My mother is around no more!

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One of the most precious memories from my early childhood is something which often brings a mist to my eyes and a sad smile on my face! But in those days my feelings were totally different; I felt a bit astonished and looked up at my father with a wee bit of amusement! Whenever he was sad, distressed, ill or stuck in any such difficult situation, he would declare with tears in his eyes, “With whom should I share my woes? Alas, my mother is around no more!”

          And I distinctly remember that my instant response to this statement was surprise! What need has a grown-up man like Daddy for a mother? I wondered silently! Moms are for kids like me, to look after us, tend to our needs, comfort us when we are sick, console us when we are frightened! Though I must admit I wasn’t old enough to think about all this as clearly as I am writing today, but thoughts like these fluttered across my little head as I disdainfully ignored Daddy’s misery and turned back to whatever I was doing!

          In all fairness to him, I must mention here that my father was not a weak man! With a strong will power, (and temper too) and a cheerful personality, he was a highly intelligent and wise man. Perhaps the master-mind of a huge family, his advice was sought and followed by even those older than him. And he also had a very strong relationship with my mother. They had a bond of deep love and understanding and always shared/ discussed their problems with each other.

          But tears always came easily to Daddy, something not considered proper for men in our part of the world. I realized later on in life, those tears were a sign of a sensitive heart rather than a weak personality!

          Sadly, it took me nearly a life time (or a good part of it) to understand why my Father always yearned for my Grandmother in his moments of distress! 

          After I was married, I had to move away from my family and settle in a new city, with an entirely new family. I was young and inexperienced and life did not turn out to be the fairy tale I had dreamt it to be! Problems which are usually a part of the early stage of a married life confused me.  Not knowing what to do in which situation and no one to turn to in an alien city, there used to be times when I simply wanted to run into the comforting and safe haven of Ammi’s arms. I yearned for her advice, her love and for the sense of security which we all feel when our mothers are around!

          It was in those days that I began to understand my father’s feelings and realize what he meant when he missed his mother in hard moments. No matter how old we get, we always want our mothers to be at our sides. Both in difficult times and in happy moments, I felt that life is not complete Ammi’s presence and loving support. For the first time in my life, I felt proud of my father’s deep love for his mother. My grandmother had died young, in fact before my parents got married, but even decades after her death, Daddy never ceased missing her.

          As life moved on, I settled down in the new environment and got busy with my children and family life. Meetings with my parents were often possible after years. I still missed Ammi, but finally I got used to not having her around whenever I needed her. Whenever stuck in adversities, I tried my best to hide my yearning for her presence.

          Unfortunately, married life was not smooth sailing for me. After fighting tooth and nail to overcome the problems which multiplied over the decades, I finally realized that the writing was on the wall. In those painful days, I found myself too tired to struggle anymore. And then the inevitable happened and my marriage ended in a divorce!

          I fail to describe the anguish and the deep sense of insecurity of those days. Nightmares! Fears lurking in the dark! Dazed with pain but too proud to show my grief, I shed silent tears when no one was around. I silently mourned the death of love and the security which I had once thought was an inevitable part of married life! Thinking that times couldn’t be any worse for me, I had the solace that soon Ammi will come over and I shall find peace after crying my heart out in her arms.

          Little did I know that the worst was still to come! Although the back count for Ammi’s arrival had begun, but she (or fate) had other plans! Going to bed one night, she passed away peacefully in her sleep!

          The tragic news of her sudden demise hit me like a bomb shell! As if hit under the belt, I felt stunned with pain, the tears just refusing to come! Totally shattered, I just sat in a state of disbelieve, staring blankly at people pouring in for condolences. “How could she do this to me?” I asked myself in anguish and somewhat anger. “Didn’t she know how badly I needed her?”

          And then, for the first time in my life, I fully realized what Daddy meant, and also my foolishness in not understanding his feelings! Mothers are needed for a life time! They do not only care for their kids when they are young, the solace of their presence is needed at all ages. They do not only bandage bruised knees, they soothe bruised souls too! Their arms not only shelter their young ones against the fear of darkness, they allay the fear of the unknown in grown up children too!

          And in those moments of excruciating pain, as I sat in a stony silence, I heard a voice muffled in tears declaring, “With whom should I share my woes? My mother is around no more!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!

          Rain has always held a special place in my life! It mesmerizes me, enchants and takes me way back down the memory lane. It reminds me of the happy and carefree childhood I spent in my parental home with my siblings.

          As it rained more than half of the year in East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh), rain was a part and parcel of our lives. The staircase to the upper floor of our cosy little house overlooked a long alley. After lunch, I and my siblings would sit one child on one stair and watch with delight as rain came lashing down on the pedestrians. Some had umbrellas, other used large sheets of polythene to protect themselves and a few were seen running for shelter if they possessed none of these.

                    After nights when the thunder kept rolling, the clouds clapping ominously and rain pouring down as if it would never come again, I remember calling school expectantly. “Is the school off today?” And the predictable answer came “Why do you think the school would be off today” I would be counter questioned. The voice sounded irritated as if tired of answering the same question repeatedly. “It has been raining so hard all night” I would try to argue although I myself could feel my voice grow weaker. “Do think rain makes any difference to life in this part of the world?” and the phone was banged angrily.

          Rain made literally no difference to normal activities as schools, offices and markets opened as usual and everyone seemed to be carrying on his/her work as usual. Heavy downpours recorded in inches, were a part and parcel of life and there were no traffic jams, electric failures, overflowing storm drains or stagnant water on the roads. All that could be seen were small puddles in which children loved to splash around, but with a well maintained drainage system, these too disappeared in no time.

          Apart from natural calamities like floods or cyclones which were a normal feature in that region, little or no news of suffering of the low income class was witnessed after the routine heavy rains.

          Rain meant enjoyment to me and my siblings. If the rainy day was a holiday, picnic baskets would be packed immediately and we would set out for an outing to any of the green spots in Dhaka. Otherwise, Beisan or Potato Parathas would be cooked, to be enjoyed with Ammi’s unmatchable sweet mango chutney and ripe mangoes in plastic buckets were set out in the open courtyard to be cooled by the falling rain.

          I distinctly remember the long drives with friends after a rainy day, dashing to the famous Ramna Park of Dhaka for Chatpatti (Chat) and Puchka (Pani Puri) and the treat finished off with a Meetha Paan at the renowned pan shop outside the Dhaka Stadium. Traffic moved a bit slow but there was no disruption to its flow!

          After I migrated to Karachi, I used to miss the rains as these were limited to a couple of months only. As clouds came in, I would look expectantly towards the sky and pray for them to burst into a downpour. Until I witnessed the other side of the coin, i.e how rains could play havoc with the lives of people! To my dismay, unlike my birth city Dhaka, rain always brought misery to the lives of the residents of Karachi, especially those who reside in low lying or slum areas. Every year after the monsoon rains hits, life seems to be paralyzed as the roads are turned into rivulets in no time.

          Although in the four decades plus that I have been living in Karachi, I have seen that rains always disrupt and paralyze life in the city, I feel that things are getting worse with each passing year.

          This year, the 3rd of August began as a usual day, but before nightfall tragic news from all parts of the city came pouring in, as fast as the torrential rains we witnessed during the day. In all the years I have been living in Karachi, this was perhaps the worst rainy day I had witnessed.

          Loss of 16 precious lives was reported and all the major roads were flooded heavily. Most of the city was plunged into darkness as power went off as soon as the rain started lashing the city. Some areas, (like mine) had to go without power for nearly 24 hours or more! Emergency was declared in the city and army had to be called in to drain the stagnant water. As usual, action was taken too late as the CM dismissed the Karachi Administrator, as well as the Director Municipal Services from their respective posts. But could these belated steps bring back the precious lives or heavy loss to property? the question hangs heavily in the air.

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          But the depressing part of all the sufferings is that we Karachiites could have been spared this gloom. Although there was a forecast of a monsoon more severe than is usual to Karachi, the City Government had simply taken no steps to prevent the dwellers of the mega city from the misery it had to face.  Storm water drains (which are getting narrower each year due to encroachments) were not cleared up in time, and as these are usually clogged with the garbage slum dwellers throw in them, they overflew in no time, spreading stinking water on major roads and alleys.

          The poor dwellers of the areas lining the storm water drains were the worst affected as their homes were totally inundated! After the heavy downpour, although I was dreading the bad news, I had no idea it would be worse than my imagination. The domestic helper who has been cleaning my house for years, came frantically banging the door as the bell was not ringing. Her eyes burning with tears she was trying hard to control, she said in a voice lined with despair. “Ammi kuch nahin bacha, sirf badan pe ye kapre hain!” (Ammi, nothing is left except the clothes that I am wearing). She had lost the entire ration she had got from different affluent people (remember it was Ramzan), as well as her meager belongings. “Shukar hai, Bachon ki jaan bach gayi”! (Thank God, the lives of my children were saved). She said in a resigned tone. Such depressing stories came pouring in from other quarters as night fell.

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          There was a forecast of more rain for the next two or three days but it seems nature was also moved by the misery the heavy downpour had caused! Although the weather remained cloudy for the next few days, fortunately we only witnessed drizzling after every few hours!

          There was a time when I looked up at the clouds expectantly, praying for the rains to come. But after decades of living in Karachi, I mutter a prayer when I see the ominous clouds coming in. Rain, Rain, Go Away! We are not prepared yet to enjoy you! The burst of clouds which meant enjoyment and relaxation in my childhood days causes pain, anxiety, sorrow and darkness in this city of lights!

 

WHO IS TO BE BLAMED?

This is an edited version of an article published in The Financial Daily

 

WHO IS TO BLAME?

 

Independence Day is approaching yet another time. Yesterday I had a sudden idea and impulsive that I am, decided to implement it at once. Throughout the year, we are busy celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. Why not have an Independence day party? Happily I started to call close family members but I was a bit confused at the reaction of the young generation, who seemed to decline my invitation politely at one pretext or another.

I called Sohail, my nephew, on his cell many times and on not getting a response rang him at his office. “What’s wrong, Sohail? Why are you not attending to your cell? And no one is receiving the phone at home?” “Oh, Auntie, my cell has been snatched a third time and I simply can not afford to go on buying mobile phones for muggers.” Sohail’s tone was very cross. “Shazia has gone to her parents with the kids. We have no electricity and so no water for the last two days. How could she manage with the children with no water in this heat?”

Warily I told Sohail about the party. “Come on Auntieji, you must be joking! What is there to celebrate about anyway? Insecurity?  Power failures? Corruption? Suicide bombers blowing up innocent people whenever and wherever they want? Or the sky-rocketing cost of living which is making a respectable difficult day by day? What has Pakistan given us anyway? Please excuse me Auntie, I shall rather stay at home and catch up on my sleep”.

Sohail continued in an angry tone, “I simply see no logical reason left for celebrating the Independence Day. Though we have got a homeland but still we have no freedom. We have to free ourselves from the shackles of religious extremism, poverty, illiteracy, greed and corruption before calling ourselves a free nation and planning any celebrations. The struggle for independence is not over yet!”

 Sohail’s outburst helped me to understand why the people of his generation were not showing any interest in my party. They all belonged to a disenchanted and disappointed generation which had seen Pakistan going on the downwards slide, year by year! Although I tried my best to convince Sohail, his arguments were so strong and he seemed so agitated, I decided to talk to him later.

I was born in an age when the people who had strived, suffered and sacrificed for the sake of independence were all around, so I felt deeply disturbed at the frustration of our new generation. In those days Patriotism was the order of the day and our parents never tired of telling us true stories about the Pakistan movement. Precious lives were lost, ancestral homes and properties were left behind but no one considered this a price too heavy for Independence. I vividly remember my mother shedding tears when she talked about Mohammed Ali Jinnah or Liaqat Ali Khan! Love for Pakistan seemed to be in the blood and everyone seemed proud to call himself a Pakistani.

I can still remember how enthusiastically we celebrated 14th August at school. The principal hoisted the national flag and gave a short speech stressing on the importance of independence and love for one’s Homeland.  As we fervourly recited the National Anthem in a chorus, it was a proud moment and the fluttering green flag never ceased to bring tears to my eyes. Sweets were distributed among the children and all of us were as happy as if it was Eid.

Sohail’s questions brought a rush of guilt to my heart. What is the reason behind this change in emotions? Have we failed to transfer this love for Pakistan to our next generation? Did we take independence for granted and did not strive enough to pass on its importance to their young minds. Or is it our poor and inept education system which is to blame.

Today our young generation has but a fleeting knowledge of the hardships faced during the movement for Pakistan, something which they have learned in the dull and drab books on Pakistan Studies! These books also keep changing with the advent of every new ruler who want the syllabus to suit his whims, trying to write a new history after every few years.

Or should we blame the greedy and incapable politicians, who are too busy filling their pockets (which are already bursting at the seams), to care for the peace and prosperity of Pakistan?

Our country is rich enough in resources. But whose purpose does it serve to keep them untapped and underutilized? Job opportunities which can be created but are not, the rain water which can do wonders for our agricultural lands but instead floods and destroy standing crops, the beautiful valleys were no tourists dare to visit due to fear of the so called religious extremist, growing unemployment and a steep rise in the inflation level are only a few reasons of the causes leading to the frustration of our young generation. These and many other such thoughts kept troubling me as I lay awake in the darkness of the night.

The next morning I called Sohail again, “Whether you come or not, I am celebrating 14th August according to my plans. You asked me many questions yesterday. The only question I have to ask you is ‘What have “We” given to Pakistan’? Nobody from the Heavens will come to change our lot. It is our choice, either we sit in our drawing rooms, sipping tea and blaming each other for our failures, or firmly resolve to strive and sacrifice, step by step, for the prosperity of Pakistan”.

MERE EHSAAS KO SHEESHA NA BANAAYA HOTA!!

My Selection of verses from Urdu Shairi… friends can send in their favourites too, I would be delighted to post in this blog!

Yasmin Elahi

This blog is open to all! Please inbox me (on Facebook) your favourites and I shall keep on updating this blog. Just for the love of Urdu Shairi!!

06-02-2015

Umar-e-rawaan khizaan ki hawa se bhi taiz thi,
Har lamha Barg-e-zard ki soorat bikhar gaya,

Dil mai cheekhte huwe wehmon k bojh se,
Wo khaof tha k raat ko soate mai darr gaya,

Jo baat motbar thi wo sar se guzar gai,
Jo harf sar’sari tha wo dil me utar gaya,

Hum aks-e-khoon-e-dil hi luttatei phirei magar,
Wo shakhs aanso’on ki dhanak mai nikhar gaya,

“Mohsin” ye rang-o-roop ye ronaq baja mgar,
Main zinda kya rahoun ke mera ji tou marr gaya…!

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Apnei bhee khafa mujh se haen beigaane bhee nakhush 

Mein zehr- e-halaahal ko kabhee keh naa sakaa qand!

27-04-2014

Yaad rakhna humaari turbat ko

Qarz tum pe hai chaar phhoolon ka!

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Hum se taabeer e khwaab poochte…

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THE AMMEE IN ME!

THE AMMEE IN ME!

I started my journey as a writer at an age when usually people are at the peak of their respective careers. Although my first article was published in Dawn when I had already crossed 55, slowly and steadily I have worked hard to carve out a name for myself amongst the regular contributors to the Inpage magazines (The Review and Young World) of this reputed newspaper. With only scattered articles in a number of other newspapers and magazines, I cannot boast to be a top achiever, but as (by nature) I am not a very ambitious person, I am fairly content with what I have done.

The other day, while searching for something totally different, I accidentally stumbled on this definition on Wikipedia and it set the ball of thoughts rolling. Can I call myself a late bloomer? I wonder!

According to Wikipedia, “A late bloomer is a person whose talents or capabilities are not visible to others until later than usual. The term is used metaphorically to describe a child or adolescent who develops more slowly than others in their age group, but eventually catches up and in some cases overtakes their peers, or an adult whose talent or genius in a particular field only appears later in life than is normal – in some cases only in old age.”

People often ask me why I started writing so late in my life! With a smile I reply, “Things were destined to be this way”. The truth is that I myself have no answer to this question! Hailing from a rather conservative family and being a full time home maker and mother a major part of my life, I had never imagined even in my wildest dreams that I would write articles at any stage of my life and that my compiled books would be published by a very reputable publisher (thanks, Ferozsons!)

Yes, I was good at writing essays during my school and college life, often getting a grudging praise from our very strict English teacher at school. Sometimes I cannot help smiling when I remember how I dreaded her! Having a great proficiency on English language and excellence in Grammar, she was the best teacher one could wish to have. But her sarcastic remarks when I (or my peers) made mistakes drove me mad! But today I am thankful to her on the way she grilled in me the rules of Grammar, taught me how to expand my vocabulary and instilled in me the writing skills which I haven’t forgotten to this day (although decades have passed to that stage of my life.)

Sorry readers, I have meandered away from what I actually wanted to write today. Maybe one of the disadvantages of blogging is that you are less focused, even more so when you are maintaining a personal blog site. No editors, no words limit! You just allow your thoughts to flow as you keep on hitting your keyboard!

As I read the above mentioned definition of a late bloomer, an incident from my early childhood came to my mind. Ammi often used to relate it laughingly. I was hardly six when a visitor asked me fondly “Baby aap baree ho ke kya baneingee?” (Baby what do you want to be when you grow up?) Without looking up from the doll I was playing with, and without taking a moment to think, my instant reply was “Ammee” (a mother). I looked up in surprise when the visitor and my mother burst out in laughter. “Adults are so weird! Now what is the joke in my reply?” I am sure I must have thought to myself as I went back to my toys!  

And Ammee I became at a rather young age! As fate had planned, or may be a passing angel had said Amen to my innocent childhood goals, I was married when I was in my late teens and became a mother just after I crossed my 21st birthday! For years, my life revolved round my four kids, who are dearer to me than anything else in the world.

I tried hard to be a good mother and shape the personalities of my children to the best of my abilities. Coaxing them, urging them and at times bullying them to bring out the best in them, the Ammee in me was vigilant and active throughout the years they were growing up! At times, I longed for some respite, for a few hours which I could devote to myself, but more often than not, my kids kept me busy round the clock! Maybe the mother in me, the perfectionist who wanted to settle for nothing but the best for her children, kept me on the go throughout that hectic but enjoyable part of my life. Every milestone that my children crossed was like a personal accomplishment for me and every compliment they received brought a rush of adrelin!

Years fly and time moves at a fast pace! As life moved on, the children grew up and settled down in their lives, I found myself free with long hours to spend according to my whims and moods. But strangely, instead of a sense of relief, I was surprised to find a feeling of loneliness silently descending upon my heart. I had no idea about what to do with this extra time I once longed for!

And this is when the breakthrough came! My daughter-in-law, who is more a friend for me than a Bahu suggested, “Ammi, why don’t you start writing?” I was surprised and a bit flattered too! Writing for magazines was something I had never contemplated I could do. Although I wrote poetry on and off and maintained my memoirs in which I shared my life’s moments of joy, excitement, anguish and despair, this suggestion was something  totally new for me. A field which I had never explored or even thought I would at some stage of life!

But her suggestion excited me. Why not? I thought to myself, I have nothing to lose except the disappointment of rejection. I started sending in articles to various publications and to my delight (and surprise too), my submissions started to appear at fair intervals in the magazines of a leading daily Dawn.

Maintain a blogsite was the next step which I found more fulfilling. This is my domain, a place where I can struggle to improve, experiment, create! Just as in the by-gone years I worked hard to bring out the best in my children, I coax, prod, push and sometimes bully myself to do something positive, I write and re-write, try my best to keep on improving what I have initially written. I want to express my ideas and inspirations in the best possible manner.

Over the years I have been working as a writer, the Ammee in me is never completely satisfied or fulfilled! Creating something new gives me a strange sense of joy mixed with pangs of pain. I do not want to confuse my readers, but I think only a mother or a true writer can understand what I mean!

Just like the tough task of raising children to be good and positive adults, and the satisfaction which followed after I found myself fairly successful, writing is not something easy for me! I sometimes feel I have to pour out my heart’s blood to create something worth reading. Every new experience of writing brings a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, but it also leaves me spent out, exhausted and a bit dazed after the endeavor.

As a mother, I remember never being satisfied with my children’s performance, always wanting and expecting them to do better. In the same manner I am never content after writing something. Always a bit shaky, I read and re read what I have written, making changes here and there to make a piece more powerful. Bekaar hi hai! (It’s worthless) I tell myself after posting a piece. But I must admit feeling a rush of Adrelin when likes and comments on my writings start coming in!

The urge to write something new, to create, to improve keeps me on the go! The strong and inborn maternal instincts in me have helped a lot as a mother and a writer too! The Ammee in me lives on! Alhumdulillah!

 

 

 

REVERSED ROLES!

 

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!

           

 

 

AMMI, I MISS YOU!

They say that time and tide wait for none! Life moves on whether we are happy or sad, content or frustrated with life. Yesterday was the 10th of February again. The day Ammi (as we call mother in Urdu) gave me the greatest surprise of my life! And the most painful too! On Eid day she went to bed as usual, but just refused to get up in the morning. Silently she left for her heavenly abode! Without bidding goodbye, without taking her leave from her husband and children whom she loved so dearly, she died peacefully in her sleep. Just like that!

Till my last days, I shall never forget the details of that day. It being the second day of Eid, some guests were coming over. I was in the kitchen laying the trolley with the Eid goodies, Dahi Baras, Kachoris, Sweets and Sheer Khorma. Happy voices of the boys playing cricket in the parking lot came floating into the kitchen as they shouted, quarreled and laughed at every ball bowled and every shot hit!

Suddenly the phone rang. It was my brother in law from Dhaka. Bhabhi ( my sister in law) broke down into tears as she received the devastating news. Someone ran outside and suddenly the cheerful laughter changed into a deafening silence. And then the kids came running inside. I sat in a dazed silence as I tried to allow the harsh reality to sink in! Ammi was no more! No words can describe what I felt in those moments. My heart throbbed with pain but the tears simply refused to come!

The phone rang again and again. We got the details but it didn’t matter anymore! The harsh truth was that Ammi had gone for ever, left me alone in one of the most difficult phase of my life! I felt angry! How could she do this to me? I need you Ammi, my anguished heart cried out in pain, as I watched in silence people started pouring in for condolence, their words falling hollow on my numb ears!

          For reasons unknown, words from a novel ‘Gone With the Wind’ I had read years ago in my college life, echoed silently in my mind,

Just a few days more to tote the heavy load,

No matter it would never be less,

Just a few days more to totter on the road!

17 long years have passed since that fateful day but the 10th of February always leaves me depressed and sad for days. I can not say that I can still feel the excruciating sorrow and the sense of loss I felt on that day, but some pains are so intense, they linger in our hearts for a life time and surface at odd moments, bringing tears to our eyes when we are supposed to be ecstatically happy!

Years after you left me surprised, shattered and heart broken, I still miss you Ammi! Your image is still the deepest impressed on my heart! You are missed Ammi! And I want to tell you if I can reach out to you, I love you dearly! And still feel like a lost child without you! If only life had given me a chance to cry on your shoulder, to feel the warmth of your caring hands like a balm on my wounded heart, my pain would have subsided a bit! But this was not destined to be! You had the quality to accept without any complaints events(pleasant or unpleasant) as they came, so I try to follow what you always taught me! I am not angry with you anymore Ammi! But I still MISS YOU!!

All friends are requested to recite a prayer fro my late parents. May Allah rest their souls in eternal peace in the highest ranks of Jannat ul Firdaus.

 

Determination: She dared to dream!

This is a true story of a brave woman,  a determined person who set seemingly impossible goals for herself, goals she fiercely pursued until she reached them! Although Nasima is around no more, and I have lost all contacts with her children, deep down I am sure they must be leading a happy and successful life! For the sake of privacy, all names have been changed.

 

When I was newly married she was an inevitable part of my in-laws’ home. Neither a servant, nor a family member, Nasima  held a place somewhere in between. She helped out my mother-in-law in her house work and in return got a place to rest, meals for herself and her daughter, a sewing machine to work on and last but not least, access to the television which she loved to watch.

Fresh from college and timid by nature, I was young and inexperienced at that time. Her stern looks and serious demeanour made me fear her a little, but soon this fear gave way to fondness and admiration. I admired her for her ambitious plans for her children and the way she toiled to fulfil them.

A mother of two, a boy and a girl, Nasima was married to a man much older and divorced after a few years. Although uneducated, she was a woman of great determination and would not let her situation be a setback for her children. Dedicating her life to the education and bright future of her children, she had set her goals high and pursued her dreams fiercely.

Nasima’s brother provided her food and shelter and in return she kept house for him. Her’s was a tough life! Early in the morning, she dropped her daughter to school and go back home. After cooking, cleaning and doing the other daily chores, she would rush to school, drop her daughter at our place and then proceed to deliver lunch to her brother. In the afternoon she would be busy sewing clothes and then again whisk off her daughter for her Quran lessons. Her son joined his uncle after school, helping him out with his little shop and studying in between.

Evening was the best part of her day. Come 8pm and nothing could budge Nasima away from the TV lounge. Those were the days when classics like Khuda Ki Basti, Shehzori and Kiran Kahani kept us glued to the idiot box. But for me, the most irritating part of this hour were her constant comments on the plays.

My mother-in-law would scold her, “Nasima, listen quietly to what the poor thing is saying”. She would grimace at this scolding and keep quiet for only a few moments, and then off she would go again! Perhaps this was the only recreation she had and she wanted to make the most of it! Once the play was over, she would have a quick meal and bundle off her half asleep daughter to the bus stop to go back home.

Nasima was not a person to blame her circumstances; rather she had the courage to strive to change them. Having no financial cushion to fall back on, she stitched clothes to provide for her children’s school fees, books, uniforms, etc. Herself wearing hand-me-downs, she nursed her daughter’s ego by providing her new clothes, although they were always simple and modest.

Her daughter Gurya was a loving girl. Like all young girls she was charmed by a bride in the house! She would peep shyly in my room and ask if I needed her help, but I could never avail her offer because Nasima would scoop down on her like an eagle and say firmly: “Go and study, I shall help out Bibi”. She wanted her daughter to make the best of every spare moment she had. And Gurya was a good student, who worked hard to live up to the expectations and dreams of her mother.

Years passed and after finishing school with good grades, Gurya got admission in a college near her home. And Nasima’s daily visits stopped. But she would come often to bring good news about her children. Her son got a scholarship to the leading engineering college in Karachi and after finishing his education, a good job at the Steel Mill. Gurya got a teaching job after doing her B.Ed. and was doing well. Nasima’s hard work had paid off and her dreams had come true.

The unending work took its toll on Nasima’s health, however. Her asthma grew worse and one fateful day, a tearful Gurya called to inform us that her brave mother had died the previous night after a fatal attack of the disease.

People like Nasima never really die. She lives on in my heart, and whenever I find myself in a difficult situation, with something which seems impossible, I remind myself of that courageous woman.

Undeterred by life and its adversities, she taught me that it needs passion, dedication and hard work to reach a goal. We all have dreams and wishes but only a few of us realise that only hard work and dedication can make our dreams and wishes come true. Nasima defied the notion that poverty begets poverty and a maid’s children are fit only for menial work! She proved the popular saying, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”

THE LITTLE GIRL WITHIN!

THE LITTLE GIRL WITHIN!

     A difficult part of aging is that those who are younger than us also have a set of rules and norms for us, which they expect us to abide by. In their opinion, an important requisite for being the eldest in the family is to be serious, grave, responsible and dignified most of the time. But there are times when we throw caution to the wind and behave like we used to do in the days of yore. And that is when the problem begins!

      I realized this hard fact on the day my college friends came over for lunch. We were a large and mischievous group in the Dhaka College of Home-Economics, famous to the extent of notoriety because of our endless pranks. But our group was also the one which always bagged the highest marks. Although we were caught red handed many times, the teachers always let us go after a lukewarm warning. After college, we stepped into practical life and drifted apart to different countries. Meetings were scattered and though most of the friends visited Karachi for one reason or another, this was the first time in decades, all of us were here at the same time. Excitedly, we had been planning this get together for weeks. E-Mails were exchanged, text messages went to and fro and at last my place was decided as the venue for the meeting.

          After lunch, we were reminiscing about the good old college days and the great time we had shared together. It seemed that everyone was talking at the same time. So much water had passed under the bridge! The joys and sorrows we had experienced during the decades we had lived apart, latest news about our lives and gossips about friends (not present) had to be shared. Amongst the laughter and chattering, we got so carried away that the years seemed to simply slip away, and we did not even realize we were behaving exactly in the same manner we did in our college days.

      “Remember the day we were caught by our English Professor bunking the ‘Home Management’ class? Ambreen asked laughingly. “Oh yes! We had hid behind the library, but just when we were about to start our Chat Party she came along from nowhere”, Naheed exclaimed. Salma said with a smile, “We were caught red handed but we all ran off leaving Seema behind with her big dish of Aloo Chat!” Seema looked visibly annoyed, “How selfish of you people! For weeks you were asking me to bring your favourite chat to college and when we were caught, you all ditched me. I remember looking like a fool holding the dish and having no explanation for the breach of discipline”, Seema was looking as agitated and angry as she was on that particular fateful day. Ambreen quipped back accusingly, “But you gave her the list of our names after being caught, you traitor! We got a good scolding only because of you”. We all laughed until tears rolled down our eyes.

     “How nice it is to be with you all again”, Salma said in a wistful tone. “After Ahmer’s death I thought I would never be able to laugh again”. Suddenly a quiet descended on the room and the mood changed from merriment to mourning. We all felt sad for our dear friend who had lost her only son in a car accident three years back. “Sohail still blames me, because I was driving the car”, she said in almost a whisper. “Things were never the same between us after that unlucky day”, she broke into sobs and not knowing how to console her, we all of joined in her tears.

     Time seemed to fly as we shared memories and laughed and cried together and finally it was time for the party to be over. Amongst smiles and tears, we parted with heavy hearts because we all had the feeling that this could be our last meeting. My four year old grandson was coming and going out of the room at some pretext or other and looking at me in a strange manner. But I was so involved with my friends that I hardly noticed him.

     After everyone had left and I went to my room to rest a bit, he peeped timidly from the door. “Come inside darling, why are you standing outside”, I called out to him. But to my surprise, instead of coming to me he ran away. After some time Bahu appeared with a cup of tea, “What is wrong with Ali? Why is he not coming to me”? I asked her.

Bahu was a bit embarrassed “Forget about it Mummy, He is just a child”. Just then Ali came in, perhaps emboldened by the presence of his mother. “Amma, kya aap pagal ho gayi hain? (Amma, have you gone mad?) He asked with a troubled look on his innocent face. Surprised I turned to Bahu, “Why does he say so? “Actually Mummy, he has never seen you in this mood…. I mean chatting excitedly, laughing and crying in this manner, he has been worrying for you all day long”, she replied with a sheepish smile. I was shocked and a bit sad. I had worn this cloak of a serious and grave person for so long that even I myself had forgotten that once I was a cheerful girl, a bit naughty and always full of laughter.

          Gently I took my darling grandson in my arms, “I am alright dear, just behaving like a naughty girl today”. I rocked him gently until he fell asleep. “Amma has not gone mad, my son” I told him sadly, “But there is still a little girl in Amma who refuses to grow up”, and before I could stop them, two tears dropped and glistened on his rosy cheeks.

MORE CONFESSIONS OF A GRANDMOTHER! (Dedicated to my darling granddaughter Javeria Elahi)

 I traced my index finger tenderly down the delicate features of my granddaughter; she seemed so vulnerable as looked at me with a timid look on her little face. I exclaimed to my daughter who was sitting propped up in pillows in her hospital bed, “She is so pretty, but I will have to admit that I would never be able to love her as much as your first born”. As if instinctively, my daughter nearly grabbed her three days old daughter away from me. Holding her closer to her bosom she enquired in an indignant tone, “Why do you say that Ammi, isnt she my daughter just like Sadia is?” I laughed at her reaction (although I felt a bit surprised), “Relax darling, of course I love her too, but the bond with a first grand child is different, but maybe you will understand my feelings when you yourself will become a grandma!” I was adamant in my confession as I took the little one back from her arms and busied myself in changing her nappy.

Javeria (as she was named later) was a loveable child and although I carried on with delight the duty Grandmas usually perform when their daughters are convalescing after childbirth, some how I could not feel the same rush of ecstatic happiness I had felt more than three years back when her elder sister was born!

Days passed into weeks and weeks into months. My grand daughter was growing up, she seemed to bubble with life, was more demanding than her sister and definitely possessed the qualities which endear a child to everyone around him/her.

Snuggling closer to me whenever I took her in my arms, she seemed to look at me with questioning eyes. “Why should I be loved less if I was born a second child” she seemed to challenge me! I often felt that she remembered the discourse between me and her mother on that day in the hospital! Or maybe my inner guilt was playing games with me!

Even before I realized it, I found myself deeply in love with my second grand daughter. I would call my daughter just to hear her cooings on the phone and whenever she came to visit with her mother, I just couldn’t put the darling child down, carrying her in my arms the maximum possible time.

Yes, I had to admit to myself that she was making inroads into my heart. I was confused. My first grand daughter was as dear to me as ever, but somehow her little sister was sharing the same amount of love. After her first birthday passed and Javeria started to speak a few words, the loving way she called me Naneemee (Her way of saying Nani Ammi), her sticky kisses when I took her in my arms and the way her pretty face lit up with a happy smile when she saw me, I slowly realized that I was fighting a losing battle.

On her second birthday I had to make the confession! On her card I wrote, “My darling Javeria, this is the best day to admit that YOU are second to NONE! And I accept my defeat with pride. Because having a granddaughter as loving and caring as you, is no little honor for me!

Forever yours,

Naneemee.

          After Javeria, although I have been blessed with more grandchildren, I never made the mistake of making any above mentioned claim again. I realized that each grandchild holds a special place and brings with him/her a new fountain of love which erupts from the depths of a Grandma’s heart.

          My grandchildren have taught me that love defies all rules of Mathematics! It multiplies when it is divided, has no option of subtraction and keeps on adding up with time, until it reaches infinity!

          (Yesterday was Javeria’s twelfth birthday and in moments of nostalgia, I went down memories lane! And I found myself smiling at my folly as I remembered my hurried claim when she was just three days old!)