Karachi vs. Kansas: Losing legacies

Natasha (N): Since both of us got to see our grandmothers this past week, we thought we’d talk about growing up around such incredibly strong and resilient women.

Faryal (F): My grandmother moved to London after marrying my grandfather around 1967. They were part of one of the first waves of immigration to a land that now calls curry a “national dish.” For her, this was among the most important times in her life because it was the start of her personal life away from her family in Pakistan. She recounts the racism and prejudice faced by many South Asians. She was a teacher and often had to be more qualified if she was up against a white candidate. Even when they started looking for housing, their choices were limited by signs that read “whites only” or “no non-English.”

N: I’ve always been confused about how to reconcile the history my grandparents have lived through and how to create a legacy around that. I remember listening wide-eyed and perplexed when I was younger as my nani spoke of how she and her sisters would camp out on their roof when the streets of Lahore flooded or be forced to walk up and down the stairs again and again in Catholic school until their posture was perfect. As I grew older, the stories became darker and more intimate. I found my dadi tearing up as my nani recounted the time when her sister died in her arms during a train bombing around the outbreak of the 1965 war with India. That’s a kind of pain that penetrates through so much.

F: While my grandmother doesn’t remember much about actual Partition, she also remembers the 1965 war vividly, as her father was in the air force. She told me about being barred from attending her first day of class because the president had declared that war with India had begun. Every time the sirens rang, her family would run to the trenches in the backyard with their blankets. Despite the war that was going on, she recounts how nice it was to see Pakistan united. Everyone looked after each other, “even the thieves.”

N: When you have grandparents with scars as deep as war and Partition, it’s important not to let that pain breed generational hatred, but we also have a duty to preserve and understand their experiences. I worry about what will become of the character and drive of future generations as our lives become more and more sanitized by “progress.” So much of my admiration and respect for my grandmothers is derived from their struggles. They’ve both smashed through such high walls of politics and patriarchy to become successful, caring doctors who’ve never lost their adventurous spirit.

F: Their histories aren’t taught to us in history books. It’s an oral history that must be passed down and preserved. We learn in school about the history of the land that we occupy now, but it does not reflect our familial pasts, which is the stuff that will really fuel us through life.