“Get some sleep, Secretary General, get some sleep. Revolution can wait till the morning.”
In Mohammed Hanif’s infamous novel “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” Ali Shigri — the vengeful son of Colonel Shigri — the victim of a ‘Zia-ssasination’ shouts these words at the ghost of military dictator Zia from the dungeon where he is imprisoned. In this comedic sketch of the plane crash that killed the authoritarian Pakistani President Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88), Hanif’s protagonist counsels the dictator to delay his plans for a military insurrection, and get some long-awaited sleep. The revolution, he says, can wait.
When I first left Lahore to move to New Haven for college, I promised myself that I would come back equipped with the faculties and resources that were needed to create change at home. I intended to return in the hope of helping to salvage my country’s ever-worsening economy, to alter its crippling political atmosphere, to be for its people — my people — an agent for reform. As I write this article today, a mere six months into the future, the perhaps naively optimistic change-maker finds herself changed.
In this short span of time, I have grown not only physically distant — a colossal six thousand miles distant — from the country I called home for 19 years, but also virtually detached from its current affairs. It takes a scroll through Facebook, a deliberate Google search or two and a long-delayed phone call with my mother for me to learn of the latest political development in the country.
Sometimes I will miss catastrophic occurrences that hold the potential to permanently change the course of Pakistani politics, all in my attempt to not miss club meetings at Yale or to keep up with homework. In November 2019, hundreds of thousands of right-wing, Islamist protestors led by Opposition leader Maulana (cleric, in Urdu) Fazal-ur-Rehman descended upon the capital Islamabad. They were protesting the economic inflation that followed the current Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government’s trade deal with the International Monetary Fund.
As Pakistan battled a right-wing overthrow of its right-wing regime and the possibility of its ‘nth’ incomplete democratic term, I was busy judging for Yale Debate Association’s British Parliamentary tournament, Yale IV. I found out about the protests two months later while visiting home for winter break. Not only was Pakistan’s history happening in a different temporal frame, given the 10-hour time difference, but I was also learning about it 59 days too late.
The realization of how much I had missed, how far I had grown from my home, struck me recently during a talk hosted by the South Asian Studies Colloquium (SASC) as a part of their “South Asia Writes” series. Mohammed Hanif, one of Pakistan’s most renowned authors, was in attendance to talk about his latest publication, “Red Birds.” Excited by the possibility of seeing someone from Pakistan deliver a keynote speech, I too shuffled into Luce Auditorium.
Hanif, who had come freshly from Lahore, smelt like home and felt strangely familiar, like the neighbor you never meet in your own town but feel warm to see in a different place. He talked about his book, social and political issues that currently plague Pakistan and of nostalgic things that only a Lahori can know, like taking a walk in Gulberg, before Hussain Chowk shuffles pedestrians into the bustling MM Alam Road on a rainy day.
Sitting there, I realized the plight of an international student who attempts to keep up with school, U.S.-centric politics, current affairs in their home country, all while realizing they cannot ‘go back’ for another six months. Hanif reminded me of home, of important events I had missed — the “ghar ke haalat” (conditions at home) I would never know in my daily life at Yale.
We are all aware that as college students we are stuck in an opaque bubble, sheathed from the rest of the world. Even though this realization might linger in our hearts, or make a casual appearance in our irregular conversations with friends, the reality of how much we miss home never becomes reified in our minds.
As we lead insular lives, saturated with classes, papers, extracurriculars and finding the right set of suitemates, our lives become intentionally, or unintentionally, inward-looking. The rest of the world, however, keeps moving on.
We forget the promises we made to the real world, our very own pledges to help reform our homes and the communities we come from. College is difficult, and I am not proposing we pack up our academic careers and go on world-changing political sabbaticals, but remembering to check in and tune into the lives we left behind is imperative to our success, and for us to not forget the places that we once called our own.
I will probably not become a revolutionary, and overhaul the Pakistani status quo during my four-year bachelor’s program, but I can certainly make time to read up on the latest developments in my home country and to contend with its present as it is happening. The revolution can and probably will wait. The present, however, won’t.
IMAN IFTIKHAR is a first year in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .