I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and my favorite part of traveling home is my mother’s food. A distinct smell of spices and vegetables emanates from her kitchen. She makes biryani that is always a hit with me, and every time I tell her that I am coming, she prepares the halal chicken and her specialty biryani masala.
Most of my extended family also lives in Lahore, so another ritual of going home is a daylong trip to visit relatives. As is the custom in most of Pakistan, guests are treated especially well when visiting. We receive tea, sweets, and an extravagant meal if we are staying for dinner.
The overall feeling of comfort that comes from being with family, is something that transcends the tangible pleasures with which they present us. After living in the racial and ethnic cacophonies of Hong Kong and the U.S. for college, walking on the land that my ancestors inhabited and being with people who share my blood is very calming.
The concept of race, culture, and religion had been foreign to me for most of my childhood in Pakistan. That is until I was rudely awoken to the adult reality of division and prejudice in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the U.S.
My home country started attracting controversy regarding, race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. To many, the word Pakistan began to conjure images of bombs, jihad, terrorism, xenophobic aggression, Islamic militants, prevailing ignorance, and oppressed women. Suddenly, my family’s green passports made us likely to be questioned and searched each time we passed through a U.S. Customs checkpoint.
During my time abroad, I have been asked numerous demographical questions pertaining to my name, nationality, race, religious preference, and citizenship.
“Are you from Islam?”
“Have you been oppressed?”
That is the picture of Pakistan that mainstream media has painted—a picture that sadly, people believed.
As I zip around downtown Durham on my bike I think about who I am and where I want to be. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers—no options provided by a standardized drop-down menu.
My time abroad and at graduate school at Duke has been a journey of self-discovery, self-love, making family out of strangers, and finding home in new places. Places separated not only by several continents and bodies of water but also by culture and belief systems. Ultimately, I found yet another home and family at Fuqua.
I am proudly a Pakistani Muslim who attended Fuqua. I prayed in the meditation room at school. Every time I sat in a classroom, I allowed myself to gain deep knowledge and understanding of the world I am a part of, not just from a business standpoint, but also a cultural and personal one. I cherished my time studying in the U.S. and recognize that many from my home country have not been afforded that same opportunity.
Through all this, I realize that identity is a fabricated idea. We have images of ourselves: who we are, who others think we are, who we want to be. I believe that the different cycles and shifts are the only constants that shape our lives. The world is my oyster, and my time abroad and at business school has helped me understand that. I have grown here at Fuqua and believe that there is still a tremendous opportunity to continue growing in front of me.
I am grateful for my time at Fuqua and the sense of comfort and home that it has provided. I have learned more than I could have imagined and met classmates from all over the world. Many of them I consider great friends—others family. Therefore, graduation was bittersweet. The sense of accomplishment from completing one journey mixed with sadness of saying goodbye to what had become home and family.
Every time I travel back to Lahore, the plane is filled with people jostling to get to their seats. After touching down in the Allama Iqbal International Airport, the plane finally stops moving and I spring out of my seat to grab my luggage as quickly as possible. I cannot wait for another plate of my mother’s halal chicken biryani.