No, the sunglasses shielded us from his stare, unrelenting, shadowed, looking out into space as if he was seeing another life play out. Not within our Pakistani immigrant community in New York.His cigarette made a slow glowing arc from the glass ashtray on the folding table to his mouth, hidden behind the curling gray smoke. In the world I grew up in, mental illness was a taboo topic. And only within the walls of our Borough Park apartment. It became the prayer and the demand we based our lives on.
We all but erased any discussion of his so-called depression in an effort to honor his memory – as if the shame of mental illness could follow him into the afterlife. When my children were born, I worried about what I would say to them.
It was an illness like cancer or heart disease, part of their genetic makeup but one that may never emerge.
But there was another side of me, born of culture, bred in secrets that held on to the stigma that mental illness retained in my society. ” So I watched them covertly, looking for signs, overanalyzing every misplaced laugh or spacey stare out the car window.
After my father passed away in his sleep almost seven years ago, part of me thought we were finally free of the stigma, finally free of fear, finally free of the isolation we often felt.
After all, he had died as the proud owner of a beautiful little house with a lemon tree in the backyard.The word paagal, which means crazy in Urdu, still cuts through me like a knife.