I have written several pieces in my blogs about Abi. He had many friends who adored him. He was a good doctor and had the finest bedside manner I have seen. Even after his heart attacks he would go to a patient if they called at night, thinking that they may not get anyone else to attend at this time.
He loved books (English and Urdu), published a set of short stories (Naee Paod) and wrote poems (to be published soon) in Urdu, loved music (Eastern Classical, Qavvaali, and Western Classical), could read musical notes and tried his best to teach me … but failed. He sang fairly well (in Urdu and English), spoke English well (and sometimes, as a joke, in a perfect Scottish accent when we asked), wrote Urdu with a lovely consistent writing, loved Science and Arts. And he adored sweets and mangoes (as do I).
Abi was extremely religious in his last years … but very liberal in his conversations with me even when they were against some parts of his beliefs at times. I owe him so much. My love of literature (and specially Urdu poetry), arts, and music, come from him.
When Abi was in Scotland for his medical studies he had been left with no money (specially from a father who had a lot of it). Abi never brought this up in any conversation and, once, when I said that this was terrible, he got angry at me and said that was between him and his father and I had no business criticising my dada! He finally had to get more money to pay for his examination fees and his last semester. He borrowed this from a 'friend' of his in Scotland (Auntie Dorothy) and promised to pay back soon when he started his practice in Monifieth (Scotland). However, he was called back to India when his mother had Cancer … and then he did not go back to UK.
He got married to my mother and told her in two days that he had to send most of the money he earned here to Dorothy in Monifieth. Ummi decided that it was a bad idea to owe someone money at all … and sold some of her jewellery and gave the money to Abi. That was within a fortnight of their marriage. I met Aunty Dorothy years later when I was in the Merchant Navy and went to Dundee, close to Monifieth. She spoke very fondly of him and of my mother whom she knew through letters.
From his practice in Aligarh (which began soon after his mother died), he eventually moved - in a few months after I was born - to Qarolbaagh in Dilli. He was taken into the British Army as a doctor and we travelled everywhere (Jhaañsi, Mayruth, Attock, to name a few) … but he also went to Palestine, Iraq, Cairo, Babylon, and many other places.
Then came the Partition. Ummi and I accompanied my Khaala and Khaalu (Abbu Jan and Ammi Jan) to Bombay where Abi was supposed to meet us. He did. He had just come from Dilli and found that the house and his little clinic had been burnt completely. Ummi was shocked at all the good things they had saved and bought … and never ever wanted us to buy anything, thinking that it would disappear one day. We set out to Karachi after Abi (a Congress Party member) had been assured by Dr Syed Mahmud (Nuzhat's Nana) and Pandit Ji that things would quieten down in six months and we could return.
That never happened
Life in Karachi was fairly bad. We had no money (the first few years Abi would treat refugees free from Ramakrishna Mission Hospital that he was working at. He had been called to join it by his friend and colleague from the UK who was now a Doctor and a Priest! They also gave us a small flat near where they lived. Despite this he and my mother had several friends and relatives who were coming from India to stay over at our house. Often a dozen, sleeping everywhere. How did Ummi manage their food was always a mystery, specially as I grew up and started understanding the 'finances'. Ammi Jan used to laugh and say that Ummi put in a lot of water to make the dishes seem larger than they were.
Abi's health kept getting worse … and he could not keep a job for long after having left Orient Airways as the Chief Medical Officer. He was in his clinic one day and off for days at a time. On some days he made nothing. On other days he made a few bucks. Doctors who were his friends told him that he should give up the refugees and move to a bigger place (Dr Afzal Habib offered to have him in his clinic), but Abi was Abi. The refugees came first. Then relatives. Then friends. Alwaysnd a book, if he ever had money.
When I ran away from home to join the Merchant Navy (there was no way that my father could have paid for my education, college, medical school, going off to UK to learn about the Surgeon I wanted to be), it was quite a tragedy. Abi was really hurt … although he soon discovered that I was a good cadet. Sadly he never lived long enough to see me pass my Second Mate's exams and get a prize for Navigation (from the Commonwealth).
It was the 19th of September, 1963, that Abi died.
His death - at 63 - was a shock to us, despite the fact that he had often been unwell: Heart problems (and small attacks, much as I have had until I had to go in for a quadruple bypass),
Diabetes (he'd have his sweets once in a while and add an anti-Diabetic tablet with it … something that I do, too)
, High Blood Pressure, and an occasional lack of 'balance' as he lost his hearing in one ear and it made him fall at times (I have that now … though I haven't fallen, so far).
Despite all these medical problems, Abi died of a Cerebral Haemorrhage when his Blood Pressure was Normal and his heart seemed fine.
It was on January 13th, 1988, that Ummi died.
Ummi lived through most of this widowhood of 25 years in a wonderful way — until she was confined to a wheelchair, having hurt her spine in a fall at the kitchen. She laughed, watched TV, went out to picnics among family and friends. Some of our relatives and Abi's friends visited her and she would begin to, occasionally, laugh with them.
She had always been a great wife and a lovely mother … and what was really important were two of her qualities: (a) she laughed a lot (and loved mad jokes), and (b) read tremendously (in Urdu). Among the numerous things that Ummi taught me was to laugh at everything. Even in a tragedy - after the initial crying - Ummi would laugh and talk about all the good things the person had said. Most important: she taught me not to be worried. That has been a remarkable thing in my life. I get over most things almost the way she did.
It was a pity to see her on an armchair in the last few years as she spoke less and less, laughed rarely, ate very little so that she could die and just prayed to be taken away. It was sad to see her go but I am glad she went.
Ummi liked animals. Specially mainaas and cats. When we brought Lenny home from our ship and decided to leave her with Ummi, she fell totally in love. Lenny was a strange cat. If Nuzhat and I left the house Lenny would come to the gate with us and wait there until we got back. Even if it was two in the night, there'd be Lenny. Waiting. When we left for our trips, Lenny would be in Ummi's room all the time.
She once said to me that I had one of my father's good habits: I loved books … But I also chose a bad one: I smoked. Abi gave his smoking up the day Ummi asked him to. I had started smoking when I was 14 … and now I was 37 years old. I went into the room and brought my large collection of pipes, my Lucky Strike cigarettes, and 2 Cigars that were in the Phillipine Wooden Box that had my name engraved on it, and told her to pass it to whomever she wanted. I would never smoke again.
And that's true …
Not having a child for years after I was married — (Nuzhat and I married in 1970) — must have hurt Ummi, though she never told us about it. Or asked us to go to doctors. On our own we did go … and all doctors said was that we were OK. But soon we gave up thinking of a child, until a day in Hong Kong when, Muzaffar, a close friend of ours, asked us to adopt a Viet Nam baby. His wife, Gulnafar, was working with an agency that helped people adopt these children. We agreed after their insistence to come over in two days and see.
While both of us would have been happy with a baby, I felt that it wasn't the right thing to do. Nuzhat's had 5 brothers. They'd have babies. Their children would be the Nana/Nani favourites. My adopted child (and I) would never be able to handle this at all. Still, we had promised and the day came. I went to office and told Nuzhat that I'd pick her up as soon as I returned. Nuzhat said she had a headache and went to a doctor. She came back home and phoned me saying the doctor says she is pregnant. I rushed off and went with her again to the doctor. I wanted to see the baby and she said she'd just 'seen' the baby in the womb — but Nuz and I insisted. She showed us the child. Amazing. 14 years of marriage … and now we were going to be parents.
Nuzhat and I came back to Karachi. I left her and went off to sea. Thought I'd take leave closer to the birth. One day I got tons of calls from Karachi and they couldn't get through (telephony was really bad!) and when I got a call from the Port Office I was told that I had to rush out from the berth and come to office. Had no idea what was happening.
Soon Anwar, Tahira, their children, arrived. I was told that I had a daughter. I said that's silly. Its only 7 months. But they drove fast and picked up Jehan on the way and took me to Saulat (the head of our company) who had arranged a flight for me to Karachi. I got here and saw Ragni: Fairly blue! It was like having given birth to Krishna.
I was told that Nuzhat had gone with her sister-in-law who wanted to see the doctor. Nuz felt a bit of pain. The doctor checked her out and said she must have an operation right away. Called another doctor who arrived. Doctors told her that the baby had the umbilical cord around her throat and could die if they waited anymore. Her sister-in-law rushed home and brought the family. The blueness of Ragni was because of the lack of breathing well. She became alright after a few months with the blue fading away. (Well, almost!!! - Eh Ragni?)
Nuzhat and I named her Ragni Marea: The Melody of the Sea. Jan Ammu (my father's first cousin and the older brother of Talat Mahmood) came and recited the Azaan
in her right ear and, at my insistence, he sang an alaap
of Raag Darbari
in her left ear :)
In the last four years Ummi saw my daughter … and that thrilled her. She adored Ragni. She didn't even cry when Ragni jumped on the bed and rolled over her aching feet. She spoke constantly with Ragni and that made Ragni improve her Urdu. Ragni started using words that we all laughed at because they were really big words. And she told Ragni numerous stories.
On the 13th January evening Ummi was lying on her bed and Nuzhat, Nihal Bhai (an old family friend who was staying with us), and I were with her. Ragni, now 4 years old, came in and started speaking to Ummi. Ummi held her hand and looked at her grand-daughter. I heard Ragni saying a few minutes later : "Can't you see me, Amma Jan?" … Nihal Bhai said Ummi was feeling very weak. Nuzhat and I went immediately to get a doctor. Ragni fell asleep on her side by the time we came back.
The doctor arrived and said Ummi had passed away.
We didn't let Ragni come into the room and sent her off to school the next day (14th Jan) while the funeral was being prepared. In the afternoon we told her that Ummi had been take up to the heavens where angels would treat her. She looked at us and said, "Please don't alter her room. I want to see it look like that." (Now, that's her room when she comes back for a holiday from New York.)
(A whole year later, Nuzhat's father - a younger brother of Ummi - passed away on the 14th January 1989 …)