In a softly lit room, a little girl sleepily reaches out for her father. Her eyes open wide when her outstretched arm can not feel him. Realizing that she is sleeping in a separate bed, she creeps out of it stealthily and tries to climb her father’s bed. But it is a bit too high for her. So, placing her head on Daddy’s pillow, she goes back to sleep in a standing position.
Daddy wakes up as he feels the familiar scent and soft touch of his little girl. He sweeps her up into his arms and as she snuggles close to him, both father and daughter go back to a peaceful sleep!
When Ammi decided that I was too old to sleep with Daddy, for months this was a ritual followed on a daily basis. She would tuck me in my little bed at night, but find me peacefully sleeping in Daddy’s arms in the morning.
Ammi told this tale often, with a (false) reproachful look still on her face. I and Daddy would laugh, although both of us felt a mist in our eyes!
As was the norm in 1940-50s in Indo Pakistan, Ammi was married at the tender age of sixteen and became a mother at seventeen! Twin daughters followed a year after her first born son, and I came only a year later. Weak and exhausted by the unending demands of motherhood, she had her hands too full with her two year old and the frail twins to look after me. And this is how I developed a special bond with Daddy. From the day I was born, he took me in his special care. I was his pet, his little girl!
Ammi and I shared the mutual love normal to all mothers and children. But with Daddy it was something different, a feeling too great for words! My most cherished childhood memories mostly revolve around his devoted love and care. He happily carried out all the chores which mothers usually do. Helping me to get ready for school, wiping away my tears when I was afraid of the dark, bandaging my bruised knees when I fell, helping me in doing my homework, he was always there for me. As I grew older, he coaxed me, encouraged me and sometimes even bullied me to bring out the best in me. He was my mentor, who firmly holding on to my hand, taught me how to live in this World with a head held high and how to face adversities with a straight face.
Life moves ahead and times change! After my marriage in 1970, I had to move away from my birth city Dhaka (then East Pakistan) to Karachi (West Pakistan). I missed all the people I loved so dearly, my mother, my siblings, my huge family and childhood friends, but Daddy always remained on the top of the list.
Only a year later, Bangladesh emerged on the face of the World. East Pakistan was no more! This is no place to discuss the political reasons for this breakup, but I must declare that apart from a political tragedy, it also was the cause of deep heartbreak for a lot of people whose families were divided among the two countries. I was deeply saddened to find myself a foreigner in the city of my birth, where I had spent my childhood , my school and college life, the city where my loving parents still lived and the city which always remained home to me.
Years flew by and I was preoccupied in my new life, the demands of an extended family and challenges of motherhood taking up most of my time and thoughts. Those were the busiest years of my life as (like most mothers) my priority was my children’s well being and education. My life had its own set of problems which I tried to sort out as best as I could. Moreover, visits to Dhaka were not easy due to the ever rising cost of travelling and the hassles of the necessary documents. As a result, meetings with my parents were often years apart.
And then tragedy struck like a tsunami! Ammi, who had been suffering from depression for years, suddenly died in her sleep. With a heart heavy with pain, I proceeded to Dhaka to meet my saddened father. But the brave man that he was, he tried to cope with life without the woman he had shared the prime years of his youth, middle age and fast approaching old age. But deep down, he was a broken man.
Years passed and Daddy’s loneliness took its toll. An urgent call from my brother gave the heart breaking news that Daddy had a mild brain stroke and was not simply himself. With Ammi no more there to take care of him, I felt that this was the time when Daddy needed me the most. Completing the travel requirements as soon as possible, I took the first possible flight to Dhaka. When I look down memories lane, I can still feel the deep pain I experienced when I met him.
Daddy seemed like a shadow of the great and intelligent man he was, had lost a major part of his memory and was confused and disoriented most of the time. Like a lost child striving to find his way back home, he shuffled restlessly around his sprawling house. Gone was his booming voice and his strong temper which often made me and my siblings scurry to remote corners of our big house. And there was no more the sense of humour, the naughty glitter in his eyes when he teased me and my twin sisters, whom he loved dearly! The lengthy after dinner discussions which we used to have (on any and every topic in this world) had become a distant memory.
Every moment of those painful months I stayed with him, I tried to follow him like a shadow. Holding his hand when he walked around in faltering steps, helping him to eat as his trembling hands could no more balance a spoon properly, putting him to bed with a kiss on his forehead, coaxing him try to sleep and stop his unending rambling, and on extra bad days, helping him to bathe and change.
Strangely, in those days I felt more like a mother than a daughter. I often felt that I although I did not remember it, Daddy must have done the same for me when I was a child. And this was my time to try to repay (however partially) for the care and attention he had given me when I was a vulnerable little girl. Time had only reversed the roles!
Although, I did not want to leave back my caring father, my personal responsibilities forced me to come back to Karachi. I and my siblings took turns to take care of Daddy and tried our best to make him as comfortable as we possibly could! And with the grace of Allah and our unending efforts, he slowly improved. But sadly, he could never be the same genius of a man he originally was!
Daddy has long left for his heavenly abode, but the memories of those days are still precious for me. Although I could not do even a fraction of what he had done for me, I can not thank Allah enough for those months and the time I spent caring for him!
Even today, if I could reach out to Daddy, I would like to tell him that only after he became as vulnerable as a child, did I truly realize what and how much he had done for me when I was growing up! I know that I could not do enough to thank or repay him for all he did for me, and all my life, I will remain grateful to him for his unending love and care!