My first vivid memories are from when I was three years old. We’ve gone to Pakistan during the winter, I only remember the season because it was my middle brothers birthday whilst we were there but in Pakistan it very rarely gets cold. I am the youngest in the family at the time and am being spoilt rotten. Everywhere I go there are presents that range from dolls to tea sets to so much bubblegum. I am still not old enough to understand you don’t swallow gum at that age and there is probably a large wad of it in my stomach to this day.
The first memory I have is being sat in a dusty courtyard in Karachi talking to bright green parrot in a cage. The parrot is the only pet I have ever had and I loved him because at the time I have no concept of how keeping a parrot in a cage that small is cruel. My hands are full of green beans and spinach because I believed my parrot was green because he ate only green food, I was always very concerned people would turn him red or blue or yellow. He had to be green. Green was the colour good parrots were. After we went back to the UK I used to ask my dad about the parrot, how he was doing. They let him free after we left, so I hope he was okay. My second memory is of being on the beach with my family and my uncle, aunt, and cousins. We are about to get on this camel for a ride and I do not like the camel. My brothers both get on at the front, my aunt gets on next and some smart person decides I should ride right at the back. As soon as the camel starts walking I fall off and start to cry, even at three I had a tendency to be overdramatic at trials in life. My dad then decides I should ride on a donkey, which I enjoy far more than the mean camel. There is a photo of me shortly after, in a red jumper and denim skirt standing in the sea laughing, my dad decided to cheer me up he should throw me in the water and it worked really well.
It’s interesting the very few memories I can clearly see are from my time as a child in Pakistan. I wasn’t born in Pakistan but we spent two months there when I was 3 and I never wanted to leave. I went from a young child who was totally secure and happy with her background, to a young adult who wanted to be as far away from it as I could to a woman who is still confused at how the pieces fit together and is still trying to reconcile her past experiences with her present. A lot of things in life I can let go and let them be in the past but I feel like I have this Pakistani shadow following me around, an alter ego that I need to accept and figure out how she fits into my current life.
Lately, I’ve been learning more about my mother. I have always sworn that I am my father’s child, I take after him in temperament but I think a lot of wanting to be more like my dad came from the fact that my mother rejected me for so many years. There was a painting on the wall of both my apartments in Chicago and it was of three musicians that my mother painted in the 1960’s when she was 18. She was a rebel and a hippy. She had short hair, walked around with a radio on her shoulder blaring music out to the world and spent her time trying to educate her younger sisters about art, music, politics and the world outside of where they were in Pakistan. My mother was an artist, she would make her sisters and brothers graphic novels, invent stories that spanned years and that her sisters recall as being captivating. She also loved music, she would record things on to tape and them make her own album covers and books filled with lyrics and pictures for each tape. She would quote songs and she approached music a lot like I do, she looked for things that soundtracked her emotions. I am starting to come to terms with the fact that I am probably a lot like my mother, and I am okay with that.
I love my family, but I learned to build my own around me too. A lot of the times that was because I wanted to escape the culture I was in at home. When you’re growing up in the UK, especially in a large desi community, culture is such a huge part of your life. Pakistani families are all friends, you always have to watch out for ‘aunties’ when you’re out with your friends so they don’t report back to your mother. There were ways you did your hair, ways you should dress and music you should like. I never felt lonely in high school, but I never really fit in which meant there was always this feeling that Pakistani culture and who I was would never be able to coexist. What I learned when I was older was that Pakistani culture is one of the big building blocks to who I am, I am more stable when I accept that.
Punk was always the thing that no-one understood when I was growing up, no-one in my family understood why I loved it and also none of my friends in High School did either. The thing that punk did was it took all this confusion I felt and gave me a way to get it out of my system. But I was till in a community that was largely white and for a really long time I had very few asian friends. Once I left the punk scene I found myself really learning about my culture and seeking out connections and friendships with fellow POC people because I needed to share my experiences with people who could really understand. I love seeing more bands with POC coming forward and taking up space, they should be doing so, because this is their space. I might post later about my favourite songs this year but they have all been mostly either by POC artists or just not in English at all. It’s a huge range of genres from all kinds of people and I’d say it was all punk, because it follows the ideologies of punk that got lost in the bro culture.
I find myself in my thirties wanting to learn Urdu, wanting to reconnect with that culture so badly. As I start to see life as more of a whole and less as individual parts I can see that embracing this and incorporating it into everything isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something that would hold me back at all. I’m making lifestyle choices that represent that. I’ve started to look at the positives that I have from my family and there are things that just bring me straight back to home that throw me off balance in a good way. Melon is a big one. Melon in my family is like a celebration fruit, it would be cut and then you would be asked a million times in an afternoon if you had eaten your share of melon. Any melon would do, but you were totally force-fed melon. I find myself picking up melon when I grocery shop now and the smell of it when I’m cutting it transports me back to walking in my house and hearing one of my parents tell me about the melon in the fridge, and be ecstatic about it. Something about melon fills me with love and comfort and that is so strange.
I used to have that photo of three year old me stood in the sea in Pakistan on my wall back home, I put it up when I was 28. It seems like a really self-centred thing to do, but that picture represented a time when I was totally free. I know I was young but it was a goal to be that way again, to feel that much love and acceptance again. To feel that secure again. As I get older I’m learning I can find that within my family, within my friends and within myself.