There are very few times in my life where insurmountable amount of grief has made me unable to write, to process, to even talk about a death. I still can’t write about anything and it all comes out in bits and pieces or sudden memories of “my grandfather used to say that!” or “do you remember when he…?” or tears over finding old, worn out letters and photos. He was my bara baba, which in Urdu translates to grandfather. (In actuality, writing anything past this paragraph took four months. He died in April and I wrote the rest of this in September after particularly sad and jarring few months that had to do with my personal life.)
Instead, I’ll start at the beginning because really, where else do stories start? I’ll write about what he meant to the eight kids who knew him first, far before the more than 20 grand kids fell in love with him and worshiped him as the most beloved patriarch in the family.
She was his favourite, he always told me. Even my grandmother, my amiji, said that on a few occasions. (And we all knew, even as young kids, who my grandma’s favourite was: the youngest, quick witted and roaringly funny aunt, the apple of her eye). But my mother was his favourite. She was second of eight kids, one of six daughters who grew up in post-Partition Pakistan. All the kids had varying degrees of personalities, but my mother was his star. She always got along with the other siblings and never gave any reason for her parents to get angry at her. The others were rambunctious, or cutting classes or refusing to do chores or homework, but my grandfather always said, your mom was always shy, always listened and loved everyone so much.
Her father, a civil engineer originally from Kashmir but who had never gone back except for business trips, was a man ahead of his time. Cliche, I know, but it’s the truth. He treated the girls and the two boys equally: equal chores, equal amount of homework, everyone rise up at the crack of dawn and get to school.
Back then, educating girls past a certain age, especially primary school, was frowned upon. But my grandfather, who himself had sat through exams and received scholarships to study, wouldn’t have it. On top of that, he not only sent his six daughters to school, but for the oldest three, he let them ride bikes to school through the streets of Lahore. We were a sight, my mom recalled, wearing their shalwar kameezes and dupatta’s trailing behind them. “Everyone knew we were Mir Mohammed Sadiq’s daughters and no one messed with us.”
When my oldest aunt wanted to become a doctor, he sent her off to school and she did so well, her picture along with a blurb appeared in the local newspaper. His father, their grandfather, had always warned my grandfather not to send his granddaughters to school and when my grandfather defied him, my great-grandfather stopped speaking to his son. After he saw his granddaughter’s photo in the paper, he came to the house – part pride over seeing his granddaughter’s photo in the newspaper and part resignation that my grandfather did what he wanted to do.
To the grand kids, my grandfather meant different things. He was part disciplinarian, part gentle giant, and part amazing man who cross-bred a wolf and an Alsatian for wolf-dog puppies? Is that a thing? Because Tiger, his wolf, was my first love when it came to dogs. I digress on animals. For me, he first taught me to have faith in people. He always said he reminded me of my mother – the same looks: big eyes, long eyelashes and curly, curly hair, and the same mannerisms, but I was a bit more mischievous. Instead of staying put while going out on walks, I would take the chains from my grandfather and be tugged and bounced along down the street with Tiger and his wife, Lassie. When he took us to get fresh milk, instead of standing by the door, I would squat right near the cow as she was giving milk and peer into the bucket – but I never drank the milk. No, that smell of fresh milk was too much and still is, even to this day. We would go to the river to spend the day and I’d rush in and splash around, right next to the water buffalo peeing in the water.
He taught me how to tell the difference between various types of roses in his garden, how to fix his charpai, that you need to sleep on the ground to have proper posture, but still fix your own bed. Afternoon tea can warrant a few jalabi’s, if you so desire and to cool your chai, pour it into your saucer plate and sip it. He had faith that the choices he made for his kids and family would bring happiness, and sometimes, they didn’t. But he had good intentions and I know for that, the family can’t fault him. You designated trust funds for each of the grand kids, just in case something happen because when it did, they’d have something to fall back on. You planned. For everything. He was the man I probably compared every man to when it came to how well he treated others, his scruples, how ambitious he was and what a big heart he had for everyone. He opened his home to various cousins of my aunts and uncles, and other orphans he had never met, and paid for their education and schooling. He knew that in order to be happy and well-off in this world, you had to treat everyone with respect, love and kindness and have an earnest heart. And I hope, in the end, I was able to treat him with the same kind of respect, love and kindness he showed me.
He will be dearly missed. I love you, Bara Baba.