Faiz, the Father
By Moneeza Hashmi
As for my memories with Abba, I think there’s some kami in me, or rather, I call it a kind of a defense shield, that I have blotted out a lot in my life. Must have been deliberate, I try not to think about it. Because my childhood was a very lonely one I think that’s why I blotted out a lot of things. Even when I dig and dig and dig I get flashes and I shun them. It is probably a defense mechanism.
I see him in patches. Salima mashallah has the memory of an elephant; she remembers things from when she was three years old. My memory is very sketchy about him. Maybe because I was young, or that he was working at a newspaper, which meant late hours. I can remember the morning and I can see the room and I can see my room and I can see where he is. But he was always usually asleep when we got up in the morning; we came from the school he would be at the newspaper.
Some things are there though, but there is no such thing as two-year-old, three-year-old memories. I can hear the doors clanging and the shouts and my mother screaming when he was arrested. I can hear it, I can’t see it. And I remember her crying. I think I was five. And I remember the long train rides to Hyderabad (jail) and back. I remember the cell, sometimes. Of going inside and coming out. I remember sitting outside. I remember waiting, I remember coming home alone. I remember him walking in; I remember his perfume, sometimes. And I would sit in his lap… I remember the night he came home very clearly; the garlands that I had around my head. There is a picture somewhere also, but I can’t find it.
From childhood, I think this is my Dadi’s influence, I am very religious. I have an inclination towards religion. My Dadi and my Phupi have a big hand in that. So my first roza kushai (breaking the fast). I was eight years old, so I remember that very clearly. I think there were patties and something cool to drink.
Then reciting Azan in my son Ali’s ear. Special. That was very special to me. Then Ali’s first roza kushai. He would laugh and say to me (sometimes he would go to Data Darbar with me, not a lot, once or twice), ‘he would get our sins forgiven’, toba. I think he was amused by my rozas (fasting) and my namaz (praying). But I didn’t read the Qur’an until the day he died and then I started.
There were difficult times, when I was building my house and we didn’t have any money, we had to stop building at one time, then he came silently, he had come from Bierut. He gave us 500 dollars, at that time it was a lot of money. He just put it in my hand and said, “Don’t tell your mother.” So that made a room or a bathroom or something. He would do things like that. He would bring gifts.
At my 10th wedding anniversary he brought me a pair of earrings from Moscow. Very special. Every birthday he would ask me what I would like, it didn’t matter how old I was. When I was young, it would be little things. When I was old, he was hardly ever around but when he came he would bring something. They were very precious to me. I don’t unfortunately remember where I kept most of them, or they are lost.
He never taught me much or help out with school; I feel that was missing, and fathers of that generation did not do so. It was the mothers’ responsibility though even my poor mother did not. She was also busy with courts, etc. It was my Phupi’s responsibility for me at least. Her name was Iqbal, we called her Bali. She spent a long time with us, she didn’t marry and she stayed with us until he came home. Then he made sure that she married. Maybe he didn’t even know about our exams, never asked about the result either.
When I went to college he used to come very regularly from Karachi, I was in the hostel. He would take me out for the afternoon. We would have lunch somewhere, usually Chinese, there was a small restaurant on The Mall. And he would sit there, or somewhere, and he would smoke and I would talk or bitch about college. He would listen in peace and then it would be time to go. And then he would always, always give me money. Whenever I saw him, he would give me money.
Mama was always upfront, a nice version of blunt. I can’t for the life of me think of another word. That’s probably what I have imbibed from her. I do not regret it though a lot of people tell me I should. I’ll be damned if I do. I am upfront. Say whatever you want to say and get it over with. She would not mince her words. ‘This is not the time for this, do this, don’t do this’. And she would mother him, to some extent, and bully him.
He was never the kind of person you would think of as the absent-minded professor. He was perfectly dressed, perfectly attired. Everything would match, everything was in synch. He would be up at seven or eight in the morning. He would be dressed and out at nine-thirty or ten. It was not as if he was taking any sort of license with being a poet. He was so, so well dressed and he always smelled so sweetly. I have that perfume with me still.
So he was organized in his own way, but he let her do it. I think he probably felt that she enjoyed doing it, which is fine. Plus it took a lot of load off him, she would be in charge and he could always hide behind her. Because he was never confrontational. He just couldn’t stand confrontation. He couldn’t stand arguments; he couldn’t stand open-ended discussions. So he would put her in front, or he would tell me some time, now I am tired, let’s go, which meant, get me out of here. I used to tell him, ‘You are a coward’. But that was his way of getting away and he would do it. He used it very cleverly; he would get somebody else to do it for him.
He never wanted to ever hurt anybody or make anybody feel that he was bored or tired. Obviously people used to bore him to death and he used to tell us afterwards. He would say, ‘Well, they weren’t leaving.’
My elder son Ali is the oldest, the first grandson. He named both my sons, Ali and Adeel. Ali’s name was Madeeh, which is a beautiful name and we were very happy to keep it. But my mother used to say that she can’t pronounce it. And she said that it would become Mehdi. She said, ‘Faiz, give me a simpler name. Then Abba said, ‘Ali’.
He named me as well. My name is Moneeza but we all have two names. My name is also Gul, which he kept after his sister. Salima is Sultana, Adeel is Omar. Ali is still very silent. So he used to say a lot, ‘ Yaar, you should play more, otherwise you will end up like me, you will regret it’.
I was in PTV during Ziaul Haq years, and mujh pe nazr-e-karam bhi kuch ziyada thi (they took good care of me); my promotions were stopped, I was called for explanations, I remember being very frustrated. So I wrote to Abba and the gist of the letter was something like, ‘All this is happening because of you; get back here, and get me out of this mess’. He was in London. And he did come back, a month or so later, and after that he stayed.
He wrote back saying, ‘There are good and bad times at jobs ( naukari main utar charhaao aata rehta hai)’. He wrote with a lot of love. He said, ‘These are small people, you shouldn’t mind what they say. And you should be able to rise above this’. He always wrote to me in Urdu. ‘And this is belittling of you and you stand by what you believe in and that is what is important and times will change’. And a few weeks later, he was back. - Salima and Moneeza Hashmi spoke to Murtaza Razvi. Courtesy Dawn.