dismantling helmut’s designer coffee table…

Sehba Sarwar

Packing and dismantling objects that we have collected for decades is more exhausting than I envisioned. In the past, I have either packed a suitcase and flown, or thrown my belongings in a car and driven – though the last time René and I moved within Houston, we had acquired enough furniture and had to hire movers. Still, at the end of the day when we moved from our party-house on Charleston Street, I placed baby Minal and our cat in my car, along with pillows, sheets, towels and drove to the house we purchased on Jefferson Street, where all our belongings were assembled and boxes needed unpacking.

Shifting to Pasadena, California requires a different focus. My friend Anita Wadhwa comes over and forces me to shed more than two-thirds of the books I’ve been collecting. I comply, remembering the books that I found in February on my Karachi bookshelves, which I had wrapped in brown paper twenty-five years ago after finishing college, and shipped at book-rate from South Hadley to Karachi. Those books I donated to one of my mother’s friends who runs a literacy center. In Houston now, I pile the publications in boxes, reassured by my friends Christa Forster, Oskar Sonnen and Anita Wadhwa, who tell me they will take the boxes to second-hand bookstores and not just toss in recycling bins.

My mother is already in Houston – she arrived a week earlier even though I told her I didn’t need her help. She knows better. She packs our boxes even as I race to meetings where I meet with board members and friends to plan how I will run VBB from afar. One night, Dean Liscum and Michael Stravato drop by and pack visual art and electronics, while Katy Fenton helps by picking pizza for Minal and her friends, who find nooks where they play together as if nothing around them is changing. Another night, Yolanda Alvarado and Carmen Peña Abrego throw a party, inviting random friends – many are left out. I can’t even begin to make a list of all my Houston friends.

On our second last day in Houston (for now), my friend and furniture designer Helmut Ehrmann comes over to dismantle the coffee table he designed for my May 2015 What Is Home? production. Later that evening, more friends – Oskar Sonnen, Marina Tristán, Christa Forster – arrive to help me sort through personal objects: which belongings can be tossed and which ones are attached to memories that must be preserved. At the end of the process, we sit down to eat our last meal prepared by Ammi at our Jefferson home.

Sehba Sarwar

a selfie by Christa

The evening before we leave, my friend Jacsun Shah cooks a special meal for us while Jaspal Sublok throws a small going away party. Our house has already been packed up, and everything we own will arrive in Pasadena ten days later, stuffed in two relo-cubes.

The day we fly out, I intend to take Uber to the airport because we have so much luggage, but when my friend Oui Chatwara S. Duran hears my plan, she laughs and tells me that I can’t pay money to fly out of Houston. Lauren Zentz chimes in that she will help. Oskar offers to assist since my mother will also need a ride; she flies to Boston just 20 minutes after our airplane takes off.

This time I don’t run into any friends installing art at Hobby, as I did the last time we flew out from Hobby. Holding our cat in a collapsible carrier, Minal, Ammi, and I pass through security. On the opposite side of the security zig-zag markers, Oskar, Oui, and Albert wave, making Ammi and me feel as if we’ve stepped back in time and are flying out of Karachi in the days when the entire family loaded into several cars and caravaned to the airport.

Before we walk through the tunnel, I wave back. I’m not saying goodbye because I don’t know how to leave.

Sehba Sarwar

Minal and Nora staring out of the airplane window

07 Aug 2016 · 05:57:24 PM