Fare Thee Well


     WEDNESDAY, 14th OCTOBER, 2009

I could not believe I was sitting in cabin seat 29 of Qatar Airlines, going to Pakistan with Mum.  Ten days ago,it wasn't in my wildest dreams that I would be travelling so suddenly.  

     Actually, we were at the Pangani Mosque  for a friend's bereavement prayers when Mum said she really wanted to visit her relatives in Sialkot.  Her youngest sister, Hafeez, had passed away two months ago and she was devastated. Mum wanted to go in October as the weather would be fine but  my brother, a very busy E.N.T. specialist, found it impossible to leave his clinic at that time. Baji, my eldest sister, suggested that I should accompany Mum as I had Mid term holidays in my school around the middle of October. My brother even rang me and I told him frankly that I could not afford the trip. He insisted that he would arrange everything so that I could go with her as soon as possible.

     It was like a miracle happening.  I gave my passport to Mum that Sunday. On Monday I had the photos taken and on Wednesday, we had got the visas.  Of course the  whole family did their level best to get the official things done so fast.

     Meanwhile, at my workplace, a secondary school in Nairobi, we had been having Inspections for the last few days. I was so busy looking into the good running of my Science Department of which I was the Head. I also had to organise activities for my Environment and Social Awareness Club, the P.S.E. program and prepare for my Biology 'O' and 'A' lessons. The inspector,Mr Terry did come and watch my Grade 12 class. All went well as we were discussing the Food Test practical that we had just done.

     I had to give my application for leave so that Mum and I could start the trip on Wednesday afternoon. My daughter,  who was working as a school Counsellor,  had some time off so she assisted me with the shopping. My son,  who had finished a semester at A.U.S.I. had holidays too.  They were both so sweet to assure me that they would manage well without me for a change. My dear husband also had no objection of me going with Mum, although he was concerned about my health as I was on medication for a cardiac problem that I had some time back. But I felt this was God's wish for me to take care of my ailing mother whose wish was to see her relatives may be for the last time.

     My brother had given me all the instructions for Mum's medicines that had to be administered every few hours with utmost care. She was suffering from joint pains, was on the wheel-chair and had become very weak  and fragile - a contrast to her earlier bubbly and active personality.   Now she was resting on the seat.  Luckily we were two on the three seat space so she could lie down. It pained me to see her look so small and withered. The hostess was about to serve us with some food. Our seats were near the kitchen and the 'loo'. Good for Mum, I thought, as she had to go often and she needed assistance to walk.

     That morning I had gone to school, attended to my lessons till break and came home at 10.30a.m. after saying good-bye to my friends.  My husband had come home last night from Kitui where he was stationed at the moment by his Construction company. After a snack, I got ready. The bags were packed last night. In the weekend I had had a scar removed by my younger sister, who is a dermatologist. The small bruise near my left eye was still there but what could I do about it - there were more important things to be done!

     From Nairobi, we were going to Doha- in transit for 2 hours, then to Lahore by 4.30 a.m. Uncle Isaac was supposed to receive us. The intention was to stay with him for a couple of days in Sialkot, then some days with Dolly, Aunty Hafeez's daughter and then with Aunty Rashida and Khurshid. We hoped to travel back to Nairobi on Sunday 25th October. So it was going to be a hectic trip of 10 days!

     The air hostesses were kind and pretty. Lunch was served - chicken,veges,pudding and cheese. We ate little especially mum who had lost her appetite of late. The plane was packed. I helped mum lie somehow with her feet on my laps. How times had turned around! Long ago she used to pat us to sleep, then our children and now she was like a babe herself. She was suffering a lot of aches and pain in her body, could hardly walk without a stick but she tried to keep her spirits high although a bit of dementia was also there.  She slept for an hour as I watched her.  On the seat screen, I could see our plane flying over Saudia. I prayed that God fulfills all our pur wishes and gives our children and families happiness and peace of mind.

     By now it was dark outside as it was 6.30p.m. People were lining up at the washroom. In 45 minutes we would be in Doha.  At 7,45pm, we landed at Doha. We were the last ones to disembark as Mum had to be on the wheel-chair. The temperature was 34 oC and the heat hit our faces as we were taken by a small bus to the waiting lounge. A young boy, Sameer who reminded me of my son, was our attendant who assisted us.  We waited for an hour while our passports were processed and then again we embarked for the Lahore flight.  The plane was extremely big this time and full to capacity mostly with Asians. Our seats were 14 G and J. We sat together and waited for dinner so that Mum could have then have her medication. Thanks to God we were now in the second leg of our journey. I hoped and prayed that that all the family members were fine and  thanked God for the happy little world that He had blessed me with.

     Dinner was served soon.  It was good - chicken biryiani, pickles, parotha, pudding, tea etc. I gave mum her medication and took mine.  The plane was really crowded and noisy - people were watching Indian movies, kids howling and constant cluttering of crockery!  

     It was mid-night now -Thursday, 15th October,2009.  Mum was asleep but I couldn't. I kept thinking of the times we children were small and our parents used to struggle against all odds for our betterment.  Dad, a Chief Accountant, wanted all hi children regardless of being girls or boys, to be highly educated.  He persevered and all his children were able to go to university.  Three became doctors and two were high school teachers. Mum sacrificed by being frugal, refused to keep a house help and toiled tirelessly so that her family came back in the evening to a sparkling clean home and wonderfully tasty meals.

  She was so active, full of life, social, loved to embroider, knit,crochet and stitch.  She liked to sing at all our happy occasions and had a fantastic sense of humour. When all her children were married she helped to look after all the grand children - bathing them, baby sitting and feeding them with her finger-licking dishes. As time passed by, everybody became engrossed in their own lives, the visits became less frequent but still she cared for us. She was ever supportive and ready with lots of advice for the ups and downs of our lives.

  Dad suddenly passed on in 2002 and it was then that mum started going downhill.  She was devastated to lose her loving, life long companion with whom she had spent almost 60 years. She felt lonely, depressed and incomplete. Although we children all visited her as often as we could and tried to console her by spending time with her but she started being ill more and more. Her bod pains increased, she became forgetful - that spark started waning.

  I looked at her. She seemed to have shrunk. My heart went out to her. She 

appeared peaceful in her sleep. I, too, tried to settle for a nap but the announcement blared that we were about to land in Lahore. The flight was so smooth and before we new we had touched the ground of our beloved Pakistan. It was 4 a.m. local time.  

  We had to wait for the wheel chair so we were the last ones again. I helped Mum to the toilet, two attendants assisted us to clear with the immigration and get our luggage.  I pushed mum's wheel chair as we came out of the Airport. There was Uncle Isaac and his son waiting for us. I remembered Dad as I saw uncle now after almost 20 years.  His hair was all white but he looked smart and his eyes brimmed with tears as he  helped Mum into the car. He was shocked to see his sister in law looking so fragile and helpless. He hugged me with all his blessings. I had to get some local currency from the airport exchange to pay the porters and then we were on the road for Gotpur, Sialkot.

  It was over whelming.  I just couldn't beleive I was breathing in Lahore where I had stayed  in Kinnaird College for almost 3 years , doing my B.Sc. in 1975. The weather was warm. The drive was quite fast with police checks on the way.  It was still dark. We saw the new moon smiling away.  The town was alight and some shops were already open.  The sun was trying to peep out too.

  We reached Uncle's house in Gotpur at 5a.m.  His daughter in law, Ifra and daughter Zakia welcomed us. We had tea, talked, exchanged news about the family, laughed and wept together. Mum and he had a lot to talk about - the times when Mum was married in Pakistan and used to look after her brothers in law and then Dad's death.  Uncle Isaac's grand children were so sweet.  The little girl, Laiba, became my friend. She was about 5 yeas old and very beautiful.

  My cousins Zahida, Tahera, Gugni and Zeeshan came over to see us.  It was an emotional meeting   as we all remembered Aunt Hafiz, Uncle Akbar, cousin Rashid, Dad  and others who has left this world recently. Zahida wanted us to go with them to Ugoki but we thought it was better to stay the night here, get a bit orientated and then go with them the next day. I had not slept a wink since we started the journey so was feeling a bit 'gizzy'! But we had a long day ahead.

   I had to keep checking on Mum as she was not feeling so good. She had to go to the loo quite often and this posed a problem as the eastern style toilet was too low for her. I assisted her every minute but her discomfort was obvious in her moans and groans.

  We had lunch and tea after which I gave mum her medicine. We tried to rest a little. It was hot. Because of the 'load-shedding' there was no electricity for hours so we had to do without fans. I pitied the women of the house who were trying to get all their cooking and chores done before it became dark. In candle light they served us dinnerof rice, meat, chicken and chips.

  I helped Mum to wash up, organised our bags and money as we wanted to give our hosts the presents that we had brought for them. My brother rang from Nairobi and we talked to him for long. I told him to ring my husband  and tell him that we were fine and that I would get my own ' sim' the next day and ring them from my mobile. 

  The next day was Friday, 16th October, 2009.  I woke to the multitude Azaan calls, got ready fast so that I could help Mum wash up.  It turned out to be quite a hassle as we had to use two light rope woven beds to convert a space in the compound for a make shift bathroom, as Mum just could not climb up the steep stairs to the toilet.   After helping her to bathe and wear her clothes I took her to the sitting room for breakfast.  Chacha had arranged for Phoopho's driver to come and take us to her house. We gave the presents that we had brought for Chacha's family.

  The car came and we went to Phopho Rukia's house. They had jus shifted house so they were a bit disorganised.  Nevertheless, after a heart wrenching

hugging and crying, they all talked about the times when Mum was newly married and they all lived together in Suragpur. Lunch was simple but delcious daal chawal and chicken.  Laiba had a gala time eating 'botis' and chocolate only!  Before we left Mum had to visit the loo. It was a western comode type so it was less of a problem.  Of course I had to guard her and see that she did not slip and fall.

  After the short and memorable meeting, we gave them all some presents and were dropped back at Chacha,s house where our cousins from Marakiwaal had come - Salma, Shama, Saika, their husbands and children.  I was seeing them after 20 years. They all seemed to have put on a lot of weight and reponsibilities of the families seemed to be taking toll on them.

We all had tea together. Tea in Pakistan has a typical taste- it not like the Kenyan tea. Maybe because they add a lot f milk and boil it for very long.

  At 6p.m Zahida came to collect us and take us to Mamu Jushi's house.Abbas, her husband had brought his company car. Khalla Rashida was also with them. After saying goodbye to Chacha's sweet family, we were crammed into the rather small car.  Mum and I sat at the back with Khalla Shidan and Zahida in front with Abbas who was driving. Some of our luggage was even on our laps.  Another emotional scene had just taken place when Mum had met her sister who was also my mother in law. I remembered the time when I was studying in Lahore, we used to meet every holidays in Sialkot. Then after my marriage I had come from Nairobi to stay with them  in Pakistan.

  It was almost dark now. The traffic was bad with cars, lorries, carts, motor bikes and rickshaws hooting away and zooming along at break neck speed. 

After 45 minutes of a memorable ride, we were in Ugoki, at Mamu Jushi,s house. We all had to help Mum - almost carry her up the two flights of very high stairs. Dolly, Khalla Fijan's daughter, cried a lot for her Mother's death.  Gugni and Zeeshan, her sons and husband Mamu Jushi could not help being as emotional.

  I felt really nostalgic and remembered the time when we were very samll and had come to Pakistan with Mum,  Mamu Jushi used to bring "barfi" for Bide ad me. I still remember that typical taste of that barfi. I joked with Mamu Jushii that he had to get for me that barfi to take back for Bide. He    

was as sweet as ever, so soft spoken, patient and loving.  

  The girls had made dinner that we we all had together.  Mum was so happy with her sister and nephews and nieces. She glowed as she joked with them and I could feel her old spark coming back.  They prepared our beds and at last we 

slept after a hectic day.

  The next day was Saturday,17th October, 2009.  At 5.30 a.m. I woke up to the Azaan calls which were being recited from about 10 different mosques.  I wondered why they could not agree on just one. Mum and I said our prayers and sorted out the presents that we had to give every body. I got ready, assisted Mum to have her breakfast and then with Zeeshan in a rickshaw, went to get a sim card for my mobile and converted the currency at a Forex bureau. The last time I had seen Zeeshan, he was a little boy. Now he was a young, charming man 

trying to get a job and visas for the Middle East.  He told me me he admired me

for my personality and the fact that I was covering my head with the 'dupatta'

although I have stayed in Kenya whole of my life.  I told him that where ever you live, one should not forget the culture and ethics instilled into you by the good up-bringing and values your family.   

  When we returned, Khalla Minni, her son Goga, his wife, Huma and children, Ali and Shifa had come to see us.  We had lunch together in a most noisy but jovial atmosphere. At 6 p.m. they went off. We distributed presents to every body. Mum had something for each person. She was giving away some of her own gold trinkets as her remembrance. She kept on saying that this was her last trip and we all felt dpressed and didn't sleep till 3a.m 

   The next day was Sunday, 18th October, 2009. We were ready by 10.30a,m. I wore red as I was to go to my in laws house after twenty years.  I send messages to the family in Nairobi. They were worried about Mum but I assured them I was giving her the medicaion aon time and she was in good spirits. The weather was warm and pleasant.  

   Mamu Jushi brought roasted 'chanay' for us all and showed us his wedding photo with Khalla Hafiz.  He had got it in colour now.  He cried for his wifewhom he had loved truly all his life.  Most of the time he had been in Muscat to fend for his family here.  Now he had retired and come back. Khalla Hafiz had died after a short illness and now he was left alone to look after the children who were still struggling to settle in life. 

    Dolly and Tahera had prepared 'pindi-ghoast' which we really enjoyed for lunch.  At about 6p.m Abbas came to pick us and take us to Khalla Shidan's house.  For Mum the flight of stairs became a night mare as she had to be literally carried in the chair by the men. She was uncomfortable but the sweating men saw her safely put into the car.  As we went on the roads of Sialkot I remembered the time I had spent here, first when studying and then after my marriage. The traffic was like before but the populations had certainly increased.  Of course I was not going to the old house in College Road as they now lived in Model Town.

   It was almost dusk by the time we reached the house.  Everybody came out to greet us. Mum was almost carried inside, to the sitting room. They all were so excited and Mum enjoyed every minute of their pampering, care and love beimg showered on her. Amidst hugs, kisses and tears of joy, we met Bhai Chapa{my husband's elder brother}, his wife Noreen whom I saw for the first time, their children Moeza, Asheer, Yaseer and Sadia. Zahida's daughters, Niza  and Aneesa were also there. Nanna {my husband's youngest brother} and his wife came later on. The electricity went on going and coming due to the real pain for all - the ever lasting load shedding.  It was also quite warm as the fans were not working. We were served with cold sodas and then dinner after which we all helped Mum up the stairs to the bed room. Mum was apprehensive about the toilet but when we saw it was the western type, that was the deciding point for us to spend the rest of the days of our visit in this place. The room was large with a double bed that Mum and I shared. There was another bed on the side where Zahida slept.  It was 1 a.m by the time everyone went to  bed. Being emotionally drained, I couldn't sleep well at all.

  On Monday, 18th October,2009, I got up earlier than the others, bathed, got dressed and helped Mum to get ready.  After breakfast, Zahida took me to the bazaar in a rickshaw.  It was a rickety ride which reminded me of the times when Baji, Hanna, Shaista and I used to squeeze into a rickshaw like sardines on our  shopping trips from Kinnaird College, long, long ago.

  We had time only to go to a few shops as I had to be back with Mum to give her the mid day medicines. I could not trust anybody else to do it.  We managed to buy some 'jodras',, gave dupatta for dyeing and saw some jewellery.  When we came back, the house was full of visitors. Khalla Minnie's family, her daughter Deeba with her children and Dolly with her Dad. Lunch was at 4 p.m. It was Noreen who prepared everything, She was such a hard working, quiet woman who hardly made her presence felt.

Mum and I distributed all the presents we had brought for every body. The atmosphere became more and more nostalgic as they all sang old songs and remembered old times spent together.  I took some photos and even recorded their voices as Mum also joined them.   Mum and her sisters used to sing like nightingales in their youth and enjoyed it even now. Mum sang her best song 'sawan ke baadlo' and the party continued till late.  I just couldn't sleep till 3.a.m and had to get up early as we were visiting my grand mother's house in Bijli Ghar where Khalla Minnie and her family lived. 

  It was Tuesday, 19th October, 2009.  Quite early Idrees and Fijan, my Taya's children came to meet us.  They seemed to have grown old with responsibilities of their own families.  In their short, emotional meeing we all remembeed Dad and ll the other relatives who had died recently. At 11 a.m Abbas came with a car to take us to Bijli Ghar. Goga brought a taxi so that every body could go there together. 

  Khallu Mamu, Khalla Minnie's husband had also come from Doha. He looked old, had a hear problem but was still struggling there to make ends meet. I could never forget this unassuming, sincere man who had so many times accompanied Baji and me on trips to Sialkot from Lahore when we were studying there in 1975. He used to be a fantastic cook. I still remembered the 'pidis' and 'kerelas' that he used to make. They had had a love marriage and it was evident the love had not waned after all these years.

  Today, their daughters in law had prepared the food - fish, rice, arvi - and it was great.  My cousin Salma and her son Usman also joined us.  Usman wanted me to help him migrate to Kenya.  I told him to fill forms for a passport and try for a visas and I would assist in any way that I could. Mum was enjoying talking about past history with everybody. She had to be assisted to the toilet and the trip became quite a mission!  She would have loved to go up to the 'kotha' and see all of her late father's house that he had built here while working in the Railways in East Africa in the middle of the last century. There was no way she could go up the steep stairs.  I did go up as I too had memories of this house.  The walls seemed to be depilitating but Goga and all had renovated the rooms and put up partitions to accomodate their growing families.

   My sweet daughter's mesage brought me back to earth. I was really missing them all and was already waiting to go back to Nairobi.

    The electricity went off again. Deeba's husband who had come for a visit from Bristol, u.k., brought take aways for dinner. They had been married almost ten years but he had not managed to call his family to England so that they could live together.  Deeba and her daughters stayed in Sialkot with the in-laws. Deeba was just one example of many women in Pakistan who under go similar situations.

 Some time later, we went back to Khalla Shidan's house.  Nanna and his wife, Zainab, had come so we gave them the presents we had kept for them. I was shocked when infront of everybody she made a scene that her presents were not as good as other's.  I was told this was her habit and I shouldn't bother. Any way they lived in a separate place nearby and hardly visited here. It was mid night by the time we went to bed and I had to take a pill to get some sleep.     

   On Wednesday, 20th October [Kenyatta day public holiday in Kenya], we woke up to a hot day in Sialkot. After helping Mum wash and change, I went with Zahida to the shops to get the few things that I had to buy for everybody in Nairobi.  Zahida wanted to take me to go site seeing with her daughters but I refused as I was worried about leaving Mum alone for too long - she was my responsibility, the purpose of the trip was for her to meet all her relatives whom she loved so much- I just didn't feel like enjoying the malls or the gardens without her.  More relatives had come to see Mum as they knew we were going back in a couple of days. Fida, Bhai Rashid's widow and her children also came to meet us. 

  On Thursday, 21st October, 2009, Zeeshan accompanied me to re-confirm our return flights as I was feeling a bit confused about the dates. Then on Mum's insisting, we all went to Bijli Muhhalah as she wanted to pay her respects to her parents in the Qabiristan. The van that we had hired was difficult to climb in and out of it so Mum stayed in it as we all prayed for all the dear ones that had left us for their final abode.  Mum was now really emotional, she just wouldn't stop crying. She developed a runny stomach, and I got really worried. I had to collect a few things from the shops and then we spent the day at Bijli Ghar.  Some more relatives had come to say goodbye as we were leaving the next day. The emotional hugs and tears wee not helping Mum as she started feeling really weak. She again started saying that this was the last time she was seeing her beloved sisters and other relatives.

   We had to go back to Khalla Shidan's house. I did some packing and after dinner we all watched  an Indian play on T,V.. Again it was quite late by the time we slept and Mum was feeling really sad that we would be starting our journey back the next day.

  I was up at 5 a,m . before any body else. After my prayers, I organised our suitcases and the cricket kit bag which was for my brother.  Zeeshan helped me and finally I locked up but the baggage seemed over weight. I removed some extra clothes and gave them to Moeeza. I changed into my maroon Kashmiri feron and then assisted Mum to get ready and have breakfast. Chacha Ishaq and his son Yasser came to say good bye. Khalla Minni and her family also arrived soon. Mum couldn't stop crying but I tried to keep in control as we had a long day ahead. Mum was weak and I had to muster all my strength to take her back safe and sound.   

  To elate her spirits, we all sat together and sang her favourite songs.  Ashhar sang a beautiful 'naat'.  Lunch was served.  The hired van arrived and the luggage was kept in it.  Mum had to be assisted down the stairs by all the boys. I really got stressed  and sweated from head to toe as Mum seemed to have lost all her energy.  I prayed in my heart for her. The final hugs and kisses were emotional especially when saying good bye to Khalla Shdan.  

  We made Mum sit in front so that she would be comfortable and not squashed at the back where Zeeshan, Nanna and Ashaar were sitting with me. It was 3.45p.m. by the time we finally set off for Lahore.  I had contacted Tahera, a relative, and we were going to her house for some hours.  By 6.30p.m we were on the roads of Lahore. I was so nostalgic and remembered he times I was studying in Kinnaird College here back in 1973. The traffic was more than before but the roads seemed wider and cleaner.

  The driver had a problem finding the area Defence C C but finally at 7.30p.m. we reached Tahera's house which was large, beautiful and fully air conditioned. Tahera, her son Arsalan and daughter, Rushna welcomed us and were ever so sweet.  After dinner, Zeeshan and all left to go back to Sialkot. We sat together  and talked about the times we were all together in Nairobi. Tahera had done her Medicine in Nairobi, married in Pakistan, lived for some years in Canada and now had returned to Lahore so that her children could study here. Her husband was also a Doctor in Jalalpur.

  It was mid night. We tried to rest a bit in a very comfortable room that Tahera had set for us. At 1.30 a.m. I helped Mum to get up and have her medication for the persistent cough that she was having since the past two days.  We said good bye to Tahera and by 2.00 a.m. we were driven to the Lahore Airport which was quite near. As it was night there was no traffic and only few people around.

  A porter helped me to get Mum into the wheel chair; we passed through the immigration and several security checks smoothly but had to pay for the extra baggage.  A young security lady, Sabeen, assisted me to book a cabin wheel chair as Mum was weaker than before. She was so sweet and polite to us. I told her she reminded me of my daughter.

  I got Mum into the lounge where we were to wait till 5 a.m.for our flight.  I walked around the duty shop to buy some perfumes but I was told they don't sell any for security reasons. I managed to get some souvenir key chains. I had to take Mum to the loo as usual a tough feat. When we were called to board the plane, an attendant helped Mum and immediately asked for a tip. I was so irritated but had to comply.  

  It was 5.30 a.m by the time we took off. The plane was packed completely.  Mum was feeling really weak and coughing so I had to give her some syrup that my brother had kept in her medicine bag. We had breakfast but were unable to sleep a wink. In less than 3 hours we reached Doha.

  As we were in transit, we were taken directly to the connecting Qatar flight without much delay. I was carrying Mum's hand luggage as well as mine so I had a hard time pulling it along.  We were given seats one behind the other this time but I managed to keep an eye on Mum as she was feeling too weak. I had got the privilege of being with my mother for the past ten days, sharing her feelings and thoughts.  I had not been with her like this since along time. I prayed hard to God to help her stay okay.  She was constantly coughing ad complained of loose motions, so I had to help her to the toilet twice. I tried to encourage and console her as she was also crying a lot. She was emotionally drained by the meeting of all the relatives and physically she seemed to have given up.

  We were served with a good breakfast. I had not slept throughout the journey as I was quite tense about Mum. I thanked God when the pilot announced that we had reached Nairobi. We touched the ground of our beloved Kenya around 12.30 pm.

  Because of the wheelchair we had to be the last ones to come out of the plane. An attendant helped us as we went through the immigration and customs. At last we came out to the welcoming group of almost the whole family. I was so relieved to see everybody and leaving Mum with her son, I went home with my husband to be with my beloved children, whom I had missed tremendously during the past few days.

  For the next two months Mum's activities became less and less. She wanted to go for her walks but couldn't because of the acute pains she was experiencing. In spite of umpteen tests and consultations with specialist doctors, she was sinking. Her sister Sakina and nephew Zulfiqar came from Stockton, U.K. to be with her.  Slowly she became bed ridden and arrangements were made for a home-care nurse. She was given drips, had to be cleaned and bathed on the bed and needed somebody to be with her all the time.  Her memory was also giving up. We all organised a rota system by which one of us children would be with her.  

  On the morning of 20th April, 2010, at about 10 a.m, I got a phone call from my brother to come to his house as soon as possible. Mum was going. I left my class, informed the secretary and drove like mad from my school, in Lavington to Mum's house, on Raphta Road.   I rushed up the stairs to her room where my brother and sisters were sitting around Mum who had passed on a few minutes ago. She had gone; she had said her final goodbye. 

  My brain went numb.I could not react. My friend, confidante, advisor, my sweet mother had gone. At first I could not bring myself to look at her still body, but I knew I had to see her so that her lovely, angelic face could be etched on my memory for ever.  She seemed to be asleep, serene; her forehead smoothed out, devoid of all stresses of this mortal world. I imagined she was smiling; she was at peace; all her pains had vanished. 

Mum, now it is more than two years since you left but I can feel your presence everywhere. Whenever I wear the dupattas you gave me with so much love, I can feel your fragrance in them. I cherish the memories of those exclusive ten days that I spent with you on your last trip to Pakistan.  You are with me all the time but I still miss you so much, Mum .

copyright shama butt 


Sunday,29th December, 2013

29th  December always brings some dramatic events with it. Almost 25 years ago this was the date of our brothers' wedding and now nobody wants to be reminded of it. It was the same date almost eleven years ago when Dad fell seriously ill with a silent heart attack and succumbed to death a few days later. Last year it was the same time when one of my nephews marriage brought with it so many problems that family ties were broken for ever.

Today on the same date, at 12 noon, I got a message from my brother that our Khalla Minni had passed away today in Sialkot, Pakistan. She had had a stroke about a month ago and had been seriously ill for the past few days. I felt really sad and passed on the news to Khara who was at work. I rang Goga, my cousin in Sialkot but couldn't get through. So I sent a message of condolence to my cousin Zahida to be passed on to the whole family.

So many memories rushed to my mind. Khalla Minni was the one who had chosen my name when I was born. She loved me a lot. She was younger than my Mum, so now she must have been nearly 80 years old.

When my parents migrated to Kenya, Khalla Minni and Hafeez were left in Sialkot with their Mum in Bijli Ghar, the house that their father had built before he had died. The two sisters from their tender age had to take the brunt of the difficulties they faced without a father and without a regular source of income.  They were sporadically helped by their siblings in Kenya who with time became so busy with their own families that they almost forgot the people left in Pakistan. It was their mother's gold jewellery that was slowly sold off to keep them surviving in their father's house. They both managed to study till Class 11 but going to college remained their dream.

The youngest sister, Hafiz, was married off to their cousin, Yusuf, who was an orphan with integrity and an upright character. Now they had a man in the house who took care of them and the ageing mother. It was so tough to live in a world full of wolves who want to pounce on helpless women, trying to survive in a male oriented society. But these were some brave women!

Soon Khalla Minni was also married to a young, honest, hard working man [Khalu Mamu] who had also lost his parents long ago. He too started living in Bijli Ghar with his wife and children. My grandmother was getting old now, still waiting for her son Shifu to come back to meet her but in vain.

I met them all in the id '70's when Baji and I had gone to study at Kinnaird College, Lahore. Khallu Mamu used to come to take us to Sialkot for the holidays when the hostel was closed for all students. He was the most humble, sincere and simple person that I had ever met. He loved Khalla Minni the way Ranjha loved Heer and he was struggling to make ends meet. They now had three children, two boys, Nanna, Goga and a sweet girl, Deeba.

When I saw Khalla Minni for the first time, I was struck by her traditional beauty. She was a romantic pe rson with large beautiful eyes, thick, straight jet black hair, thin lips, a high, slightly upturned nose and a wheaty, golden complexion. She reminded me of some film actress. She was a smart lady; she could charm you with her well chosen words and the touching songs she sng in her lovely melodious voice. One of her favourite songs was ' Ishaqay di hoook suun key, koi uttar pahardhon ayya; saada dil lein walia, sanoo teray ishaq nachaya..'

We, our cousins and all our aunties used to sit in the 'beitak' of Bijli Ghar and have sessions of fun singing and telling jokes. Khalla Minni used to cook 'gongloos' in her special style and we used to love them. Khallu Mamu also used to lend a hand and cook 'pindis' or 'karelas' which tasted just scrumptious with 'tandoori rotis' which were often brought by Nanna and Goga from the 'tandoor', a community oven, down the 'gully'.

Our grand mother who had become quite fragile and forgetful; sometimes she would recognise people but mostly she acted like a stranger. She loved and wore the 'balian' we gave her. She always kept some 'gur' in the pocket of her long shirt and walked around in her own world. Sometimes she would go out in the street outside the house and call for her 'Shifu', her only son, whom she had not forgotten even in her almost senile state. Khalla Minni and Khallu Mamu were the ones on whom her responsibility had been pushed. Lack of money led to no medication and improper care of the ageing lady. Our hearts cried for her but we were also helpless. Whenever we met her, we would spend time with her, soothe her, comb her hair and be kind to her. Her condition deteriorated by the day and some times we felt the family was tired of her. This happens so often - the parents give their energy, love and wealth to their children but in their old age they are considered a burden. While we were still studying in Lahore, our grand mother, Hussein Bibi, Africa-wali, passed away, ending her agony but not her waiting for her son, Shifu.  

Khalla Minni and her family continued living in 'Bijli Ghar'.

After my marriage in Nairobi, Khara wanted to set up a business in Sialkot so I, too had to go there. Plans changed and Khara went to work in Quwait, while I stayed for a year in Sialkot with my in-laws, Khalla Shidan and all. I got a job as a teacher at St Mary's Secondary School.

Family get togethers were few as every one was struggling with their own problems. Khallu Mamu went off to Qatar and even Mamu Yusuf had gone to Muscat, where they had got some menial jobs. Khalla Hafiz with her three children had also come to stay with Khalla Minni in the Bijli Ghar house. She occupied the up stairs portion while Khalla Minni had the lower part of the house.

Khalla Minni often used to complain of a pain in her chest and would wear 2 or 3 sweaters during the winter. I always felt she should have been a queen, but she was having a really tough life. Her courage, perseverance and her husband's unending devotion  and love were leading her along.

The next time I met her was in 1988 when we all went to Pakistan from Nairobi for my brother's wedding. We couldn't stay long in Sialkot as we all had jobs to go back to. Our Khallas  were looking old now but the fighting spirit and hope for a better life was still shining in their eyes. Their children were grown up now and they too were struggling to survive. I suppose we have to go through our share of up and downs in life as nobody can really help! Its your own positivity and faith that assists you to overcome the difficulties of life.

Then, after 20 years, I met them all  again when I accompanied my ailing mother to visit her relatives in Sialkot in 2009.

Khalla Minni was still living in Bijli Ghar with her two sons who were both married and had their own children, now. Her daughter was also married and stayed with her in-laws while her husband worked in London. Khallu Mamu was in Qatar, still working, although he was weak and ailing from a heart condition. Khalla Minni had really weakened and looked very frail. Her grand children were her source of joy and happiness. She was still the 

romantic woman of yester years. Her sons respected her, looked after after her well and the daughters-in-law were at her beck and call.

After the short visit, when I hugged her good-bye she cried and prayed for me. Little did I know that this was the last time I would ever see her. She gave me a royal blue suit which I still cherish.

Back in Nairobi, I did not have direct contact with her but I came to know that she was going for 'umra' and this year she had gone to England to see her eldest sister in Stockton and her nieces in London. I was so happy for her - at least she had come out of the city Sialkot and seen a bit of the world outside.

Recently my brother told me that she had had a fall and a stroke. She was in and out of hospital and slowly had gone into a 'coma'. She finally succumbed to a peaceful death on 29th December, 2013.

I talked to her son Goga on the phone and he said they had buried her the same day in the afternoon. His father had not managed to come on time because of some permit problem in Qatar. He must have been feeling awful as he loved his wife immensely and they had gone through very difficult times together. Even in her 'coma', she must have been waiting for him -'Kaga, tu chun chun khayu maas; do akhian naa khayu, inhey pia milan ki aas.....'

May Khalla Minni rest in peace in Heaven with her parents, her brother and sisters who had gone there long before her........    

copyright shama butt



It is exactly 12 years since Dad passed on but it doesn't seem he's gone. I feel he is here, near me, every where. It is unbelievable the way everything happened so suddenly, unexpectantly. He was perfectly fine.

He had come to our house on our 25th Wedding Anniversary, 6th November, 2001, and given us so many blessings. We all had dinner together - he always appreciated and enjoyed good food.

Then on Monday, 17th December, it was Eid ul Fitr and we  all met at my brother's house for dinner. My younger sisters were there with their families. Khara had also come from Mombasa where he was stationed for his work for some months. Some close friends had also come. My brother played the 'harmonium' and we all had a great time singing our favourite oldies. The children were also taking photos and videos. Dad looked a bit sad as his eldest 'beta' was not present in the fun and celebration. Since almost five years there had been problems with Baji's family and she never visited any of us. Dad never discussed the issue but we all knew how much he was suffering in silence.

On Saturday, 29th December, 2001, was Reema and my brother's 13th Wedding Anniversary. Mum made a special lunch for them and at night we went for dinner at Jaffery's Restaurant in Lavington. I was sitting next to Dad and Mum who were happily enjoying the chinese food - chicken wings, spring rolls, steak, crepe fish etc. Reema had brought the sweet dish-cake and 'rus-malai' from home. Dad had everything so nicely. In fact Mum teased him not to have so much 'rus-malai' as it would increase his sugar levels. He was on some medication. But he was in a very jovial mood and even offered the cake to some acquaintances sitting at the nearby table.

I rang Khara who had gone back to Mombasa and he wished Reema all the best. I was using my newly acquired mobile phone, which was a novelty and a rare possession at that time.

After dinner, we had 'kava'[herbal tea] and by the time we reached home it was 1 a.m.  The next day was Sunday so we just stayed at home.

On Monday, 31st December, 2001, when I rang Mum, she told me that Dad had been vomitting since yesterday and she was really panicking. They thought it was the food poisoning but nobody else was feeling ill.

That night was New Year's Eve. My sister and her family collected us at 9 p.m. and we all went to Village Market in their van. My brother's family also came there but Mum and Shifa stayed home with Dad.

There were thousands of people at the mall. A 'live' band was playing blaring music while people were talking and laughing at the top of their voices. We met Sabeeya's Mum, her Bhabi, Moti, Talat and some other friends. We sat in the food court and had extra long 'subs' and coffee. At  12 there were fantastic fire-works and we all wished each other. We were all so happy but some how I had a heavy heart. At night I had dreamt that there was a sort of commotion at Mum's house, with very many people collected there. I saw myself wailing and Bablo was coming down the slope from the gate of the compound. I felt scared to tell my dream to any body. Hardly did I know that exactly that was going yo happen soon.....

Everybody wanted to plan a picnic in the morning but I wanted to spend the day with Mum and Dad and I did...and so did every body else.....  

It was Tuesday,1st January, 2002. Early in the morning I made some soup and 'pilau' and took it to Mum's house - we could all eat together.

I greeted Dad in his room. He was feeling very 'low'. Mum and I helped him to sit on the chair. I gave him the soup that I had brought. He had hardly eaten anything sinceer two days as he was vomitting. Mum had given him her home made 'phaaki' to lick. Reema had brought the blood sugar level machine  from their neighbour, Parveen's house. When they checked Dad's sugar level it was '27'. My brother and Reema seemed to panic. Mum and I kept our cool. They rang Dr. Smita for advice.

Meanwhile we all sat for lunch. My son wanted to go back home to get the cables for his 'play-station'. I thought he was being upset and quite rude, so I told him to wait for me in the car that I had parked in the compound.

Just then, my sister and her family arrived, all set to go for a picnic at the Arboretum, a public park, near-by but when they saw Dad, my sister, a doctor herself, burst out crying. They decided to take him to the M.P.Shah Hospital immediately. They helped him go to the toilet and brought him to my car which was the nearest to the door. He had no energy to sit, so he lay on the back seat. Mum sat with him and gave him sips of water. My son was in the front seat while I drove to the hospital. The others were following in their cars.

At the hospital entrance, a wheel-chair was brought. Dad had to be carried onto it and taken to a private room. Dr. Smita was already there and they started the tests. My brother-in-law and brother, both doctors, went inside while my son, Mum and I waited outside. The tests went on for what seemed like hours. It was 2.30 p.m. now.

All the doctors were having a discussion about Dad's condition which seemed to be very serious. I had to go back to collect Reema, Shifa and their neighbour, Parveen, whose son,Amir, had got married just last week.  Amir used to play chess with Dad almost every week-end. After dropping them at the hospital, I went to pick my daughter from my sister's house and then went home.

At night when I rang Mum, she was crying alone at home. Dad had been taken to the Intensive Care Unit. He was very serious as he had suffered a silent heart attack. Leaving the children at home, I drove back to Mum to keep her company till the others returned from the hospital.

The next day was Wednesday, 2nd January, 2002. I went to Mum's house very early in the morning. She was busy cleaning Dad's room. I found her really depressed so I took her to see Dad in the hospital. He was in the ICU room, with various tubes and electronic gadgets showing his heart beat which seemed okay some times but too high or low at other times. His blood sugar level was being monitored with an insulin drip. It was hot, he had  a thin blue sheet on him. He seemed to be sleeping, so we didn't disturb him. 

Mum touched his hand - she felt it was puffed up. I touched his bare, fair shoulder and saw his face which also seemed to be swollen and not his usual pink and white colour.

I talked to the Doctor on duty. He said it was a serious case and Dad would not be allowed to be in the ward till Friday. He reassured us that Dad was going to be all right but I felt restless.

After taking Mum for some shopping, I dropped her at her house and went to my place to tend to my children and home.

On Thursday, 3rd January,2002, Dad seemed to be much better. He was talking and recognising every body. Even Baji who had been granted permission, came to see him.

I had brought Mum with me so we went into the ICU while my driver, Jeffry, who had just returned from his Christmas holiday, waited outside the room. He also wanted to see Dad whom he respected a lot.

I held Dad's hand - it was cold but the swelling was less. He commented that my hands were very warm. I remembered the times I used to help him clip his nails and admire his soft, perfect hands and feet. I told him that he was going to be okay and had to see his grandson Taseer, getting his medical degree. He just smiled disbelievingly and asked Mum to put her hand on his fore-head and back. Mum complied and Dad recited this 'sher' in a soft voice

 ' uus ne jalti hui peshani pey jo haath rakha,

   rooh tuk aagayi taseer masihaee ki .....'

Jeffry also came in. Dad liked and trusted him as he was an honest and sincere worker. He told him to find a buyer for his green Datsun. I wondered if Dad needed money urgently. I was also surprised because just recently he had told me that he wanted to give that car to my daughter when she graduated. He was even ready to give her the car 'papers' but I had refused, saying that we would see when she finished her studies.

We were told to wait outside as the nurse had to carry out some procedures which went on till 12.30 p.m. Just then Baji came and she went in the room with Mum. After some time, I dropped Mum at her house on Rhapta Road and I went home on Wood Avenue, Kilimani. It was quite a distance from the M.P. Shah hospital, in fact, exactly in opposite sides of Nairobi. There was always traffic even if Jeffry tried some 'panya' routes so we usually took more than an hour to reach home .

I contacted Khara's company in Mombasa to tell him that Dad was in the ICU. Khara was still in Taro and I could not talk to him directly. In the evening he rang to say that he was trying to come to Nairobi as soon as possible.

At 9 p.m. I rang Mum who had just returned from the hospital. Reema and my brother were still there. She thought Dad was better as he had some of the 'black chanay' shorba that my sister had made for him an his request. 

I rang my dear friend Shamim to let her know the situation. She had been operated for her 'goitre' just two weeks ago and she was recuperating. She said she would go with Mrs. Akmal, another friend, to see Dad the next day.

The rest of the night, I spent worrying, praying and waiting for Khara. He had come home last on Eid, mid December. He couldn't make it on New Year Eve - I really missed him and felt like crying on his shoulder. 

On Friday, 4th January, 2002, I got up very early and cooked some food for the day. I changed into a dark brown dress that I had stitched myself from some suits that Khara had brought for me from Mombasa. My son wanted to play with his Play Station at home, so my daughter and I went with the car. She was supposed to go to USIU to register for her new semester but things took a different turn.

When we were on the Arboretum Road, I got a call on m mobile from my son but it got cut. Immediately after that Reema rang me. She seemed a bit hysterical. She said, ' Baji Shama please come urgently to the hospital, Aboo is very serious!' It was 9.30 a.m. I told Jeffry, who was driving to take a turn towards the M.P.Shah hospital. My daughter said she, too, would go there. My son rang me again and I told him about the situation.

I walked to the ICU like a zombie. I saw a colleague but hurried to the waiting area where I saw Reema, my sisters and Mum who was crying. My heart went out to her. I hugged her.

Reema, a medical doctor herself, said Dad had just had another heart attack and they were trying to resuscitate him. She told us that she had come to see him at 9 a.m. Dad had been fine. He had been happy to see his beloved daughter-in-law whom he cherished even ore than his own daughters. She had helped him have breakfast of toast, jam and fruit. She had also made tea for him. He had just a sip and said, 'Beta, my lips are feeling numb...' He then closed his eyes and never opened the again.

Every body's eyes were blood-shot and filled with tears, My daughter was crying like a baby and my heart skipped a beat. Mum seemed utterly confused now. She asked who was sick and why were we all in the hospital. She thought we had come to see Umar, her young grandson who had been in coma for almost two weeks, a long time ago. He had recovered then but later, two and a half years ago, he had suddenly succumbed to death at the tender age of sixteen.  She had gone back in time.

At 10 a.m. I dared to go to the ICU door and peeped in. My brother was coming out. He looked pale but composed. He said,'Aboo couldn't make it... he has left us....' I felt as if the world had turned over. I had to be with Mum. I walked fast back to the waiting area. I told Mum who started wailing and hitting her chest. Every body was crying and trying to console each other at the same time.

We had to see our Dad. We went to his bed. They had covered his face with the sheet. My brother removed it. Dad's face seemed blotched. I touched his hand - it was still warm and soft. I felt so sad, I was crying, I just couldn't believe he was no more......

Mum had to be taken home. I sent a message to Khara who rang back to say that he had started to come last night but his 'pick-up' had broken down on the way. He was shocked at the bad news that I had given him. He was on the road now. I told him to drive carefully on the Mombasa-Nairobi highway as the road was quite bad. 

As I was taking Mum to my car, Baji arrived. So Mum sat with my daughter in the car while I went back with Baji to see Dad. She had met him the previous day and he had been talking to his eldest 'beta' quite normally. She was also in shock with disbelief. Jeffry also went in to see Dad.

He then drove us to Mum's house and the others followed in their cars. My brother had to stay there and sort out the official things like the death certificate and clearance from the hospital. The body had to stay in the mortuary till the next day till the funeral and burying arrangements were made. For Muslims it is imperative to bury as soon as possible.

It was 11 a.m. My friends Shamim, Akmal and Raani were the first ones to come. They had actually gone to the hospital, learnt the sad news and immediately come home to console us. Mum was under shock, she had not spoken a word, she just sat on the sofa and wouldn't stop wailing. I sat next to her most of the time, giving her sips of water as her tongue and lips were drying up. 

My sisters started clearing up the sitting room to make space for people who had already come to know and started coming for condolence. Reema had rung our Khalla [Mum's eldest sister] in Stockton and she with her son was trying to come to Nairobi in the next flight available. My brother had to ring somebody to assist with their entry visas. Khalla had already planned to come on the 13th but now she had to come earlier.

Somebody else helped to get it announced on the East F.M and Sound Asia radio that the funeral would be the next day.

Jeffry collected my son from home and all the children were dropped at my younger sister's house in Kileleshwa. Hoards of women were already in Mum's house. Her friends Aneti, Ajo, Nazir, Khalda and many others came promptly to console Mum but she was under shock and confused. She went on asking why there were so many people around and whose funeral was tomorrow.

Khara arrived from Mombasa at 5 in the evening. He had been a special son-in-law as he was also Mum's nephew. We all cried and cried together. The house was now full of people and the men had to sit outside in the compound. We took Mum to her room and gave her some medication to calm her down. She lay on the bed for some time but was very restless.

Baji brought her three children who were in Nairobi. The eldest one was in Nottingham University, doing her exams in Pharmacy. She rang and cried her heart out - she was the eldest grand-child of our parents. Her aunts and grand-mother had come to console us but her father was conspicuous by his absence. 

We were there till 12 at night. Khalla and Bhai Chake had boarded the plane and they would arrive at 10 in the morning. My younger sister stayed with Mum for the night. Her relatives had come from Naivasha so they would look after the children in her house.

So this was life - was death the inevitable end or the beginning of another eternal era? Dad had gone so peacefully without troubling or burdening anybody. People were saying he was a good soul to go on a Friday as that is supposed to be a holy day. They were praising his integrity and honesty at all his places of work especially the High Court of Kenya where he had served as the Chief Accountant for a long time. He had always been upright, humble and kind. He was firm in his belief and convictions. He was a good man, a devoted husband and an exemplary father. He had fulfilled all his duties, accomplished his goals and never hurt anybody. He had strived to give university education to all his children. He had never considered girls as second class citizens. He had given us - his son and all his daughters equal opportunites to pursue careers of our choice.  He loved us and our mother to the extend that he supported her relatives in time of need, in all ways that he could. Thus he was held in high regard amongst the family. He was  quiet of nature, harworking and steadfast. He knew how to persevere and went out of his way to help others. When he got betrayed by his own near and dear ones, he still did not say anything mean against anybody; he just secluded himself and got engrossed with his 'Chess', a game in which he was a champion at his age. He just went on with his simple. honest life.

Saturday 5th January, 2002 dawned clear and bright in Nairobi. It was the day to be etched onto our minds and souls for ever.

We all congregated at Mum's house early in the morning. Dad had been taken from the M.P.Shah hospital to the Pangani Mosque for the final bath and then brought to the house. The house was full of people. All his grand-children, children and relatives sat on the white sheets laid on the floor around his body which was covered with flowers from well-wishers of the family. Continuous reciting of verses from the Holy Quran was going on. The men sat outside under the tents that Khara and my brother had put up in the garden.

Khalla and Bhai Chake had arrived in the morning and it was an emotional scene when they embraced Mum and cried. Mum was still confused and not saying much - she was just sobbing.

Around mid day the men came in and took Dad in the special Funeral van to the Kariokor Graveyard. Hundreds of men attended the 'Janaza' and the burial.

The women all stayed at home, trying to come with terms at the tragedy. Life had to go on. We cried, consoled each other, tried to help out in whatever way we could but finally we all had to get hold of ourselves to continue looking after our own little families. I got so affected that I started feeling palpitations in my chest, got dizzy spells and had to resign from my teaching job. I used to feel anxious and nervous so took a break from work for some months.

On the third day and the fortieth day [chaliswan], we had  'hatums' [special prayers] at the Pangani Mosque. Days turned into weeks. Khalla stayed with Mum for some months. Mum recovered but never really came out of her depression. It was so difficult for her to accept that her life long partner had departed. She felt her 'raaj' was gone; she was lonely and started falling sick often. She kept herself busy with her grand children but it was never the same again. She some how survived eight years without him and finally left us to join her beloved one in his heavenly abode.

'O dur ke musafir, hum ko bhi saath ley ley rey;

Hum ko bhi sath ley ley, hum reh gaye akele ....'

copyright shama butt


Latest comments

19.11 | 07:25

You are so kind. Do see other pages on menu. You will enjoy. Bless you. Luvv.

19.11 | 01:25

Sad to know that Ms M Butt is no more. May her soul rest in eternal peace... Ameen ❤️

19.11 | 01:22

You were my favorite biology teacher. I never forgot you😊

22.06 | 09:34

Thanks dear arfa. Check out other pages on the menu. You will enjoy. God bless.

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