After a professional marathon of 20 plus years, I am moonlighting with the idea of quitting full-time work or at least taking a break. I tell you it’s not an easy decision to walk out on a well-paying, stable career just to take a break. First of all, money…oh the fear of starvation! We have always been a two income family and we love to travel which means a good chunk of our income goes to seeing far off lands. Quitting work means quitting on the bucket list item of an African Safari and I have to come to terms with that. And then the fear of loneliness! Friends and family are forewarning of boredom: “What are you going to do with all that free time?” Some even came as far as to share anecdotes on how many people died right after retirement, “Oh you know Sadiq Uncle. He died shortly after retirement,” or “Zareen’s husband dreaded her staying home. She became a monster.” I realize that having plenty of time for me, someone who has always operated on its scarcity, can be dangerous and we all know about the empty mind’s capability of securing successful employment at devil’s workshop.
So here is my idea of keeping myself occupied. While still working, why not explore writing as a hobby? Hmm…it’s not that farfetched actually. I have been writing Urdu poetry for years because that’s the language of my tongue. However, lately it seems that my audience can be much larger if I write in English. Hence this blog in English! As for the subject, growing up travelogues used to be my favorite genre in literature. Reading Ibne Insha, Mustansir Hussain Tarar, Colonel Mohammad Khan, and many others, I would find myself totally engrossed and amused walking in their shoes to their destinations and situations. The only thing that I now find hard to believe is that they landed in as many romantic situations as they did by sheer coincidence—that part of travelogues seems to me more like Disney Dreamworks than reality. Other than that, travelogues are a great way of building bridges. In today’s highly divided world, they create the much-needed familiarity and friendship between far off lands and defog the mysterious beyonds.
Bill Bryson, an American writer who lived a good portion of his life in England, has written newspaper columns about the duality of his life in both places. These were later published as a book I’m a Stranger Here Myself. Reading the novel Brooklyn by Colm Tobin, my American book club members wondered why on Earth its Irish heroine couldn’t decide whether to continue living in Brooklyn for good or to move back to Ireland. To which my Jewish-American friend who lived in Israel for 11 years calmly replied, “Once you have lived in two countries, you don’t feel quite at home in either, you’re constantly making comparisons.”
Yes, for me being a Pakistani-American is like riding in two boats both of which are equally dear to me. And for that reason I would very much like to continue this paradoxical ride. Joining a book club remains a serendipity in my life. Instead of relying on biased opinions and common prejudices, I have learned more about American culture and history by reading my book club novels. What fun way to get a little perspective through quality, absorbing fiction! Of course these are not facts out of history books but one gets a good enough picture of what life was like back then and what formed the fabric of society in a certain time period.
So, my dear reader, the idea of “Building Bridges” is by no means new or the road less travelled. On the contrary, it’s quite stolen from all the great writers mentioned above. However, the fact remains that you can never build enough bridges between two lands, especially when they are at odds with each other and even more so when they happen to be America and Pakistan. By living in both lands I have seen that they are equally good and bad in their own ways. Their ideologies, looks, and governance may differ but their hearts and desires remain the same. If only they knew how good the other is (and this applies to both), they would never miss out on each other.
Staying clear of political and religious debate, this column will take a peek at my day-to-day life in a chipper manner. So, dear reader, let’s build some bridges. Get your hammer and elbow grease ready, it’s going to be a fun ride.