I remember my grandfather as he was before the dim days of the end, the illness and the slow breaking down under time of the man we all loved. Before those days of obvious decline, and yet after his days of sharp, head-of-the-family imperiousness, there was a soft middle period where he was neither broken nor too strong, a middle period of gentleness without powerlessness, of caring without questions. How he was in this period is how I choose to remember him.
In the months following his death I found in myself an unquenched thirst for family knowledge, and I would pester my mother on the long nights of load-shedding to recount story after story of their life in Bangladesh, of their migration to Pakistan, of how they lived here, starting from scratch after leaving so much behind. Bihar, Dhaka, early Karachi, the struggles, Saudi Arabia – I couldn’t know enough. In my questions I sensed a grieving over the loss of the man who could’ve told me so much more, but whom I never asked. My curiosity seemed to mourn him subconsciously for far longer than I did.
Then, for months I forgot.
Dark lips curved to fit a cigarette. That was the memory that hit me recently, as I lay in bed one night, thinking. Suddenly, rising to the surface from the depths of my mind, that fragment of a remembrance. Not the feel of his hand on my head before he left every evening, not his injunctions to take care of my mother, his daughter. Not that last, terrible, dream-like night in the hospital – not those first few days after our inglorious return to Pakistan. What I remembered was a very small thing – how his dark moist lower lip bowed in the middle, as though the cigarette that had resided there for years had made its own little permanent niche. I felt my own lips in the dark, similar in size and shape and colour, and suddenly I wished for one too.
Tobacco for comfort – Nana Abbu’s habit. Well jaisay nana..waisi nawasi.
On the heels of that thought – I really am, in a way. The only one of his children or grandchildren to follow in his footsteps – Dr Moid ki doctor nawasi. Pity he never lived to see even the AS result – pity he missed witnessing even that first step towards the path that led me to where I am. Though that doesn’t seem to change the feeling, in essence. One quarter of my genes have the same source – to use the poetic term, his blood runs in my veins. I have his determination, his intelligence, his love of life and his imperiousness. I have his lips and his love of cigarettes and his dark skin. And now I have his profession. I am his grand-daughter, and I will go on to prove so – probably against my will.
Only now it occurs to me how much my grandfather inspires me career-wise. Not inspiration in the usual sense of the word – he isn’t close enough to provide true daily inspiration. But the thought of him does provide a sort of determination to succeed in this arena that he and my father passed through, and a comfort that the medical world is where I really do belong, even, though I may often think otherwise. Hereditary territory, you know.
Because what I go through in my battle with medicine is nothing to what he faced. He rose through circumstances which were nothing like what I can imagine – a self-made man in the true sense of the word, like many in his generation. And as far as my grandfather was concerned, it was making himself over and over – losing all and starting all over again. Still not bowing down, still not letting go.
Whereas I lose heart after two consecutive bad exam results
So anyway. Life goes on. Only sometimes in internal reveries do I smell the smoke that always hung around Nana Abbu like his personal aura, even after he quit, and feel the strength and determination to drag myself on. But that is a comfort, too, I guess. And I am grateful.
So yeah. Here’s to the short years spent with you, Nana Abbu, and to those long ones with only your memory.