From Six to Sixty-Five!

SunriseI have only recently turned 65, and in reflective moments, feel a bit amused when I remember the times reaching sixties, or for that matter, even 40s or 50s seemed a far cry for me! I distinctly remember the day when a distant uncle tried to apply his newly learnt palmistry on reading what the lines on my little palms were predicting! Cupping my palm in his hands, he peered down at it intently for quite some time; then shaking his head sadly declared in a solemn voice, “Yasmin, your age line shows that you do not have a long life. I fear you may not be even able to cross thirty.” “How insensitive of him!” I often think now, but at age six, dying at thirty years seemed too far off to worry (or depress) me and I just wanted him to leave my hand so that I could go back to play with my elder twin sisters.

But my uncle’s prediction lingered in my subconscious until I had crossed forty and learnt to scoff at it. At every illness big or small, I would tell myself, “This is it. My end has come!”  But by the grace of The Almighty, at 65 I am still around and also not in a too bad shape. Life is still worth living and there is yet a lot to look forward to. To be honest, I do not feel old inspite of my years. Even now I am thrilled when it rains suddenly, enjoy the morning breeze, love the fragrance of flowers and still feel enchanted by the bright light of the full moon. Surprise gifts and a compliment on my writings (and yes, looks also) still bring a rush of adrelin! I love to go out and visits from friends and relatives and above all my daughter and grandchildren are always exciting.

As I look back on my life, I have a lot to reminiscence about. Having a secure childhood with very caring parents and loving siblings, the early years of my life form a valuable part of my chest of memories! Married at a rather young age, my prime years were the hectic ones when I was busy raising up my children. I am thankful that I had a life long enough to sit back and reflect on the past years, congratulate myself on the areas I feel I have been successful and admonish myself on where I have made mistakes, or could have done better. Life is always full of Ifs and Buts! But I am lucky that I have no regrets or resentments. Living in a joint family system with my married sons is a great blessing for me. With all my children happily settled in their lives and having families of their own, the focus of my attention has shifted from them to my grand children. I hope I live to see them achieving their goals and fulfilling their parents’ dreams!

I have had my share of adversities but with the passage of time and the wisdom only years can bring, I have realized that they come with the package of the roller coaster ride we all call Life! In the bumpy road of the years I have lived, I have learnt a lot of lessons, some sweet, some bitter! But I have refused to be disillusioned by these lessons. I have also had my share of successes and failures!  Successes have encouraged me to strive for even better results, while failures have taught me to struggle with more vigour. The perfectionist in me is never satisfied and I am always my own best critic!

At age 65, I have more to look back at, than to look forward to! Life is drawing to its natural end! But there is a wish list which keeps getting longer by the day! I want to note down these wishes and checkout on how many of these are shared by my readers!

I wish that I am never a burden for my children, physically or financially. Not hampered by diseases old age brings, I wish to remain active and self sufficient till the end comes.

I wish that my children pass on to my grandchildren the religious, social and cultural values I have tried to instill in them. I have always taught them “To live and Let Live.” I wish that my children and grandchildren cherish the legacy of love I have strived hard to pass on to them!  I wish (and pray) that they remain a closely knit family and always be out there for each other, in good times and God Forbid bad!

With my eldest granddaughter beginning her medical university this year, and the younger ones still to begin school, I wish that my grandchildren attain success both in their academic and personal lives. I have high dream for them and I wish to live long enough to see at least some of them fulfilled. 

 I wish that, when the time comes to go, I accept death serenely and am at peace with myself. I wish I die a content woman who does not want to cling on to life unnecessarily.  I just want to move on to another world, which I pray and fervently hope, would be better than this one!

I wish to die peacefully at home, in my bed and with my children around me. No heroics for me, no rushing to the hospital and unnecessary (and painful) medical procedures. I wish my children let go with acceptance that there is an end to every being in this world. I wish that they accept my loss with grace and with no prolonged mourning after I have left. By God’s mercy, I have lived a full life and always struggled to keep my children happy. In death also, I wish that they are not saddened!

I wish to be remembered with love, tenderness and respect! I wish that my memories bring a smile to the faces but also a faint mist to the eyes of my family members and friends! I wish that even when I am around no more, I continue to live in the hearts of those I love so dearly!

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!

           

 

 

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.

WEAR GREY WITH GRACE! An Old Article in The Review (Dawn)

 

 

          I looked at Saima’s annoyed face with amusement. “And what was so wrong if the salesman called you Khalaji?” I asked her in a teasing tone. Last week I had gone for shopping when I ran into an old college friend. We hadn’t met for ages, (both of us busy with our homes and kids), although we remained in touch on the phone. I invited Saima for some refreshments so that we could chat for a while before parting ways. “Just one last suit”, Saima said, “I saw a lovely print in that shop’. She asked the young salesman to show her the suit. “Eik minute Khalaji”,the poor boy replied, having no idea what wrath he was about to incur on himself! Saima gave him a glaring look, turned around and angrily marched out of the shop. “Why Saima, didn’t you say that you wanted to buy that suit?” I asked her in surprise. “Silly man, how dare he call me Khalaji, do I look like a Khalaji?”  Saima quipped back in an annoyed tone. Dear Saima! She was always so concerned about her looks in college days.

          It is a natural desire of every woman to look young and beautiful and the search for the fountain of eternal youth is universal. We are living in a world which places a great importance on looks, and everywhere around us, we find women striving hard to look younger than their years. Cosmetic surgeries, botox injections and lipo-suctions are becoming common with those who can afford them. Those who can not afford these luxuries go for cheaper options like anti-aging creams and lotions and frequent visits to the beautician. But is this war against nature’s course worth fighting? I believe that however hard we fight, in the end we are always the losers, because we can push back the years but can not avoid them totally. They come back to attack in a more vicious way, so isn’t it a netter option make age a friend instead of an enemy and grow old with grace?

Old age has always been associated with ugliness; it is hard for women to perceive that they can be old and beautiful at the same time! Sometimes the quest for youth lures them to make wrong decisions, going for options which are theirs no more. The wrong choice of dresses, colors and jewellery, that hairdo which makes them look funny (instead of a few years younger) and the bright makeup which should be done no more, are all part of a war they are losing. The key to aging with grace is to explore the options which compliment one’s looks in spite of the years, enhance the strong points and conceal the weak ones.

When I started to dye my graying hair I opted for a soft brown shade, (which blended well with the signs of age showing on my face), instead of a jet black one. Slowly and silently I changed the colors of my wardrobe, choosing softer and lighter shades instead of the brighter ones which I once loved to wear. Pink, red, turquoise and purple were out and in came grey, soft shades of green and blue, beige and off white! Gone were the long and dangling earrings, the trendy hair styles and dark shades of lipsticks. I was content to age with grace, to be myself; at least if I did not look younger than my years, I also didn’t look older than my age.

These and many other thoughts were going through my mind as I sat sipping juice with Saima. Suddenly she spoke up sharply, “I feel you are not taking care of your looks, the same careless approach you always had, you always came to college with your hair oiled and tightly braided” she had not forgotten (and forgiven) my crime! “So what do you think I should do to hide my age? I love it when my grand children call me Grandma”.  I replied in a careless tone.

Not heeding to my words, Saima examined me with a microscopic look in her eyes. “I see lines on your forehead and wrinkles have started to appear beneath your eyes”, she said disapprovingly (as if I had committed a great offense). “Haven’t you been using the anti aging crèmes and lotions which are so popular these days? They do wonders to your skin.” She pushed back her chair suddenly, “Come with me, the shop from which I purchase cosmetics is nearby, you have to get it now because I know how lazy and careless you are and you would never buy them yourself.”

 Nearly shoving me inside her favorite cosmetics shop, Saima asked the salesman for the magic lotion. He appeared promptly with a tiny jar. “How much does it cost?” I asked him cautiously. “Only Eighteen hundred, Baji, (this one was clever enough not to call me Khalaji), but in a month you will look ten years younger,” the salesman replied in a luring tone. “Eighteen hundred for this tiny  bottle! My God!” I nearly dropped the bottle on the glass counter, “I would rather look my age, be called Khalaji and wear grey with grace”. Chuckling to myself, I marched out of the shop not stopping to look at the surprised faces of Saima and the salesman.

WHEN I SHALL GROW UP!!

It is a part of human nature that we are never satisfied with our circumstances! We either yearn for the days that are to come or pine for those which have already past.

As a child, my biggest dreams were to free myself from the shackles of childhood, which in those days I considered a sort of prison. ‘Growing up’ seemed to me a solution for all my problems; the end of all the disappointments, frustrations and pains relating to childhood. I soothed myself by dreaming that all my woes would end ‘When I shall grow up’; the golden times when I would have no school, no homework, no don’t do this and don’t do that, eating whatever and whenever I wanted to and sleeping and getting up according to my wish!

          Grow up I did, but alas! None of my dreams were fulfilled. The problems were still there, only they had changed their faces. Although I was free from the shackles of childhood, free from the clutches of Ammi and had stepped into a married life, I found out that after tying the knot, I had also assumed a new set of responsibilities.

House-work took the place of home-work, and I found running a home, looking after my children and making ends meet, more tiring and demanding than going to school or college. The do’s and don’ts were still there but the end receivers had changed. This time it was me who was the admonisher and my (poor) children the admonished.

And Oh! All the chocolates, cakes, ice creams and cold drinks I had once intended to devour, after I got out of the watchful eyes of Ammi, seemed to beckon to me whenever I opened the refrigerator! The urge was still there, and I was free to eat as much as I wanted to, but this time my enemy was the pointer on the weighing scale and an ever increasing waist line.

          My dreams of sleeping and getting up according to my mood were also shattered. Back in my childhood days when Ammi came to my room in the morning, scolding, switching off the fan and pulling back the curtains she seemed to me the greatest of all tyrants. Why couldn’t I sleep for an extra hour or stay up late at night if I wanted to? These were the rebellious questions that crossed my mind. Lights had to be put off at a particular hour and being a book worm, I often had to hide in the bathroom with my un-finished story book.

After marriage, I was blessed with children and life as a mother became more hectic. I had hardly any time for myself and sleep became a very precious commodity! The youngest didn’t want to sleep when I was sleepy or he was hungry at the oddest hours in the night! At dawn, when he finally decided to call it a day and go to sleep, it was time for the older children to be sent to school. Mornings always seemed a race against the clock, as my ears strained for the dreaded horn of the school van as it hit the kerb. Since I was a full time home-maker, even on holidays it was impossible for me to get up late; the never ending ringing of the telephone and door bell had to be attended. This much to sleep according to my mood!

          Memories of a particular Sunday when I failed to get up when the Maasi (maid), rang the bell are like a nightmare. Presuming conveniently that I was not at home, she left and I had to do all the additional work myself. After washing the nappies and doing the pile of dishes, I picked the garbage bin and stepped out to empty it. But the sight which welcomed me at the entrance of my apartment made me feel like cursing myself. I had missed the milkman too! And he had left packet of the milk at the doorstep. The silly cat, taking it to be her breakfast, had dragged the packet all along the entrance. I had lost the milk as well had to clean up the mess she had created!

I felt like crying out aloud but had to remind myself that I was no more a child and could not give way to my feelings whenever and wherever I wanted to do so! Picking up the bucket of water and a brush, and pretending to ignore the amused eyes of my prying neighbour, I started to scrub the floor viciously as if venting out my anger at my adulthood and the hardships it had brought with it.     

In the days when I was busy rearing children there always seemed to be a race against time. I consoled myself by thinking that once the children grew up and settled down in life, I shall have a lot of time for myself. I shall catch up on my reading (which had always been an obsession with me). But, with the passage of time, I have learnt otherwise.

With married sons living in a joint family, and a very good relationship with my daughters in law, life still doesn’t seem to give me the respite I had looked forward to! Although the daughters in law want to take over the running of the household I do not want to let go! Hasn’t this house been my domain for a good part my life? I simply can not bring myself to relinquish the power I have enjoyed for such a long time. I may have a passive role, but I want to keep my interference and opinions (read final word) in all matters, small or big.

The nights are usually restless, sometimes due to my arthritis and others due to bouts of insomnia, and my doctor says I should watch my intake of sugar as I my blood glucose levels are on the border line of diabetes and excess weight could worsen my arthritis! So, though a good figure is no more a priority for me I still can not have the cakes, chocolates,  ice creams and cold drinks which always have been my Kamzori (weakness)!

          There are days when I plan to relax with an interesting book and as I settle down in my couch to spend a quiet afternoon reading, the daughter in law peeps in. Would I look after the baby while she is going for shopping (or visiting an ailing relative or any other outing where the children can not accompany her)? She asks with a sweet smile.

The school going children are having there afternoon nap and would have to be served milk and biscuits when they get up, and I have to make sure that they finish their mugs. My heart sinks as I hold the bundle of mischief which comes tumbling down into my arms, but keeping my smile as sweet as her’s, I say, “ Sure darling, take your time, I will look after the children”. As she leaves the room, I sigh resignedly and put away the book I was planning to read. I may adore my grand children, but at my age, having them to myself for a good part of the day, can be quite tiring for me.

 On the threshold of old age, I have finally realized that responsibilities and restrictions are part of a healthy and fulfilling life; they are always there but only change faces with the passage of time! What a fool I was, not to make the most of the golden days of my childhood; the days when the only responsibilities I had were going to school and doing my homework and Ammi took care of the rest!

 

 

 

SWEET SIXTY! (http://dawn.com/2011/10/09/sweet-sixty/)

It was my 60th birthday. The day went by as usual but in the evening as I stepped out of my room I was surprised to see my children and grand children excitedly gathering in the living room. They showered me with gifts, cards and flowers as I sat a bit dazed. Sixty years! That’s quite a long time to be around. When I retired to my room at night a sense of nostalgia seemed to seize my heart.

Although moved by the loving gesture of my family, I felt strangely sad for all the years that had flown by and the time that would never come back; for the loving faces that were once an integral part of my life but had long since left for their heavenly abode; for the opportunities in life which either did not come my way or were missed. So much water had passed under the bridge. Sad I definitely felt but thankfully there was no remorse, no wish to go back and do things all over again. I was content with my life and satisfied with whatever it had dished out to me.

As a child I would look up in awe at my 30 plus mother and wonder how old she must be feeling. At that time, 30 years seemed a far way off. But when I reached that age, I laughed at myself as I remembered my feelings for my mother because at 30 I felt young, strong and full of life. I realised that in her 30s, my Mom must have felt the same. Abhee tou mein jawan hoon… I would often hum to myself, but I strongly doubted whether I would manage to live to 60. Thirty more years felt too far away.

Years fly and life moves on! Here I am at 60 plus, in fairly good health except for normal age related problems like arthritis and insomnia. Living in an extended family with my married sons, I categorically refuse to take the golden hand shake, trying to remain as active as possible. Although each passing year does take its toll, I consider each day I can carry out my daily chores a blessing, each additional year a bonus. As Maurice Chevalier says, “A comfortable old age is the reward of a well-spent youth. Instead of its bringing sad and melancholy prospects of decay, it would give us hopes of eternal youth in a better world.”

What do women usually feel when they reach this landmark in life? Rehana sounded sad, “I spent the prime of my life working endless hours, giving tuitions to supplement my husband’s income, because we wanted to give quality education to our two sons. I looked forward to the time when my sons would get good jobs and I would sit back and relax. But all my dreams remained unfulfilled. My sons migrated abroad in search of greener pastures. Now that we are old, I and my husband feel lonely and let down. The sons come every two or three years with their families and send lots of money but can this make up for their absence in our day to day life?”

Shireen has other complaints, “After retirement, I really miss the busy days when there was so much to do. Trying to create a perfect balance between my job, children, household chores and personal life, I often thought 24 hours were not enough for a day. Now I sometimes don’t know how to spend my time. Praying, reading and gardening are some of the activities that keep me busy — things I had always wanted to do but never had enough time for. Maybe this is one of the advantages of being old.”

Reema sounded very practical. “At this age there is so much to look back on, but not much to look forward to. With advancing years, I expect a far less active life, failing health and the inevitable end. But I have a rich past and feel that I have led a full life; so when the end comes I shall be content to slip away peacefully. I do not regret my life and believe that it is a privilege to have lived all these years.”

When asked, a relatively young friend said with a naughty smile, “I have yet to reach 60 to understand what you are feeling but it reminds me of my father who lived to be 80 plus. Whenever anyone asked his age he would always say, ‘I am 50/ 60/ 70 years young’. He never used the word ‘old’ for himself and he died young at heart.”

I totally agree with this frame of mind. With so much more to do, so many stones unturned and goals yet to achieve, I have no time to feel old, sick or at the end of life at 60. According to Sophia Lauren, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.

When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” The number of years I have lived do not matter. I shall only grow old when I desert my ideals!

SWEET SIXTY! (dawn.com/2011/10/09/sweet-sixty/)

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It was my 60th birthday. The day went by as usual but in the evening as I stepped out of my room I was surprised to see my children and grand children excitedly gathering in the living room. They showered me with gifts, cards and flowers as I sat a bit dazed. Sixty years! That’s quite a long time to be around. When I retired to my room at night a sense of nostalgia seemed to seize my heart.

Although moved by the loving gesture of my family, I felt strangely sad for all the years that had flown by and the time that would never come back; for the loving faces that were once an integral part of my life but had long since left for their heavenly abode; for the opportunities in life which either did not come my way or were missed. So much water had passed under the bridge. Sad I definitely felt but thankfully there was no remorse, no wish to go back and do things all over again. I was content with my life and satisfied with whatever it had dished out to me.

As a child I would look up in awe at my 30 plus mother and wonder how old she must be feeling. At that time, 30 years seemed a far way off. But when I reached that age, I laughed at myself as I remembered my feelings for my mother because at 30 I felt young, strong and full of life. I realised that in her 30s, my Mom must have felt the same. Abhee tou mein jawan hoon… I would often hum to myself, but I strongly doubted whether I would manage to live to 60. Thirty more years felt too far away.

Years fly and life moves on! Here I am at 60 plus, in fairly good health except for normal age related problems like arthritis and insomnia. Living in an extended family with my married sons, I categorically refuse to take the golden hand shake, trying to remain as active as possible. Although each passing year does take its toll, I consider each day I can carry out my daily chores a blessing, each additional year a bonus. As Maurice Chevalier says, “A comfortable old age is the reward of a well-spent youth. Instead of its bringing sad and melancholy prospects of decay, it would give us hopes of eternal youth in a better world.”

What do women usually feel when they reach this landmark in life? Rehana sounded sad, “I spent the prime of my life working endless hours, giving tuitions to supplement my husband’s income, because we wanted to give quality education to our two sons. I looked forward to the time when my sons would get good jobs and I would sit back and relax. But all my dreams remained unfulfilled. My sons migrated abroad in search of greener pastures. Now that we are old, I and my husband feel lonely and let down. The sons come every two or three years with their families and send lots of money but can this make up for their absence in our day to day life?”

Shireen has other complaints, “After retirement, I really miss the busy days when there was so much to do. Trying to create a perfect balance between my job, children, household chores and personal life, I often thought 24 hours were not enough for a day. Now I sometimes don’t know how to spend my time. Praying, reading and gardening are some of the activities that keep me busy — things I had always wanted to do but never had enough time for. Maybe this is one of the advantages of being old.”

Reema sounded very practical. “At this age there is so much to look back on, but not much to look forward to. With advancing years, I expect a far less active life, failing health and the inevitable end. But I have a rich past and feel that I have led a full life; so when the end comes I shall be content to slip away peacefully. I do not regret my life and believe that it is a privilege to have lived all these years.”

When asked, a relatively young friend said with a naughty smile, “I have yet to reach 60 to understand what you are feeling but it reminds me of my father who lived to be 80 plus. Whenever anyone asked his age he would always say, ‘I am 50/ 60/ 70 years young’. He never used the word ‘old’ for himself and he died young at heart.”

I totally agree with this frame of mind. With so much more to do, so many stones unturned and goals yet to achieve, I have no time to feel old, sick or at the end of life at 60. According to Sophia Lauren, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love.

When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” The number of years I have lived do not matter. I shall only grow old when I desert my ideals.

I SHALL LIVE ON!

I SHALL LIVE ON!

          My three year old grand daughter came running into my arms, not taking the trouble to remove her unruly curls which streamed down to her sparkling eyes. My sister who had come from abroad after many years remarked laughingly, “Why! Your grand daughter is just like you. Just see how she tosses her head naughtily to remove her locks from her eyes as she peeps from behind them. I just hope she has not inherited your temper”, she said in a teasing tone. On any other occasion, I would not have tolerated such a remark and immediately picked up an argument with my sister, insisting that I was not as bad tempered as she was suggesting! But as she was comparing me to my grand daughter, which in itself was a big compliment for me, I chose to ignore her comments.

As a grandmother, I can find no faults with my grand children as I am simply enchanted with the wonderful things they do, simply forgetting (or trying to forget?) that I scolded or sometimes even punished my children on these very acts! My children had the same endearing habits, played out the same naughty pranks, but at that stage of life, I was so obsessed with the idea of being the perfect mother who was raising the perfect children, I regret to say that I had no time to enjoy their childhood (and the activities which are a part of it). With kids young and all around, the house always bustling with activity, the demands and responsibilities of motherhood were so physically exhausting, I never realized until they had grown up, that it was also a very emotionally fulfilling task.

          Having grand children is one of the best things which can happen to us in life. A grandchild is one of God’s greatest gifts, a compensation for the loss of youth. It is like a silver lining to the dark and ominous cloud of old age. When we reach the stage of life when we become grandmothers, life has changed dramatically, as this is the time when we have minimum responsibilities. The strict regime of motherhood over, children grown up, married and independent, we have all the time in the world to spend with our grand children. We spoil them (or ourselves) to our heart’s extent and giving in to their whims is a source of sheer delight for us. In return they give us unconditional love and blind support, accepting us for ourselves as no one in our entire lives has ever done.

Years seem to simply melt down when I interact with my grandchildren. When they want to discuss their problems with me, I do it very seriously. Either I bend down to reach their innocent mental level or hold them high in my arms to let them come up to my mature age. And when they come to me with complaints of (our common enemy) their parents (which is very frequent), for a moment I seem to forget that the said people are my own children. Although, most of the times, I have to keep myself neutral for the sake of diplomacy and discipline, in the heart of my heart I side totally with them, considering my grandchildren the victims and their parents the culprits!

Whether the person I am talking to is interested or bored to death, I can not stop myself from talking about my grandchildren and their activities, whenever and wherever I get the chance to do so. Any achievement by my grandchildren seems to me a personal accomplishment; the praise they receive is like a compliment for me.

A remark by a friend or acquaintance that my grandchildren resemble me in looks or habits is a matter of great pride for me. An anonymous quote which said “Grandchildren are a grandparent’s link to the future, and grandparents are the child’s link to the past” touched my heart. I started to search seriously for traits which my grandchildren had inherited from me and I found some part of myself in each child.

My eldest granddaughter has a quick wit and a sense of humour which keeps her cheerful all the time. She is a born optimist just like me. Her younger sister has inherited my quick temper which flares up at the slightest pretext but cools down as suddenly. My grandson has an insatiable thirst for reading and is found most of the times with a story book while his friends are playing cricket. One grandchild is very disorganized and keeps littering his things all about his room. When he gets a scolding from my daughter in law on not finding his things in time, I am reminded of my childhood days when I was always found hunting for my books, pen, socks, or whatever, much to the chagrin of Ammi.

A few days back I went to visit my daughter. Her youngest, who is still a toddler, was sleeping peacefully, her long eyelashes shadowing her rosy cheeks. “Ammi, she resembles you a lot when she is sleeping. I am sure you looked the same when you were her age”. “I am happy for you my darling”, I quipped back, “Tomorrow when I shall be around no more, she will remind you of me”. When I look at my grand children a sense of content descends upon my heart. They are my link to the future! A little in this one, a bit in the other, after my death I shall continue to live on in my grandchildren!

 

LEST I FORGET!

 

A strange illness is creeping down the generations of my paternal family. Starting with forgetfulness, forgetting names, faces, things or events, it snowballs suddenly and in extreme cases results in a total loss of memory…. or a major part of it! You can call it Dementia, a combination of a streak of Alzheimer’s and a series of micro brain strokes.

Although the victims of this condition are hardly aware of their condition and thankfully not tormented by it, the family members definitely are! Toiling hard to make a parent or sibling remember who you are, can be agonizing and as the condition is often irreversible, one has to learn to live with this heartbreak! 

My grandfather forgot nearly everything about his recent past. The only glimpses he had of his past life were of far off events, the days he had spent in Aonla (a small village near Bareilly, India) and Calcutta, where he usually lived a major part of the year for the sake of his business and the schooling of his children. He had been blessed with a big family, sons, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren and we all lovingly called him Abbaji. He was equally popular in all the generations because of his soft nature and caring ways.

When his memory started to fail, our family took it for a part of ageing, and also a result of the ups and downs he had experienced in life. At age above ninety, it was not surprising if he could not remember the names of his grandchildren (we were more than fifty Masha Allah!), the painful fact was that he forgot the names of his children. But in spite of this, the flicker of recognition in his eyes when they came to meet him and the happy smile which lit up his face were really heart warming.

My eldest uncle whom we called Taya Abba was a man of great intelligence. Being the eldest among five brothers, he had a special place in his siblings, his word often almost taken to be the final and we all respected him very much. In the early years of East Pakistan and after migrating from India, he was one of the founder members of Sikander Industries in Dhaka and was held in great awe by the staff members and all and sundry called him “Bara Sahab”. But this Bara Sahab was reduced to a mere shadow of the great man he was, as slowly his memory started to failed him and for decades he remained in a state of oblivion before death finally freed him from this painful state.

My father’s eldest sister was beauty, grace and dignity personalized! She was cherished and respected by all the people close to her and her siblings hardly took any decision without her advice. In our childhood, I and my cousins were always awe struck by her and every statement she made was like an order for us. But this fear changed into deep fondness as we grew older and came to understand her better.  Though years have passed since her death but I still feel sad for her as my sweet and wise Phuphi Ammi met the same tragic end!

My father was often called “The mastermind of the Elahi family”, (my paternal family name) and a very successful businessman, a workaholic who always came up with innovative and brilliant ideas to take Sikander Industries to new heights. He worked day and night to pull Commander Soap Co (a branch industry of S.I.) out of deep crisis and Alhumdulillah pulled it out loss to give it a new dimension. By nature a very jolly and loving person, he divided his time between work and family, taking great interest in the studies of his children. And he always urged, coaxed and sometimes bullied us to perform our best!

 But when tragedy struck (at age 70 plus), we were pained to see him disoriented and confused. He was like a lost child fumbling in the darkness to find his way back home. Luckily, his IQ was too high to be wiped out totally.  He improved gradually after the initial symptoms. Though he seemed like a shadow of the great person he was, had lost his booming voice and brisk gait, his memory revived considerably during his last days.

Who will be the next victim of this painful disease? I and my siblings often ask each other! Getting forgetful by the day, I spend a considerable part of my day hunting for my keys, specs, cell phone etc, sometimes forget the names of people very close to me and the most troubling thing is that often while offering Namaaz, I forget the number of Raka’at I am into! Sometimes a strange fear grips my heart and I wonder what future has in store for me.

Often in our lives, we keep on putting away expressing our feelings to the people who hold a special place in our hearts. And with the passage of years, we find that it is too late in life to express our sentiments. After mustering a lot of courage, I have finally decided that if (God forbid), I am destined to be the next in line who has forgotten all about the past, I would like to tell a lot of people a lot of things!  

 Before addressing family and friends, I would like to relate with the Almighty. Lest I forget, I would like to thank You, my Creator, for all the blessings you have been showering on me. Until the recent fear gripped my heart, I had been taking all these blessings for granted! Alhumdulillah, all my life I have lived in a decent home, never worn hand-me-down clothes and have had three square meals daily. I have seen and enjoyed the beauty created by You, heard the chirping of the morning bird and felt the gentle breeze which, in difficult times has the power to soothe my frayed nerves. And foremost of all, You have blessed me with a compassionate heart, a loving family and caring friends.

Lest I forget, there is a lot I would have liked to tell my parents, but unfortunately for me, both of them have departed to their heavenly abodes. If I can reach out to you, my loving Ammi and Daddy, I want to tell you how much you meant to me. Thanks for all the values you instilled in me. You taught me to believe in myself, to face life’s difficulties with a head held high, to be kind and compassionate, to forgive and also were my role models on ways to keep the people around me happy and content.

Lest I forget, I would like to thank my children for their infinite love and care and unfaltering faith in me. I would like to tell you the umpteenth time how much I adore you and what beauty and purpose you have brought to my life. Without you, my loving children life has no meaning for me. Everything I plan and do, I think about you first and I firmly believe that you also do the same. And in the twilight of my life, I can not thank you enough for being mine!

Lest I forget, I would like to thank my adorable grandchildren for the sheer ecstasy and color they have added to my life. You overlook all my shortcomings and your blind support is like a positive drive for me and my heart swells with pride for having such wonderful grandchildren. Your unconditional love and caring gestures give me a sense of serenity and add a new warmth to my life!

Lest I forget, I would like to express my gratitude to my siblings for sticking by me in good times and bad. We should be thankful to our caring parents for instilling the deep love and bond we share even when we have grown old. I appreciate the way you all always put up with my bad temper and pamper me when I feel blue. You are one of my earliest childhood memories and the laughter and tears we shared is a precious part of my life.

Lest I forget, I would like to thank my friends for always being there for me. Sharing my pleasures and sorrows with you has worked like a catalyst to keep me moving ahead. Your encouragement has been a boost for my spirits. Quick to lend a helping hand, pulling me back to my feet whenever I faltered in the walk of life, you have made life’s adversities bearable for me.  Without your emotional support and understanding ways, I have no idea how I would have carried on in life!

Though it pains me to even think that there may be a time when I will forget all the people mentioned above who hold such an important place in my heart, I would like to tell all of you something. If (again I repeat, God forbid!), the day comes when you feel I don’t recognize you any more, look out carefully for the glimmer of recognition in my eyes. I am sure you will find it, a feeble flame left from the fire of the long love and association I have shared with you throughout my tumultuous life!