home is a space where you don’t have to watch out for proper behavior or ways to be…

Sehba Sarwar

As I’ve worked on my What Is Home? project, I’ve recorded many conversations with my mother Zakia Sarwar about her multiple migrations – from North India to Lahore, Pakistan at age 14, to Karachi a few years later, and now from Pakistan to USA. On the morning before she catches a flight from Houston to Karachi where she’s organizing SPELT’s I Am Karachi: Teach for Peace conference, she talks to me about how she’s dealing with her multiple “homes”:

Overall, home means a comfort zone, so to say. It’s a space where you don’t have to watch out for proper behavior or ways to be. When you say you’re “at home” in so-and-so house where you’re not visiting—you’re in a relationship with a space. I feel at home in such places.

And if you’re talking about your own house, being at home means being comfortable in your environment without having to worry. You know where things are. I’m not the kind of person who needs to put my feet up or sleep in my own bed. But knowing where things are and knowing that since you’re home you can invite anyone over – you don’t have to worry about convenience to anyone but yourself.

Home is also a sense of belonging, knowing it’s a place where you can come back to. Jokingly, I was saying to someone that I have three homes – I’ve been thinking about this idea of “home” since you’ve been doing this project.

What does migration feel like? It’s a reality of life that you move from one place to another or that has to be. And if that has to be, then I have things in your house, in your sister’s house and in your brother’s house. And of course, in my Karachi house. I have three homes in the US and one home in Karachi. The last one is my base. I haven’t really emotionally or intellectually moved from there. Other than commitments to my children, I have no professional pulls or demands in the US. I’d like to, but I don’t at this point…

Leaving Karachi is not a complete exile. As long as I live, I’m entitled to a pension income. I also own a house that I built with a lot of love for my family. It’s peaceful and comforting to look out of my French window to see the greenery around me and the birds chirping and the koel cooing away in summers. If I spend more time here (in the US), I might not go there (Karachi) for two years, but I’ll always go because it is my real home. It has warm memories of times spent with my loved one – both family and friends. I do recognize that as I’m getting older, I might find it harder to go back and forth. My sister is in Australia, and I’m inspired by her, by the way she’s moving about from continent to continent. I don’t feel depressed about growing older….I still feel young at heart!

Karachi is my real home, my base. I try not to think about the fact that I’m leaving. That makes me cry. If Sarwar was there, I would still be in Karachi. I’d visit all of you but this choice of moving is because I’m now alone. And I don’t have an overall issue with being alone, but the evenings are very very difficult. If living was only day and day, there would be no issue. It’s the long evenings – the long winter evenings that I find so difficult… – Prof. Zakia 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.