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Interview with Tariq Abbas

Tariq Abbas was born in Aligarh, India on July 23, 1942. He was the second (and eldest son) of seven children, with four sisters (Roshan, Zehra, Faiza and Ghazala) and two brothers (Anis and Shams). His family migrated from Aligarh to the newly created state of Pakistan in late 1947. His family eventually settled in Lahore where he completed his primary schooling at the St. Anthony’s High School and his matriculation in Forman Christian College. He won a American Field Service Exchange Scholarship to study in the United States in 1960. He lived during this time with the family of Ray and Barbara Weeks in Dallas, Texas. After returning to Pakistan he discovered he had been admitted to Texas Christian University and returned to the United States for his undergraduate degree. He later completed his Master’s of Science at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. He met his wife (my mother) Cynthia Kay Bassett in Norman, where she was studying journalism. They married in 1969 and later moved to Denver, Colorado. In 1973 Abbas took a job as a Petroleum Engineer with Aramco and moved to Saudi Arabia where his other two daughters were born. The family lived in Saudi until 1993 and Abbas stayed on until 1998 before they settled in Denver. Tariq Abbas now lives in Houston, Texas.


Duration: 01:28:33

Date: May 21, 2011
Subject(s): Tariq Abbas
Type: Oral History
Language: English
Creator: Amber Abbas
Location: Austin, TX

Interviewee: Tariq Azhar Abbas

Interviewer: Amber Abbas

Date: May 21, 2011

Location: Austin, TX, USA

Transcriber: Amber Abbas

Length: 1:28:33

Biographical Information: Tariq Abbas was born in Aligarh, India on July 23, 1942. He was the second (and eldest son) of seven children, with four sisters (Roshan, Zehra, Faiza and Ghazala) and two brothers (Anis and Shams). His family migrated from Aligarh to the newly created state of Pakistan in late 1947.[1] His family eventually settled in Lahore where he completed his primary schooling at the St. Anthony’s High School and his matriculation in Forman Christian College. He won a American Field Service Exchange Scholarship to study in the United States in 1960. He lived during this time with the family of Ray and Barbara Weeks in Dallas, Texas. After returning to Pakistan he discovered he had been admitted to Texas Christian University and returned to the United States for his undergraduate degree. He later completed his Master’s of Science at The University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. He met his wife (my mother) Cynthia Kay Bassett in Norman, where she was studying journalism. They married in 1969 and later moved to Denver, Colorado. In 1973 Abbas took a job as a Petroleum Engineer with Aramco and moved to Saudi Arabia where his other two daughters were born. The family lived in Saudi until 1993 and Abbas stayed on until 1998 before they settled in Denver. Tariq Abbas now lives in Houston, Texas.

Abstract: He begins by giving me a little background about his family and his early education in Lahore, including speaking briefly about the importance of getting and English education. He goes on to describe his family’s move from India to Pakistan in 1947. The he talks about applying for and receiving the AFS Exchange Scholarship and moving to Dallas, Texas. He speaks about what worried him when he was away from home, and how he overcame those worries through work and his ability to earn and care for his remaining family in Pakistan. He speaks about learning American “values” and what an advantage that provided him for adjusting to American life. He speaks about meeting his wife, Cynthia, and how he finally informed his family. He concludes by speaking about the challenges of a mixed marriage and balancing his attachments to Pakistan and the United States.

Context Notes: Tariq Abbas is my father. He visited me in Austin at the beginning of summer, as I was preparing to leave town. He drove in from his home in Houston that morning, we spent the day together and then I interviewed him in my living room.

Transcription Notes: I have made a lightly edited transcript. Missteps and repetitions have been omitted (and are unmarked) unless I felt that there was a compelling reason to keep them in. Thus, “(clears throat) This is Amber Abbas here with Mrs. Khadija, (clears throat) Mrs. Khadija Umar” simply reads, “This is Amber Abbas here with Mrs. Khadija Umar.” Words or phrases enclosed in [square brackets] indicate a word implied by the conversation, necessary to complete a sentence, but that was not uttered by the narrator. Occasionally I have used “—“ to indicate an interruption, often a narrator interrupting themselves to use a different word, or take off on another tangent leaving an earlier thought unfinished. Words or phrases enclosed in (parentheses) were difficult to understand and what is written in my best guess based on repeated listening and context.

Amber Abbas: Today is May 21, 2011. This is Amber Abbas with Tariq Abbas in Austin, TX at my home. And I’m just going to put this on there. The cord is really long so don’t worry about it. This thing will just sit here and do its work.

So we talked about the fact that I want to interview about your experience of migrating to the U.S. But before we do that, I want to ask you if you can tell me your full name.

Tariq Azhar Abbas: My full name is Tariq Azhar Abbas.

AA: And what was your father’s name, and your mother’s name?

TAA: My father’s name was Syed Zaheer Abbas and my mother’s name was Birjis Zaheer Abbas. That was her married name.

AA: Do you know what her maiden name was? Or her unmarried name?

TAA: Her maiden name was Birjis Iftikhar Husain.

AA: And Iftikhar Husain was her father.

TAA: (0:01:03.1) Her father, yeah.

AA: What do you know about where your parents were born and raised?

TAA: (0:01:09.4) Well, I don’t know where my father was born, but I know that my mother was born in Aligarh, India. And my father—my grandfather moved around, so I don’t know that I know where he was born.

AA: And what was their relationship?

TAA: (0:01:31.6) My father and my mother, I think the families were known to each other, I’m not sure if they were related.[2] They were probably related, but in a distant way. They were two different families, with two different backgrounds as I remember.

AA: What do you mean, different backgrounds?

TAA: (0:01:54.4) My mother’s side of the family were Sunnis whereas my father’s side of the family were Shiites. I think the heritages might have been somewhat different. The line of descendency was different from my mother’s side.[3] In other words, what I’m saying is that my father was not a close relative of my mother as was the case in a lot of the marriages in those days where people married within the family. I think this was more outside the family or if not that, they may have been related in distant sense rather than a first cousin or a second cousin or something of that nature.

AA: Right. When you were growing up, do you ever remember that difference in background causing any problems in your household or between the families?

TAA: (0:03:02.8) No, at that time, I don’t ever recall. And even after I grew up, I don’t ever recall there being a friction or discord between my mother’s side of the family and my father’s side of the family. They were all on amicable terms. And the differences in religious beliefs never really cropped up. My mother practiced both customs and so did my father.

AA: Oh, he did?

TAA: (0:03:38.7) Yeah, he wasn’t really all that orthodox of a believer so he was more flexible than my mother was, you know, believed in both. So she could live with either. So it was never an issue.

AA: Did your father pray regularly?

TAA: No, in fact, I don’t ever recall seeing him—well, I mean, he prayed, probably, but not in a structured sense. We went to the prayers on Eid days and some of the big religious events, but we didn’t go to a mosque once a day or five times a day, or whatever, like some people do. I never saw him formally praying like a lot of Muslims do, even in the house. I am sure that he prayed, but probably in his own personal, private way.

AA: Uh-huh. I had such a good question and I totally forgot it! Oh! I’ve heard stories about your mother that when you were young she used to go to the shrines? That she used to go to Data Sahib.[4]

TAA: (0:05:12.4) That is a—a lot of people do that—there is this belief that if you go to a shrine that that saint can act in your behalf, and put in, so to speak, a good word with God. So, a lot of people did that when they were worried about something or they expected something to happen or not happen. And they would go there and make offerings at the shrine and pray that the saint would intercede in their behalf and bring about whatever outcome that they were either wishing for or trying to avoid or were apprehensive about.

AA: Do you know if your dad ever went to the shrines?

TAA: (0:06:09.6) I don’t remember—I don’t remember his going. If he did, I don’t have a recollection of it. I know my mother did, and I know some of the children did with our mother. I know I did when I was young. I don’t remember my father ever doing that.

AA: When you were young, did you have any kind of religious education or training?

TAA: (0:06:40.1) No, not really. I think my mother did try to get us some lessons in Qur’an but I was never really too interested. The only lessons I remember getting were Urdu lessons. How to read and write. Of course, I could speak because that’s the language, but reading and writing was something that was taught to me because I always went to the missionary school, [the] convent. It was all in English so we grew up learning English but we were taught reading and writing Urdu at home. But not religiously. I don’t remember having anybody come and teach me the Qur’an. I think my mother may have done that with my older sister. I think she did learn to read the Qur’an. But I never—

AA: So when you had the Urdu teacher, some teacher would come to the house, it wasn’t like your parents were teaching you.

TAA: (0:07:42.2) yeah, yeah. No, no. As I remember, somebody came to the house and actually taught us to read and write.

AA: Did the atmosphere in the convent schools—were most of the students there other Pakistani boys?

TAA: (0:08:03.4) They were all Pakistani boys. We didn’t have any expatriates by the time I started school. At least not in the one that I was in.

AA: And were the sisters Pakistani or were they foreigners?

TAA: (0:08:17.4) These were monks, Brothers. This was a boys only school. It was not co-educational. It was the Fathers, yeah, we called them Fathers. I forget the name—they were Irish monks. I forget the name of that—I don’t want to say sect—

AA: Order?

TAA: (0:08:43.6) The order.[5] Yeah. I knew it, and it eludes me now. We called them Father This or Father That.

AA: And they were white?

TA: (0:08:55.8) Yeah, yeah, they were all Irish.

AA: You don’t speak with an Irish accent. (laughs)

TAA: (0:08:59.6) No, (laughs) because—no! Not all of them—we also had local teachers. They were mostly Christian. The local teachers were Christian teachers. The Irish were, they were there, some of them, but they were not the total staff. It was a combination.

AA: What advantages do you think there were—if any—in having an English education from the get-go?

TAA: (0:09:45.3) Oh, that was a big, big, advantage! The country, since it had been a British colony, all the systems were structured in English, the mode of communication in the offices and in the society was English. So if you didn’t know English—speak, read and write—then you obviously were immediately at a disadvantage. So knowing English and being able to communicate in English was a major advantage. The established schools, junior high and high schools, the universities and colleges, they were all English medium at that time, or most of them were, and they were the institutions of choice. If anybody wanted a good education then that’s where you wanted to go. And so having English, of course, facilitated you getting into some of the better colleges and universities and then, ultimately, into better jobs.

AA: There was a lot of disruption, obviously, in the country, in Pakistan when you arrived there. I know that your family had been in Aligarh, you were born there. But did you grow up in Aligarh?

TAA: No, because I moved when I was five years old, almost exactly five years old. I was born in 1942, and we moved in August of 1947.

AA: What is your birthday?

TAA: (0:11:26.0) July 23, 1942. So I was born in July, 1942 and August 1947 is when we moved. So I was way too young, so I don’t really have very many memories of growing up in Aligarh. I do have a few things that I remember, but no memories as such, of that period of my life.

AA: Can you tell me a little bit about the circumstances under which your family migrated from India to Pakistan? I guess one of the things I’m wondering is if you had any sense of what was happening.

TAA: Not, really, I think I was, or we—my sister and I—we were too young to understand what was going on. We knew, from the adults, that they were afraid and concerned of their safety and security and safety and security of their family in that day India. And so when we moved, we intuitively knew that it was going to a safer place. But, just what was going on around us, or what the risks were, or what the price that the family was paying for the migration—of course, we didn’t have any idea of that. In fact, it was just my mother, my father stayed behind. (AA: Oh, really?) He stayed behind for almost two or three years. I don’t know why. He came later. My mother and I and my sister, and we had another younger sister, we moved in 1947 with my grandfather, maternal grandfather’s family. My father, actually if I remember, come in 1948 or 1949. So, he may have stayed back to wrap up, or try to wrap up some of the business affairs. He was a lawyer and its possible that he was trying to complete his business there before moving. But he came a couple of years later.

(0:13:50.) But anyway, what I was saying is that all we knew is that mother was moving and we were moving with mother, or with the family, there were other members of the family moving with us, including my aunts on my father’s side. Other than that we didn’t really know very much about what was going on.

AA: And how did you travel?

TAA: (0:14:09.9) We travelled by different modes. One of my cousins was in the military and they were moving the military—

AA: Poonan Mama?[6]

TAA: No, Chhote Bhai Sahib.[7] They were moving the military personnel and military equipment and such and the military families. So they had a whole train that was moving so we were in one of those cars in the train. And I remember when we were moving, because of all the violence and the riots that were taking place, there was a lot of killing and, you know, brutality. Whenever our train stopped someplace, for whatever reason—I don’t remember what—that the army guards would immediately jump out and surround the train with their bayonets ready and guns loaded and everything.

(0:15:01.9) So we took a train to Lahore. And then we took a truck, a military truck, from Lahore and we went to Rawalpindi. And we stayed in a military barrack there for a few months and then we took another military truck, military convoy, actually, I think it was moving so we were in one of those trucks, and we went to Peshawar. Where my paternal grandfather was and we stayed with him for probably about a year. And then I think my father came, and we came to Lahore. (AA: Huh.) We stayed with my maternal grandfather at 47 Jail Road, yeah. So. (laughs)

AA: When you were coming and even in the train and even in the truck and there would be all those soldiers, was it frightening?

TAA: (0:16:01.2) No, at that age, I didn’t associate that with fear. I mean, we saw dead bodies lying beside the train tracks and people, you know, who had been killed and mutilated. But at that age, those things don’t register in your brain as fearsome or awful, it’s just, you know, you see something.

AA: All experiences are new.

TAA: (0:16:27.8) You don’t associate those with any consequences, potential consequences. I think you develop that fear a little later. I know my mother was probably scared, and I know my other aunts and uncles were probably scared. They were probably very happy to get to Lahore safely. A lot of the trains were attacked and a lot of people were killed on the trains. But those were trains that were kind of unprotected, unguarded. So we were lucky in that our train was always guarded was always guarded and it made it across the border safely. I don’t remember having any sense of fear or apprehension.

AA: Your family settled down in Lahore after you had been there maybe a year or so?

TAA: (0:17:21.9) Couple of years, yeah. Then my mother put me and my sister in school. I started in a convent which was, up until probably kindergarten, and then I transferred from there to St. Anthony’s which was only a boys school. The convent was both girls and boys and we had nuns there. Sisters, we called them. So my sister went to a girls’ school after that, and I went to a boys’ schools.

AA: You said that as a child you didn’t have a sense of what price the family would pay for migration. What price do you think the family did pay?

TAA: (0:18:20.2) Well, for instance, they effectively just moved with the clothes on their back. Both of my grandparents had substantial property holdings in India. They had to leave everything behind, we couldn’t carry any furniture or whatever. Whatever few belongings they had, by way of gold or maybe if they had jewelry or whatever, and so they moved with just those things. They left everything behind. So that is what I mean by “price.” And the other price was an emotional price, I think. Because my parents, at that time, were probably in their late thirties or early forties. To be completely dislocated, to go through this upheaval and turmoil, going from a lifestyle that you knew and were comfortable with, to something where you are going to a completely new place and starting from scratch! So, that’s what I mean. That probably was the price. But I think the bigger price was probably the emotional turmoil that everybody, that my parents and uncles and aunts went through.

AA: Do you remember that being expressed in any way when you were growing up?

TAA: (0:19:43.1) No. I—the only thing I can remember that might be a result of that is there were not enough resources to go around, so there was always this kind of struggle to survive. Even amongst family members there was always—people were—for instance, there were a number of times when we couldn’t pay the electric bill and the electricity would get cut off, or we couldn’t pay the water bill and the water would get cut off. We would be without electricity and without water for periods of time. Those things caused friction among members of the family and discord and disharmony. So I remember those things but not much more than that.

AA: If there was that much shortage, how was your family able to afford to have you in missionary schools?

TAA: (0:20:52.9) That is kind of a puzzle to me. Because somehow, my mother, or my parents somehow managed to do that. Schools were not that expensive at that time, but they were expensive considering the incomes at that time. Oh, I remember quite often where they threatened to throw me out because we hadn’t paid the fees for several months and whatever! We always had outstanding dues. Somebody, my uncle or some one would always go talk to the principal and they let me stay. And it worked out. But it was not easy. Yeah. Very often we had trouble paying the fees.

(0:21:38.6) But after three or four years, after my father came back, he was working and he did start getting some income, so we could—but it was not steady income. He would get a case and he would get an income, and then there would be nothing, and then he would get a couple or three cases more, and get income. So whenever he got income he would pay some of the bills. So it was just a matter of surviving as best as we could and keep chugging along. And basically, that’s what we did.

AA: And so did you spend most of your childhood in Pakistan living in one place? Did it feel settled for you or did you move around?

TAA: (0:22:28.9) Once we came to Lahore and we were living with my maternal grandfather, we were in that house until I left for the States.

AA: At 47 Jail Road.

TAA: Right, at 47 Jail Road. So that was from 1950 tho [Urdu: so] and I left for the states in 1960 so for that ten year period, I was in that house. We weren’t moving around. After I left for the States my family did move to another rental house. No, I was just in that one house, all that period. Ten years.

AA: Part of the reason I’m asking is because I’m thinking about the 1951 [Consipiracy] Case, that was in Hyderabad. Did your father or your parents leave for part of the time and leave you--?

TAA: (0:23:16.3) Oh yeah, that’s right. My father, in that Conspiracy Case which was to be tried in Hyderabad Jail, and my father was one of the attorneys, lawyers for one of the defendants. We did move to Hyderabad for two years. That was a transient thing, they provided temporary housing to the family. I think the way it worked is that we were still living in Lahore, because we were in school and my mother would bring us back to Lahore and then we would go back to Hyderabad, like, during the summer months and, you know, periodically. But I don’t think we were there. My father was there for a couple of years but I don’t think we were there all the time.

AA: So you’re in Lahore, you’re going to St. Anthony’s. How did you first find out about the opportunity to go to the U.S.?

TAA: (0:24:23.1) Well, I think I have to back up on that a little bit. Even when I was in St. Anthony’s I had this desire to go abroad. It wasn’t necessarily to the United States, it was “abroad.” That was the result of my two uncles, my uncle Babu Mama[8] and my uncle Poonan Mama who had gone—

AA: Who are your grandmother’s brothers—mother’s brothers.

TAA: (0:24:52.4) My mother’s brothers. They had travelled overseas. One of my uncles was in the army and at that time, right after the country was formed, there was American aid, there was an American base in Pakistan and there was American military there who was training the Pakistani troops. So he got a couple of opportunities to come to the States for training. My other uncle joined Navy almost right after High School but after College. He got to go to Australia and the U.K. as part of his training. They probably—even when I was eight or nine years old, or ten years, I forget how old, I kind of watched them and wished that I could also go to those places. So, I always had that desire and a vision to go travel.

(0:25:55.4) And the way it came about is that one day when I was in first year of college, after I had just graduated from High School, I saw an ad in the paper from American Field Services. It was an ad for an exchange program. They said it was going to be a one-year program, in the United States. Selected children would live with American families and it was to promote good will between the United States and other countries of the world. I saw that ad, and it said, they would pay for all the expenses for the person in the United States and the only thing the selectee would have to pay would be monthly allowance and the way back and forth to the States and back home.

(0:26:56.0) I saw that, and I said, “I’m just going to apply!” So I applied. And it was a couple of months or so later—I forget what the time period was—I got a notification from the American Field Service office in New York that they wanted me to come for this interview. One of the things was, their requirement was, that the person should be 17 years of age, and I was actually closer to 18 at the time, and I told them that, and they said, “No, not a problem.” They wanted me to come for the interview. I went in to the interview and then got selected and came to the States for one year to live with American family—that which we now know as the Weeks, in Dallas, Texas. So, and then from there on, it just kind of evolved.

AA: When you saw the ad, did you discuss it with anyone—did you talk to your parents or anyone else about it?

TAA: (0:28:07.8) No, I just had this desire and vision to go abroad, and I said, “Here is an opportunity,” and I applied and it didn’t involve any application fee or anything, just filling in the form and sending it in, which I did. The only thing I had to pay for was the postage. The interesting thing about that process was that once I got the notification to appear for this interview, from 47 Jail Road to where the interview was going to be was about seven or eight miles. We didn’t have any transportation except we rode our bikes everywhere. Seven or eight miles on a bike in those days was a pretty long journey. So, I went for that interview—and the interview was going to be conducted by members of United States Agency for International Development, you know, Americans. There was going to be a representative from the Department of Education from Pakistan. There was a representative from the Chancellor’s office of the University of Punjab in Lahore. There were five—it’s a board of five people. Very intimidating. Anyway.

(0:29:29.3) So they called me for the interview in the morning, they said, “Appear at nine o’clock.” And it was around December, it was kind of cold. Anyway, I got on my bike and went there. And there were at least fifty kids there, waiting for the interview. And I sat there and I sat there and I waited until lunchtime and I hadn’t been called. So then, they made an announcement, “Okay, the board is breaking up for lunch. You come back at 1:30.” So I got on my bike and came home.

AA: Oh my gosh, you went all the way home?

TAA: (0:30:08.6) Yeah. I went back all the way home, and had my lunch. And then I was sitting outside in the backyard of our house. It was wintertime, and so the sun was warm, so I was sitting out there. I said to myself, you know, “I don’t know if I want to go back all the way out there again. All of those kids just look so much better and smarter than me. Probably better connected than I am. I don’t have a prayer of getting selected, so why even bother?” But there was something that told me, “No! Get up and go.” So, I got up and I went back for the interview, and got called about three o’clock or something. I was asked some pretty probing questions, I don’t remember exactly what they were, but they seemed like they were probing at the time. They said, “Okay, thank you very much, and I came home.”

AA: How did you feel about it after the interview?

TAA: (0:31:17.1) Well, I didn’t really have a very good sense of how I had done. I knew that all the other kids were better than me. So I said, “Okay, well.” I came home, and then, two months later, I got notification that I was selected! And I found out later that out of the fifty or so kids that were there, they only selected two from the Lahore area. And overall, from the country they selected four. So, two from Lahore and I think one was from Karachi, and another fellow from the Northern Areas. So I’ve often looked back at that one moment that could have made my life go completely different direction—if I hadn’t gone back for that interview.

AA: When do you think—do you remember at what point you discussed this process with your parents, or told them that you were doing it?

TAA: (0:32:18.2) Well, I don’t think I ever discussed it formally with anybody until I got selected and was well along in the process. And then I told my father. And of course, the thing that I was worried about is that it required that I pay my own way to the States and back. And we didn’t have the money for that. So I wrote to them—to American Field Services—and said, you know, “I told them that I would be able to pay, but unfortunately I cannot.”

AA: Oh no!

TAA: (0:32:49.4) Yeah. So, “Can I just pay one way?” And they said, “Yeah, okay.” So they actually paid one way. Somehow or the other—oh, I remember. So when I got selected, then I had to buy this ticket. We wanted to get a loan from the bank, and they bank wouldn’t give us a loan because we didn’t have any collateral. They said, “Unless somebody signs for it, we cannot give you anything. You don’t have any income, you don’t have any collateral.” I called several of my uncles and asked them if they would please go sign, that I had this opportunity. They all turned me down, except one of them, who you never met. He died in a plane crash, Chhote Bhai Sahib’s brother. I called him Bare Bhai Sahib.[9] I called him and told him what the situation was and he said, “Oh yeah, don’t worry! I’ll sign it. Tell them I’ll sign it.” So he co-signed my note, and we got enough money to buy airfare. And got enough money to put in the bank for my fourteen dollars a month spending money. Which we, subsequently, somehow my family paid the loan back. So that’s how I managed to come to the States.

(0:34:07.8) I stayed with the Weeks Family and of course, you know, I learned a lot of my values and my attitudes and my outlook from them. They are beautiful people, you know them, wonderful people. And they helped me a lot, and Paul.[10] They helped me a lot in getting adjusted and settled and get accustomed to the American way of life. When I was near graduation some college recruiters came to the High School. I was in Highland Park High School in Dallas. So I talked to one of them and they said, yeah, they would offer me a scholarship if I wanted to come back.

AA: Huh!

TAA: (0:34:50.6) Four-year scholarship. So, I went back to Pakistan. The condition of the American Field Service scholarship was that I had to go back. So I went back, and I talked to the U.S. Consulate people, and they said, “Yeah, we’ll give you a visa if you have an I-20.” And then I got an I-20 and they gave me a visa and I came back. The Weeks family wasn’t very happy about that at that time! Because their whole idea was for students to come, and live with a family and go back and spread goodwill and promote good relationships. But they got adjusted to it. Ultimately, I think I did accomplish what AFS had wanted to accomplish. It was just, you know, to create goodwill between American society and Pakistani society, as best as I could. Until these recent events—back then, there wasn’t all that much of an animosity or ill feeling towards the United States as there is now because of this Al Qaeda situation and all of that. Things just kind of evolved. Then when I graduated from college, I got a fellowship to go for graduate school so it just worked out every which way.

AA: I’ve heard some stories about what it was like when you were departing Pakistan. I’ve heard [your friend] Zafar Mirza talk about seeing you off at the train station, and I’ve heard other people talk about when you got on the plane. What do you remember about that journey, about the actual getting ready to go—and I guess one of the things I’m really wondering is what did you expect to find, or to experience? Did you have any sense in your mind of what America would be like? Did you know where Dallas was?

TAA: (0:36:46.9) No, I had no idea where Dallas was! In fact, after I was selected, I went back to USAID and asked them, I said, “What is this Dallas place?” Because we had only heard of New York and San Francisco and maybe Washington, D.C. That lady, she was very nice, she showed me on the map and showed me where Dallas was. I had no concept of what Dallas was. I only knew of New York. I only wanted to go to New York. I was kind of disappointed when they said I was going to Dallas. I didn’t really know what to expect.

(0:37:25.4) I know that when we came to New York and they met us at the airport and brought us into Manhattan that I was just amazed at the sights, and the lights, and the buildings. We were in Manhattan. We stayed there for two or three days before we flew out to Dallas to meet the family.

AA: What did you do in New York for those few days?

TAA: (0:37:47.3) They took us on sightseeing. I remember going to the Statue of Liberty and they took us up the Empire State Building. So they did do two or three things with us. And then we had get-together with all the students who had gathered there from around the world before they all dissipated out to different parts of the country and different families. So that was fun. So no, I had no idea, no concept of what to expect or where I was going.

AA: Do you remember your first experiences in Dallas or what it was like to meet the family?

TAA: (0:38:27.1) Yeah, they came and picked me up at the airport and we went home. I was completely jet-lagged so they showed me where my bed was, and I went to bed that night and woke up the next morning and the dog was licking my face! The Weeks had a dog, Airedale: Mac. And Mac decided to come up and was just licking my face and I was just disgusted. This dog! Anyway, so that was my—(laughs)

AA: (jokingly) Now I know where your deep and enduring love for all things dog comes from.

TAA: (0:39:11.1) That was my first exp—but then after that, I did have trouble with the food. Bu then Mrs. Weeks was just so lovely, she tried—

AA: What kind of trouble?

TAA: Adjusting to the food. I could not take mashed potatoes!

AA: (laughing) Why not?

TAA: Mashed potatoes! If you have never had mashed potatoes, if you’ve never had any mashed potatoes in your life, let me tell you they are the worst tasting thing in the world! They are just like glue, for eating. It is something you have to get used to. A number of places that we went, she had meat and peas and mashed potatoes. And I really didn’t like mashed potatoes at all. It took me a long time to get adjusted to mashed potatoes. And I loved hamburgers and we went out for picnics and such and Popsie, Mr. Weeks, would fix hamburgers. And that was my favorite food. And grilled cheese sandwiches. I ate grilled cheese sandwiches for a long time. And hamburgers. Hamburgers were great.

(0:40:18.3) So, adjusting to the food. I was accustomed to our spicy, curried stuff.

AA: Were there any specific dishes that you missed, that you remember? One or two things?

TAA: (0:40:25.5) I missed my biryanis and I missed my kormas and naans. Mrs. Weeks, she was just so sweet, she had Paul take me to a Mexican restaurant. At that time, Mexican restaurants weren’t as prolific as they are now. People were just getting used to ethnic foods. It wasn’t a big thing, like it is now. So we went out to this Mexican restaurant, way out someplace, she thought I would love that. And I thought that was the worst thing I had ever had in my life, too.

(0:41:06.3) So one day, she said, “Why don’t you just make some of your food?” So I made potatoes. My own, aloo cutlass [potato patty]. I ate that, and she asked me what it tasted like and I said, “You know, it doesn’t taste the same as it did at home.”

AA: Had you learned to cook?

TAA: (0:41:22.3) I’ve learned to cook since. When I was in—

AA: I mean, before you came to the U.S.?

TAA: I’d never cooked in my life! Well, I used to cook potatoes like that at home. We would have those for breakfast. Other than that, I had never cooked in my life. I learned to cook when I was in college because we didn’t really have any choice. We couldn’t go out to eat very often, so we would just cook at home. I had a friend from India who taught me. So I learned from him and then gradually I learned from other friends and their wives, they taught me how to do it. So now I can do a decent job of cooking, but not at that time.

AA: In the high school where you were in Highland Park, were there any other international students?

TAA: (0:42:14.3) There were two of us there. I was from Pakistan and there was another girl, Christianne from Switzerland. There were two of us there. There were other students in other High Schools. There was one from Uruhuay, or Uruguay, Uruhuay, she pronounced it Uruhuay; there was one from Brazil, and there was a German kid. So there were about eight of us in the greater Dallas area. But in the Highland Park High School that I was in, there were only two.

AA: Was the high school integrated? Or was it all white?

TAA: (0:42:53.3) It was all white. Yeah. Even the community was not integrated.

AA: Were you, like, The Brown Guy? What was that like?

TAA: I never felt, nobody ever treated me like a “brown guy” or a non-white guy or anything like that. I was well-received and respected and everybody was—you know. I found out later on that I even got—almost selected to be Homecoming King! I came in number two, just one or two points behind this fellow who was the most popular guy in the school. I was never made to feel that I was any different from anybody. I was always invited to all the parties. I never had trouble getting dates or anything like that.

AA: You went on dates?

TAA: Yeah. My host brother, Paul Weeks and I used to go on double dates.

AA: You felt like you had enough money to be able to afford to do that?

TAA: (0:44:14.4) No, I was getting those fourteen dollars a month. And in those days it didn’t cost that much. You could go on a date for five or six dollars. And then some special events Mrs. Weeks would give me some money, three or four dollars or whatever to buy a ticket or something. Fourteen dollars back in those days probably something like fifty or sixty now. So, yeah, you could go eat pizza. We didn’t go to movies—we may have gone to movies but movies were one dollar and twenty-five cents, or seventy-five cents, maybe or a dollar at most. I think it was a dollar and twenty-five at the most expensive. So you could go on a date for eight to ten dollars.

AA: What did you worry about, when you were in the U.S. and away from home?

TAA: (0:45:08.5) It was after I came to college that I started worrying about finance: money. I had a scholarship to go to college and they were paying for tuition and books. But I had to work for my own food and rent and all of that. I was working in the cafeteria for seventy-five cents an hour, earning about sixty dollars a month, if that much. And I was working a lot, and working. But I always just was barely—and the rent was thirty dollars a month, for a room. So out of the other thirty or forty dollars a month, whatever I had left over, was food and dates and stuff like that. So the first couple of years were pretty tough. I worried a lot about whether I was going to make it. But then, in my third year I got a job with an oil company with the help of some people that I knew in Dallas.

(0:46:16.3) And then I was earning one dollar and sixty-three cents an hour, which was big money! Then my income went up to about maybe a couple hundred dollars a month and I was able to buy a car out of that. My car payment was only forty-five dollars a month. A brand new [Volkswagen] Beetle! Which I paid--

AA: I didn’t know you had a Beetle!

TAA: (0:46:39.9) My first car was a Beetle. And I went to a bank and asked them if they would give me a loan. And this guy—I don’t know—well, he did know somebody at work that I, you know—he referred me to this fellow and he said, “You know, he needs the help and a loan.” So I went and talked to him and he said—I had collateral, no bank account, no money, no nothing! He said, “Yeah. I’ll give you a loan.” He said, “Go, check out the car prices, bring it to me, give me the details.” Then he called the dealership, talked to them, and he gave me the loan and I paid it back. It was sixteen hundred dollars, that car was, or thirteen hundred dollars. Brand new! I don’t know, it took me five, or maybe three or four years, I don’t know how long, to pay it off. But out of $200- $250 a month, whatever I was earning, I could do all of that. I bought a car and you know, paid for my groceries and such and from there things gradually started improving.

AA: In the first few years that you were out of Pakistan and you were missing things a lot, what about home did you think about?

TAA: (0:48:01.9) I missed being away from the family. I missed my friends, too. I couldn’t go back. I came back [to the U.S.] in 1961 and I didn’t get to go back home until 1967, so it was a full six years before I could go back. So it was a long time. And back in those days we didn’t have internet or even good telephone service so communication was by letter. Snail mail. They used to have this thing called an aerogram. It was the cheapest way to write. So we would write an aerogram and it would take two weeks to get to Pakistan and if somebody wrote back it would be two weeks before the answer came back. So it was a one-month or six-week process to write back and forth.

(0:48:56.4) So yeah, I missed the family and I missed the food and I missed the environment. But then, I also was very comfortable with where I was. I had a lot of good friends. I was enjoying the culture; I was enjoying the values.

AA: What did you feel like was significantly different in terms of culture and values from where you were? What were the big changes--?

TAA: (0:49:27.6) The significant difference was [that] people here seem to have a greater ability to think, have a work ethic, people work hard, and they are dedicated. They are also, I think, this society I found had—for lack of a better word—had better manners. Maybe because they are more developed. And by that I mean, in our society, we tend to be more intrusive about others people’s affairs, be they financial or otherwise because this is this extended family concept, everybody is involved in everybody’s affairs. They tend to be rude at times, I think. Other people may disagree with that. Society as a whole was more caring, more gentle, here! That doesn’t mean there are not caring or gentle people in Pakistan—I’m talking on a larger scale. The society was more genteel, more caring here, compared to society there. There were people there who are caring, there are people here—like the Weeks!—who are very caring. I just liked the way the people conducted themselves, the way they handled themselves, the way the environment was.

(0:51:03.9) You have to understand that the environment here now has changed a lot since then. In those days, people were very polite and courteous and thoughtful of each other. They are less so now, I think. It was a very civilized type of an atmosphere back then. Even if people thought you were a “brown idiot”—so to speak—you know, I’m just saying facetiously, they would never say it to your face. They may have felt it, [but] to your face they were always polite, courteous, respectful. They may have felt it, but they never said it. Whereas now, people are not quite so thoughtful and respectful and understanding. Some people. A lot of people are not that way.

AA: What about the way things looked in Dallas surprised you?

TAA: (0:52:02.7) The cleanliness, the organization. The activities that went on. I had never been to a symphony in my life. And Mrs. Weeks always insisted that Paul and I go to these symphonies. I don’t know where she got the tickets, but we always had the tickets. Lot of the cultural activities. Like the State Fair of Texas and things like that, and recreational activities.

AA: And you got to do a little bit of traveling with them?

TAA: (0:52:39.9) When I was with the Weeks they took me on a tour, they took me to Louisiana and we visited the plantations. We went to New Orleans and saw places in between. And they took me to Illinois, which is where they were from. So we went to Chicago and we went to other places in Illinois. So yeah, I did do some traveling. And when I completed High School, right before I returned home, American Field Service arranged a bus trip from Dallas to Boston and so we stopped—the bus would travel during the day and we would stop in the evening and stay with a family in a local town, participate in their activities that evening or that night, and then the next morn—we might stay there another day and then we would get on the bus and go onto the next stop. We made a number of stops. We stopped in Arkansas, we stopped in Georgia. We stopped in Washington, D.C.

(0:53:43.4) And when we were in Washington, D.C. we were invited to the White House.

AA: You were?

TAA: Yeah, I mean, not in the White House but on the compound.

AA: I never knew that!

TAA: (0:53:53.5) John F. Kennedy came out and spoke to us. There were hundreds of us by then, because everybody was congregating. Yeah. And so we got there in, I believe it was July of 1961. He was elected in 1960, so he had only been in office for a few months I believe. So he came up on the White House, and stood on that balcony that you always see, and we were in that front lawn and he spoke to us for five or ten minutes, I think.

AA: Do you remember what he said?

TAA: (0:54:28.0) I don’t remember what he said. I wish I did. But I remember that he was there, and he looked so white and had kind of a reddish tinge to his cheeks. I don’t remember if he had blue eyes or not. Even in those days, compared to some of the other white people, he was very light complexioned. I remember that making an impression on my mind. Then we went from Washington, and finally the journey terminated in Boston where we had a big send-off and meeting. Seminars and such about the experience.

AA: What do you think that that experience gave you?

TAA: (0:55:25.2) The first year? I think the most important thing it gave me, living with the Weeks, I got an advantage going in, in that I already knew the mannerisms, the culture, the code of conduct which a lot of people who come straight to colleges or whatever, don’t get. They don’t get the benefit of living with a family so they don’t know what the values are, what the etiquette is, what the protocol is. I think the most important thing the Weeks did for me, apart from taking me in, was that they did give me a sense of the values and they did teach me how to handle myself, how to conduct myself, what the code was, what the protocol was, what the expectations were. I have always believed, and I have always been very grateful to them—if they hadn’t taught me those things—I don’t know, I probably would have learned them eventually, but it would have taken time. They just compressed the whole process which was very, very helpful to me later on.

AA: When you left Pakistan in 1960, the expectation that AFS was giving to you was that you were meant to come back and be an ambassador of goodwill, did you believe you would come back?

TAA: (0:57:00.1) No. My intent always was—and at that time, they said you had to come back but there was no stipulation as far as how long you would come back. My thinking always was that, yeah, I will come back, but then, hopefully I will get some other opportunity to go back. It just so happened that I got the scholarship and so I did come back. That’s why the consulate gave me the visa, because there were no stipulations. Subsequently, they did put a limit that everybody had to go back for two years before they could come back. But there was no such condition at that time. So my goal was to come back to college and get an education. I knew that going for one year just to High School was pointless. I was already in college. So that one year would have been a wasted year. And I knew that, that it could be a wasted year. But I was willing to take the chance that I’m going to go and hopefully find another opportunity for myself so that’s it’s not a wasted year. It turned out luckily that it wasn’t.

AA: How did all this go over with your mother?

TAA: (0:58:12.5) My mother, and my parents were always supportive because that was about the only hope we had—my mother was always very—more so than my father—my mother was always very focused on giving us children, on trying to give us the best education we could get. Whatever it took. She was, I’m sure she was sad to see me go, but she was also very supportive in that this was an opportunity to get a good education. And my father was, too, for that matter. But my mother, more than anyone else I can remember, was very, very keen that the children get a good education. Even though we didn’t have any money, nothing. She just somehow made it happen.

AA: For me, as a child, watching my sister go away, every year and having her come back every year, it was so hard for me every time she would leave to go back to school. Do you remember how your siblings reacted to you coming and going?

TAA: (0:59:29.8) No, because a lot of my siblings were still very small. Anis was not even at home that time, he was in another academy. Air Force Academy, away from home. Not an Air Force Academy, but a High School that was run by the Air Force. They were developing people ultimately to join the Air Force. So he went there, I think, junior high age. And the others were just too young to know. I don’t know what their reaction was.

AA: Once you were back in the States at TCU [Texas Christian University] and then going on to do your education in the U.S., was there a point when you felt like, “It’s happening, I’m going the thing I said I was going to do.” “That I dreamed of doing.”

TAA: (1:00:44.4) I don’t know if there was ever a moment when that revelation came to me. I was just doing what I felt I needed to do at that point in time. The critical thing when I started college was that I get my degree. So I was totally focused on that. And I was doing—I had to work to support myself—so I was doing that, I was going to classes, going to school. That was just life. I did go out on dates and such, yeah. But even the dates were secondary. And the total focus was on completing my education.

AA: How did you end up choosing Petroleum Engineering for your advanced degree?

TAA: Again, I’ve thought about that often, as to why I always wanted to be a Petroleum Engineer, and I’m not—maybe there was somebody in the country or somebody that we knew that was with Aramco?

AA: In Pakistan?

TAA: (1:01:50.4) In Pakistan, yeah. And they were Petroleum Engineers? Or maybe somebody working for an oil company? So I always wanted to be a Petroleum Engineer. Even though I knew nothing about Petroleum Engineering; I had never seen a drop of crude oil in my life!

AA: Even before you came to the U.S.?

TAA: Even before I came to the U.S., yeah.

AA: Somehow you’d heard about it.

TAA: (1:02:10.7) Somehow I’d heard about it. That seed was there in my head. How that seed got planted, or where or by whom, I don’t know.

AA: Interesting. So you went to Texas Christian for undergrad, then you went to The University of Oklahoma [TAA: For graduate school.] for your graduate degree. Did you have other Pakistani friends or did you associate with other Pakistanis while you were here?

TAA: (1:02:43.6) There were not that many Pakistani friends at TCU. But there were several kids at University of Oklahoma that we did associate with. They all came after I did. So I was kind of the senior member of the group. To some extent they looked up to me. We socialized with them, and we would go have parties and such. At TCU most of my friends, no, all of my friends, were—there was a guy who was of Mexican origin, and Bill Williard was my best friend, was from California. And then another friend that we had was from Louisiana; so they were all domestic people.

AA: When you went on dates, what kind of girls did you go on dates with?

TAA: (1:03:35.5) Well, they were all American girls. People I met at TCU or University of Oklahoma. Like I met your mother at the University of Oklahoma.

AA: Was it very common for people to go on mixed race dates, or did it feel like that?

TAA: It never felt like that.

AA: Really?

TAA: Nobody ever said to me, “I’m not going to go with you because you’re a Pakistani or you’re brown.” Just about everyone, or every time I asked somebody they never gave me the impression that they were reluctant. If they could go, they would go. If they said no, it was because they either had a boyfriend, or something, which I already knew. I don’t ever recall being turned down because of my ethnic origin or the color of my skin.

AA: I don’t mean to make an issue of it, but, you know, it was Oklahoma in the mid-60s, it’s not known for being an awfully progressive place.

TAA: (1:04:46.1) I understand, and I think that that [racial discrimination] was more for African-American people. It wasn’t so much for other nationalities, even though they may be brown or whatever. I don’t understand, and I don’t know why. But the attitude towards African-Americans was very different from the attitude towards Asians or people of other nationalities. Having said that, I’m not saying there wasn’t any discrimination against Asians or other nationalities, there was. There were some people. But the kids in the college didn’t feel that way. It was the older people. I’m sure that my girlfriend’s mother or father were horrified that she was dating a person from Pakistan. I don’t know. Even though her mother was always very good to me. And so I dated one young lady for a couple of years, I was in their home and in and out. No, I’ve thought about that. I never really felt that I was being discriminated. There were a couple of people that made some nasty remarks, but they were fools.

(1:06:15.2) But people in those days, even if they felt it, they didn’t say it. As opposed to the African-Americans, if they felt it, they did say it. A lot of people expressed those views very openly. Especially in the sixties, early sixties. But, no. And to some extent, that is still the case, I think. There is discrimination against some other nationalities and hard feelings now because of the recent developments in the society but there seems to be more of an attitude towards the American-African community rather than other nationalities. I don’t know if you have sensed that or not.

AA: Did you have any black friends?

TAA: (1:06:54.1) No, I never, I don’t think I’ve ever had any black friends. Primarily because we were not around them. TCU was 100% white, University of Oklahoma, when I was there was pretty much white, except for Saudis and Pakistanis and Indians.

AA: Did you feel like there were a lot of Saudis and Pakistanis and Indians?

TAA: (1:07:19.3) There were only two or three Saudis, three or four Saudis there at the time, not very many and they didn’t socialize with others. Not a whole lot of Indians or Pakistanis either. At that time, there were very few Pakistanis. There were more Indians than Pakistanis but not a all that many Indians either. That started more in the late seventies. When I came, you would go a long time without seeing anyone from India or Pakistan, or Mexico for that matter.

AA: Did that make you feel alienated?

TAA: No. I always felt part of the society, it didn’t seem like I was out of place.

AA: Well, I think that’s still the case.

TAA: (1:08:06.5) It’s still the case. I had good friends and they didn’t say, “I’m not going to go with you because you’re brown or you’re Pakistani.” We all went out, we had fun, we had pizza, we went on dates, we went to the football games, and basketball games, and had a grand old time! On very little, or no money! (laughs)

AA: How did you meet my mom?

TAA: (1:08:30.7) That was an interesting thing. I had a friend who met your Aunt Judi.[11] And he wanted to go out on a date with Aunt Judi. And Aunt Judi said no way was she gong to out with him alone. So she said, “Well, I have a sister, if you can find some one to go out with my sister, then we can double date.” So this guy calls me and says, “You know, I want to go out on a date with this young lady, but she won’t go out with me unless I find somebody to go with her sister. So you come.” So I said, “No, I’m not going to come.” I never believed in going on blind dates. ‘” don’t even know who this person is!” So he kind of pleaded and such, so I said, “Ok.” I agreed. So we—your mother and I and Judi and Qazi—we went on a date, we went to a movie and then we went out and had some hamburger or something and came back. And for me, that was the end of it. I forgot. And then a few days later, actually, your mother called me and said there were some boys outside her apartment, and she was feeling unsafe, and they were misbehaving, and could I just come over and just be there. So I said, “Yeah, okay.” She lived only a couple or three miles—in Norman. Norman was a very big place at that time. So I went over there. She and Aunt Judi had an apartment. So I went over there and was sitting there drinking iced tea and such. Came back. Then I think after that I called her for a date and it just started from there.

AA: When you decided to get married, did you discuss it with your family?

TAA: (1:10:38.3) No, I (laughs)—no, I didn’t tell my family because I knew they would be opposed to the idea. They had always wanted me to marry locally. Especially my mother. So I didn’t tell them. In fact, I didn’t even tell them about your sister Rahilla! So, but my uncle was here. Uncle Mazhar[12] was here, he was in Alabama on a training assignment. He would call and quite often your mother would answer the phone. So he started suspecting. So he called Lahore and said, “You know, I think there is something going on here, because every time I call, this lady answers.” So he wasn’t sure, but he thought that maybe I had a girlfriend or something.

(1:11:29.4) But then, after we got married and Rahilla was born, Anis was going to Pakistan. And this was in 1970. So asked him to tell them. I gave him a picture of Cynthia and Rahilla and he went and told them. But they were not heartbroken or devastated. I had gone to Pakistan in 1967, a couple of years before I even met your mother and they were trying to pair me off with somebody and I told them, you know, I am not interested. So when Anis told them that I had married and had this child, yeah, they were probably sad, but then they were all very supportive. The next year I took your mother and Rahilla to Pakistan. They were all just delighted with her, and especially Rahilla and your mother. My father was just so, so impressed by Cynthia. He really liked her. And my mother did, too. Your mother was very good to my family, and they all worshipped her. Still do.

AA: When did you start helping to support your family financially?

TAA: (1:12:47.0) Well, when I went in 1967, the first time after I came back, and I saw the awful condition they were in—my mother was wearing rags, just about, torn clothes. The house was just all shambles.

AA: That was the rented house?

TAA: (1:13:07.3) Yeah. So I came back and I told Anis. We weren’t earning very much money at that time, very little. But we said, “We have to send some money.” So we started sending about thirty dollars a month. Which at that time (coughs)—Excuse me, which at that time was not peanuts, but it was enough to help with some of the expenses. So we started doing that to help them. We did that for about a couple of years—a year. I was very close to getting my degree, so I talked to my boss at the company I was with and said, “You know, I’ve got to have a job,” that paid me more. So they said, “Ok.” So they gave me a job as an assistant engineer because I didn’t have a degree. But then I had a monthly income. (coughs) So then we started, I started sending more money, a hundred dollars a month. Gradually, we starting supporting. And then Anis graduated in ’69 or ’70 and he got a job so he started helping out. It was just something that needed to be done. I was at a stage then that I could do it. So I just started doing it.

AA: Once you got your education, was there ever a point when you considered going back to Pakistan?

TAA: (1:14:37.6) Uh, no. I started working here and I liked my job. I never really—and by then I was married to your mother, and had the baby. I never seriously thought of going back. Partly—I think I may have, but even then corruption and the environment was such that I didn’t think I could work in that environment. So I didn’t really give it much thought. Even though I think I could have gotten good jobs there. But, I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my principles in terms of corruption or being compromising on things—technical things—that I felt should be done. That was never a very serious consideration.

AA: Did you ever feel like marrying somebody from a different culture, even though you felt pretty at home in the U.S. culture—I guess a better way of asking, did you feel like there were cultural differences between you and Cynthia or her family in terms of your outlook on having a family—

TAA: (1:16:07.4) Oh, yeah. There were a lot of cultural differences. In the early years—(hesitates) Well—it did make a difference, there were cultural differences in that some of the things that we do are different from the way they are done here. And some of the things are interpreted differently. Like a relationship between man and woman over here—(hesitates) like in our society, women and wives especially, but even other women, are brought up from the beginning to be mothers and housewives. That is their focus. They will do things for husbands and such and they seem to be comfortable with that. And so, in our society there is that division of responsibilities. The father is responsible for earning a livelihood and providing a safe and secure environment for the family and the woman takes care of the children and the house and so on. Whereas over here, it’s different.

(1:17:34.7) So I think that difference was there between your mother and I. Because of the way I was raised, not because that’s the way I wanted to be, but my thinking was that I needed to earn a living and provide for the family, provide for my wife and children a home and a secure environment and so on. Whereas she was brought up in a different way, [she expected] more of a joint thing, rather than this separation of responsibilities. So I think that was always a difference.

(1:18:14.5) In other ways, even in social life, our social life is more around the family and around friends. Whereas social life here involves more going out and such. I just wasn’t that sort of a person—we did got out on dates, and movies and such, but not on a regular basis. We would have friends come over and such. So that was, I think, different at times. Though that particular part was never a big problem because your mother never really felt like she was missing out on anything. On her family, her family was always very acco-you know. I never felt any opposition or resentment on their part.

(1:19:07.0) I think your grandmother, when your mother told her—she came up to Norman, Oklahoma one year to visit Cynthia, she was in San Antonio at that time I think. We had just started dating. She introduced me to her mother and I think your grandmother was horrified! But she got adjusted to the idea.

AA: That’s interesting, because I asked Grandma Wilma, on time, how it struck her to have her daughter bring home a brown guy or a Pakistani or an Asian, or whatever, and she said, “You know, honestly, we had always had Indians where we lived. There were the Sikhs who—where I grew up.”[13] So she made it seem like it wasn’t that big of a deal.

TAA: (1:19:58.1) Uh, I think she was a little--. She came up to Norman to visit Cynthia, your mother, and I was there and I met her. I think she was a reall—I could tell from the look on her face that she was a little upset. We took her out to dinner that evening. But you’re right, they had had Indians. Her father, your grandfather on your mother’s side was in the Air Force and he had had people come over to the house, so they had been around,[14] but that is a different thing from your daughter dating a Sikh or an Asian or something. But, to give credit to your grandmother, maybe [it was] just that one time. After that, she never gave me an indication that she was opposed or resentful or anything like that. I always made sure to be respectful of her in every way.

AA: Were there any challenges around religion and how your children were raised in terms of religious upbringing?

TAA: (1:21:14.8) Initially there were. Because my feeling was that even though I personally am not a religious person in the sense that I do not believe in structured religion, I do believe in values, I may even believe in a God as such, but I don’t believe in a structured religion, structured God, protocol, ceremony and all of that. So even though I am not a religious person in that sense, I did feel that the children should not be channeled into one direction or the other, Christian or Muslims. They should get exposure to both and when they grew up they should decide for themselves.

(1:22:01.8) Your mother wanted to raise you children in the Christian faith. I was not completely opposed to that. I let her—I let you children—I never opposed your going to Church or anything like that. I just didn’t want you children to grow up thinking that was the only choice. I said, “If the children want to be Christian, that’s fine with me, I have no issue with that. But they should also learn about Islam and if they like Islam, if they want to be, that’s fine. If they want to be both, that’s fine.” It was never a contentious issue. That was just my belief. But I never stood in your mother’s way, and I told my family very clearly that nobody was to pressure her into thinking that she has to convert or whatever. “That’s her faith, and we are going to respect it. Fine.” And I did the same thing. I said, “If you want to take the children to Church, that’s fine.” The only thing, in the first year or two of Rahilla, she wanted to baptize her and that didn’t sit well with me. So I said no. The idea—I said, “If you do that, you’ve obviously taken the children and moved them down this path. Let’s wait, and let them grow up and decide and if they want to do it, that’s one thing, but not right now.” I know your mother was not very happy about that! But, I never really, at least I don’t think I ever did, put up any resistance or objections to you children going along.

(1:23:50.1) In fact, my family would ask me if you were getting Islamic teaching and I would tell them no. And they said, “Well, are they going to be Christian?” I said, “Well, probably. You know, their mother is—they are getting their education from their mother.” A lot of my relatives, uncles and aunts were disapproving of that idea. But I’ve always led my own life, so.

AA: As you’ve gotten older and have chosen to spend your life outside of Pakistan, do you feel over time your relationship to that place, or to a sense of home has changed?

TAA: (1:24:35.4) Do you mean to Pakistan?

AA: Yeah.

TAA: (1:24:38.9) Oh yes. You know, what happens, is that after you have been in a different society, and you become part of that society, like I have, your values change. And so my value system has changed, my outlook has changed. My way of thinking has changed. When I go to Pakistan, the people that I was very close to, my friends, I don’t have anything in common with them anymore. It is hard for me to communicate with them, hard for me to talk to them because the things that they are talking about are things that sound [like] nonsense to me, and petty! But that’s because—

AA: What sorts of things? Relationships with people, or politics?

TAA: (1:25:28.0) Politics, not so much relationship with people. We still have relationships, I don’t have an issue with them. We can still laugh and joke about a few things. But the things that I used to enjoy with them, I no longer enjoy. Like, you know, just sitting around and talking about—just gupshup (chit chat)—I don’t enjoy that anymore. Their small conversation is meaningless to me. If they are talking about somebody’s brother, or cousin or wife, or making fun of this person, that some person, I have no, I don’t identify with that anymore. So I don’t enjoy it. If they make some petty, childish, sexual jokes, things that I used to enjoy maybe when I was thirteen, I don’t anymore, but they still do.

(1:26:40.4) In fact, this last time when I was there, one of my friends said something about some friend of ours, and I said, “You know, Zafar Burki, now we used to talk like this when we were thirteen years old. Now we are grown up. It’s time to get past all this childish stuff.” But they still do. So that’s what I mean, a lot of their jokes, some of the things that they like to do, I don’t enjoy those jokes, especially if they are condescending type of jokes, and there are a lot of them there, or if they are making fun of somebody, I don’t enjoy that. And I guess that’s part of that initial statement I made, I found this culture to have more manners and a code of conduct, and we don’t do things like that here. I don’t identify with that country or that culture anymore, as much as I used to, at least. But I am still very—I still value my relatives, and I still like to go there and visit with my cousins and my nieces and my nephews. I don’t necessarily have that big urge to go have a party with my friends.

AA: If you had to describe, in a couple of words, your emotional relationship to Pakistan and then to, say, the U.S., what sorts of emotions do you attach to each of those places?

TAA: (1:28:23.1) Well, my emotional attachment to Pakistan is still—that’s still my cultural heritage, and I still wish well for that country and it makes me sad to think of the way people are behaving, in a self-destructive way [TAPE ENDS]

Notes taken by hand after tape cut off:

TAA: We have the capability to do better. But my allegiance is in the U.S. I see things, an economic policy that is disturbing. I wish well for the U.S. and Pakistan. My loyalty is with the U.S. and not Pakistan and that is the major change in my attitude over the years.

I think immigrants should assimilate. There is no point in being a displaced Indian or Pakistani or Vietnamese, if you feel that way, you should go back to India, Pakistan or Vietnam.

Husain, Major General (Ret'd) Wajahat. ""Wajahat Husain: Personal Interview with Amber Abbas June 13, 2005."" edited by Amber Abbas. Lahore, Pakistan, June 13, 2005.

———. ""Wajahat Husain: Personal Interview with Amber Abbas June 14, 2005."" Lahore, Pakistan, June 14, 2005.

———. ""Wajahat Husain: Personal Interview with Amber Abbas June 27, 2005."" Lahore, Pakistan, June 27, 2005.

[1] In this interview he claims that his family migrated in August, but I know from interview with older relatives that they did not leave until approximately October. Wajahat Husain, then transitioning between the Indian and Pakistan Armies arranged the transit of the first members of his family in October. See Major General (Ret'd) Wajahat Husain, ""Wajahat Husain: Personal Interview with Amber Abbas June 14, 2005,"" (Lahore, Pakistan: June 14, 2005), ———, ""Wajahat Husain: Personal Interview with Amber Abbas June 27, 2005,"" (Lahore, Pakistan: June 27, 2005).

[2] They were actually cousins.

[3] As my father’s uncle, Wajahat Husain (Birjis Zaheer Abbas’ younger brother) told me: “Our family was mixed Sunni and Shi’a. But let me say very clearly that in those days and even later vis-a-vis the current feeling in Pakistan. There was no distinction really speaking between Sunnis and Shi’as. My grandfather Mr. Syed Amjad Ali, was Sunni,. My grandmother, Begum Amjad Ali was Shi’a. The family observed all of the customs or whatever you like to call them, I won’t say festivals but the ceremonies which go with both Shi’as and Sunnis. For instance during Muharram, which is strictly observed by the Shi’as less so by the Sunnis, we all used to go to our ancestral place, a place called Dibai and we had a big ancestral home. In Dibai, the Shi’as were in the majority. We used to go through all the rituals and the procedures during the Muharram season. I used to take part in the matham myself. Similarly, all the Sunni rituals were observed in Aligarh. As a result of my grandmother being Shi’a, her children half became Sunnis and half became Shi’as… My father remained Sunni my mother came from a Sunni family so there was no problem there. My uncle Fasahat became Shi’a, and out of the three sisters of my father two became Shi’a and one became Sunni. So it was all very mixed up.” Major General (Ret'd) Wajahat Husain, ""Wajahat Husain: Personal Interview with Amber Abbas June 13, 2005,"" ed. Amber Abbas (Lahore, Pakistan: June 13, 2005).

[4] The shrine of Data Ganj Baksh in Lahore Pakistan (known colloquially as Data Sahib) is a Sufi shrine around the tomb of an11th century saint, and is a site of pilgrimage for people from many faiths.

[5] The school was established in 1892 by the Maarist Fathers of Ireland. St. Anthony’s High School webpage:

[6] Major General (Ret’d) Wahahat Husain.

[7] General Khurshid Haider’s mother was Syed Zaheer Abbas’ sister. For an excerpt of an interview with Zahra Haider, Khurshid Haider’s wife, see

[8] Vice Admiral (Ret’d) Iqtidar Husain.

[9] Air Commodore Masroor Husain, for whom is named Karachi’s Masroor Air Base.

[10] Paul Weeks, the eldest of Ray and Barbara’s three children.

[11] Judith Bassett, my mother’s older sister.

[12] Mazhar Abbas, the youngest brother of Syed Zaheer Abbas.

[13] Wilma Bassett Clark grew up and lived much of her life in Marysville and Yuba City, California, where there was a notable Sikh population since the early 1900s.

[14] Rexford Bassett taught English as a second language after leaving the U.S. Air Force and often brought his students, many of them Asian, home for dinner.

Donor: Amber Abbas
Item History: 2011-09-18 (created); 2013-06-19 (modified)

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