While thousands of families move to the West, particularly to the United States each year in search of ‘better prospects’ there are also quite a few out there who return to Pakistan in a bid to raise their children in a ‘healthier, more religious and culture-oriented environment’. More often than not, the move is strenuous for not only the children who think of the foreign environment and society as their own but also the parents who no longer understand and/or want to accept the intricacies of the society and life they had once left behind for a better future.
Ayesha Ijaz Khan’s debut novel Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazar is the story of a young girl, Natasha, who returns to Pakistan from Los Angeles — the place of her birth — with her parents after her father unilaterally and adamantly decides that the American environment is not suitable enough to raise an adolescent girl. Much to the dismay of Natasha and her mother, the father cannot be talked into changing his mind. Under the pretext of attending to his ailing father, he even speeds up the move.
On arrival in Islamabad, Natasha begins to resent the restrictive atmosphere and the constant gaze of her grandmother. She finds the summer heat absolutely unbearable and matters are compounded when her parent’s monetary situation is stifling since her father is unable to find an appropriate job. She finds that her friends have more ‘freedom’ than she does and perpetually longs to return ‘home’ to the US.
The situation eventually improves when she bonds with her grandmother and her father finds a job in a local hotel. After finishing her O’ Levels, Natasha befriends Sabrina who has recently moved back to Pakistan from Chicago. The girls develop a special bond. It doesn’t take long for Natasha to confide in Sabrina that she is desperate to return to the United States and is thinking of attending university there. Sabrina, during her elder sister’s wedding, introduces Natasha to her cousin Ahmed who lives in San Francisco. The two immediately take a liking to each other and soon enough he asks Natasha to marry him. She is delighted by the prospects of returning to the land of her birth but upon arrival discovers that the post-9/11 United States is very different from the US that she knew as a child.
Spread over a decade — from 1994 to 2004 — the story weaves through the political turmoil Pakistan went through during this time. It also revisits certain Pakistani customs and cultural practises while questioning them at the same time. The author has gone into painstakingly explaining the customs and traditions which she has so cleverly incorporated within the storyline. It makes the reader feel that the novel is meant for a specifically foreign readership.
Through Natasha’s experiences, Ayesha Ijaz Khan highlights the trials and tribulations many children go through after having lived in a more open and independent society and the ways in which they combat everyday challenges after moving to a more conservative environment.
Rodeo Drive to Raja Bazar
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
Available with Paramount Publishing Enterprise
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