No-one can ever replace her

She was truly one of a kind. Seventeen years and the memory of Ammi is still so fresh in our minds and in our hearts. Her infectious smile, her giggles, her ability to find something humourous in almost every situation, her compassion, her love, her tenderness, her capacity to make everything bad suddenly disappear, was uncanny. Ammi was the true epitome of a perfect, caring and loving mother and a fabulous human being.

Ammi blue saree and tigguLike most of the world, today I am “locked down” at home. The current environment, the loneliness, the uncertainty of the situation makes me miss Ammi all the more. Everything in this house reminds me of her. Her pre-longed illness meant that she spent most of her time either in her bedroom or in the lounge. On weekdays she would be on the lookout for me as I walked into the house after work. A broad bright smile would welcome me and she would ask me how my day had been. I would lie down on her bed and tell her everything – good, bad or ugly. She was such a great listener – and totally non-judgmental. Sometimes she would present a perspective that shifted my thinking about something that was stressing me out or making me sad. I don’t know how she did it – it was magical.

On weekends we would wake up and I would go into the kitchen to prepare a special Sunday breakfast for her and Abbaji. She would join me in the kitchen, sit on a chair and chat with me as i cooked. It was our special time.

As I woke up this morning and spoke to some of my siblings, thoughts of Ammi and all the special memories came flooding in. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. I wished she hadn’t left us so soon. All of us needed her so much and we still do.

Today I am wondering how she would have coped with the current scenario. Sensitive as she was, she would have felt the pain of the people who were suffering from the Corona virus, she would have felt with intensity the struggles of the daily wage workers, the healthcare workers, of those who were losing their jobs. She would have wanted to do whatever she could to help ease their pain and discomfort. That was who she was – always thinking of others, never of herself.

At home she would have been a blessing for me. She would have loved having me here all to herself. We would have found ways for us to do things together during non-work hours – watching movies, cooking together or just hanging out conversing on all sorts of subjects or just going into a fit of laughter for no rhyme or reason.

jasmine for ammiI picked up these flowers this morning from our garden. She loved their smell, the freshness. Abbaji would pluck them for her every morning when he went for a walk. She would take them from him and smile. That precious smile – Just thinking about it brings a feeling of peace and warmth to my heart.

Ammi, we know you are in a better place and watching over us from above. Just know that you were very special to all of us and we will always love you.

 

April 1, 2020 at 2:13 pm 1 comment

The world is suddenly on its head

thinkingWas it only a few weeks ago that we were living in a world that was less complicated, less scary, maybe even carefree for many of us? I remember flying off quite happily to London and Vienna in February for work related activities – roaming around, attending events, visiting various offices, taking pictures and having wonderful conversations. Even though around that time there was already talk about the virus, about not shaking hands or giving hugs, about keeping a distance, but for some reason it didn’t seem that frightening then. Yes we carried around a bottle of sanitizer in our bags and were careful about not touching unnecessary items, more conscious of hygiene but we joked about it – the Wuhan handshake, the Vulcan greeting, shaking elbows instead of hands, sanitizers and toilet paper disappearing from shelves – it all seemed like harmless banter, nothing that was really terrifying.

Fast forward a few weeks and here we are – in the midst of a lockdown, offices shut down, entire cities giving a deserted look, most of us isolated from the rest of society. Turn on any news channel and all you see and hear are statistics – how many infected, how many dead, warnings to stay indoors; visuals of people who are really ill, of medical health workers who are in protective gear from head to foot, of empty streets, restaurants, shops, cinemas, parks, malls, bazaars all barricaded. A strange silence everywhere. It seems like a totally different world from the one we knew just some weeks ago.

Work from home which had always been an alternative for some has now become a norm – Zoom, Hangout, WhatsApp, Skype and Slack have become tools that we use to connect, to collaborate, to learn, to impart, to brainstorm. Face-to-face interaction in the same physical space is no longer what we do. We are in our own spaces, connected to technology that brings us together for meetings and conversations. Each of us is finding creative ways to work with each other without being in a defined and familiar environment.

The routines we were used to – getting up early, showering and changing, having early breakfasts and heading out in our modes of transport to schools, work places, meetings, having a gossip over a cup of tea or coffee at work, sharing and tweaking projects, brainstorming on a white board, answering enquiries from others within the same space, going down to the supermarket, taking a lunch break, heading out in the evening for an event or to meet friends or playing table tennis before heading home. Full days of activities when we knew what we had to do at certain times of the day. Always on the move. But no more! All that has come to a halt. Everything is on its head.

The first few days of the lockdown I woke up at the normal time and didn’t know what to do with myself. What was the point of showering and changing since there was nowhere to go. I felt a little lost without my routine. I missed all of it – the rushed schedule, the chaos, the activities, the noise, the interaction, the conversations, even the coffee and the stress. My brain refused to function under these new conditions because it just didn’t know how to.

The team and I had already worked out a WFH routine even before the lockdown and had started implementing it but I was still going into the office then. Now I was not. It was disconcerting. It took a while to tune myself to the new realities. I understood that unless I worked out a routine I was going into a “lost” mode which I would find it difficult to come out of. The new routine was much like the old one with a few tweaks – Wake up, shower, change, have breakfast, medicines and then settle down into a comfortable but convenient workspace. Start working with the team, take my calls, daily calls with my siblings, official zoom meetings, lunch, attend and arrange online sessions, continue to work with the team. Break at 5 or 6, watch a movie or two, have coffee or green tea, go for a walk in the garden. Check in on the news channels. Restrict that to twice a day so as not to get completely traumatized.

This new routine seems to be working although the cheer has disappeared. There is nothing but uncertainty, doom and gloom, silence, lack of sufficient physical activity. What helps a little is trying to support daily wage workers and those who are suffering through engagement and financial support to organizations who are working on the ground, providing logistical help, food, medicines, advice. I am told that because of my pre-existing conditions and age, I should refrain from any volunteering which involves distribution or contact with large numbers of people. I am usually a very stubborn person but this time I am listening. I am trying to be sensible. It is such a different time. God help us all to get through it. We all know that the last few weeks have changed the world forever.

April 1, 2020 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

Memories are what keep us going

It was a Sunday morning in Hong Kong – years ago. My father had gone to the airport to drop off some friends. The time was 6 a.m. The phone rang. It was Abbaji. I asked if the flight had been delayed. He said no – flight was on time. Friends had departed. “So are you on your way back?” I asked. He responded cheerfully “Yes … and I have some new friends with me whom I just met at the airport. Can you prepare a nice brunch? Halwa, puri, tarkari etc.” Who were these new friends? Well, the story was that a young Indian couple had landed at Kaitak airport and discovered that their hosts were not there to receive them. They looked a bit lost and worried so Abbaji being Abbaji went up to them, introduced himself and asked if everything was okay. Hearing their story he smiled and said “No problem. Come home with me, have breakfast and we will phone your hosts. I can then drop you off to wherever they live.  He must have looked trustworthy (which of course he was) so they agreed and came home with him to a lavish brunch that Ammi and I had prepared.

This was typical Abbaji. We grew up seeing similar things happening on a regular basis  – him reaching out to help anyone who needed assistance. No agenda. No expectation of any returns. It is what made him happy. He was always on the go. Always entertaining. Always engaged in some sort of community activity. Early start to each day – even Sunday. He could never comprehend lethargy. “Each moment should be valued”, he used to say. “Why waste it?”

It has been six years since he left us but the memories are ever fresh in our minds and in our hearts. He was not a rich man but he took care of our essential needs and gave us so much wealth in terms of teachings and values … it is these things that continue to serve us well. His diligence, his integrity, his giving nature, his genuineness, his ability to forgive, all made him the special person he was.  He had a large network consisting of friends of different nationalities, of varying ages some of whom I keep running into even now. It makes me happy that people remember him and value the interaction and relationship they had with him.

Ammi’s death hit him hard. When you spend over 50 years together, it is difficult to imagine a life without each other. He was never the same after her death. My siblings and I tried to fill the gap but I don’t think we ever succeeded.

Abbaji lived a full life and created a great deal of impact. He valued his relationships with people and never ever looked back. He was a man whom everyone respected and he was a  mentor to many. We miss him terribly and try to honour him by living an exemplary life guided by the principles and values that he taught us through example. Rest in peace Abbaji. We love you and miss you.

 

 

 

January 17, 2020 at 10:35 am 1 comment

Happy birthday to a woman of substance

ammi-and-tigguShe was a soft, gentle woman with a ready smile who was always there whenever any of us needed her – and even when we didn’t. She was our pillar of strength, our constant, the person who kept us glued together. Ammi would have been 84 years old today had she lived but that was not to be. They say God takes good people away to heaven sooner rather than later. Ammi passed away at age 67 just under 17 years ago.

Looking back at her life I can only remember a woman who was constantly giving – her love, her time, her attention, her advice, her compassion. Despite her prolonged illness, she was always positive, always cheerful. No matter how bad things seemed to us at times, her smile made everything okay. It was like there was a magic aura around her that healed whatever ailed us.

I can’t believe she has been gone so long. When I walk into the house even now, I feel her presence. I guess that is why I have refused to move out of our family home. It is where I find comfort, where there are memories that continue to warm my heart.

Ammi was a good cook. There was a flavour in everything she made – simple or complicated. Much of what she cooked she learnt over time. She loved to cook things that her family enjoyed. However, my father loved to entertain (he said it was his only vice) so she often made what could be termed as gourmet dishes. Since we lived a lot of our early lives in Hong Kong where we couldn’t buy naan/roti or Pakistani desserts, we learnt to experiment and make all sorts of food. I was her junior chef (her chotu) who watched her cook and helped in any way I could. Our gulab jamun and coconut barfi soon became the talk of the town and friends often used to request us to especially make it for them. My mother never refused. That was who she was.

ammi in orangeAmmi was married at a very early age so much of what she learnt was through self-discovery, through reading newspapers and books, and watching documentaries and films and through conversations . She was an avid reader and many of the books we have in the shelf in our lounge belonged to her. I have often thought of giving them away but haven’t had the heart to. If you know a library where you believe a diverse set of Urdu and English books – novels, Naqoosh, biographies, etc will be read and re-read, reach out to me. I think it is about time these books were used more than they have been since Ammi’s death. At first Abbaji read some of them, then some friends and family borrowed them but nowadays most of them just sit there.

Together Ammi and Abbaji created what is our value system. They were for the most part responsible for the people we are today. A strong sense of integrity and fairplay was embedded in us as youngsters and it is something that has stayed with us. Compassion, a sense of giving, a lack of selfishness, our commitment to hard work are all part of our mental make up. If there are any weakness in us as humans, it is entirely due to our own lack of ability.

Happy birthday sweet, angelic Ammi. Thank you for being who you were. We were indeed lucky to have you as an essential part of our lives. I hope that we live up to the expectations that you and Abbaji had of us. It is the only way we can continue to honour your memory.

 

 

January 6, 2020 at 10:57 am Leave a comment

Remembering a man who was our anchor

This morning after waking up I went to his room, sat on his chair and thought about the many happy times we had spent together with him. Throughout our lives Abbaji  had been a pillar of strength for all of us. He was the one who taught us the importance of time, of discipline, of integrity, of friends and of community. If anyone needed anything, he got it done before they had the chance to ask again. He was a connector, always on the move.

He would have been 94 years old today and, in accordance with tradition, we would have cut a cake, given him presents and cards. My siblings would have called from all over the world to wish him happy birthday. In his own typical style he would have said “You shouldn’t have bought me these things. I have so much already” although you could tell how happy he was that we made such a fuss over him.

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My father was a very hardworking man. He was at work even before the office cleaners got there. He built his career from the ground up and was well-respected in banking circles in Hong Kong, the UAE and Pakistan. We were all very proud of him. Even today I run into people all the time who speak of the contribution he made to their lives, to their growth, to where they are today.

Happy birthday Abbaji. You have left behind so many memories. I hope that throughout our lives we continue to do justice to that memory.

 

January 5, 2020 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

A transformative visit that warmed my heart

When Shaheer Ahmed, the founder of TechTree – an alumni of The Nest I/O – asked me if I would inaugurate a STEM Lab that his startup had set up at a school in Surjani Town, I asked “Where is Surjani Town?” That is how oblivious we are to different parts of the large city of Karachi. We live in bubbles and are often unaware of what goes on elsewhere.

I have had a crazy schedule of late and was quite hesitant to take on anything more. Everyone I know keeps telling me to rest, to take it easy – and yet they present me with opportunities that I cannot turn down.

When Shaheer told me about the Khadija Kazi Ali Memorial High School and the work that its founder Sanaullah Kazi and its Principal Nasira Abid were doing in Surjani Town which is otherwise a poverty stricken, deprived and underdeveloped area in this city, I just couldn’t refuse to go to the school, check it out and offer my support.

Even though Shaheer had spoken of the school in such glowing terms, I don’t know what it was that I was actually expecting . What I saw took my breath away.

The school, its founder, its faculty and the children humbled and inspired me. As I heard Kazi Sahab and Nasira Sahiba talk about their vision and mission to provide “a quality education in an environment where every individual is cared for spiritually, morally, intellectually, physically, socially and emotionally, so that they can make their best contribution to society,” I realized how committed these people were to the children under their care.

The environment they have created is surprising to see. The confidence in the children. The joy that is apparent. The building, the rooms, the decor (which the children have played a part in creating), the curriculum (which is based on the Aga Khan Board, the teachers, the facilities, the attention to detail – it is all truly worth appreciating.

If you have been to Surjani Town, you will know that electricity is an issue. This school is operated through solar panels. It has medium high ceilings with fans that result in a cool environment. There is the beginnings of a nice library.

The STEM Lab that Tech Tree has helped to set up (with the assistance of generous donors) is better equipped than many private schools. It has 15 computers, robotic kits, IOT kits, Raspberry Pi kits, drones, etc. The Tech Tree team is training the teachers but will continue to provide direct training to the students until the teachers are comfortable doing it themselves.

The school provides free education from Grade 1 to Grade 7 with money raised through patrons and sponsors. They intend to expand the school to Grade 12 in the near future.

When you see a welfare school run so efficiently and one that includes the best that any private school can offer, it gives you hope. Parents say that children want to come to school because of the environment, the activities and the caring faculty. And when you look into the faces of these children, you can see the passion and excitement for learning and the sense of belonging that they feel.

As I heard Shaheer speak to the kids about what he owed to Kazi Sahab, Nasira Sahiba and the other teachers, I smiled because it reminded me of how my friends and I felt about our teachers. Sometimes I think that not enough respect is given to people in the teaching profession especially those who have greatly impacted our lives. It is therefore wonderful to see people like Shaheer and his team acknowledging the impact their teachers have had on their lives – and giving back by helping to set up the STEM Lab and contribute in other ways to the development of the school and the children. Well done Shaheer. I am so proud of you.


July 23, 2019 at 6:49 pm 1 comment

Vienna has inspired me to start writing again

I arrived in Vienna last night for a six day holiday after toying for weeks on a possible destination to take a break. I think I drove friends and colleagues crazy (in fact I am sure I did) as I tried to make a decision about where to spend the Eid break.

At first I thought Helsinki would be a great option as Finland is the only Nordic country I haven’t been to. Then  someone suggested The Maldives and it sounded relaxing so I started to ponder on it. Friends asked why I didn’t opt for Georgia or Turkey. Too crowded was my response. Too many chances of running Into people I knew. I didn’t want to go to a country I had been to already otherwise London or Hong Kong would have done well since I have brothers in both cities.

Anyway, after being indecisive for weeks I finally decided on Vienna and I am so happy I did. As I loitered around the city this morning, I was amazed by the architecture, the charm, the little alleys that crept up whenever you turned a corner. I walked into art galleries, took pictures of buildings, sat at cafes and had a snack or a glass of fresh juice. I was like a kid in a toy store, awed by everything I saw taking pictures wherever I went.

This city has a sense of romance and poetry I haven’t felt anywhere else – and I know I haven’t seen anything yet. I just wanted to share my first impressions and some of the pictures I have taken so far. Rest for later.

June 3, 2019 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

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