I’ve been packing recently, and in the hoards of stuff I’ve dug out, there were a couple of VHS tapes from my childhood. The most significant is one my mother recorded when I was about a year old.
In it, I am a shorn-headed brown-skinned little precocious gabbler, getting quite beaten up by her elder cousin. What I was struck by on this watching of the video, however, was what my mother kept telling her little parrot of a daughter to repeat. Over and over on the tape she would ask me: Shumaila kis ki beti hai? (Whose daughter is Shumaila?). To which the reply was a gabbled: Baba.
And also the action she’d taught me to do, in response to the question, Baba kis kay hain? (Who does Baba belong to?):
Me, proclaiming that Baba was mine. 🙂
My father at the time was in England, and we were in Pakistan. My mother had the VHS made and parcelled, so he could see me and be reminded of the daughter he was miles away from, but who considered him very much a part of her life.
Ten years later, after my parents divorced, I was once again oceans apart from my father. Those were horribly turbulent years. I was at the cusp of teenagehood, a spoilt child who was suddenly out of her element, and I had so much anger and feelings of rejection after the divorce that I can still taste them in my mouth over a decade and a half later. That my relationship with my father didn’t dissolve into nothing over petty squabbles about who-should’ve-called-whom was largely in part due to the patience of my mother.
My mother, who kept reminding me, in subtler ways than used previously: Shumaila kis ki beti hai? Baba ki. Ye kis kay Baba hain? Meray.
And so, watching this video, I saw not only my mother trying desperately to keep that daughter-father relationship alive when I was the age of 1, but also the efforts she made in keeping it alive when I was 11, and even 21. I also understood the fear I felt when she had gone, that without her stabilising influence, I might end up drifting away from the one parent I had left.
But fears aside, I hold even my intact relationship with my father up as an example of my mother‘s selflessness and love in the way she raised me. So much of what I am today, I owe irretrievably to her.