Our Bajiya

Today, on what would’ve been her 88th birthday, Google honours Bajjo. Two and a half years after her passing, it is still heartbreaking to think about her. She made 85 feel too young an age to go, because all she had was love to give – no favours to ask, no embittered comments, always the one to make the effort even with people 60 years her junior. Bajj was always available if you needed anything; from helping your drivers daughter get admitted into school after the admissions had closed to making sure an innocent Bangladeshi cook wasn’t deported unfairly.

At her home, the governor and the governor’s driver, sat on the same sofa, drank tea from the same cup. She never turned anyone away, not at 6 in the morning and not at 11 at night.

She received the highest civilian award from the Japanese emperor, and in the 90s when India and Pakistan were conducting nuclear tests and war seemed imminent, she was offered Japanese citizenship for herself and five family members. She said, “can you offer 150 million people citizenship? The whole of Pakistan is my family”.

Bajiya beat cancer like it was a common flu. She lost all her weight, her appetite, her clarity of speech, to cancer, but not her strength of character. She’d say, “I’m sure they got it wrong, I never had cancer”, and she’d go about her business just the same. For her radiation she was being given minuscule dots of tattoo ink on her face to mark the areas where the radiation needed to happen. Some of it spilt, leaving her with a very large, circular permanent mark on her face. “Mistakes happen!”, she smiled and said.

Despite living alone it was her who would come see us as opposed to the other way around – she’d come in for five mins at the most, remain standing the whole time – “I just wanted to see your face”, she’d say, “now I’m leaving. I have too much work. I’ll come again tomorrow”. And she kept her word, as always.

Bajj always had too much work, none of it her own, none of it for herself. At her home, she’d be buried under piles of paper that she was allegedly “sorting out” for as long as I had lived. The answer to “do you need help?” would always be no. The answer to “can you help me?”, would always be yes.

That’s who Bajiya was I suppose, now that I think about it. She was one big YES in a world full of No’s. A smile and a helping hand, in a world full of people who never have the time. An encouraging constant source of support, never with any expectation whatsoever.

And the beauty of it is, she wasn’t just mine. She belonged to everyone. Today I live in the house where Bajiya once lived. She was my grandmother, but when I moved in, all my neighbours said, “Oh welcome! You are lucky to live in Bajiya’s house! Bajiya was our aunt!”. I smiled and didn’t say anything because in some way, in every way, they are right. Bajiya is as much mine as she is anyone else’s.

The day she had her stroke, she had gone to Lyari at age 85, on a scorching day, because someone’s gate keeper had promised their daughter that Bajiya would be the chief guest at a function in her school. That’s Bajiya.

I’m sure God would’ve come to receive her himself at the pearly gates, where she would have greeted him with her signature “Hullo!” and started saying “beta, you must put so and so in heaven, they don’t deserve hell”….

I have a knot in my throat thinking about her even today. Rest in peace, my darling Bajj – rest in all your glory, your impeccable egalitarianism, your unparalleled compassion, and your beautiful, beautiful, soul. Thank you for making it so easy to love you this much. Always.

Published on Facebook on September 1st, 2018.

Well-placed nostalgia

I find it deeply perplexing, that moments in history that one does not contribute to in any tangible way, can alter the course of ones life. My two weeks in India gave me the chance to meet a number of people who’s grandparents were born in present day Pakistan. I found it unsettling in so many ways, that a decision made by our grandparents, to move in 1947, is what so intrinsically defines us now.

I travelled to india with a number of preconceived notions – notions of clear differences and distinctions between two nations, notions of different accents and mindsets, notions of tolerance and intolerance, notions of love and resentment, notions of misplaced nostalgia, notions of chaos, notions of discontent and most importantly, notions of being completely alien to this undiscovered world of over a billion people.

Things never really are what they seem. The first thing that struck me about India was its sheer size, the sheer magnitude and vastness of it all, and the crude realisation that amid all the madness, there is something about the system that prevents it from imploding. This was accompanied by the sudden epiphany that 90% of my time in India will be spent commuting from one place to another.

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Qutub Minar #throwback #delhi #takemeback

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In two weeks, I have attempted to skim the surface of India’s northern cities and it’s southern rivers and She has welcomed me as though the haunting line that divides us is a mere figment of my imagination. I have breezed through immigration. I have found myself wondering how I haven’t yet had an accident in Delhi and whether all the cabbies here are secretly engaged in a game of “chicken”, I have seen all the chaos of home and all the order of the first world. I have realised that you rarely feel more alive than when you almost get hit by a bus every five minutes while being driven around in a cycle-rickshaw in Chandni Chowk. I have noticed that Indian street dogs are as resilient as the MQM in Karachi and as lazy as Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet. I’ve seen all of Delhi’s monuments from the Qutub to the Fort, enveloped in a dominant yet silent grandeur, humbly embodying a rich and colourful history the city so forcefully represents.

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These crowded streets Delhi, February 2014

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Down in Kerala, I have seen what it means for separate nations to reside in a single state. South Indians are largely oblivious to most other Indians let alone Pakistanis. I have soaked sun on a boat in the back waters and witnessed natural beauty like never before. In Agra, I could sense the Taj Mahal acknowledging my presence in all it’s cliched majesty, standing relentlessly beautiful amidst thousands of people.

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#backwaters #kerala #india

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I have haggled with shopkeepers, seen people fall ludicrously sick, said yes to all the right things, rekindled old friendships, made new friends, reunited with older ones, I have heard “salaam” “namaste” and “sat sri akaal” all in the same day, I’ve been proud to come to the realisation that I know a lot more about Bollywood than any of my Indian friends and at the same time been blown away by how enamoured my Indian friends are by Pakistani culture, I’ve danced till my legs hurt, laughed till my jaw hurt, been silly, been embarrassed, been excited, but most importantly, been truly content.

Now that I am leaving, it hits me that I was never an alien here. What was alien were my preconceived notions. I felt no differences, I felt no resentment, and no intolerance. What I felt was love, a whole lot of love, and an understood, understated regret on either side of this imaginary line, that our relationship status was at best, complicated.

My nostalgia is no longer misplaced. I have no qualms in saying that I felt at home in a place that could very well have been my home. On a very basic level, only now have I realised, after criticising the rush in Delhi and the lack thereof in Kochin, that our alphabet, our script may be different, but our language is exactly the same.

India, you have been incredible. Until we meet again…..

Originally published on Facebook on February 25, 2014.