Ayesha Ijaz khan, London-based lawyer and author of Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazaar, a book on Pakistani expatriates.
Immigration and being an expatriate are subjects becoming increasingly common to most communities. So many people can relate to both.
What is perhaps unique about my book is that I have written about reverse migration – when people who have spent several years away from their home decide to move back: of their adjustment, their thoughts and experiences.
Many families in Pakistan and other less-developed countries have at least one family member living abroad and therefore, it is a situation many people can relate to.
Increasingly, expatriates are playing greater roles in their countries of origin and this has also been touched upon in the book.
The book is fictional. My own experiences are quite different from Natasha's [the book's protagonist]. The novel is more a result of observation than experience. It is not the story of any particular person I know, but it could be the story of many people.
There are so many [people] nowadays who grapple with issues involving immigration and everything else that comes along with it, that different people may see different reflections of their lives/families in the novel.
I did not begin my career as a writer.
I trained as a lawyer and worked in the field of law for four years. I spent two years at a Pakistani law firm (Haidermota & Co, Karachi) before I got married in 1999 and after that spent two years at an American law firm in London (Sidley & Austin, which later merged and is now called Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood).
Writing was something I enjoyed as an extra-curricular activity – writing for newspapers and magazines occasionally. I guess the impetus for the book came in 2002, when I entered an essay competition sponsored by The Economist and won the second prize.
It was then picked up by the Royal Institute of International Affairs and published in its 9/11 anniversary issue. Although the essay was a mere 2,200 words, it got me thinking seriously about writing a full-fledged book.
I spent one year just thinking about it. To me, it was the most important [period] – just collecting my thoughts and little pointers on scrap pieces of paper that I could potentially include in the book. It was also a stressful time, because I didn't know if something would ever come out of it.
But then, slowly the inspiration came and I started writing. That part, the actual writing process, took a little more than a year and then I spent another six months revising this.
I don't know if I had an objective per se …
… when I wrote the book. I did, however, want to touch upon issues of identity, immigration and also work on the 9/11 theme. As I began writing, the plot evolved and because it is a fictional piece, my priority was to tell the story through the eyes of a young girl the best that I could.
The time period I chose, 1994-2004 … straddles both sides of 9/11 and thus serves as an easy comparison of how the world has transformed since then.
My parents moved from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1970s when I was 2. My father [Ijaz Ali Khan] worked as an engineer at the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) in Saudi Arabia for several years.I lived there for 12 years, then moved back to Pakistan for high school [in the International School of Islamabad] then, three years later, to the United States for college.
However, my parents continued to live in Saudi Arabia until 1997. Since then, he [my father] has worked for Shell and is currently director of operations, Shell Pakistan.
My mother, Nina, was also my teacher …
… until the fourth grade. When my parents moved to Saudi Arabia, there were few schooling options and my mother thought she could do a better job of teaching me herself. So, my sister, Amina, and I attended ‘home school'.
Later, a royal decree allowed non-Arab Muslims to attend the American schools in Saudi Arabia and thus my sister and I were enrolled there [in the Dhahran Academy].
My parents went through great pains to give us the best education they could. At the same time, they were also strict about imparting cultural values and even after I enrolled at the American school, my mother continued to tutor us in Urdu at home. My mother was very strict about it and there was no way I could get away from the daily Urdu lesson!
Looking back, I am glad that she passed on those skills to us. It is often difficult for expatriate families to pass on their cultural identity to their children, but my parents were very determined and my sister and I were good kids – we listened.
During my adolescence and early twenties …
… the greatest influence, I think, was moving from place to place. Thus I was able to travel, meet people from different places and that provided me with a sense of being able to see things from different perspectives.
Since my family is from Lahore, I spent extended vacations there. So, I guess … I am very familiar with the whole country.
I spent six-and-a-half years in the US. Three of those were in a small town called Williamsburg, in Virginia, where I got my bachelor's in business administration from The College of William & Mary. From there, I moved to Los Angeles, where I spent three years studying for my Juris Doctor degree at UCLA School of Law.
Finally, I spent a little bit of time in New York, first taking the bar exam, right after my graduation from UCLA Law School, and then again, a couple of years later, with my husband, Yusaf Amin Khan, before our move to London.
My move to the UK …
… was not dictated by career reasons. In fact, my marriage took me there.
My husband and I married in 1999 and after spending the first few months in New York, he decided that it would be a good career move for him to relocate to London. He worked for Morgan Stanley as a convertible bond trader at the time and wanted very much to work at the heart of the European financial centre. And so we moved.
Whether it was the East Coast or West Coast in the US, I have never spent more than three years in any one location. I have been in London for more than six years and sometimes feel like it's time to move on. If you get used to moving around, you start getting itchy feet after a while.
I find it very difficult to pick favourites …
… but in terms of writers, I am quite impressed with Bapsi Sidhwa's writing and pioneering efforts as perhaps Pakistan's first English language novelist. As a child, I read a lot of Judy Blume.
In terms of my favourite book, I would have to narrow this down to recent years and then pick Ghada Al-Karmi's In Search of Fatima, which is a very powerful narrative personalising the Palestinian conflict.
The novel's protagonist, Natasha is 10 when her parents take her back to Pakistan. Born and bred in Los Angeles, she is less than keen on the move.
Gradually she assimilates, guided by a grandmother who is determined to transform her and teach her the meaning behind traditions.
When an early marriage presents the opportunity to move back to the US, Natasha jumps at it, only to be disappointed by the less-than-favourable treatment of Muslims she witnesses in post-9/11 America.
Spanning a decade (1994-2004), A Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazaar is a social and political portrait of contemporary Pakistan and its immigrant population in the US.
Published by PublishAmerica, it is available at online stores for 19.95 US dollars (about Dh73).