“at home” is where you know people, where you have friends…

Sehba Sarwar

photo by Maha Shahid

Based in Boston where my sister Beena Sarwar has been for the last four years, she’s happy to spend a week in Houston and get a break from piles of snow. Inevitably, our conversation turns to issues of “home”, particularly since her editorial work with Aman ki Asha keeps her connected to India-Pakistan peace initiatives as does her involvement with politics and human rights issues. Here’s what she says:

I pretty much feel at home no matter where I am.

But then, there are different levels of home. Home is a place you inhabit. You know the land, and there are daily things you do in life, where you put things away in the kitchen and fold laundry.

And then you feel comfortable, and you know the ways around, walking places, where to buy groceries, traffic routes.

And then, there’s another level of how you connect with people, how far back you go with them, your association with them, and how much you have to explain yourself to them.

For me, the spaces I associate with home are wherever I’ve been the longest: Karachi (where I’ve lived the longest), Lahore, London and Cambridge (Massachusetts), for more than a few months. Also, places in India though I haven’t lived there, those feel like home.

“At home” is where you know people, where you have friends.

But for me, I need to live in a place where there are avenues to connect with people. I don’t think I could live in a suburban community. I wouldn’t feel at home. I’d feel pretty alien if I were living in a place with people that aren’t like-minded. For me, home is being close to the people who think like I do in terms of religion, politics…

Thinking about it, I might not feel that much at home with people who have a very different worldview. I might connect more with a white friend in New York than a shopkeeper in Karachi who donates to Al-Qaeda, or with a Jewish journalist who has never been to Pakistan but has ideas that transcend nation and religion.

I have no idea where I’ll be in the future. I lived in Cambridge for two years, went back to Karachi for three and a half years. There was a Rip Van Vinkle feeling when I returned to Cambridge. Some things were the same but others had changed. My daughter was no longer going to middle school; she had started high school. Little girls who had played softball with her had changed. Shops and cafes were different but the same. But it always feels like that when you go back to a place you’ve lived in for some time.

The Internet has helped me ground myself. I am also connected with a parents’ volunteer group, and I help various people with their projects. I’m beginning to understand things here better through connections such as with the Mass Peace Alliance or the Veterans Parade – I did a story on the Veterans For Peace when I learned that they had to march with a huge gap behind the main St. Patrick’s Day parade because they (VFP) allowed members of the GLBT community in their group. This year, the St. Pat’s Day parade has allowed the LGBT community to march with them – but not Veterans For Peace! I like to get copies of Spare Change and would like to do a story about the homeless.

I’m also still connected with journalists I met through the Nieman Foundation, which was what brought me to Cambridge in the first place… —Beena Sarwar

This conversation is part of my What Is Home? project that is funded in part by the Mid America Arts Alliance’s Artistic Innovations grant.