SARWAR SUKHERA I have lived overseas, off and on, for thirty years of my adult life. Despite the obvious advantages of civic order and opportunities that the western hemisphere holds, nostalgic memories of one's childhood and adolescence make one yearn to relocate back to one's homeland. I have just relocated back to Pakistan for the umpteenth time. Once again, I wish I had been born somewhere else Some people never learn from experience, and I am one of them. Pakistan appeared so exciting a place to me. It has spectacular bomb blasts, not to mention the magic of corruption turning the impossible into the legally possible. While road ingnues manage to worm ahead of traffic on congested roads, the appearance of VVIP cavalcades turn a hustling, bustling city into the frozen frame of a DVD. Top it off with lively protest marches, political slogans blaring in unison, tires barbecuing on the road-side, grocery stores closed to punish those with well-stocked refrigerators, and you have all the ingredients of an action-packed film with a touch of black comedy. Who can resist going to the sets to watch the filming of such a blockbuster? Once again I succumbed to temptation and couldn't resist returning. Patriotism demands that we fly by PIA, also because no one else does. The airline must be doing fantastic business since all its flights are always fully booked regardless of a date or destination. The reasons routinely given are: School holidays, Haj season, wedding season, summertime vacations, while winter is traditionally a convenient time for expatriates to visit families back home and, at times, even excuses like the excitement generated by a new batch of senators and people rushing back to Pakistan to watch the spectacular oath-taking ceremony. Reports about the airline losing money appear as a clever ploy to wangle money out of the IMF and the naive 'Friends of Pakistan'. It's only when you board a plane that you find it half empty. I get to the airport way earlier than advised with the determination of getting a window seat this time. Once again they're all gone, reserved by wizards who had not yet made it physically to the check-in counters. I present the ticket putting on an act of being unwell, having bad back, point to my hip joint that needs replacing, and even make up a story of knowing President Zardari personally. I pleadingly look towards the station manager who is busy on the phone assuring someone not to worry about any extra baggage or a seat, but all to no avail. I hold the boarding card sullenly that shows I might have to strap myself to the tail of the plane and head for the assigned gate, on the way picking up a book with an attractive cover and interesting title. I soon find out the short reviews printed on the back of the cover were written by the Indian author's American friends with hopes to see the Taj Mahal. I sit and wait to board while cursing myself for not knowing the right people at the right places. It is a long wait and finally the flight is announced. Passengers with children are asked to come forward. Bunches of ten or more adults with every child make up the front of the line. It is the first time I find out that it takes ten adults to produce one child. Next in line in priority come the sick and invalids. That's when I catch sight of Butt Sahib riding a wheelchair. I often saw him at the gym and envied his stamina on the treadmill. He winks at me and gloomily hangs his head as if he is being wheeled to an operation theatre for a serious surgery. The two matronly-looking stewardesses at the entrance of the plane are chatting about a movie they watched the night before, oblivious to the passengers boarding the plane. People rushing around looking for assigned seats remind me of kids playing treasure hunt. Overhead compartments are jammed with carry-on baggage that make one wonder why the designers never thought of building the main cargo area overhead instead of down there in the belly of the plane. Female passengers dressed-not for a long-haul flight but for a wedding-are amusing to watch. It's easy to tell first generation immigrants from the way they are dressed up, with dark suits and ties, on such international flights. They are the ones who will be asking you to fill out their custom forms near the end of the journey. Casually dressed young men and women with amicable mannerism are either going home after completing their studies or to get married to their first cousins and return to jobs in the banking and IT industries. The continuous howling of rowdy children and untended infants assures me that I have taken the right flight. Another common practice on PIA is people swapping seats en masse. Business Class is usually reserved for airline employees or ministers of the ruling political party. Sometime you see them strolling back smugly as if they were inspecting the guard of honour. I have read in the Book of Pakistani Etiquette never to smile or say 'hello', but to stand up and salute them when they look at you condescendingly. I love the dry and crispy surface of the piping hot food served on the plane. You know instantly that it is no ordinary airline quality food but of a rare vintage that has been stored for ages just for you. The aroma of ethnic food mixed with the stench of sweat coming from fellow passengers reminds me of Indo-Pak ghettos back in the country I had been so keen to leave. Having a personable lady sitting next to me in the airplane is yet another fantasy unrealised-quite like winning a lottery, getting romantically involved with an Indian movie star or being a sportsman of international recognition. The haughty attitude displayed by the cabin crew is a clear sign of them being government officers with discretionary powers and not mere employees of some commercial organisation. One doesn't ask, but begs for a glass of water. Someone with a brilliant sense of humour must have come up with the 'great people to fly with' tagline. The entertainment provided on the scuffed and scratched tiny screen on the back of a seat in front of me is an ingenious way of luring the audience back to PTV. However, the plays are so ancient that you begin to wonder whether you are riding in a recently acquired and much touted new model of an airplane or Noah's ark. As for the audio channels, one can take only so much of qawali and Mehdi Hasan. Why, I have often walked out hungry from dinner parties where ghazal singing goes on till the liquor runs out. I pull myself out of the confines of a narrow seat that was originally designed to carry an infant in a car. I carefully squeeze past the fellow passengers in a deep slumber. I need to stretch my cramped legs and also to join the social club that has formed near the toilets. Some people are chatting cheerfully while others twist and turn to hold on till the occupant of a toilet finally decides to come out. The toilet is a mess with water everywhere and tissue paper littering the floor. The good Muslim who was there before me had obviously been performing wuzoo. That makes me think why an airline of an Islamic country like ours does not have a proper wuzoo place and a small mosque in one area of the plane. As we touch down, the flight from Toronto to Lahore does not seem as long as it did when we were somewhere in the sky. We begin to disembark and I see a few people holding placards with names written on them. The named are obviously from the privileged class and, thus, exempted from going through customs and immigration. Yes, we have landed in Pakistan. Welcome home. E-mail: Msukhera2000@yahoo.com