“home” is where you’ve been the happiest…

Sehba Sarwar

Over a snack-lunch of papri-chat, bhel-puri and Bombay roll at Sri Pavan Bhavan on Houston’s Hillcroft Avenue, Zeba Shah – after being away from Houston for several years during which time she floated between Madrid, Los Angeles and Islamabad – talks about what “home” means to her:

“Home” is a place where I feel secure, centered and loved. It’s where you’ve been happiest – that is home. It’s a place where you belong.

I’ve lived all over – my father was in the army – I’ve lived in different places with my parents. Houston is where I’ve been the longest, but for me, Quetta brings back memories of sunshine, snow and a glorious childhood- life in Quetta was always perfect. My parents were there.

Houston is where our daughters were born, and as long as they kept coming back, it was home. We felt bonded. And now I’m back in Houston after being away for four years, and it doesn’t feel the same. I feel like I could move anywhere. There was a time when I felt I was an integral part of Houston, and I don’t feel like that any more. It takes time to reconnect. So much has changed since I left.

These questions make me think about how one doesn’t always have a choice. We go where my husband’s job takes us, and I make that home. And when he retires, we’ll have to think about where we’ll be happiest.

Some of the things that I’d like to do now that I’m back in Houston are: going to school and taking Spanish classes, starting painting again, being more entrenched in whatever life has to offer. I can’t spend the next four or five years feeling in-between. I have to make the effort to make Houston home again.

Of course, I could easily live in Islamabad and Lahore – there’s so much one can contribute there, so much work to be done. Because of Development in Literacy, I’ve travelled all over Pakistan and been part of the real Pakistan. But living there is not an option because my whole family is here in the US; so is my husband’s family. My children belong here and could never live in Pakistan. So one’s heart has to choose between the different places that tug at it. I do see many retired Pakistanis moving back and forth and spending equal time here and in Pakistan. Perhaps that’s the best solution if one can manage it. My generation in the US will always have a sentimental affinity to their country of origin. That’s something you can’t change. – Zeba Shah

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