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Where I’m From, We Sow To Cherish: A Personal Essay

Where I’m From, We Sow To Cherish: A Personal Essay

By Kishan Gusani

There is a grand history of separation, a set of credentials of sorts, that I’ve built around ‘Migration’. It is painful to remember at times, and not so much at others, because I have survived much more than I thought I would.

For the twenty-four years I’ve lived, I never bothered to talk to my grandparents about their origins in Karachi, until now. Dada and Dadi were both born in Karachi before the partition. 

Pakistan, the name of this country has over the years brought different tastes to my tongue for reasons far and wide. 

I was born in Bahrain, an island, a compendium of sorts of different religions with different zaikas (flavours). Being born into a Hindu family, hailing from Karachi, Mandvi, and Eden; my father from Bahrain and my mother from Bombay, I was born into an assortment of mother tongues and fealties. Growing up in Bahrain, I felt more connected to Islam than to Hinduism, despite my Dadi rearing me in the many cultured stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata. Wouldn’t you feel more connected to the land and its roots that you were born into than the people that raise you? 

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Living in Mumbai has been a tumultuous ride. One of migration, cultural instability, unfamiliarity, and reservedness. It was 2014 when I moved between these two countries without batting an eye on the many differences that would remain for an eighteen-year-old Indian migrating into his home country. This was by no means supposed to be an easy transition, my family and I knew this. But I couldn’t have foreseen that it would be the final nail in the coffin for awakening something that I hadn’t birthed yet. I was still rearing it, feeding it, and moving places further down the ladder for it, rather than sealing in the twenties of my life and eventually my future. 

My health was the ladder and I moved quicker and quicker down every day, to rock bottom in 2015. My mental health declined due to reasons I was far from fully accounting for, until I finally took home the diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia in December of that year. After multiple misdiagnoses, as is common in actualizing the presence of this chronic illness, I had finally understood the circumstances under which I moved from my birth to my home country. In one big sigh of relief, I firstly reassured myself that I am going to live, and secondly that I am going to live in this noisy city; and I will need to adapt, doing whatever it takes. 

My father would often jokingly say in times of Indo-Pak riots blasting on the news, that we are from Pakistan, we are Pakistani. He would say this proudly. There is a word in Gujarati to describe the origin of one’s forefathers, their birthplace. He would say, “Apdu muud Pakistan che, India nai (We are Pakistani by birth, not Indian)”. I grew up hearing stories of my great-grandfather fleeing from Pakistan with his grandson–my Dada, and his brothers and sisters, leaving behind a lifetime’s fortune. 

From my great-Dadu to Dada, to my father, they have all been in the business of jewelry. In times like these when I remind myself of this, I feel ashamed for breaking that legacy of almost four generations, or more that I might not even know of. My father wanted me to do anything else but take over his jewelry business. And I decided to pursue my further studies in M.B.B.S in Mumbai, where my mother would move in with me. And among the many nails in the coffin, this has been one of the more devastating ones, that I was the reason my mother and father have been living away from each other for over seven years now. 

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Dada and Dadi too don’t talk much about their fleeing from Karachi to Mandvi. When I ask Dadi about her experiences she tells me she doesn’t remember. She was only two or three years old. I’m afraid to ask Dada about his experiences, although I know he remembers some of them. I’m afraid not because it would be painful to know the horrors his six-year-old eyes must have witnessed, but because he’s getting frail. 

Dada often told me how he was primarily the one out of his nine siblings to have taken over after his father’s passing, which left the ten children and Dada’s mother to fend for themselves. Dada would puff his chest, saying he was naturally skilled at the business of taming gold into ornaments and materials of beauty since the young age his father trained him in. He would talk about how he slogged for years, being the primary bread owner of his family. About raising his five sisters and four brothers, carrying the weight of their years of education and the responsibility to marry off each of them; having sacrificed his education, and his own childhood. On car rides when he’d drop me off to tuition classes in his forty-year-old Toyota, the first love of his life as he jokingly said to Dadi, he used to dance to English, Hindi, Punjabi, and Arabic music alike. And, I would take his lead. I can say he loved Taylor Swift just as much as I did back in that phase of mine. 

Dada hasn’t lost his inner child, and has been the sole inspiration for my father and me to retain ours. My mother often says that my grandfather was born with a bronze spoon in his mouth, my father with a silver spoon in his, and my father has raised me with a golden spoon in mine. I’m supposed to be grateful that my life has been far much better, richer, greener than theirs. As I smile when she says this, often from the guilt I know I’m supposed to feel, I do feel in moments of reprieve, that in many ways this is true. 

And on the note of Dada retaining his inner child after all these years, I feel scared I might break him if I asked him about his experience of fleeing from Karachi as a six-year-old child. Maybe he’s known little else but working his back off into adulthood with great-Dadu passing when Dada was not even through primary school and off into goldsmith work. 

After a certain age, old people start to seem visibly slower than they were before. But Dada has always been a powerhouse of a person, often saying how if he’d finished his schooling and knew how to read and write in English, he’d be somewhere else right now, far better-off.

At the age of seventy-eight, Dada still works on repairing things–spanning our refrigerator and washing machine, to his 1980’s Toyota, and our fifteen-year-old Dodge; to cutting his children’s hair, and driving me to and from tuition classes. He is evergreen in everything he picks up and takes on, and ever ready to take on new work, but he’s visibly slowing down. But even now he has a flair, one he might’ve picked up in Karachi, the place where he was born, the place me and my sister wish we can take him and Dadi to before they die–to see their homeland once again, to see my ancestral land for the first time. And to see Dada smile and jump with joy, shed tears that he might’ve sealed off for over seventy years now. 

To remember all the difficulties of our pasts is near impossible for the body of experiences and years of stories we embody. It’s easy to say that how we choose to remember becomes how we choose to live. But for the people that have lived through something we haven’t, it is easier to forget than to remember. It is easier for me to remember. And it is easier for my Dada to have remembered, and then to have forgotten. I might just allow him this. Or I might be selfish enough to ask him the things his heart has endured and see him cry when he tries to remember his burdened past when he is quick to forget where he put his car keys, or so fickle the irony of life is. 

It’s time we came closer to making peace with what has come of our states, personal and otherwise, that have and will continue to be told. But the human mind must endure the tears a story of ghastly separation will continue to invoke. To my Dada and Dadi, remembering that grave truth is not as important as remembering that their children and grandchildren have grown up better than they did. Sadly, but fortunately and hopefully, for the lifetime that they have experienced, this will be enough. After all, we are not trying to bury, but bloom something in its rightful place.

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About the authors

Kishan Gusani is a writer, winner of our short story competition.

The author of this essay contributed to our Essay Writing Contest, the theme for which was Partition. Theirs was one of the winning entries, selected by Aanchal Malhotra, author of ‘Remnants of a Separation’.

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