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.”

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!)

 

Reminiscence: Rain, rain come again (http://archives.dawn.com/archives/69397)

26-8-12…The long awaited rains have finally arrived in Karachi. Its been raining on and off since yesterday.My grand children’s excitement again reminds me of my childhood days, when I myself was a careless (and naughty) little girl, and the way I and my siblings would enjoy the rain in the same manner, having a good time at the swings with my sisters or playing on the terrace with my brothers.
Rain always brings a strange potpourri of emotions for me. I am happy and sad at the same time as I enjoy seeing my grand children having a great time, but a sense of nostalgia also grips my heart as memories of the long past rainy days when my children were growing up and had to be pulled inside after they had been thoroughly drenched in the downpour, (because I worried like my mother that they would catch a cold or fever).

This article was published in The Review(Dawn) a few years back.

RAIN, RAIN, COME AGAIN!

It is a beautiful rainy day. Peals of happy laughter come floating through my window as I watch my grandchildren playing in the rain. My five-year-old grandson calls out to me “Please Amma, come outside, we are having so much fun,” he pleads in his little voice. Rain always holds a strange charm over me. Born and brought up in former East Pakistan, where it rains daily for more than half of the year, it always reminds me of my childhood days and of an era which now seems to belong to another world! I remember many nights waking up to the sound of the soft pattering of rain drops on the roof, or rushing to Ammi`s room for security when a thunder storm struck!

 

I walk out gingerly into the lawn and my grandson throws a ball at me, “Catch it, Amma,” he calls out too late. Always poor at sports, I miss the ball completely even though I make a brave dive. Thankful inwards that the wet ball did not hit my nose I scold my grandson laughingly, “You know that Amma is bad at catching balls”. We chase each other in the rain and are drenched thoroughly as my daughter-in-law comes out of the kitchen. “You will catch a cold Ammi. And children you have played enough in the rain, now come inside”. My grandson pleads for a few more minutes as I go back to my room to change into dry clothes.

 

As I sit in the warmth of my room sipping hot tea, my knees wrapped in a shawl, I am carried away to another rainy day a long time back.

 

It is raining hard and my children are having a great time in the backyard as they laugh and play in the heavy downpour. I glance out of the kitchen window worriedly as my eldest has a weak chest and catches cold easily.

 

Laying out hot pakoras on the table with a kettle of freshly brewed tea, covered snugly with an embroidered tea-cozy, I call out to my children “Now come inside all of you or you will be down with cold and fever”. “Please Ammi thori der aur,” they implore me and I give in reluctantly. After all, rain is not a frequent feature of life in Karachi and I want my children to enjoy every moment of it!

 

The torrent of memories sweeps me further downstream. It is a beautiful rainy day in Chittagong, a lush green hilly town, where my early childhood was spent. Like nearly every Sunday, Daddy takes us to Patenga, the lovely Chittagong beach, with its white sand (free from any pollution) and greenery along the beach. It starts raining as we reach the waves. Daddy perches me on his shoulders and walks into the water. Knowing instinctively that I am in safe hands I just fold my arms round his neck firmly and let out peals of delight as the blue water dances around us. The waves also seem to enjoy the rain as they race each other before crashing onto the shore. Ammi is calling out something but her voice is drowned by the sound of the rain and waves. The worried look on her face and her flailing arms tell us that she wants us back. “Thand lag jayeigi aap donon ko (you both will catch cold), let`s go back and change into dry clothes”.

 

My grandson`s voice pulls me back to the present. He is out again in the rain with his little sister. They plead with me to accompany them. “Ammi please do not forget your arthritis, you act like a child with the children”, my daughter-in-law protests but turning a deaf ear to her warnings I walk out into the rain again. I want this rainy day to be etched firmly in the memories of my grand children; a fond memory to cherish lovingly when they reach my age!

LIFE! THE HATE MONGERS (http://archives.dawn.com/archives/69181#comment-)

The boss has a crush on his young, beautiful but married secretary. The girl is tactful enough to keep his advances at bay and still retain her job. Her colleagues have planned a surprise birthday party for the boss which the (unsuspecting) girl discusses at home with her mother-in-law.

On the fateful day the boss is astonished but delighted to receive a card and a big bouquet from her and calls to say thanks. The girl is devastated because she has sent neither of them, but her husband (who is sure to be at home at that particular time) does not believe her. So, a big row follows. The mother-in-law, who is listening to them argue bitterly, stays neutral but the smug look on her face has a lot to say!

The daughter-in-law is not to be deterred and plans a quick revenge. The next day she seems to misplace her wedding ring (a precious diamond one, of course). She hunts for it everywhere and looks visibly agitated. The (seemingly) loving mama-in-law is all sympathy for her as she helps in the search. In the evening the daughter-in-law opens her mother-in-law`s cupboard to get something for her and lets out a scream (of delight). The ring is right there, shining brightly and she turns towards the older lady in disbelief, her accusing look saying more than words.

One has only to put two and two together to guess how the ring reached there.

These are not true stories but scenes from one of the endless (and senseless) soap operas which the ever mushrooming television channels dish out day in and day out! We see people of every age addicted to them. They gleefully watch episode after episode of the plays even though the story moves at a snail`s pace. Why are people attracted to these soap operas? Some people say that these plays are an escape from the harsh realities of life while others argue that this is the best way they can spend their leisure hours, but very few of us realise what harm they are doing to our family values!

The family is the core of the human existence and its members are supposed to provide each other with love and security, to share each other`s happiness, problems and sorrows, and to tend to each other`s needs. The majority of the soap operas have a negative impact on these values. Most of the plays are set against an urban backdrop, about families belonging to the high social strata, where the ladies have nothing better to do than to don expensive dresses, heavy (and unnatural) makeup and jewellery and relax in luxuriously furnished lounges. They have to do no house work, no cooking, no washing or ironing and no looking after their kids. All they seem to do is to plot, scheme and hatch conspiracies against other family members! Back biting seems to be the order of the day as these ladies manipulate simple day-to-day events to their selfish motives. In the above mentioned examples, both the ladies go miles to demean other down, even though their hatred for each other is beautifully sugar coated.

The most important target in most soaps are the in-laws. Marriage is not only a bond between two individuals it is a new set of relationships between two families. This relationship is supposed to be based on mutual love, understanding and respect for each other, with every one realising the others` rights and working together towards a peaceful and loving family. The love for in-laws is not in the blood, as that for biological bonds; it has to be nurtured step by step, day by day after making many compromises and sacrifices.

On the contrary, most TV plays are teaching women to hate instead of love, to doubt instead of to trust, to avenge instead of to forgive and to humiliate instead of to respect. Women are portrayed not as home makers but as home breakers, all out to destroy the peace, tranquillity and happiness from a happy family life.

In the normal life, do we find women as cunning and ill meaning to each other as depicted in these plays? I don`t claim that relationship with in-laws is all bliss but the question is, “Is anyone perfect in this world?” We have to be perfect ourselves before expecting or demanding perfection from others.

The viewers of soap operas, especially young girls, are so taken by the charm and glamour of the characters that they lose the capability of distinguishing facts from fiction and have no idea what subtle change is undergoing in their approach towards family life. These hate-mongers on the idiot box are teaching us to hate, distrust and humiliate the people who should be the most near and dear to our hearts. Shouldn`t all of us stand up against this slow poison to the roots of our being before it is too late?

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!

 

 

 

Ammi Ki yaad mein (Urdu)

Aside

اے ماں ترا خاموش سی ہستی میرے لئے
کسی نعمت کسی دولت سے نئیں تھی کم
ترے سیے سے جو اٹھتی ممتا کی مہک
دل کے زخموں ک وہ مرحم سے نہیں تھی کم

کیا ہوا خاموش اگر تو رہتی تھی
مرے دکھوں کا تھا بوجھ ترے دل بہ
تو سمجھتی تھی مری زیست ہے کتنی مشکل
درد مرا تو سہتی تھی ابنے دل بہ

مرے ہر دکھ کو تو یوں محسوس کیاکتی تھی
دور ہو کے بھی تو دور نہیں تھی مجھ سے
بے زبانی کی زباں میری سمجھتی تھی تو یوں
جانتی تھی تو وہ جو کبھی میں نے کہا نہ تجھ سے

دوریاں تجھ اور مجھ میں بہت تھیں لیکن 
مظترب میں تھی یہاں تو تو بےچین وہاں
ٹھےس لگتی تھی ادھر ٹیس اٹھتی تھی ادھر
زخم لگتا تھا یہاں درد ہوتا تھا وہاں

میں نے سوچا تھا تو جب بھی ملئگی مجھ کو 
ہوئے جو مجھ پہ ستم یہ میں بتاونگی تجھے
ترے ممت بھرے سینے مےں چھپا کہ چہرہ
خوب رؤنگی میں اور خوب رلاؤنگی تجھے

اپنے نرم سے ہاتھوں سے تو پوچھےگی مرے اںسو
یوں بڑے پیار سے دیگی تو تسلی مجھ کو 
نہ رو بیٹی میری ابھی تو میں زندہ ہوں
اپنے ممتا بھرے اںچل میں سمو لیگی مجھ کو 

لیکن ایسا نہ ہوا تو بھی مجھے چھوڑ گئ
دھوپ عم کی ہے کڑی اور ترا سایہ بھی نہیں
ترے جانے سےزخم مرے یوں چیخ اٹھے 
ان دکھن جو کرے کم کوئ مرحم ہی نہیں

غم کی راہوں میں کو ئ اور سہارا تو نہ تھا
تجھ سے ملنے کی امید ہی کافی تھی مجھے
زیست پہلے بھی مجھ کو کوئ اسان نہ تھی
ترے جانے سے یہ مشکل اور بھی مشکل ہے مجھے

میرے اشکوں کو ہے حاجت ترے دامن کی
دل کے زخموں کو ے ممتا کے مرحم کی طلب
یوںمصیبت میں تنہا مجھے کیوں چھوڑ گئ
کچھ تو بتلا مجھے یوں موںھ پھیر کے جانے کاسبب 

درد سہہ کر مجھے ہنسنا تھاسکھایا تو نے
ہر قدم پرمیری ہممت کو بڑھایا تو نے
سر اٹھا کے مجھے جینا تھا سکھایا تو نے
بن تیرے کیسے جیوں یہ نہ بتایا تو نے

 

THE FINAL GOODBYE!

 

                    Nearly two decades have past since that eventful day; but even today I can vividly recall the minutest details! I was coming back home (to Karachi from Dhaka) and she had come to the airport to bid me farewell. Those moments are firmly imprinted in my memory, her beautiful face looking drawn and exhausted; and her lips moving silently, as if in an intense prayer. After embracing her one last time, I tore myself away from her, and trying to hide my tears, turned to enter the departure lounge. I remember looking back over my shoulders after every few steps, just to catch one last glimpse of her. Just the knowledge that she was there and praying for me, was in itself a great solace!

                When I was married in 1970, it was just that I had migrated from one part of Pakistan to another, i.e. from Dhaka (East Pakistan) to Karachi (West Pakistan). But as destiny would have it, only after a year, Bangladesh was created and I found myself a foreigner in the city I was born in, had spent my childhood days and my school and college life; the city which I loved dearly.

                  With the passage of time, requirements of passport and visa, the ever rising cost of traveling with a growing family and my commitment to my children’s education, made my visits to my parents further and further years apart.

               On that particular occasion, I had gone to Dhaka to visit my ailing father and due to some personal circumstances my visit was a very tumultuous one. And the last night of my stay was particularly heart breaking! I could take the tension no more and broke down in sobs in my mother’s arms. My marriage was on the rocks and I could easily read the writing on the wall. And Ammi, (to whom physical touch simply did not come easily), just held me gently and lovingly murmured soothing words in my ears. And inspite of the heartbreak and the fear of the unknown, my taut nerves calmed down for a while and I dozed off in her loving arms.

            With a heavy heart, I boarded the aircraft trying to keep the thrill of her touch alive! Since my childhood days, it had always been a precious and cherishable moment, whenever Ammi hugged me tightly to her bosom or kissed me lovingly.

            It was not that she did not love me or my siblings! Ammi was a very caring mother in every way, but she was just different from others in every thing, trivial or important. If we go by the institutional standards, she was not educated, but her insatiable thirst for reading, gave her the vision and knowledge most woman of her generation lacked. A staunch Muslim she taught her children to have a firm faith in Allah! A fierce patriot, she had instilled in us a deep love for Pakistan, a love which keeps me restless to this day!

          Popular equally among her family and in-laws, Ammi’s wise and practical advice was sought and respected by all the people around her. She was a perfect home- maker as well as a very social person, juggling her time between her children, home and her social commitments.

           A few weeks after my return, the inevitable happened. My marriage, which had been shaky for years, ended in a divorce. Though I was shattered and heart broken, somehow that last night in Ammi’s arms helped me face this harsh stage of life bravely. I took my grief with pride, my head held high, refusing to give in to self pity (or allowing anyone else to pity me!). I must acknowledge that my children and family gave me unquestioning support which made that stage of life bearable. 

              After the initial pain had died down, I resolved to start my life all over again. Thinking that the worst was over, I started picking bits and pieces of my broken life. Though outwardly I tried to appear calm, I was just waiting for Ammi to come to Karachi. I could show my raw emotions and my anguish only to my mother, shed my tears hiding in her loving bosom!

          And then the tsunami came crashing down upon me!

          The innocent sounding ring of the phone bell on that eventful morning on the second day of Eid, brought devastating news from Dhaka. Ammi, who had talked to me only the day before, had consoled me with the news that she was coming to Karachi the following week, had past away peacefully in her sleep! All her life she had loved to be different, and in death too, she had chosen to stand apart from others. No serious illness, no doctors, no rushing to the hospital! No, she would have none of these! She had gone to bed as usual (the Eid Day) and just refused to get up in the morning.

               And never in my life had I needed her more! All the tears that remained to be shed, the anguish that remained to be expressed, just died down deep inside me.

            Memories of that day are like a hazy nightmare! Friends and relatives were surrounding me, offering their condolences but I just sat there wordless, numb with pain and trying to fathom the cruel reality. A dull throbbing pain kept tearing my heart to pieces, my eyes burning, but the tears just refusing to come!

            How can you let go of someone so dear to your heart… let go without even saying goodbye? When you live abroad away from people who are an integral part of your life, how can you even say whether you will ever see those beloved faces again? For months, I was overwhelmed with grief, as memories of that last night in her arms tugged at my heart and kept me awake and restless at nights. Ah! Only had I known that it was the final goodbye, I would have clung closer to her that night and not wasted even one of those precious moments in sleep!

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!