Abboo always on my mind, forever in my heart

Published: February 8, 2013
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Abboo thank you for everything. May Allah protect you from hardships of the grave, and may He grant you paradise. PHOTO: AHMER MUZAMMIL

Abboo passed away last week.

He was in the ICU for almost five months and eventually after fighting like the resilient man we all knew, he met his Creator at the age of 73.

My father was an extremely ordinary man by all accounts, but he was a superman as far as my sisters and I are concerned. I excused my mother because it is my impression that he was a normal husband however, he was an extraordinary father.

I don’t want this piece to be a cliché ridden ode from a son, because I have always felt that if all fathers were good men like we hear day in and day out from sons and daughters around us, then Pakistan would not be the royal mess it is.

My father migrated from India with literally a shirt on his back. He was provided two square meals and a roof over his head by his elder brothers in Karachi.

I have never met anyone as grateful as my father was at that gesture of normalcy.

I say this maybe, because I cannot really relate to what my father went through and I take my sheltered life for granted.

We weren’t terribly rich, but we never had to worry about where our next meal was coming from or how my school fees would be paid for, thanks to my father’s stable job as a principal economist and my mother’s school teacher salary.

These were real issues for many a families in my neighbourhood.

I grew up in a 120 square yard house in Sharifabad Karachi, a humble lower middle class neighbourhood and I went to Karachi’s top schools where my classmates were progeny of Dadabhoys’ and Tapals’.

I always wore this dichotomy as a badge of honour and wouldn’t trade off the experiences from either end of the spectrum for anything.

We couldn’t afford a car till I was in college at Adamjee Science. I remember that for five years the black and white TV we had was primarily used as a radio.

All this time, uncanny money was spent on my education because my father was convinced that splurge and almost recklessness spending is justified when it comes to education.

I am not the only example of middle class success (if it can be called that, jury is still out) but the difference is that most middle classiyay who make it, do it primarily because of their own work ethic and persistence.

I am not trying to be humble but I am convinced beyond shadow of a doubt that if it wasn’t for my father, his incessant organisation and clear and focused goal of ensuring that I make it in life. Had he not persisted I would be a struggling journalist or a washed up cricketer- that is if I hadn’t become a convenient statistic post operation clean-up for future Tehrik-i-Qiyadat to garner empathy in capital talk.

I am a product of Pakistani syllabus circa General Zia.

So, as an opinionated individual; as a teenager, my views on minorities and anyone who was different were quite shameful. What I found interesting was that my father didn’t correct me when I was young but as I grew older, not in a sermonising manner but merely as a narrator, my father told me the story of his journey from India to the refugee camps in Karachi.

My father’s best friend in Badaun, Uttar Pradesh was a Hindu. My grandmother and my phuppis frowned at this relationship when they were growing up and the feeling was mutual on the other end as well.

My father told me that when riots were taking place and my grandfather decided that it was time to say goodbye to the ancestral land and move to Pakistan, it was Ramlal, a police officer who accompanied my father, my two aunts and my ailing grandparents as chaperons on that 48 hour grueling journey to the border. My father was convinced that if it wasn’t for this Hindu guardian angel, things would have gone horribly wrong on that journey.

I had a tricky relationship with my father during my teenage years. Throughout my teens, I was initially afraid of my father and eventually indifferent, although I always knew that he loved me.

I always felt that I could never be good enough for him and that annoyed me to no end, because I saw him working extremely hard to provide for us.

I remember once when I was 17, I was playing Dubboo in my neighbourhood. It was during a time-slot when I should have been at my tuition center.

As luck would have it, my father got done from work early and he was walking back from the bus stop towards home. He saw me and I don’t know if it was the heat of June, the puffs of smoke emanating from the cigarettes around me or the sound of crushing chips (and his dreams) on the Dubbo board, my father snapped and in front of 50 odd people, he grabbed me by my shoulder and I received the beating of a lifetime.

Please realise that amongst that crowd I was Don Corleone, I commanded authority and respect due to my political affiliations and they were shocked at what was transpiring in front of their eyes to one of their comrades. BUT there was something poetic about that incident.

It was quite a humbling experience for me and I think it probably gave abboo a sense of control again, when I just bowed my head down as a rebellious teenager and let him vent without any resistance.

I remember that I kept saying aap ghar chalein abboo (let’s just go home abbo) and he just couldn’t stop slapping me while tears were rolling down his cheeks. Both my father and I recall that incident with pride for some odd reason.

Later on in life, once I graduated from a university in the US and started working in corporate America, my parents moved in with me when they retired in 2000.

My father saw me struggling with my career and whenever he tried to help, I became defensive.

I eventually found my niche and I realised that I might not be the best Java developer or UNIX admin but I am a pretty decent manager of human beings.

My father saw me excel in my career and recently for the first time in our collective lives, he was content about how I turned out and that gave me an inexplicable high!

Abboo was not an overtly religious man, but he was an insaan-dost (human-friendly) to his core. One of the more prevalent compliments he received across the board was that he was always relatable in whichever age-group he was sitting.

I always knew him as a careful man for lack of a better word so he wasn’t revolutionary but he would go out of his way to help people out. He was always the go-to man in his extended family whenever there was a crisis.

He wasn’t extremely generous or charitable from a financial perspective maybe because he didn’t really have a lot of money and whatever he did have, there was only but one rightful purpose for it and that was investing it in the education of his kids.

Despite popular wisdom of that time and subtle nudges from other elders in the family, he spent heavily on not just my education but on the education of my sisters as well.

Abboo retired as a senior bureaucrat in PCSIR but we didn’t have a car till later in my father’s career. The only reason we ever got a car was so my sisters, who were in college by then, wouldn’t have to take a bus.

My mother would constantly nag him saying,

‘Aren’t you embarrassed that your juniors who report in to you, come in cars and you are taking a public bus?’

My father would retort back,

Kahan laheem shaeem shaandaar 5-c or kahan piddi si Suzuki!

(How can you compare the majestic, the beautiful 5-C to a teeny tiny Suzuki!)

However, we all knew he was saving the money for petrol, money he would lavishly spend on my sister’s private medical school and my education.

I remember once when I was visiting Pakistan on holidays, I brought a sticker for our 1980 charade that read ‘My money and son go to the University of Oklahoma’, he never cherished another gift more.

It was quite interesting to see his transition from an over-bearing, strict almost militant father to this mush of a grandfather. When I was growing up, I routinely got the type of beating which would send my father in a slammer in the US but he would become visibly upset if I had the audacity to speak to my eight-year-old in an angry voice.

Maassoom bacha hay, jahiloon ki tarah mat cheekha karo!

(He is an innocent kid, don’t scream at him like an illiterate!)

When he would say that, I would stare back in astonishment and say I was some masoom bacha as well but he didn’t see the irony.

Due to prevailing conditions in Karachi in the late 80s and due to my raging teenage hormones, abboo would always say, ‘baita bheer mein raha karo’ (Son, always be a part of the crowd) but always beamed with pride whenever I was hosting a musical program or delivering a khutba or doing fundraising or whatever.

I don’t ever remember my father hugging or kissing me like I do with my kids. I guess that generation was not big on PDA (public display of affection).

I truly doubt, though, that I could be as selfless with my kids as my father was with me.

During his stay in the ICU, I was always in the hospital but I avoided being in his room and I don’t know why but I regret it now.

He dealt with his hardships with grace but when he was under the influence of heavy narcotics and pain medications, he would moan with pain and involuntarily kick and I just couldn’t bear seeing him like that.

I knew he would have liked me to be in the room with him, but he also knew that it was uncomfortable for me so whenever he was conscious, he always insisted that I go out.

One day when he was wide awake and I was massaging his feet, he called me near him. I thought he wanted to say something and wanted me to read his lips- he couldn’t really talk because of the vent.

I went close to him and he mumbled ‘khareeb aaoo’ (come closer) so I went closer and he held my face and kissed me.

Instead of being happy, I got afraid and I didn’t like it and I asked him at the verge of tears,

Kyoon kar rahay hein abboo?

(Why are you doing this Abboo?)

He said,

‘Mein tum say khush hoon!’

(I am happy with you!)

I didn’t say anything to him because I didn’t know what to say.

Abboo had an overwhelming presence and relevance in the affairs of our family. I hadn’t relied on him financially since I was 19 but I always had this sense of security and now I feel like someone has snatched that roof over my head.

I am not quite sure what the point of this write-up is but I guess I am just trying to grieve because I don’t really know how else to do that.

Ammi and Abboo were living with me for the past ten years and I mostly saw them arguing over petty things, so the impression to the naked eye would be that they didn’t get along with each other. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

My mother is a different person after the demise of abboo.

I had always known my mother to be a happy, carefree person. It’s been a good five months and both of us haven’t talked to each other about our loss.

I guess she expects me to console her on her loss and I feel like my loss is no less. So someone needs to hold me and tell me that things will be okay!

As a 39-year-old grown man with a wife and kids, I should however come to this realisation that my mother’s loss is far greater than anyone else’s.

I should find enough courage to hug her and tell her that everything will be okay and it might just, but we both know it will never be the same.

Abboo, I know it would have been much easier for you if you had passed away on that Friday when we took you to the hospital, but you knew abboo that we would be devastated, so you hung around for five months, you put up with hardship consistent with the rest of our lives, just so Ammi, Mummoo, Uzma and I can get exhausted seeing you in pain and would be relieved at your death.

Abboo, thank you for everything. May Allah protect you from the hardships of the grave, and may you get access to paradise without any interrogation on the Day of Judgment.

I miss you abboo!

ahmer.muzammil

Ahmer Muzammil

The Global Head of PMO (project management Office) of an International University and Medical systems. He is based out of USA.

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