Tuesday, December 23, 2008


My dadi's name was Razia Begum, and we didn't know too much about her. There were many myths about her that nobody was really sure of. Some said she was a Pashtun Pathan but we weren't sure how she ended up in Meerut and married my dada. To our knowledge, she never had any family in India, so to most of us, her life before she got married to my dada seemed like a blank piece of paper.

Apparently most of her extended family and their extended families and so on are Pakistani but now mostly live in Toronto. I left the US permanently a month ago and was literally chilling in T-Town until a couple of days ago when I got the chance to do a bit of chilling at the house of a relative of my dadi's. The only relatives of my dadi's that I've ever met were in Lahore 20 years ago at an aunt's wedding, but I was about 7 years old and remember more about the games I played with my cousins than the various adults I was introduced to.

The uncle I visited happened to be my father's first cousin, the son of my dadi's eldest brother. This cousin had never even seen a picture of my father but had heard of him. I got the chance to ask him a lot of questions about my dadi's family. Finally my dadi had a history. She was from Meerut and used to live there with her entire family until the Partition of 1947 when Pakistan was born in the east and west limbs of India. She was a very social child and they used to call her Chhanno. She had so many brothers and sisters, and she mostly spent her days drowning in laughter while playing with her cousins who were all the friends she ever needed. She got married to my dada who was also from Meerut and had a family of her own.

After the creation of Pakistan, however, her entire clan upped and moved to the new country. Her husband decided to stay in India. In the bloody partition aftermath and wars that followed for many years, she got completely cut off from her family. These were the days without phones and obviously email. The borders were sealed off during wartime. She visited a few times but travel was difficult. Mail wasn't allowed to cross the border even, and news from the other side was hard to come by. My dada moved from city to city until they finally moved to Lucknow, but my dadi had been uprooted the day her last relative had left Meerut. She had become lonely, quiet, and none of her children knew her side of the family very much. In Pakistan, her family was vibrant, and it was like life had been in Meerut except they had left behind one of their women. No one of hers was in India anymore. Even her mother, and all her siblings and their families had left. My Pakistani relative told me that growing up they had all heard of an aunt and her children that had stayed behind in India, but they were mostly names without faces. After 1947, Chhanno had ceased to exist.

I felt very unhappy for this quiet grandmother of mine who died in 1992. She used to play with me and buy me roasted peanuts and Dussehri mangoes. Suddenly hearing the human story of the old woman with hair as white as snow made her so relatable to me, I could hardly bear the emotions that came flooding at me after the dam of her anonymity suddenly flew open. I understand what being cutoff and lonely feels like, and how horrible it feels to know that while you're stuck in the middle of nowhere that the rest of your family and friends move on without you. My dadi gave birth to 10 children which probably means 20 constant years of being pregnant and going through those hormonal motions somewhere in India all by herself as she moved from place to place, unable to share her joys and sorrows with her mother, sister, brothers, nieces and nephews. The men hardly involved themselves in such family matters in those days, and I know my grandfather was a man of his times. My dadi had to rely on the women in whatever neighbourhood she lived in at the time because she had no women friends to share her small victories and worries with. I've heard that she was very attached to my father who was her firstborn and relied on him for emotional support, but that she barely had it in her to invest her emotions into the rest of her children. Sometime during middle age she had developed mood swings and would often get overwhelmed. At times like these, she would become extremely cranky and go to a lady friend's across the street for several hours if not for a few days to cool-off. After a certain age, she began to talk less but began to quietly smile more from where she usually sat on her bed. Maybe she'd made peace with her sorrows?

1 comment:

haramin said...

Khads, this is a beautiful piece told with unabashed candor and a yet a dose of something so Khad!

A very vivid portrayal of a woman was a hero in the true sense of the word. Most 'modern day' women faced with the prospect of 10 children, complete divorce from anything familiar and constant travel in a violent environment would fall apart! Therapists, medication and terms like ‘manic depression’ would abound, soon to be followed by a self help book.

To this day in India, there are countless women who display this kind of strength and fortitude with out having the women’s rights marches, or the proverbial pulpit to scream from.

I agree with Utthara that today’s generation hopefully does more fully recognize the identity of it’s women, my only question is do the women them selves preserve the same kind of integrity?

I am elated that you got to know someone so wonderful, and through you I got to hear her story.