From our first visit after we got married, in April 2008 when Bilal’s father had been very unwell and mostly resting, I always saw my mother-in-law on the go and completely in charge of her house and specially her kitchen. At 70+ years she still cooked herself and I can never forget the tasty aloo-matar-keema (minced meat with potatoes and peas) she used to make for Bilal’s father. She hardly rested her head at all in those days, worried that he might need something from her and if she slept she wouldn’t hear his voice. She would be sitting in her chair, reading her newspaper or her rasalay (magazines) if she wasn’t in the kitchen. They lived on their own then except for a few years in between when their grand-daughter was studying in the university and living with them. We stayed in the guest room that was outside the house in the back, the same room that belonged to Bilal when he was in A-levels. My eldest sister-in-law, Rahat apa (who had passed away from Cancer 2 years before we got married) was fondly remembered and talked about and her kids were in Bahawalpur and visited often. Their visits were always a highlight for the whole house. That was my one and only trip in my father-in-law’s lifetime. He passed away in June 2009.
After his passing the transition began as changes were made in and around the house. My youngest sister-in-law’s family moved to Bahawalpur so ammi did not have to live alone. They temporarily moved into the drawing-room turned into a guest room. The room we had stayed in the previous time, had been demolished to make space for my sister-in-law’s own house which was being constructed. We stayed in my father-in-law’s room on that trip and i remember how weird it felt as we entered that room the first time. He loved calendars and I specifically remember how all the calendars in that room read June 2009, the month he passed away. It was November 2009 by then. Despite the sadness, the house felt happily full with my sister-in-law’s family in it and the kids’ activities and gupshups kept us entertained. The days were spent around ammi and evenings were spent with cricket and badminton marathons.
In our trips in the years that followed, the mornings were spent with Ammi in her verandah, herself eating her typical ‘daliya (porridge)’ and sometimes a boiled egg for breakfast, as the sun poured in. Her typical way of asking ‘posti uth gaya hai?’ (literally, has the druggie woken up, lol) when I would walk in in the mornings. She was such great company and loved sharing stories of her parents’, her childhood and her children’s childhoods. She specially loved recounting her memories of partition and her voice would get full of emotion as she’d say, ‘yeh sab bhool gaye hoenge lekin aik aik lamha hamari ankhon keh saamne hai’ (They might have forgotten but each single moment is still infront of our eyes). I can never forget her namaz, how she would immediately start getting up to do wuzu as soon as she heard the azaan. Her long Isha prayer that was quietly said in the verandah if there was too much going on the house. Her dua after the Isha prayer was especially long as she would mention names of each person that had asked her to pray for them. Another routine was Bilal’s and ammi’s discussions on politics and religion. My husband loved teasing her and trying to pull her into arguments and she would get irritated and try to get him to leave her alone.
In December 2011, when we visited with Anya for the first time, my sister-in-law’s beautiful new house had been completed and a new phase of life had begun, with changes in ammi’s house and routines as new systems developed. Over these years, Rahat apa’s kids had moved out and moved in, except for the youngest. Ayeesa apa as Anya called her when she was younger, remained in Bahawalpur and all of us happily waited for her visits.
In early 2014 when she moved to Canada too to study, only the eldest and his family (He was married by then and had a little boy too, Ammi’s first great-grandson)remained in Bahawalpur. When we visited in December 2014, their visits were looked forward to. By this time Ammi had gone from walking around and hardly resting to falling continuously despite using her walking stick and ultimately almost completely bed-ridden. Saddest to me was watching her even pray in bed lying down if at all as she forgot the rakaats for namaz or even the namaz itself at times. As kids had grown, they were now mostly busy with their own things, no more badminton marathons in the evenings. No more mornings with ammi in the verandah and the bed that was ammi’s usual spot there had been taken away to make space. No more arguments between ammi and Bilal on religion as she faced problems with her memory. So much that was… remained no more.
Still I distinctly remember feeling like we should celebrate all that still remained.. My mother-in-law and her loving smiles, the way her eyes would light up at the mention of Anya and Yousuf (her great-grandchild). The house that Bilal grew up in and that despite all the changes that it had seen still held so many memories in so many corners, the garden despite a total upheaval still remained as a legacy of Bilal’s father and his love for plants and his garden. The house still remained a place of getting together and the kids and the grownups that were still connected to it, reminisced and remembered as they got together in it. Yousuf’s visits reminded them of his dad’s childhood when he was little and visited with his loved mother. On that visit last year, I strongly thought about how despite all that changes in our lives and however natural it is to keep looking at the past and reminiscing of it, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the present, and all that still remains if we continuously kept looking back. In a way we are always living the best of times.
My mother-in-law passed away in August this year while we were on our way to be with her. And though we never got a chance to meet her one last time, her glowing face, her sweet determined voice, her warm hugs and kisses on our foreheads, her adoring love for Anya, her advice, her stories of her family/life/partition will always stay fresh in my mind. In a culture that is full of stories of bad intentioned mother in laws from all socio-economic levels, I only ever felt warm love and concern from her. Her love for books, education and passing on knowledge made her different from the other women of her generation. Her love for Allah and her faith, kept her heart pure and kept her away from petty issues. Despite facing many challenges in her life, she seemed like such a content person who was never dependent on others for her happiness. Just being around her gave one a chance to learn so much from her.
Walking through her house on this trip felt so empty and cold without her presence in it. As we said goodbye to her, all of our goodbyes from our previous trips kept passing infront of my eyes.. Her walking us out to the taxi cab waiting for us after my first trip… Always coming along to the ride to the airport with Bilal every time I had to fly back to my parents… Always getting convinced by Bilal to come all the way to Islamabad to see us off for the flight back and staying up till we left for the airport.. And every single time seeing us off with tears shining in her eyes, a big smile on her face as she kissed our foreheads and hugged us off, the last words out of her mouth always Fi Amanillah.
Fi Amaanillah ammi. May Allah bless you and fulfill all the dreams you had for your children and grandchildren inshAllah! You are deeply missed by all who knew you!
Please say a little prayer for her and our families when you read this.
Thanks for reading. Lots of love.
All photos from my in-laws house in Bahawalpur, the house where most of my husband’s childhood memories were made. These photos were taken over a course of 7 years.
Fi Amanillah: In Allah’s protection.It is a way to wish protection and safety of Allah to someone.