I have that kind of face. Everyone has seen me once, a long time ago, but they just cannot remember where. Or they have a cousin, or a friend who looks just like me. A dear friend, a favourite cousin, a much missed teacher – as I grow older. Everyone knows someone who looks just like me. Not just the people I know – all the people I meet in passing too. At parties. At the market. In a line for the cinema. Wherever people chat casually. And more.
And that’s everywhere.
I have traveled a fair bit. We are tourists and travellers both, we go through cities, villages, countryside. And wherever I go, they speak to me as one of their own. In the local language. I can understand that happening in the villages – they’d rarely be multilingual if deep in the interiors. But this is in the cities too. In California and in Spain, they speak to me in Spanish. In Italy they speak to me in Italian. You get the drift.
I have one of those faces.
I belong everywhere.
And so, when they take me to be one of their own, I feel one with them, now us. Who knows, there might be a connection. We may be cousins separated by a few generations. The world has seen many movements, we are made of the same stuff, they say. Our DNA tells the story of blue eyes that traveled south and black hair that drifted north. I am a child of many migrations. Very much at home in most places on the globe now, it is a kind of rootless homecoming. My grandparents were uprooted in 1947 uprooted again as they moved to India as Pakistan was birthed. I was brought up on tales of valour, of princes across mountains and deserts. My grandfather told me the stories his grandparents had told him – of magicians who stored their life force in parrots they held in golden cages, of princes of yemen-upon-yore who were unrivalled, of beautiful princesses in distant desert palaces across the seas, of traveling storytellers who saved themselves by the stories they learnt to weave as they cast their spell. These were the family stories, as if we had seen it all. As if these stories were us, and the stories would redeem us at the fall.
I belong to those stories. The stories that traveled. The storytellers who learnt to make their way as they moved from place to place. I heard in the distant past of a town that walked. And then was made to walk again. We still bear the name of the 16th century mountain town in the middle of distant nowhere that was devastated by an earthquake. The magazine for the people of that town still carries its name in the title with the suffix ‘pakka’. When they walked, they walked down to the plains, to what was to become Pakistan much later and they built again. They gave the new town the same name as the old one, just added the word ‘pakka’ to it. This one was built to last. The town is still there. The people had to go. We went with sorrow in our hearts and a knowledge that we would make it work. As had our ancestors before us.
I bear the face of my people. My people came from the middle of the world that is dust now. We are survivors, not refugees. We moved, but we are not immigrants. We carry with us our smiles and our grit. My grandmother told me, as hers had told her – be firm in your heart. We carry firm hearts where we go. And with our hearts firm, we till the soil, we turn over stones, we trade, we learn, we teach and we build. We build our lives again and again.
We are the resurrection – and that is the story of the face everyone knows.
Maybe the face does not tell the story of this journey. Maybe it tells the story of marauding armies, of settlers in prosperous lands. Of traders that came and went. Maybe the face is as ubiquitous as the grain that was traded across continents. The story of the face is the story of travels, of travails and of finding homes. Of being and belonging as it comes.
I look for stories that explain my familiar face. I look for stories that are mine and theirs, for when the stories are both mine and theirs, then I have found my face. These stories, they have traveled far. They have come a long way from home, and have found a home again.
And when they greet me as their own, my face has come home again.
I have one of those faces.