Sonya Rehman has been writing for over six years. A Fulbright Scholar, Sonya returned to her birth city, Lahore, in 2010, after completing an MS in Journalism at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Currently, she is teaching journalism at the Lahore School of Economics as a Visiting Faculty member for a semester.
I’m not ashamed to admit how ignorant I was before I departed to the US for grad school. Now don’t get me wrong, my experience abroad wasn’t a ‘coming of age’ journey. I’d already dealt with my fair share of ‘life experience’ prior to my departure. Abroad, on my own, as a student, didn’t give my psyche a complete makeover. But, it did perhaps numb the edges of a utopist, carefree, mindset and did, perhaps, dull the feral optimism that comes full force like a tidal wave into one’s teenage years (and which carries itself well into one’s twenties!).
Abroad, I wrote articles for a local publication (The Friday Times) back home about my experiences, and on slow Sundays, I documented little observations about the city, and quotes by fair-weather friends at college in a thick, lilac diary that I bought at Barnes &Noble on a whim, on a sunny day. It was twenty dollars well-spent, even though, it only carries fifteen pages worth of entries and now sits in my drawer atop a shoe box of old cards and letters.
Now, when I re-read those published articles, and those scribbly diary entries, I am almost hurt, betrayed even, that my optimistic outlook on life has left my heart. I am not who I was, and yet, I haven’t changed. Does that make sense? Is this what ‘growing up’ is all about? Adulthood – is this it? To think ‘responsibly’, to act ‘rationally’, and to let one’s mind override one’s heart? I still find myself at conflict, and oscillate frequently between a solid, indifferent approach to life, and then towards an emotional, empathetic approach. I don’t find balance between the two. But is ‘balance’ even necessary? Who cares for rudimentary normalcy anyway?
But inner transitions come and go when you least expect them to – infact, they neither have a beginning nor an end. Like endless, silver kite string unraveling itself, over many years, you’d be lucky to catch the reel just in time, just to figure out what changes are beginning to take place within you.
Five months and counting. That’s how long it’s been since I walked through the dusty glass doors of the Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, and straight into my mother’s arms. Everyone told me once I arrived; I’d feel like I never left Pakistan.
But I felt like I had left. For many, many years.
That’s the thing: never believe a word ‘everyone’ ever tells you. Because ‘everyone’ isn’t you and you’re not ‘everyone’. Our perceptions, like our finger prints, are unique; no one views the world in the same, uniform way.
Therefore, on the drive from the airport to my home, I knew – inherently – that life would not quite be the same. That I would not quite be able to play the same role that I’ve always played in my life, in a similar fashion, all those years, preceding my temporary departure from ‘home’.
Reacclimatizing to life in Lahore has been a long process. Longer than I had imagined. Because abroad, Lahore felt like a distant, syrupy dream, far off… unreachable, unattainable. I longed for it, many times.
But even when I had four months left before I returned to my birth city, it never really hit me. That one day, I really would leave this mad, wonderful city – New York. It only hit me when I actually, physically landed in Lahore. That I was home. And yet, the home that I had just left, was my temporary fix, for a few months, thousands of miles away, in another time zone.
Life is so transient. I feel it now. Love and death. Entrances and exits. No permanence – ever. But that’s the beautiful contradiction of it.
Life – a contradiction. Makes sense.
Journeys whether long or short, always end on a note of assessments. It’s when you begin to start re-evaluating your relationships with people; friends, old flames, peers, acquaintances. You realize where you went wrong and with who, you come to terms with some pain, some loss, and then you also begin to realize where and how you can foster love and affection in your life again and with who. But most importantly? You begin to better understand what you’d like to derive out of relationships. If you’ve learnt well, and learnt wisely, you allow yourself to break free from old patterns. You rid yourself of negative, complicated relationships. And for a while, you become a bit of a social hermit. Journeys do that to you. Especially long journeys – out of your comfort zone.
And when you arrive, you realize that circumstance has quietly taken you apart – bit by bit, and then handed bits of you, back to you; to put back together…sensibly, slowly, and carefully this time around.
You remain your own guide, your own lighthouse in this transition process, even if at first, this newfound inner autonomy can be disconcerting. But you let it happen…you let the tidal wave in, and you swim, in the thick of it.
On the outside, looking in, all I know is this: that I remain a sinew in this paradoxical, pulsating city, Lahore. And that it was always my home and always will be – irrespective of its dark, and at times, cruel facets.
But, I do admit, I can only now appreciate my city’s beauty after I left her briefly. I see her for what she is now.
And, perhaps, I see myself too, for the very first time; for what I always was, and for the person I’ve become.