Home was always an abstract concept to me. I’ve grown up/lived all over the world and never associated one place with the word “home”.
It’s deceptively small with only four letters, but carries copious amounts of weight. Our home is our whole world when we’re kids. We often unconsciously carry around that childhood home inside of us, even when it’s not the kind of home we might wish to recreate our lives in.
It was my first trip to Karachi in years. Nervous and excited, I didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to meet everyone I knew, and conquer the city one meal at a time. It’s always familiar and strange to come to a place that you know so well, yet you don’t know it the same way anymore.
“I’m going home for two weeks.”
“But...you live here? London is home.”
A seemingly simple statement yet I’d never (consciously) thought about it until I took off for K-town.
I reached Pakistan, overwhelmingly nostalgic and slightly teary-eyed. Life in Karachi seems to be the same. Crazy busy, similar to any big city around the world. Like a wild stream in the middle of a chaotic park. Things happen. Things pass by. But it’s always soothingly same. Everything seems beautifully familiar. I was home.
Simultaneously, it also felt somewhat different. Things didn’t feel the same anymore. It felt like a thread had been interrupted, the reality altered (albeit, in a positive way but I still panicked). Am I home? Have I...changed?
It’s like being in a different dimension. Every single aspect looks the same. At first glance, I didn’t think anything was dissimilar. But inside, I felt it. I could sense everything was. Everything had a different shade, a different meaning.
Places were different. I didn’t recognise streets, restaurants, roads or even Defence’s infamous Khayabans. I didn’t know where Karachi’s best (and current) burger or best biryani were anymore. I didn’t know what cigarette pants were. I also had no idea long kameezes were no longer in fashion.
And then I met all the people I love and things felt the same again. Family, friends, friends of family, family of friends. I could feel the warmth of the house I grew up in, my parents, old friendships, old relationships and familiarity. Everyone had grown up, yet friendships remained the same. It didn’t feel like years had passed since we last met; some things do remain a forever constant. They keep me in touch with my brown roots and I significantly relaxed; the concept of “home” becoming clearer as my visit progressed.
My bedroom at my parents’ house is a shrine to my homes. There’s a giant travel scratch map next to my bedroom door, dusk forever falling over the beach I grew up right next to in Cape Town, South Africa. It leads to a trail of another two years spent in the States, followed by my current family home in Pakistan. My university accommodation (also home) in Buckingham makes frequent appearances, followed by my own space - my wonderful little flat in London. And that's only the beginning. Typographic posters of London and Karachi hang above my bed, a graduation photo at the University of Oxford sits atop my dresser, and a postcard of Cape Town’s water tower is taped to my door.
I consider each of these places home. I can't possibly live everywhere I once labelled home, but I can frame these places onto my walls. The decor can serve as a reminder of the carefree child I was in South Africa, the more responsible teenager/young adult I was in America and Pakistan, my roller-coaster of a student life in Buckingham and Oxford, and the more ambitious person I am in London.
I love my morning flat white from Pret, but I also love my biryani from Burns Road. I love the organisation and discipline London instils in me, but I also love the chaotic Karachi drives to a dhabba for a cup of karak chai. I love coming home to a place I call my own, but I also love coming home to Mama and Papa where I successfully turn into a regressive teenager. I love having a double set of close friends in two different corners of the world. I love my salmon poached, but I also love my machli darayi. I love lounging around in sweatpants and jeans, but I also love my kurtas dearly (side note: contrary to whatever anyone says, I love long kurtas/kameezes and will never shorten/turn them into ponchas). I love being two minutes away from the beach in Karachi, but I also love being two minutes away from the tube station in London. I love meeting new people every day, but I also love hugging those who’ve known me forever. I love exploring new avenues to challenge myself for the better, but I also love shutting people up for their narrowminded, unsolicited opinions (that too in Urdu, kyun kay apni zuban ka maza hee alag hai).
I am a Londoner, but I am also a Karachiite. I am grateful for a country that has and still gives me multiple opportunities, but I am equally grateful for the country that prepared me for those opportunities. If home is where the heart is, then by its most literal definition, my home is wherever I am. I've always been liberal in my use of the word. If I'm going to visit my family and friends in Karachi, I'm going home and if I'm returning to friends like family in London, and where I live, then I'm also going home. When I am in London, my heart deviates towards Karachi and when I am in Karachi, I long for London.
Karachi has seen me grow, but London has seen me evolve. And without both my homes and all the other places/homes in between, I would not be the person I am today.