After 14 years of moving out of Karachi, and more than 6 years since my mom and dad sold their house in Karachi, I did the unthinkable – I visited my home.
I was born in Karachi and spent 23 years of my life there. When I was about 7 years old, my father bought a piece of land to build our own home. I clearly remember the day when we all went to the plot with a black goat (for sadqa) before the construction started. I still remember the numerous visits to the construction site of our home to see the progress, the various trips with Ammi Aboo to stores for choosing tiles, door handles, light fixtures etc. and I clearly remember picking up pink floral tiles for me and my sister’s bathroom. And I also remember the first night we moved into our brand new, custom built house.
My father was an Ophthalmologist and the one thing that he wanted in his house was a clinic as a detached wing, where he could see patients after he came back from the hospital (where he worked during the day). Out of the 20 patients, he saw every day at least 15 would be free. He would not charge another doctor or a relative of a doctor, a person whose shoes indicated that he was poor and can’t afford his fees or anyone who gives a reference to ANYONE Aboo knew. So, he would walk in the home after a busy evening clinic with merely a few hundred rupees (that his receptionist handed him from the very rare paid patients he saw)– EVERY DAY!
Since my uncle (dad’s younger brother) recently passed away, I planned a trip to Karachi to see my eldest paternal aunt (phuppo) whom my dad considered to be like his mother. On my way to her house, I had this sudden urge to go and see my own home. I visit Karachi regularly, but NEVER even go close to the area, but I don’t know why I decided to take that left turn, just to get a peek at my childhood home.
Making that left turn into our street was painful, seeing everything deteriorate in the area was even more heartbreaking but I had no idea WHAT I was in for! I asked the driver to stop the car in front of the house to take some pictures from outside. I took a couple of pictures and came and sat in the car and as the driver started the car, I spotted the plaque on the wall with the house address – the same one my dad had installed. I asked to stop the car one more time just to get a closer shot of that, and I as I stepped closer to the gate to take that picture, an old lady opened the main gate.She had a look of concern on her face as to why a stranger was taking pictures of her home. I immediately understood that look and introduced myself as Dr Rizvi’s daughter and that was enough. She knew who I was. She knew my dad as he had sold the house to her son and had met them a few times. She asked me to come in which I initially declined but she insisted and I took that step in her garage (I still like to call it ‘our’ garage).
The second I set my foot in, I knew I shouldn’t have. Memories started rushing back and my vision started to get blurry with all the tears building up. I stood there for a second, took a deep breath and followed the lady who wanted to show me the house. In my head I was like, I know every corner of this house better than you do but I followed politely. I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom and turn to the side where my bathroom in that house was- True story!.
Entering into that house and seeing someone else living in it was the second hardest thing ever (first being my dad’s demise). I felt dazed as she kept talking to me asking about my mom, my siblings and saying praises about my dad and how sorry she was about his passing away. It was like I was switching from the past to the present within seconds. I had flash blacks like you see in movies (yep, it was happening for real) and I couldn’t hold the tears rolling down my cheeks – non-stop like water running down a leaking tap. I kept seeing these flashes of our family there, Aboo entering the door after a long day, Ammi in the kitchen, we sitting in the living room watching TV, our dog Maggi sitting at the entrance with her back leg keeping the living room door open (cause Ammi never allowed him inside and she would still sit inside but keep the door open for easy escape from Ammi’s flying slipper whenever she would spot Maggi inside).
I went to see my bedroom, which my sister and I shared, how different it looked now was just simply painful. I saw my parents room but couldn’t bring myself to enter it. I stood outside my dad’s clinic and failed to register how it looks now because all I could see was how it was when it used to be a clinic. That vision was so strong that, that’s all I could see. Around the house, I saw traces of our life there – a few wall hangings including an Ayat-al-Kursi, a broken lamp and some familiar curtains. The lady kept apologizing to me that they haven’t been able to maintain it as my parents did. I felt bad that she thought she had to explain to me, but it was heartbreaking to see how the house had become. It killed me to see how beautifully my mum had kept our home and how it felt to be almost in ruins now.I went to the garden which used to have lush green trimmed grass, a beautiful rockery, potted plants along the walls of all passageways, but now it had nothing but traces of grass and a couple of sad looking plants and untrimmed bushes. There used to be a barbed wire on the wall which felt bare now, but back in the day, there would be so many birds sitting over them. The barbed wire would not be visible at all at 4 pm when my dad would come home from the hospital to top up the bowl of the bird food that we kept in the garden.
Then I spotted a small orange plant that my parents had planted and I was amazed to see how it now has turned into a big tree! I felt a stabbing pain in my heart with the realization that someone else was now enjoying the fruit of my parent’s hard work (quite literally!)I kept breaking down telling these small things to the lady while she tried comforting me. During the 10 minutes I spent there, she hugged me three times with her eyes flooding with tears looking at the mess I was (She was the sweetest!). She insisted I have chai, but I couldn’t sit there and showed an urgency to leave. She went to the kitchen and made me a bag of whatever fruit and sweets she had in the house for me to take with me saying…
“Beityan apne ghar se khaali haat nahin jatein” (Daughter’s should not return from their home empty handed)
I broke down then and now again as I wrote this sentence.
I told my husband that I went there and he was upset that I shouldn’t have and that I should get out of there ASAP. He had suggested earlier that we should buy it when my parents were selling the house. I didn’t understand it back then because Aboo was alive but my husband probably knew this pain, having been through it himself. Though I had already physically left the house before he told me to, I don’t think my soul did.
Since I have come back, I feel unsettled. I feel I need to own that house again, I feel the need to have the ‘Dr. Hasan Rizvi’s Eye Clinic’ board there. I know these are all worldly things and all and people move on and heal. But I feel that maybe I don’t want to. My dad built that house, ran a free clinic and I need to somehow continue his story. It shouldn’t end there with his death. It’s also the first time ever in my life that I regret not becoming an Ophthalmologist.
I have been questioning us living abroad for a better future of our own kids, but what about the lonely elders of the family. Every house I visited (mamoo, chacha, phuppo), all of them are empty with all their kids settled aboard. They have maids and servants taking care of them but what breaks my heart the most is that every house had a toy box which had toys for their grandchildren when they visit once a year.
I am not as patriotic about Pakistan as my husband is, but I do know what he means when he says Pakistan is our identity and it’s probably time for us to give back to our country – just like my father did.
I am currently in a messy state of mind, trying to figure out my own feelings, trying to find my purpose in life and so much more. I feel that turn I took to my home may become a turning point in my life – who knows!