It would be the epitome of ungratefulness to say that I had a rough childhood, because it was anything but that. I was well-fed, well-clothed and went to a great school. I was surrounded affectionate family members and teachers.

One does not have to live long, however, to realize that nothing really is ever perfect.

As a child, I had a phase where I was convinced that I was all but invisible, convinced that while people could see and hear me, I could not affect them in any way. Perhaps that was why, even from my an early age, I began putting a lot of my energy into academics as a I burnt myself to show the world that I was around.

As with all phases, this one was shrugged off as I grew.

Old fears tend to creep up now and then, though, reminders reaching out from the past. Some nights I find myself staring at the ceiling of my dorm room wondering if I am still a human-shaped void, a holograph that cavorts into people's lives but lacks the mass to affect change in them. Here, especially, so far from home, among people so different from mine, it is much easier to fall prey to such feelings.

I do end up falling asleep every such night, though, for it only takes a little observation to see the footprints I am leaving behind in the lives of my new friends. They are subtle yet not insignificant. I see them in how my devout Christian roommate asked me to I teach him how to pray; in how, at one point, many on my floor were obsessed with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; in the looks of effort they would assume as they'd try to utter the guttural "kh" sound in order to correctly pronounce the name of said artist; in how, after a screening of Khuda Kay Liye, I could tell that some preconceived notions had been shattered; and in how someone said to me, "Knowing you has single-handedly given me an appreciation for Pakistan."
The college campus and everything I know in this strange land is quickly left behind. I sit in the back seat of the car next to one of my favourite relatives.

When I saw her on this continent for the first time, she seemed... different. Perhaps it was that I had never seen her in jeans before, or perhaps it was because the image of her sitting in the back seat of the her daughter's car contrasted so sharply with her social butterfly persona back in Karachi. But then she demanded a tour of my campus, asked lots of questions and delighted in everything I showed her and everything felt normal again.

She peers at me from over her glasses. "So," she says, "tell me about who you'll be rooming with next year. Did you pick him yourself?"

I nod and give her his name. She nods thoughtfully at his Muslim name.

"And why did you pick him?"

"Well because he's a practising -"

"Practising Muslim? Hmm, what do you mean by that?"

It takes me a split second to come up with an answer. Unfortunately, I start speaking before that has happened. "Well he prays and -"

The trap, however, has been sprung.

"Does he lie? Cheat? Does he say bad things about people? Does he steal? Fight? Is he a good person?"

Flustered, I nod slowly. "Yes, of course."

Satisfied, she turns away. I, too, turn to face the trees zipping by, silently grateful that such conversations and ideas do not exist solely in late-night conversations on the campus of a fancy, private liberal arts college, grateful that I have people like her in my family. Not everyone is so fortunate.


"How about these?" he says, handing me a pair of glasses. I replace them with my own and peer into a small mirror. Without the proper lenses, the whole world is blurry. For a proper inspection, I bring my face so close enough to the mirror that my breath fogs its surface. I make a noncommittal sound, take the glasses off, and place them in the small pile I've made for frames that have passed the first round of inspection.

"I like these, but they're a little too rectangular," I say. "I'm looking for something a little rounder."

He strokes his large, black beard, nods, and begins picking out glasses from a rack. While I wait, I look around the shop. The man's father, similarly bearded, sits in a corner reading something.

The sound of the front door opening - or rather, the intensification of the sound of Karachi outside - makes my head turn in the direction of the newcomer. Probably in his sixties, he walks in with a gait that may have been rolling and fluid in his youth. His hair is as white as his dark glasses are black, and his moustache is stubbornly in the middle of the two colours. He sends a loud greeting in our general direction.

"Assalaam alaikum." 

We all reply appropriately.

He then walks up to the counter and positions himself next to me and my pile of glasses. Taking of his dark glasses, he gives the man - who is still picking out frames with the right amount of roundness - a hard look. "Oho! Iss ko bhi maulvi bana diya hai?"

At this, the father walks to his son and thumps him on the back. "Haan ji, he is a haafiz now."

"That's very nice! Aik baat yaad rakhna. Aik dafa toh Quran tarjumay kay saath toh parhna chahiyay."

Two taken-aback beards bob slowly in agreement.

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