Boston and Detroit are two cities in the world which I visit every year because my daughters and their families are there. Of course, the grandchildren are major attractions.
Comparisons are odious but I think Detroit can be dreary, while Boston is always bursting with excitement. I have written so much in the past about its institutions of learning, museums and libraries that it would amount to repetition if I mention anything here.
It’s a long journey from Karachi to Boston with changing flights at Abu Dhabi and New York. Leaving home at 2am, I board Etihad for Abu Dhabi at 5. The flight is short and comfortable, the service is good, but while I go through the magazines which are plentiful, I find most people trying to catch up with their sleep. I guess I am the odd man out.
The real journey, if I may so, begins on the flight to New York. Being a frequent flyer, I am updated from Economy to Business Class. The aircraft is full but the attention to passengers is unflagging. With a variety of newspapers and magazines, not to speak of the book that I am carrying, and a wide range of entertainment on the large screen in front of each passenger, there is not a dull moment. An elderly Columbian woman constantly watches English language movies from the black-and-white era. The one which she sees twice is based on the eternal love triangle; It reminds me of the subcontinental cinema of the 50s. An Arab, a seat ahead, can’t resist the comfort of the flat bed which the seat turns into at the press of a button. He sleeps almost all the way through. I don’t, except for a 40-minute nap. A charming Bangladeshi young woman with her infant looks serious but when I greet her in whatever little Bengali that I know, a radiant smile appears on her face. Such is the love for one’s language!
I enjoy talking to the friendly cabin crew, drawn from various countries who speak English in different accents. Earlier, at the Abu Dhabi airport I run into Michael (I forget his second name) an American, who loves mountains and is returning from Skardu, where he went to have a good look at K2; He sounds like a man in love. Michael says he prefers the Karakoram to the Himalayas and gives technical reasons for his preference, some of which go above my non-technical head. “I hope the rest of your country becomes as peaceful as Skardu and its environs,” he says. I can’t agree with him more.
The food on board is delicious and wide ranging. One can order anything any time but with restricted freedom of movement one is not hungry enough.
Landing at the JFK airport, the first shock that I encounter is that the wheels of my hand-carry decide to part with the bag. I sail through the Immigration and Customs. But at the Security Check on Terminal 5, from where I have to catch the Boston flight, a bottle of mineral water and a tube of shaving cream in my hand-carry cause a mini problem.
“OK, if I am not allowed to carry this small bottle of water, at least allow me to drink the mineral water,” I say. “You can, if you like, but you’ll have to go out, drink it and join the line once again,” was the answer I get. “You can get another bottle once you are in the departure lounge or use one of the many fountains,” says his colleague. The tube of shaving cream is cleared because it falls into the permissible quantity.
The flight is a little less Spartan than the American airlines these days, where the fares are low and hardly anything to eat and drink. This one gives cookies and chips in addition to a cold drink. We land at 10 pm.
Maryam, my granddaughter, thinks Nana (maternal grandfather) lives at the airport because that’s where he is picked up from and dropped off after staying with her for a few days. Much to my disappointment, she is not at the airport, but her two older brothers and dad are there. She doesn’t keep long hours so her Mom has to be with her.
My hosts live in a colonial house in Quincy, a suburb of Boston, named after two early American Presidents, a father and son. The 120-year-old house has been lovingly maintained by the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the man who built it. They sold it last year to Maryam’s parents, who take good care of it. People who live in places like Boston heat up their cars in their garages before they go to work in the long winter months. But this one doesn’t have a garage. Much to my embarrassment, I am reminded that cars were not invented 120 years ago.
Maryam’s parents invite some people from UMass (University of Massachusetts) at Boston. One of them asks me if, as a journalist, I felt safe in Pakistan. “I do because I write on music, literature and culture. The worst that can happen to me is to get hate mail if I make a disparaging remark about a performance of someone’s favourite musician or give an unfavourable review to a book someone raved about.”
There is a Jewish family, who is visiting from Israel. The husband is a rabbi. They have both studied at Boston. I ask him if there are people in his country who sympathise with the Palestinians. “You are talking to one,” he says and goes on to explain that the number of such people is not small. We talk about Pakistan as I answer his queries. We don’t touch sensitive issues. Instead we discuss the nuances of different languages. With migrants from different parts of the world in Israel, one hears a number of languages there.
This is the first time I am visiting Boston in summer. The weather is pleasant but the flip side is that the universities are closed. Last time I was here, I spoke to students of a department on the sufferings of the people in Pakistan and India on account of tense relations between the two governments. I have a standing invitation to talk to another batch of students and the faculty when I am in Boston again.
As I write these lines my hosts are preparing to go for Friday prayers at the Islamic Centre. This will not be my first visit. Two years ago I was there at Eid and I enjoyed the multi-racial lunch there.
The time difference between Karachi and Boston works to my disadvantage. I have to meet the deadline and send this blog before it’s Saturday morning in Pakistan.
The writer, who jointly authored the bestselling ‘Tales of Two Cities’ with Kuldip Nayar and more recently compiled and created ‘Mehdi Hasan: The Man and his Music’ writes and lectures on art, literature and culture. He also pens travelogues and humorous pieces.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.