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             Volume 10 |Issue 33 | August 26, 2011 |


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Memory Bouquet for my Grandfather

Shamsad Mortuza

I don't remember whether it was my grandfather who used to wake me up or was me who used to wake him up, but I do remember that I used to stand by him in his prayer mat and say our Fajr prayer together. I say 'say' but all I ever did was actually copy whatever my grandpa was doing. One prayer mat was large enough for the both of us; at least I didn't have any problem fitting in and sharing his chants that declared the greatness of Allah breaking the morning silence. I could hardly wait for the prayer to be finished though. I knew once we were finished, we would set off for our morning walk. He would grab his cane stick in one hand and I would grab the index finger of his other hand, and then we would go all the way up to the main-road.

The neighbourhood would have been half asleep, excepting few early risers like my grandfather and me. We moved like ants, stopping every time whenever there was a familiar face coming from the other side. An exchange of small talk and we were all set to pursue our trail. We were staying at Gopibagh at that time. We would take RK mission road, then Abhoy Das Lane and go all the way up to Tikatuli crossing. I guess it was almost two miles. I don't know why, but our stroll would always end at the tallest building in the vicinity, the Elysium. I was too little to understand the symbolic significance of the name of our destination, which I later learned stood for the Hellenic heaven.

In autumn I had a special motivation for going for the walk: gathering sheuli and weaving garlands afterward. The beauty of sheuli is that you don't need thread to make a garland; you can just press the orange stem of one flower and insert them to the centre of the petals of another. The horizontal whites spaced by vertical orange lines bend to form a circle of fragrance at your will; the moist of nightly dew soon evaporates under the warmth of your hands, and all you have is a rich display of serene colour scheme that brushes against your nostril with the aroma of freshness and purity. The garland-weaving leaves an orange stain in your fingers as if to testify that you have just voted for nature. It's a pity that fresh flower garlands do not last long. The circle that you have just completed with the satisfaction of solving the mystery of the world appears more fragile than ever. Yet you can keep on making another—the next day. And for that, you need to wake up early in the morning, and find flowers before others get them or the heat of the sun destroys them.

Sometimes, on our way back home we would pick up parathas, bhaji and sujis halua from the local sweetmeat shop on RK Mission Road, owned by Hashu Miah. The fuming suji with a dash of rose water, the crispy paratha and the mixed vegetables, prepared with a combination of boiling and frying with panch phoron were out of this world. I was told the sweets of the shop were supplied by the fairies painted on the signboard of the shop. By the time we had got back home, there was a tremendous business all around. My uncles were being cajoled by my grandmother for not waking up and not hitting their reading desks, my mother was busy preparing breakfast for the whole family, my father getting ready for his office! Oh I miss the beauty of living in a joint family. This was the time before TV became a modifier for our meal: TV-breakfast, TV-dinner...

Photo: internet

My grandfather used to work for the British Railway. He was the second person to receive his BA degree in Babuganj. People came from a distance to see him after he had passed his baccalaureate. His nomadic job had taken him and his family to different parts of the then East and West Pakistan. With four sons and three daughters, he had a large family to maintain. But what I gather from different family chit chats that he was not very clever in material sense. He simply lived for his present moments, and never thought of the future. I guess, during our morning walks, my grandfather passed on a similar spirit in me.

He was already retired by the time I began to form memory of him. He had a square face with silky white hair and white beard. His fair complexion made his dark glasses quite remarkable. He was tremendously fond of sweets. Unfortunately, his diabetes would not allow him to indulge in such a diet. He would literally beg my mother for rice pudding, and my mother would secretly oblige, eschewing the eagle eye of my grandma.

Once a month, a khaki clad postman would come with my grandfather's pension. Somehow, I still remember that lanky fellow who would bring the money for our grandpa. Cash in grandpa's hand meant immediate visit to Hashu's sweetmeat shop for hot juicy rasogollas. But my brother and I had to earn those treats. We would have to jump on our grandpa's back holding the bed-stands for mosquito nets (some masseurs were we!) to get the treat.

At his later years, my grandfather was very scared of us seeing us playing under quilts. For my younger brother and I, the bed was a playground. We used to erect walls of pillows and then cover them up with quilts to pretend that we were in a rocket or a ship. From his room, my grandpa would scream at us, pleading us not to go under the quilts. At that time, we did not realise why our grandpa made such fuss about something so trivial. But now I think, he was afraid of death. The quilt reminded him of the shroud.

My grandfather was an ordinary man with no extraordinary achievements. But he was a man who cherished and relished life. He was both loved and feared by his children. But for me my grandpa was my Santa Claus, a gift bearer—gifts of life. He died in 1984 at the age of 81. It was 27th Ramadan. A holy night! As his death anniversary is nearing, I just felt like remembering him as a member of the family; after all that's what family is for—to renew the garland of life with new flowers and the memory of old ones.



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