Jan 1st 2020
I haven’t been able to blog for a few months— since Oct 27th, 2019, to be precise.
That’s the day my mother made her final journey, to a place which I, you, we together here, in our world, can only access like the character played by Robin Williams does, as he invites us, interlopers all, to What Dreams May Come after we shed this mortal coil, and travel to destinations as yet unknown whilst we live and breathe….
What dreams might come then, mommy? Will I get to you in them? I see you still, so still, your flesh cold and hard as I join the ritual bathers in pouring water over you to prepare your body for your final journey. Are you headed home, mama? Will you be my guide when I’m ready to travel back to Hades? My beautiful mother, I see you in your great granddaughter, my Nylah Bano— you’ve passed your soul to her, I can tell, a journey through successive generations who I hope will continue these travels long after my own have ceased….
For friends and other interested readers of this blog, I paste below my final goodbye to my mother, honoring her memory at the Du’a (prayer) ceremony held at her house, 190 Abid Majeed Road in Lahore Cantonment, the seed of my past and ongoing travels…. here’s to new beginnings in 2020, tethered to all that has enabled me to fly far and wide; the paradox of home and abroad, roots and rootlessness, life, death, and dreams everlasting.
In the beginning, there was the dream…
Eulogy for Mom:
“Thank u all for coming today to be with us on this sad occasion and to share in the suffering of our immense loss. Many of you have already experienced this loss, others will do so in the future, as we are all mortals and life for the living is about learning to cope with the passing on of our near and dear ones.
Coping well is a skill and like all skills, requires mindful cultivation. Our beloved mother, Rashda Afzal, also lovingly known by close friends and family as Bano, Bano apa, Rashi, aunty Rashda, Ami, mommy, maaji, ami Hazoor, Mrs Afzal—had honed it to perfection. From being a beautiful and carefree young bride, she soon became a mother for the second time (after me)—to my brother Rizwan aka Biji-who was born with Down Syndrome. What might have (and usually does)— destroy family equilibrium, cause major distress and dysfunction- instead became one of life’s greatest lessons for me (and so many others)— in what one of my favorite writers has called, Grace Under Pressure. My mother turned what could have been a tragedy into a blessing- the blessing of growing up with a most wonderful kid brother who traveled the world with us, from lahore to Africa, to England, to America, who blossomed into a whole human being because of the love and care she showered on him and who we never felt was less than us in any way. She treated him like she treated us, and so we never thought he was different or strange or anyone to be ashamed or embarrassed of.
She dealt with the second great challenge of her life, the brain tumor of our darling dad, which luckily was non malignant but caused him to come back home to her and us after his operation a changed man, never quite fully able to regain his physical balance as his left side became semi paralyzed as a result of the brain surgery. Our beautiful, vibrant mother took this blow too in stride in her characteristically stoic way—in the process adding to her list of roles that of the family chauffeur, driving dad from home to work, Irfan and me to school, herself to Islamia college Cooper Road, where she would arrive dressed and coiffed to perfection, never a proverbial hair out of place, calm, smiling, ready to serve her students, enjoy her colleagues, and participate in all the sports days winning first prize for three legged races she’d run with her colleague who became a dear family friend, known to us as aunty Irshad. They were quite a pair! And I remember aunty saying when people always praised my dad for being such a good husband and human being- she’d say, “lo- to hamari Rashda bhi to kam nahi!”
Her driving style, esp in her red Mazda 929 became legendary in Lahore—her father, my grandfather, would often get calls from his friends saying “ aap ki Beti Bano to buhat Tez gari chala rahi tee Jee canal bank pey…”—the woman in the red car driving very fast— this was the 1970s, when she was one of a handful of women who owned and drove their own car! My brother just told me the other day that she was saluted daily by a traffic light policeman on Mall Road who referred to her as “the First Lady driver of Pakistan”!!! She’d been driving since the late 1950s….
As many of you who knew her have attested in your reminiscences of her, she lived a full life, mashallah, who never let the seams show.
She was a brave and independent woman who was a pioneer of her time, inspiring thousands of young female students who later settled in every corner of the world— so that wherever we traveled, there was sure to be that encounter we had come to expect: “Mrs Afzal? Aap yahan?” And then would follow the inevitable invitations to lunch, tea, dinner etc. She loved her career, her students, her colleagues—a career which ended officially with her successful stint as a popular Principal of the same college she’d taught at for over thirty years, but she then continued her commitment to women’s education and rights by serving as treasurer and then president of the Business and Professional Women’s Club for many years. She also supported many charities and schools, and gave generously of her time and money to help all those who needed such support. She would always tell us, Agar kissi ki madad Kat saktey ho to Karo. Haqooq ul Abad was as important if not moreso than haqooq Allah in her book.
She was truly a great enabler. I am sorry I never fully expressed my gratitude to her for all that she did for me: if I can speak French and sing, it’s because she drove me for years to lessons at the alliance francaise, because she engaged a wonderful Ustad who came to give me lessons at home when such things were often frowned upon in our society at that time.
The biggest sacrifice she made was to let me go far away from her to the other side of the world to continue to pursue my desires and ambitions, even though I was her only daughter and she knew very well I would never return- though she was happy I had married a man who in all the essentials was like her “darling”husband.
Yeh hothi hai maa. This is a Mother. I will never have another. Khudahafiz Ammi Ji, it is your turn now to go away, never to return. I will miss you with every breath I take.”