Saira Shah (1964) is a journalist and documentary film maker. The daughter of an Afghan father and Indian mother, she was born and educated in England. After graduating from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, Shah began her career as a freelance journalist.
"Longing to Belong,"originally published in New York Times Magazine in 2003, is adapted from Shah's autobiography The Story-Teller's Daughter (2003), which relates her search to understand her father's homeland of Afghanistan.
In this essay, Shah tells what happened when at the age of 17, she visited her father's Afghan relatives living in Pakistan. She said, "If you grow up outside the place that you think as your home, you want it to be impossibly marvelous."
Shah conveys the autobiographical significance of the event through a combination of showing and telling. She begins the essay with a vivid image of her uncle: "He would often generously withdraw a half-chewed delicacy from his mouth and lovingly cram it into mine." This image conveys dramatically how she felt at the time, especially to Western readers who, like her, are inclined to be repelled by this cultural practice.
When Shah calls her uncle's behavior "an Afghan habit," she suggests to her Western readers that it should be read not as a sign of domination but of love and acceptance. In effect, by taking food from his own mouth, he is extending to her his protection and treating her as if she were his own daughter.