15 Oct, 2014

for me, “home” means being around family wherever family is…

15 Oct, 2014

Part of my What Is Home? project includes raising question (with a few more thrown in, thanks to my friends Jaspal and Yaksha) to family members, friends and others who cross my path.

Here, my friend Sorayya Khan, author of Noor and Five Queens Road, converses with me about her ideas of home. Khan’s third novel, City of Spies, (Aleph, New Delhi) will be released in January 2015.

For me, home means being around family wherever family is– and so my idea of home is open since I have family in many different locations. There is no single place where I feel completely at home. I never thought about what home was until I was 10 and we moved from Europe to Pakistan and I left the only home I knew. As I became older, I started to wonder, “What is home?” My grandparents’ house was in Lahore, but it no longer exists, and the same is true for my parents’ house in Islamabad. I was born in Vienna, Austria, which is also, as it happens, where my mother currently lives. I live with my family, Naeem and the boys, in Ithaca, NY, also my home.

Pakistan is my artistic home and source. All my writing derives from that space and my relationship to it. This home is my constant.

Sehba SarwarI lived in Pakistan from 1972-79 and I left for college until 1983. I returned, but left in 1984 for graduate school. After graduate school, I travelled once a year to Pakistan until our first child was born in 1992. Later, we spaced out our visits with the children to perhaps once every two years. I spent six months in Pakistan on a Fulbright researching my first novel in 1999, the same year my father died. Technically, however, I’ve been away from Pakistan since I left for college at age seventeen.

I no longer feel that not having a Home is problematic or that I’m missing something by not having one. My father used to tell us when we were growing up that we are lucky because we have many worlds (he was Pakistani, my mother is Dutch); I’ve now arrived at a complete understanding of this and he was, in fact, right. There was a time in my life when not having a Home was a source of sorrow, but now that space is my inspiration and my reason to write. My concept of home was fundamentally affected when my father died. We no longer had a family home and my mother left Pakistan, traumatic events that shifted everything and gave me new perspective.

My sense of loss has been filled with my writing and work. I write my home. Obviously, in a concrete sense, I have a home – a place I live with my husband and children, the family and home we have made. Yet, there’s no way to call my current city Home. It’s my home, but then it’s not. For me to call Ithaca “Home” all the parts of who I am would have to be here. My father would be alive, Islamabad and Lahore would be here, my grandparents, too …no factors can make that happen. Right now, my home is my where my husband and children are, but making Ithaca my home with a capital H is not going to happen. – Sorayya Khan

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