Traveling to the Motherland

Morning in Karachi. Photo: Fawzia Afzal-Khan.

So after a long while–three years to be exact–I’m returning “home.”

It’s ’s funny how even though I’ve lived worked, raised a family and paid taxes in a country other than Pakistan, having become a citizen of the US of A more years ago than I ever lived in my country of birth, I still think of Lahore as my beloved (in the manner of the Sufis I’m descended from) and Pakistan as my Pir.

It’s true I’ve never been much of a Murid, more a rebel fleeing the motherland. And now my mother is dead- the woman, and the country too; more accurately, mom died 4 years ago, taking the mother out of the land. But the land- “dharti” in Urdu- exerts its own pull, despite or maybe because of, it’s near moribund state.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m no chaser of the dead and dying–but you must admit, there is some perverse pleasure in watching what you thought was dead or close to dead, resurrect itself, come spluttering back to some sort of life even if not a very healthy one, repeatedly, like magic.

My mom had no such revival. She closed her eyes after looking toward the Kaaba I’m told (by the caretakers who took care of her better than her I ever could, far-away from the mother land that I had chosen to be; one fateful decision when I was 21 led me further away from my mother than even I had imagined.

The last time I visited “home” my mother had recently died and I was visiting for the first time after her passing. I still have a younger brother with Down syndrome living in my parental home and I had gone to see how he was getting on, looked after with loving care by the same caretakers as my parents had been. How does one thank those we still call servants in my motherland?

As per usual, my visit had coincided with professional success, this time the publication and launch of my latest book on Pakistani women singers and the completion of my Fulbright tour. Near the end of my visit, the pandemic broke out and I took the last plane “allowed” in by President Trump to land me back “home” in New York where my husband, kids and new granddaughter awaited my safe return.

Now after three years I’m returning to my first “home” knowing it might be my last visit. I’m getting older and the journey harder.

Though the life work that has always drawn me back continues apace, and the cultural scene I study still with much passion, gives me hope, the truth is that Pakistan, this time, looks like it’s really sinking fast. Its economy is shot like never before, there’s no money in the reserves, and inflation is sky high.

Thanks to the crooks and criminals who’ve bled the country dry since its inception, the motherland is in serious trouble, barely breathing. Yet like the sinking Titanic, the musicians keep on playing and I’m sure I’ll be attending a round of parties that will put Marie Antoinette’s gay Paris to shame.

Fawzia Afzal-Khan is University Distinguished Scholar at Montclair State University in NJ. Her latest book is Siren Song:Understanding Pakistan Though it’s Women Singers. She can be reached at: