Remembering my Misil

Published: May 13, 2012

I miss you with every fibre of my being - my Misil. PHOTO: SAMI SAAYER.

Mother’s Day is here, but June 1, 1998 will never come again.

Today I am writing about my mother, my Misil, for the first time in the last 13 years.

She was a simple lady. We never knew her date or year of birth. The only thing we knew was that she was born during the barsaat (monsoon season). I don’t remember an instance when she took longer than 10 minutes to get ready to go somewhere. She never wore make-up.

She was even simpler in her eating habits. She would eat anything except for baingan (eggplant). While cooking, she made her ownmasalas; her biryani was pretty good, but I don’t remember how it tasted any more. Her parathas were extraordinary and she even she made aam ka achaar (pickled mangoes) at home. As kids we used to look forward to the summer just so we could have that raw achaar.

She wasn’t literate. She never went to school. The only thing she could write was her name, which she learned when she needed to open a bank account and sign cheques. We wrote the cheque for her and she signed it. She wasn’t educated, but despite that she made sure her children were. It was very uncommon for a family like ours to educate girls, but my Misil had a different dream for my sisters. All of them got postgraduate degrees in their respective fields while their cousins dropped out of school one after the other. Thanks to my Misil, my eldest sister was the first girl to complete her masters in the history of my family.

When I did well in my tenth grade board exams, she gave me a computer as a gift. I had been away on a camping trip with my school team and when I came back, I had a computer at home. This was back in 1997. She was an uneducated Pakistani woman who chose to gift a computer to her son when not many people had one in Pakistan. I don’t think I need to describe how much it helped me in my life.

She was a very strong woman. She raised six children on her own as my father spent most of his life abroad for work. The only time I saw her cry was in 1995 when we were leaving our grandmother’s house in our village after a short trip – just a few silent tears as she left her own mother and the house where she was born. We are a very inexpressive family. We don’t tell each other how much we love each other or how important we are to each other but we all know it internally. She never hugged me or told me that she loved me, but she didn’t need to.

When we moved to Buffer Zone in 1983, our house was the only decent place in the city where visitors from our village could stay. Very soon, it became a temporary residence for all the young men of our family who came to Karachi to look for work. To us, all of them were Mamoo (uncle). They were her brothers, cousins, cousin’s cousins and so on. The number kept increasing. The upper floor of our house was like a barrack with a dozen beds. At one time, there were more than 10 Mamoos living with us – no exaggeration. She looked after them and her children and cooked and cleaned for all 18 people. One addition to the list of eaters was Saaeen. Saaeen was the Sindhi night watchman of our neighbourhood who would get food from our house. As time went by, one by one my Mamoos established their respective jobs in Karachi and left our house.

My mother then fell ill.

Naturally, for ignorant people like us who had only heard the word cancer in movies and TV serials, it was difficult to understand. The seriousness of her illness dawned upon us gradually when we saw her wasting away, losing weight, losing hair and eventually losing life.

The last month of her life was very painful – for us and for her. We knew she was going and we could do nothing. I wasn’t even 17 and my younger sister was 13. All of us were silently trying to imagine how life would be without her.

On one of those days, I was sitting next to her when she told me to check the main gate. At the time, she could barely open her eyes. The flesh on her entire body was gone and she was only bones. Because of the chemotherapy, her head did not have hair and was always covered in a scarf as she did not want anyone to see it. She ran a fever throughout the day.

“Can’t you hear the doorbell?” she asked.

“It’s not ringing,” I had said politely.

“I can hear it. Go, open the door. It’s Waris.” (Her younger brother.)

“It’s not ringing.” I said.

I tried controlling my tears. Waris Mamoo was probably sitting miles away in his new house.

“If you don’t get up to open it, I will go and open it myself.” She had tried getting up but failed. Then she passed out.

In those days, I was having my first year exams in college. It wasn’t very easy for me to control my emotions in school when I thought of her condition. My sisters would tell her how I was doing in my exams to keep her involved but in her last two days, she stopped recognising us.

On June 1, 1998 I had my last exam. I told my friends that I wouldn’t be able to join them for the post-exam party because my mother was not well. I reached home and saw that she was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. She threw up blood in the ambulance before she left our house forever.

It was the day of my last exam.

Her motherly instinct gave her the will power to continue till the last day because if she had gone earlier, my studies would have been disrupted. On the last day, she gave up. We went to the hospital but came back with her cold and lifeless. She was probably less than 40 when she passed away.

Today is Mother’s Day, but June 1, 1998, the day my mother was still with us, will never come again.

As she departed, she left behind several questions for us. As a family we went through a bad phase in the years that followed but we stuck together. Our father left his job where he was working abroad and joined us to rebuild the family together.

Life has moved on since. Parathas are still being eaten but achaar now comes from the market in glass jars. Baingan is still not cooked at our home and cheque books have been replaced by ATM cards.

Things have indeed changed, but her memory remains forever etched in my brain.

I miss you with every fibre of my being – my Misil, a truly exemplary woman.

Read more by Sami hereor follow him on Twitter @SamiSaayer


Sami Saayer

A Dubai based Pakistani looking for excuses to write.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Atika.rehman

    Sami this is such a heartfelt piece! So well expressed.


  • Ashfaq Shah

    She sure did a great job brother. May Almighty Bless her soul.Recommend

  • S
  • SA

    such a simple read but so impactful … May Allah bless her, AmeenRecommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    I want to cry after reading this! :-((((( May your mother rest in peace Ameen.Recommend

  • jamil hussain


    I didn’t see your mother but i meet her daily at my
    home, ya ya, (you know) hahah
    All of you remember her on daily basis by your attitude,
    your appearance and the way of life you serve for your family.
    who elso know better then me.
    we all love her. She and you r in our prayers

    love uRecommend

  • Fayyaz Siddiqui

    Sami. This is such a touching story and for those who lost their mothers in similar circumstances, it touches them more.

    My mother was very similar and she died at a young age of 45. About two hours before her death, I went to visit her in the hospital during the visiting hours, and whenI got up to leave she forced me to wait telling me that she is going to die today. Of course I didnt believe her. Once she seemed to have fallen into a deep sleep and started muttering the names of her two brothers, say they have come to meet her. Of course I couldnt see any one. Then started complaining of feeling very warm and I touched her feet and found they were cold as ice. ‘But your feet are cold Ammi” I told her, and she responded, “Dont you know that when the Rooh is taken out, they start from the feet first?”. I still didnt believe her. She seemed to be uncomfortable, otherwise she seemed fine. The she declared that she wont be able to speak anymore as her toungue is swelling up, and recited, “La ilaha illalah” and closed her eyes. For ever. I hear people say, ‘Time heals’. but I can tell you Sami, this is one vaccuum that never gets filled up, one wound that remains fresh, till the day you die, even if you are a 57 year old man like I am today.
    May the soul of your mother and my mother and all the faithful mothers, rest in peace and may Allah let us meet them in a good state in Qiyamat. Recommend

  • Anon.

    You have done so well since then, she would have been proud of you today. Recommend

  • Sid Mandhan

    Really having tears in my eyes….Just wanted to say i love you ammi.Recommend

  • Amit

    Aaj express tribune wale ko kya ho gaya. Ek k baad ek emotional blog. Rula k hi mano gay [email protected] author- i cried my heart man.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Once I started reading I could not stop. Beautiful in its simplicity, just like your mother.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    After I read your last piece on “Kahaani”, I was taken aback by the way you lavishly praised the movie and Indian actors. It’s very rare to come across Pakistanis and Indians who have something nice to say about each others countries and hence your article startled me; it was such a pleasant change from the abuses Indians and Pakistanis hurl at each other on this website ( and all other online forums ) I distinctly remember thinking that what probably set you apart from the petty, narrow minded bigots one often comes across here, was your upbringing. Look like I was right ! Just goes to show how important a role parents play in shaping mindsets and personalities of their offspring.Recommend

  • Awais

    I normally consider myself to be pretty insensitive and i’ve been called heartless by my mother, sisters and college mates too but while I was reading I was kind of imagining being in that position where the news has been broken to me that my mother isn’t there anymore.

    I choked up abit…..Recommend

  • Ifra.N

    This brought tears to my eyes :'(
    May her soul rest in peace and Allah grant her place in Jannat al Firdous.Ameen.Recommend

  • http://islamabad Maryam

    brought tears!
    GOd Bless her…!Recommend

  • Irtiza

    Guess what, I read this article during lunch time in my office and could hardly control my tears. Person sitting next to me was curious to know what went wrong with me. Recommend

  • arf

    Awesome piece of writing – awesome tribute to your ma. I lost my mother a couple of yrs ago and I can relate to your pain. May your mother’s soul rest in eternal peace ameen.Recommend

  • Rizwana Bashir

    Though i have not spent very much time with her but as much as i have i remember her as a very composed lady and very beautiful too. My mother and father had always admired her as she raised her children as well as is possible for any lady alone at that time when she did it. Love her and miss her as does my family and her family.Recommend

  • Ali

    I hardly ever cry… This one made my cryRecommend

  • farhan

    She must be so proud of u !! What a wonderful piece of article and I had tears in my eyes literally. :)
    May her soul rest in peace and Allah grant her place in Jannat al Firdous.AmeenRecommend

  • Sajjad Qureshi

    May Allah Bless her soul in peace in the heavens all aboveRecommend

  • Huma


  • Masood Hasan

    May Allah rest her soul in peace and eternity (Aameen). Indeed she would always be a great source of inspiration for all of us the way she led her life, and her irreparable loss could not be covered up. We always remember her AND pray for the soul.Recommend

  • K

    May Allah bless her soul and give you and your family peace.Recommend

  • khan

    Damn these onions…….Recommend

  • muniza farooq

    by reading it i cant stop my tears allah bless her soul n also gives all of u peace n blessings aameenRecommend

  • Vikram

    Thanks for sharing story of your wonderful mom. God bless her.Recommend