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A woman recalls the demise of her father-in-law and how she and her husband coped with the grief in the lock-down from miles apart.
July 24, 2020: 13 months of a painful, wrecking fight ends here.
Such is life!
In June 2019, Abba, my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. Shahzeel, my husband and I re-located our base from Melbourne to Kanpur to be with him and in November 2019 we came back to Melbourne to reboot our life and our daughter’s studies.
While leaving Kanpur he told me, “I have to visit Kanpur to be with Abba in every three months, Summy.”
In mid February this year, he booked his tickets to Kanpur for early March, but soon our lives were disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic and the consequent lock-down. As destiny may have planned it, the virus shut the borders two days before his flight could take off.
He was left helpless but the fact that the borders would open soon again kept us hopeful. And then hope slowly left our court as the world came to a standstill. Unfortunately, Abba’s life did not. It depleted and came to a halt.
I don’t need to explain how cancer breaks a family’s heart while it plays with the victim’s anatomy. So many people have dealt with it, on a personal level or at a distance. We went through it with Abba.
Chemotherapy extended his life to an extent but it comes with its own set of side-effects and limitations. Four months back, Abba became immune to Chemo and that ended the therapy abruptly.
Abba’s body was left to battle the malignant growth without a shield. For the last four months we have seen the struggle ascend. Right from blood transfusion to bed sores, from stomach infection to allergies, from being diaper-reliant to becoming almost like a vegetable stage, we saw the long-lasting aggression of cancer.
But the worst was ‘karaahana’ (his groans). “Jab Abba ‘Aaaah’ kartey toh mera ghar haul jata tha.”(When Abba groaned in pain, it shook our entire house). Sitting miles away Shahzeel video called his place for 2-4 hours a day. He asked his family members to keep the phone by his father’s side. As Abba rested with eyes shut, Shahzeel absorbed his father with eyes open.
“Kabhi dua padhta, kabhi dua karta, kabhi unhe dekh ke muskarata, kabhi do aasu bahata, par atoot shidadat se dekhta rehta! ” (At times he prayed, at times, I smiled on seeing him; at times I cried, but kept looking at my father with an unbreakable passion)
Shahzeel being Shahzeel prayed and prayed. I have seen this man lying on janamaz and make it his home.
“Jab dua nahi karta toh ussi 4*4 ki janamaz mein simat jata. Rota, bahut rota kyuki ro uske saamne jo aapko de sakta hai.” (When he wasn’t praying, he used to lie down on his prayer mat. He cried and cried, because one can only cry in front of God in such circumsatances)
In times like these, you come closer to the Lord and fall on the ground to beg, “kyuki insaan ke fitrat mein hai maangna. Dena uske haath hai par bheekh mangna aapki zaat mein hai – insaan ki zaat!” (Because man can only ask for something, it is up to God to grant his wishes)
It was a 13-month long fight for our home. At times I wondered why it lasted so long as at a certain point, Abba’s ordeal and grief was beyond our control. “Dil dukhta hai jab ilaaj nahi milta.” (The heart hurts when we can’t find a solution)
Remember how your parents cried before you when you encountered little pain? The story stays the same when the roles are reversed. But as time progressed, I got the answer. He gave us time to digest, to absorb our loss.
We started at a point when we were shook with the news and he prayed “Ya Allah, mere Abba ko sehat de, mere Abba ko theek kar de”(oh God, please cure my father) but as the days progressed and we knew what we are dealing with and where it was progressing it went to “Ya Allah, aafiyat ka mamla farmaye.”(oh God, please have mercy on us), and then to a point where we begged Him to listen and make Abba’s transition to the other world smooth.
Last Friday, as Shahzeel was about to commence his “Juma ki Namaz” the news came to our home. And even though we were prepared and prayed for this, understandably he cried with “Abba gaye. Mere Abba chale gaye.” (Abba has left us, my father is no more).
Tears rolled down his cheeks and he started walking. I followed him without talking. He needed his space and I distanced myself at home. He may not need me then but I needed to be there. Finally, when I got hold of him, I hugged him to convey.
“Shahzeel, Abba ko kya din mila? Juma, wo bhi namaz se pehle, taaki tum hamesha ki tarah unke liye maang lo.(Shahzeel, look at the time, he passed away on Juma that too just before namaz, so that you can pray for him like always), and that too it’s the month of Hajj. He had to leave, we wanted him to, we requested and now we have received it.” I told him what he believes.
In just a matter of moments, he gathered himself and sat on his Janamaz. And for the next two hours he did dissolve himself there. He read, he cried, he begged, and he prayed. As for me, I sat there, right behind him for hours together, like humsaya. We didn’t talk, we hardly do. After 18 years, silence works best for us.
One of the worst hardships for people today people is to bid adieu to their loved ones via technology. No human contact is challenging people’s sanity. In 2012, when we were putting up in London, one phone call from my father told me that my Dadi left for her heavenly abode . I vividly recall registering this news while looking outside of the window as I saw a big red bindi (the one my Dadi wore everyday) fade away. Everyone has their own journey to cope up with pain. People might walk a mile with you, but then you are left to cover your journey ahead, alone, your way!
We knew Abba had to leave and we wanted so, but not being able to attend his last rites hit Shahzeel hard. My husband is the eldest of the three brothers and two of them were back home. When I made a futile attempt to explain that his brothers are there he said,
“Mere baap ko mere kandhe ki zarurat nahi hai, Summy. Waha unke do aur ladke aur bahut aadmi hai kandha dene ko. Ye sawaab Allah ne mujhse cheena kyuki mere ek hi baap they aur mera kandha us farz se mehroom reh gaya.” (My father doesn’t need my shoulder. He has two other sons and a lot of people for that. It is my loss that I couldn’t perform my duties as a son for him)
Last year, as we stayed six months in Kanpur, Shahzeel performed every single duty a child must perform – tan, man, dhan se. I remember and I quote, “Even if I spend every single penny I have, and even if I quit my job to serve him, I am fine. Allah ne chaha toh hamari zindagi padi hai, dubara se shuru karenge. Mere baap ke paas nahi hai. Is aadmi ne apni zindagi hum bachhon mein daal di, ab hamari baari.” (If God wishes, we will earn money again, we have our whole lives, but my father doesn’t. He devoted his entire life for his kids, it is our turn to serve him now)
He might sound like a person with extreme views, but then that’s who he is – highly devoted, courageous and astonishingly rooted!
So, on Friday we went to Abba’s funeral online. Right from the time his lifeless body was kept on the courtyard, to the prayer assembly, to the time he was laid at his final destination, we glued our eyes to the screen as his brothers made sure that their bada bhai (elder brother) doesn’t miss their father’s last riots.
I saw Shahzeel break and reboot several times as he kept explaining me the proceedings. When the men picked up Abba’s body for the last walk, he said “Ab mere Abba gaye.” (now my father has gone) When they wrapped his face in kafan, he exclaimed, “Gaye Abba” and when they finally placed him in the soil bed and placed the last plank of wood slab, I whispered, “Khuda Hafiz, Abba. Khayal rakhiye, phir milenge.” (May God be with you, Abba. Take care, we shall meet again)
Shameel, the youngest of the three brothers, cried the hardest. The moment he took hold of that video call, he bawled staring at Shahzeel stating without words, “Bhai, ye kya ho gaya?”(brother, look what happened) Something in him tore beyond repair. Being the youngest, Shameel is the khurchan of the family. I remember when I met both Adeel and Shameel for the first time. In November 2010, after almost a year of my wedding, I visited my in-laws place for the very first time. Shahzeel and I were in the U.S. at that hour and after a long haul we landed on the destination – Kanpur. On the railway platform, I saw two tall men, one smiling, other uncomfortably hiding.
“Hello Bhabhi”, cried the younger one while the older one held on to his reserved nature. The two men drove their bada bhai (elder brother) and me to their home. I remember how Shameel made a quick soup for me once we stepped at home as I was impacted by seasonal change. Life is made of small details and I reminisce by dipping my toes in those moments.
I look back at Shameel as that 22-year-old who stood in front of the stove stirring the soup in a pan, making sure it doesn’t get stuck to the bottom. Friday when I saw him break down reaching out to his brother on the phone, my eyes met a man in that boy, a man who lost his father and craves for his brother. We can’t hug him, we can’t pat his back, just watch him and say, “Nahi Shameel, Abba ko dukh hoga.” (No Shameel, it shall hurt Abba)
You plan and plan and plan and then He acts. Our plan was to make Abba visit Australia. He did not visit us in the US and London and this time he was all set to visit us in Melbourne. I remember his excitement with our garage door here. It’s a remote-controlled wooden door and he gasped in excitement when he saw it first.
“Shahzeel yaar ye darwaza dekhne aaunga zarur.”( Shahzeel, I shall definitely come to see this door)
“Wo aaye nahi aur ab Abba ke ghar ka darwaza mitti hai. Jaha se zindagi shuru ki, wohi chale gaye. ” (But alas, he couldn’t visit us, and now he has gone back to where his life had started)
Saturday morning, we were thinking how Abba would have opened his eyes in his new home, new world. How his new life will be now?
“Abba se sawaal jawaab shuru ho gaye hongey. 7’*3’ ki kabr mein adhera hai par Khuda ki mohabbat kabr mein bhi ujala kar deti hai. Ab Abba ka asal safar shuru. Jaane wale ki duniyavi rishtey toot jaatey hai par aulaad ka farz nahi. Apne Ma-Baap ke liye padhtey rehna chahiye, unki gunaho ki maafi mangna. Hamari is zindagi ka sawaab unhe us zindagi mein bhi milega.” (They must have started questioning Abba. There is darkness in the grave, but light in God’s love. Now Abba’s real journey has started. Even though all his earthly connections have now broken, my duties towards him as a son still remain. We should continue praying for our parents, and asking forgiveness for their sins. Our efforts in this life shall benefit him in his afterlife) pitched Shahzeel.
My daughter and I lost our grandfathers in the same year – 2020! Only difference is that my Dada lived a full life and was 92 and her Dada’s retirement was just about to start and was 62!
Earlier this year on a separate conversation Shahzeel said, “Summy agar kal mujhe kuch ho jaye toh please mujhe mere ghar le jaake dafnana. Kam se kam koi meri kabr pe faatiha (verses from the Holy Quran) toh padhne aayega.” (Summy, if something were to happen to me, please take me back to my home-land and bury me there. At least there someone will come to read the Quran on my grave)
Witnessing Abba’s funeral on Friday, I promised Shahzeel, “Baaki USKI marzi, par agar tum mere se pehle gaye, (it is upto God, but if you die before me) I will ensure you rest near your father. You people deserve to be together.”
Life moves on and so it will. I haven’t cried and I will not. I want to celebrate his life and I will but then once I will reach in-law’s home (God knows when) I will break as no one will come towards me with a huge smile and place a hand over my head saying, “As-salamu alaykum! Mashallah Mashallah, khair se aa gaye tum log.” (Greetings, I hope you had to trouble while coming here)
Shahzeel will meet his father once we reach Kanpur. Even after an address change, we have a place on earth where he can unearth his man and I know even from his grave, Abba will say, “Aa gaye tum. Bahut intezaar karwaya, beta.” (Finally you’re here. You made me wait a long time, son)
Picture Credits: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
First published here.
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