Friday, June 8, 2007

Poets in the Galleries: Sarah Husain

Born in Elmhurst Hospital, Queens, with a slight heart murmur, I began to cross borders at the age of eight months. My mother in the late 70’s was a newly arrived immigrant working in some sewing factory, patching up those past dreams left behind of becoming a doctor. She used to say every crossing usurps a price paid by a severance followed by a long stitching. She went into labor at work and returned to those same machines the week she came home from the hospital where I was kept monitored for a month. Everyday she would take two buses from her work to see me thru the Plexiglas before making her way home. After spending seven months with various babysitters, my mother decided that I, too, should be sent “home” to Pakistan, where I would be better taken care of by her own mother and sisters. With a five, four and a three year old already at home it was difficult for her to manage a newborn and a life of stitching.
In Pakistan I grew up in an Indian haveli, those huge marble homes full of aunts and uncles and their children living amidst an open-air verandah. In the middle of this verandah sprung a well in which my cousins and I would take long showers full of laughter, splashing the cold crisp water abundantly at each other.
Who knew one day this well would dry.
This is the first time I’m trying to write this kind of a story; attempting to compose a linear narrative. Why I’m beginning at Elmhurst Hospital, I don’t know. Is it because I, now, thirty years later, live on the same street? But it’s not where my story begins, at birth. I go back before my own memory.
Both my parents were born in India whose families migrated to Pakistan during partition, part of one of the largest movements of people in modern history. Yes, it had costs. No land lets go of its cultivation without usurping a price—in this case it demanded blood. Why begin in blood? It seems to be all around, cheap, wasting, spilling, draining, forming, breaking, building—nations, cultures. Perhaps such histories still haunt us all the way here, seven worlds and seven oceans apart. My father couldn’t live up to his bourgeoning nation—Pakistan; his poetry was filled with poverty so he decided to move farther away, to become an international banker, instead. He would send money home every month despite my mother who couldn’t be bothered. This is where her children were growing roots; she had no desire to return. Her dreams of becoming a doctor she stitched her way to becoming a teacher. She knew the clay of her home would fill and heal the hole in her newborn’s heart, so she packed my bags with lots of powdered Similac and sent me on my way…home.
Yes, I grew up in a home with a well in the middle of our house and an outhouse without a flush. We had no refrigerator; my drinking water was cooled by the clay ghara and food was always fresh, just enough for every meal. Rice would arrive on camel backs and my aunt would milk her cow in the evening, before the sun set on her return home from the school she and her sisters started in the early 70’s. In Sialkott, that’s how I was educated.
At the age of eight I crossed yet another border and moved with my nuclear family who was living in Hong Kong. That’s another story. Later I moved to Sudan, that’s another dream. Seasons of migration keep coming; my mother has taught me well to stitch so I can keep telling stories.
By Sarah Husain copyrighted, August 2007

1 comment:

Nazimul said...

Hi Sarah, reading your story somewhat awakens my story, and I guess the same is true for the other readers. I feel I must write my own, even if it is just a few lines in my notebook.