My life is represented by the maxim “the grass is greener on the other side”, but I find solace in the fact that I am not the only one suffering from this weakness of the human condition. One tends to take things most pivotal in one’s life for granted only because one has never been unfortunate enough to be without them. Hence, the tendency to overlook the ground we stand on in our attempt to reach the heights we aspire to, not realising that without that foothold we will never be able to take off.
It is small wonder that these days the trend, rather the perceived necessity to relocate, is an all-time high. With conditions worsening by the day, to earn an honest living, individuals are opting for settling abroad than staying in the mess that seems despairingly insolvable. For some, such profound thoughts play no part in their decision to relocate; the USA or the UK just seem infinitely more alluring and exciting than the drudgery of cranking up the generator every other hour during the merciless summers of Pakistan. Whether it is the lack of opportunities at home or the promise of a better career, better pay or simply a better life, for many the chance to settle abroad is perceived as so much ‘manna’ from the heaven. This is where I find myself choking on the greener grass so many would kill to roll in.
In all fairness, I have to admit that America at least is not known to be the land of opportunity for nothing. You can genuinely turn your life around with honest hard work in a matter of years. There is pride in labour, equal opportunities for all, respect irrespective of station in life, top of the line medical facilities, law and order ensuring justice for most part and a general atmosphere of well being. Free education for your children and an uninterrupted supply of electricity, gas and water to your homes, definitely justifies America’s position as a developed nation. So, why is it that I find myself compelled to write about the other side of the picture? It is that dratted maxim, that’s why!
I once read somewhere that “even if you win the rat race, you still remain a rat”, such a poignantly bitter truth and one which we, despite the best will in the world, cannot denounce. So, we just give it a better name “the quest for betterment”. Although I do wonder at my most vulnerable, what is the point of improving your quality of life (materially) when you find yourself with no time to enjoy it? Stress, long hours, constant deadlines, it just never stops. Maybe it is true all over the world, but life in America seems to be in fast forward. On top of all this, if your family is back home in Pakistan, it works as a constant sore that never heals. Few are fortunate enough to be able to visit every year, but their number is insignificant and their chances of continuing with this as their kids grow up and expenses increase become slimmer by the year. Separation from family is I think the single most important factor that keeps you hanging in limbo, physically unable to be with them and emotionally unable to settle comprehensively anywhere else. All the important milestones in your life are made important by the presence of people you love, without them every joy seems hollow.
Rampant shootings at schools in the US are increasingly becoming a source of concern for parents here. The easy availability of firearms is not the only cause of this violence. So many are victims of a cut-throat social setup, which initiates when the child is hardly six. Bullying, peer pressure, unhealthy competitiveness - all contribute towards the frailty of a child’s emotional well being. For Pakistanis, an added pressure, on top of all this, is to inculcate our own religious and cultural values resulting in confusing the child to the extent of complete inability to adjust to a Western lifestyle or an Eastern mindset. When children are not old enough to take care of themselves, they are left at childcare facilities (top of the line, certified, mind you!) and when parents are too old to take care of themselves, they are left at nursing homes (again top of the line) simply because the American lifestyle cannot accommodate such inconveniences. For some, this situation arises because of job commitments, whether it be travel or long hours and for others, the inability to maintain the desired lifestyle on a single income. Sacrificing your time with the infant child or the senile parent seems the only viable option and I am sure the pains from such sacrifices are felt!
It all comes down to priorities. For some, the fact that their child may marry a gora or a non-Muslim is such a devastating possibility that they would prefer to have their children married off in their teens to avoid such a situation, depriving them for most part of a chance for higher education and, consequently, a rewarding career. For others, the pressure to conform to the Western lifestyle and be accepted by the goras is an issue demanding much more rigorous exertion. Raising your children anywhere is a challenge, but if your culture and religion is different from the country of your residence, then the stakes become much higher. For so many, life abroad seems so alluring, but what one must realise is that at the end of the day, every place has its pros and cons. I have learned one thing from life and that is to appreciate the country you belong to! It has its problems, but that is where your roots are, where it feels like home. If you think you can live a problem-free life abroad, you will be sadly disappointed; abroad you might not have to face the frustrating Pakistani issues, but issues do exist and, that too, of an entirely different and much more complex nature.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in the US.