by Humera Afridi
At the age of ten, my biggest fear was a dread of heights. Childhood weekends were sun-drenched (chlorine-filled) idylls during which I worked myself up to fling my body off the high board at the Sind Club into the gleaming swimming pool below. I lived in Karachi, and, yes, in a bubble.
We were surrounded by inequity, yet my ‘innocence’ or, rather, naivete remained intact. I was certainly aware of the sudden, politically motivated strikes and pained by the striking poverty—lame beggars who hopped over to car windows at traffic stops; gangs of wily, threadbare children left to roam the danger-filled streets. Nevertheless, within the highly-selective, members-only club, the harsh world outside with its mayhem of cars, motorcycles, trucks and water lorries threatening to run over the cripples weaving their way through the honking maze, seized to exist for me. The water shimmered, spangled with sunlight; I can still recall the sensation of my toes curling on the edge of the cement precipice, and a frisson of nervous excitement overcoming me in those excruciating moments before leaping towards the joyous shouts that rose to greet me as I plummeted. The beleaguered world of the city at large disappeared.
That life seems unthinkable, unconscionable, today, especially after having lived away for many years, first as an expatriate and then an (accidental) immigrant. But that was how things were: the disparity was deep-rooted and historical. Even as a child I learned to build invisible walls.
Fast-forward to the next generation and a change of setting: my son who is nine and a half, born and raised in America, possesses an awareness around issues of social justice and race, and nuanced identity politics—LQBTQIA is the more current, more inclusive term I learned from him two weeks ago—that simultaneously awes and alarms me. Even as I am grateful for his attunement and ability to perceive and articulate feelings arising from instances of injustice that he witnesses, hears about, or personally experiences, a part of me wonders: isn’t he too young to know all this? Isn’t it too soon to have to create the space in his mind to sort through a myriad possibilities of how to be? And what about facing the facts—far too many— of a cruel and unjust world?
But the age of innocence has vanished. And children aren’t exempt. Last week, over an ice-cream after school, he casually slipped in, “Mom, today I pulled my teacher aside because I was feeling really depressed.”
Words to make a mother’s heart sink.