By Nediyya Khan
“In the marriage hall, I saw a woman standing parallel to me. If my sight did not betray me, she looked just like me – probably my doppelganger! You won’t believe it, but she also had my hunched back!” Said an ethereal yet resilient being, – the epitome of endearing – candor dripped from her voice and the modesty sculpted into her features was palpable. She was meek and she was all things virtuous. And that’s where one would cease to state otherwise regarding the reality of her innocence and simplicity. Given her affable demeanor, there she was, on the way to life, hoping to make friends out of mirrors too. Born in Ropar (India), citizen of the world, Salma Begum brought light during the late twenties. Reining the winds like the most torrential of eddies could not make her budge, she portrayed perseverance. Participating in life, despite the adversities that time threw at her, she stood taller than any hindrance that might have threatened her admirably steadfast and righteous resolves. Regardless of predicaments, she had a personality so potent, it seemed as though she was prescient to the world’s ways of bringing people down. If there has been any word that could most compactly capsulate her being in its clasps, it is resilient.
Writing without the grand aura entrapping my words, would be a disgrace to my Dado – she was spiritually royal; she was all that I have never witnessed anyone be. I have now gotten the cue that writing objectively is not an option, for she injected into all the people that she ever inspired, affection so profound, we can’t refrain from expressing it in the most explicit ways possible. The affection that is embedded into us runs deeper than any wound could. Despite cogitating, one could not come up with any characteristic weakness of hers; thus, dear reader, forewarning: You’re in for a nebulous (for a single account can never bear her nobility single-handedly) yet boastful piece of writing, because I am one lot of a proud granddaughter. From the moments she bolstered with her inferiors, to the ones with her equals – she was divine rectitude.
Considering today’s standards, she was couthy beyond the bounds of our perception – so couthy that it felt anomalous, at times. I can remember as vividly as yesterday, how, countless times she fretted over what to gift a mere acquaintance. What we’d call a best-friend today, to her, was the maid that she had employed yesterday. That’s not just it – there were the amusing yet beguiling “exclusive treatments”, as I reckon them to be. At numerous occasions, she saved eatables for some of her specifically beloved grandchildren – no matter what the gathering had to say about it. She had no qualms beckoning our friends of different ethnicities, kissing them amiably on top of their heads and granting them a load, heavier to carry than a whole freaking truck, of prayers that they were highly improbable to have perceived. In her life-chronology, one could not find any school, college or university life; hence, it is stupendous how courteous she was (more than educated people today, mind you) and how her mind ran on ballads that she recited to her new-born grand-grandchildren. Unequivocally, I can claim that there did not come a time when she talked behind anyone’s back. It might be a little too much to believe but she had no foe, nor was she the foe of anyone. To disrelish her is but an insurmountable deed – her almost-naïve smile was enough to melt hearts when she still graced us with her existence but now, her memoirs would continue to allure folks. She was pure in herself; pseudo wasn’t her trait, by any means. If she did something, she did it for her Lord.
Given the short time I have endured with the sense of reality, I can emphatically state that never have I ever seen a person fuller of light – and that implies a lot. For one thing, since I came into existence, thankfully, she was there. And for all those blissful years, she stayed. In those years, she was my ray of hope; she was my ball of sunshine. Merely gazing at her made one think that regardless of superficialities, there was wisdom in every adversity. There was her tale of valiance that could have easily made a knight shrink into the shadows, out of cowardice. Had she not survived the migration, I would not have been; no one would have been – but she did it and how she did it is a story that her courage emboldens. It is not just about how she crossed the border but also about how determined she remained, how her resolve to persevere did not crumble, how she bore the gravity of knowing that half of all that she had known her entire life, had been burnt to debris. I daresay that not every person would have been able to live with the intensity of the knowledge, which leads us to the fact that her hope did not falter. In her youth, her husband departed this abode of bystanders. Just imagining how a single woman escorted ten children to success, is grueling on its own. Undeniably, she was one lot of a responsible human being, given the manner in which she did not give up on what she had been expected to do, before all hell broke loose. Dauntlessly, she embraced the challenges that life so ruthlessly chucked her way and tackled them in ways that became divine inspirations, so that life itself had to bow down to her and give her everything that a mother could covet. With all the implications of the statement, she was successful. Hope was one of her rays of light. There remain the literal facts which project the light that her soul harbored. I reminisce as clearly as day the times when she didn’t let us shield the room from sunlight, when she chastised us for installing bulbs that were not bright enough, when she expressed her disapprobation for purchasing anything black and when she clearly said that darkness dismayed her – darkness which symbolizes despair.
One would wonder where her hope hailed from, why in the world did she think that something better just had to happen. Well, dear reader, I assure you that there is an answer to that too; and that is her unyielding faith in the Lord, Allah. Eminently, one cannot possibly know what a relationship with Allah means lest one has been in its clasps for a while. I will not pretend to perceive the intensity with which my Dado believed in Allah because it is beyond me, but I will enunciate very clearly that in her paradigms, it was evident that Allah came before everything – and what is more praiseworthy than a person who Allah loves? If I plough into my scarce recollection of the early days, the first memory that graces my vision is of her poring over her Qur’an. Long into the night, she would stay up and read the Qur’an. Until her health did not deceive her, she also regularly offered the Tahujjud prayers. In her departing days, we spectated as bystanders the moments when she fiercely nurtured her relationship with her rosary, despite the unconsciousness that had enshrouded her being. If I go on contemplating her relation with the Lord, I might never stop.
I will be damned if I overlook her love for striving because all that she later had, stemmed from that love. Sometimes I find myself pondering if this was the principle that she believed in, (which Suzy Kassem put into words): “You can’t move things by not moving.” Perhaps it was her sense of responsibility that provoked her into thriving and conquering adversities, perhaps it was her indomitable love for her children that made her do wonders. But what one would cease to unveil is why she preferred to work her energies off in matters like doing the laundry manually – now that I think of it there is a reason to it, too. I did not myself witness them but from her admirers I have heard of the strenuous tasks she carried out so as to conserve more resources for her children (for only God knows what it is like for a single woman to bear the responsibility of a large family’s upbringing). Regardless of washing machines’ invention that was not out of her reach, in old age, she dared not allow anyone to spin her clothes in a washing machine. Maybe she believed that it was her body’s right to have work on its hands. There remains the awe-inspiring art of embroidery that she had mastered. She sewed her children’s entire wardrobes and practiced embroidery by writing verses on pillow-cloths, solely out of passion. Which brings me to the passion she rocked in every little thing that she did: No matter what she did, she paid heed to the presentation, whether it be for herself or not. I recall the revolt that would spell itself out across her face, had anything vague been presented to her. And woe betide the goner who pretermits the finesse with which she sewed juzdans (a cloth-cover for Holy books). The times, when she so meekly advised me how to space out dishes and contents on the dining table, when she taught me how to pore a thread into a needle and when she passionately chopped vegetables so as to project how vegetables actually are sliced, rest peacefully in an inglenook of my brain. In the end, all that her woes consisted of were the distressing facts that neither did she anymore have the sight of an eagle that allowed her to sew intricate articles, nor did she have the energy to wash her clothes like she did in the erstwhile days. She might have defied the old-age-white-clothes stereotype but she adhered to the knitting-and-loving-grandma stereotype and I cannot say I am not grateful for that. Dare I say she did not just move things; she moved people and horizons too.
In this next trait of hers comes the answer to her habits, which is impeccable immaculateness. There was not a time when she willingly let her clothes be tipped into the washing machine, for she did not trust that it could do the cleaning that her criterion demanded: it won’t rub enough, it won’t wash each cloth separately. The washed dishes were not satisfactory enough to her, when she had not anymore the energy to do them herself. In her lived an instinct that did not allow her to rest in a room or to make use of a substance, lest it had been tidied up. Literally every possession of hers was sorted into varying containers, so neat and well-kept; any of us could not have managed it. Had a bottle’s screw-cap’s endeavor of solitude come into her line of vision, she would have dinistered it beyond recognition. Quite appallingly, in her valedictory days, when she had not any sense of the world, I recollect the moment when she asked my father to trim her nails and my father applied oil in the silver strands of her enduring hair, combed them and tied them to perfection with deep tenderness. Oh and how can I forget the three hours long baths she took? Indeed, she scrubbed herself to soreness, until her skin appeared to be that of a newborn. If one took a peek at her supply of bathing, one would find pumice and terra cotta scrubbers rubbed raw. Her famous containers harbored creams and powders, which she applied at night. She basked in Fridays – when she could dress up in the most prestigious way possible, when she necessarily took one of her phenomenal baths and when she so devotedly dedicated the whole day to Allah.
She defied the widely-perceived stereotype, that in old age people tend to wear white at all occasions, by demanding scintillating colors. After numerous collisions with life, in the end, people usually give in and sulk with white hair but she – oh, she applied henna to her head with such palpable fervor that she appeared as radiant as the sun itself. Trailing her fondness for light was her addiction to all things that reflected life. The memory of her suing our gardener rings out clearly in my mind, because he had cleaved the rose bushes for a second time under her notice. She had a penchant for bright flowers and ripe, homegrown mangoes. Distraught by the ironically solitary demeanor she displayed in the last days, my father drove to her with a dazzling bouquet in the hopes of lifting her spirits; and it did. She adopted a very solemn look as the end neared, while distancing herself from all worldly needs and recalling death as though the angels had already surreptitiously whispered to her that Allah wanted her back. If there was one thing that she was never (and I mean ‘never’) done with, it was Nature. Quite ironically, when the end finally came and she embraced the highest rank of spirituality, she lay in her bunk with a sheet of roses draped on her entire frame. Now, whenever I recall her being, it comes with the memory of her lying in roses; she slept in them roses.
Following the angel’s word, the Lord extricated her soul on the 25th of November, 2016, at quarter to two (anti meridian) while all light dimmed to produce a ringing, morose susurrous. In the wake of her departure, a morbid glow shrouded every word, sniff or laugh that we breathed. As life bade her farewell, she bade the world adieu – only literally. For regardless of her not being here physically, she lives in every memory, word and feeling that wallows in her remembrance. No matter what bruises time has proved to heal, it will never win over the impact of this incident that has succeeded in ebbing away a great chunk of our glee. After everything, one takes the last wheeze and realizes that this might just be the best thing that could have happened to her. Given the fact that despite our qualms she was ready, perhaps her Lord’s call was for the best. Thus, the opening verses of Rumi’s Masnavi can pose as her epitaph:
بشنو از نی چون حکایت میکند
وز جدایی ها شکا یت می کند
[Listen to the reed how it tells a tale, complaining of separations. Translated by R.A. Nicholson]
The reed can be interpreted as a human being, lamenting over the loss of contact with his reality – the reality being his origin, where one came from and where one must return. Rumi so goes to imply that all woes of mankind are nurtured by the nostalgia that one feels for home, and in his view, home is the world of spirits. The Earth is but an abode to passengers, hence the reunion (that is, death) must be after all, an end to all dejection that could have been.
Therefore the departed soul has gaily embraced the ultimate reality and I am sure that she is in actual Elysium.