never an easy task, and it’s one that even children of immigrants can’t avoid. It’s a difficult struggle that shapes our identities. That constant sense of discomfort, sometimes obvious and other times subconscious, just becomes a part of who we are. Maybe that is the signature of those of us who straddle two, or more, different cultures. Discomfort.

Anyhow, in true South Asian fashion I refuse to divulge too much information about myself and my family (we’re a private bunch, often to a problematic level). However, my struggle to understand identity continues. It’s clear that place plays an important role in that understanding (and I haven’t even touched on my status as settler in Canada and how that informs my identity). I think the struggle is a worthwhile effort.

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