Home away from Home
Sociology faculty member Shahnaz Rouse was raised in Lahore, Pakistan, after the partition of that country and India in 1947. She is working on a book about the Lahore that existed before she was born, interviewing people who still live there and others who, though forced to move to India decades ago, continue to identify with Lahore.
“Most of the people I spoke to in India had the sense of being part of a place that was lost to them, because of the exigencies of history. They were displaced Lahorites, not simply Indians. For many of them, our conversation was an emotional experience because they hadn’t talked about Lahore since leaving. Some had gone back and felt an immediate, instantaneous connection. Others had never returned, and were afraid to, because of the horrific experience of leaving.
“It’s complicated to be nostalgic for a place, yet antagonistic toward the nation-state it is now a part of. While putting those memories aside creates a useful distance, it also involves a splitting of one’s self, and from one’s own history. People frequently wept when they recollected their memories of Lahore for me.
“When I was a child, when the borders were opened, family friends from India frequently came for visits. There would be such warmth of feeling and affection that I wondered how this paradox of identity and distance could co-exist.”
Is India, in the end, home for those from Lahore? “In a literal sense, home is India, but in an emotional sense home is another place. Home is not simply where you live physically; it’s also where you feel an affinity.”
Lahore has changed in many ways, says Rouse; many residents who never left feel estranged from it today. “Many people I spoke to there don’t feel any more at home in the space of today’s Lahore than the Indians who left it do in India.”