January 15, 2017
It’s the day after the rain, and the sun is out again. The roads have substantially dried out, and we’re wondering how much worse the trash lying around must have gotten after being soaked for two days. Riaz tailor did a brilliant job extending sleeves to an outfit, and I dressed in blinding lime green to leave our house for what I’d been waiting for the entire trip: visiting Misha Bhabi’s house.
Bhayani Heights seems like the success of Gulshan-e-Iqbal: Security, check. Cleanliness, check. Livelihood, check. We entered the gated apartment complex after having verbally confirmed to the guard who we’re visiting. Our high roof carefully trudged forth as we passed the masjid on the left hand side, and the currently upcoming generation was scattered about the main courtyard.
We made our way to the far left end of the complex flats and walked up the stairway to Misha Bhabi’s mom’s house. Greeted by Tooba, we went inside and met Zakia Antie as well a group of other people that happened to be visiting then too. Soon Saira Baji appeared in the doorway embracing us into big tight hugs. No one gives hugs like Misha Bhabi’s family—there’s a level of apnaaiyat in them that is thus far unmatched.
I watched Saira Baji greet the other people that were there. The eldest lady among them held her in embrace for a long time. They hadn’t met for an era. We sat down in the family room and I looked around. The house was so clean it was actually glowing. I recalled the many times we’d come to visit, including the first time we met Misha Bhabi. Tooba was a springy little girl back then, and Misha Bhabi had been trying to direct her where to sit. And now she was all grown up, being hostess to us.
We got to know the other people who were there. They turned out to have lived in our line of houses long ago. The elder lady among them began naming my aunts and uncles, asking about Khalid and Ghazal. As usual, it’s a very small world. She had the sharpest memory despite her old age. We told her that we still live in the same house and talk carried on.
Soon it was lunch time. Saira Baji has so much zaiqa bubbling at her fingertips, we often joke at home that even her Tang comes out better than the average person’s. Thus, I knew exactly what I was doing when I requested she make Khau Say. And getting straight to the point—even compliments were insufficient afterwards. She’s simply the best. (And what genius—chopped mint leaves to go on top. Why hadn’t I thought of this yet?)
We sat around the table, eating forever—until we had finished finally with Zakia Antie’s homemade kheer, topped with almonds chopped to the size of crumbs (another genius move).
The whole time we were talking about different things, laughing with Zakia Antie through her many stories, until she came to one that I just had to keep. She told us about a visit of hers to some relative’s home, where the children of varying ages were much like many other young people today—keeping to themselves, in their rooms, on their laptops, on their phones. She told us that she called one of them down one day and insisted he talk to her as she’d barely even heard him speak. Somewhere in there she used the analogy of kabootar locked up in their cages. The day before her visit there ended, she said that the one of them called the others downstairs reminding them that she was leaving tomorrow. That evening the bunch of them laughed and talked downstairs, and she turned to the childrens’ mother saying “today your home has so much raunak.” She spoke to the children and told them how good it felt to hear their talk and laughter, how they should take some time to be present around the house, and how much it would mean to their mom—it would makes a home.
I sat, dazzled. I knew that the warm and welcoming way she was telling the story is the warm and welcoming way she used when addressing those children too. What a rarity it seemed to me, to hear about someone still being able to say the truth, to point out what’s wrong, to samjhaa and not criticize. Her words had so much sincerity, and she had the foresight to speak up about what isn’t right. She joked about it in the end saying she doesn’t know how much of that stuck, but I have no doubt whether continuously or in bouts over time, her words will always stay with those kids. Truth has a way of doing that. In that moment, I remembered what it was like again to have a grandparent, someone who speaks with love and firmness, holding principle up high. In that moment along with Tooba, I wanted to call her Nanu too.
On our way out we all hugged one another, including the people we had just met. We went to the inner room especially to meet the the elder lady as she finished her Asr prayer on a chair. It had been the first time meeting her, but she also started feeling like a grandparent, kissing our foreheads, giving us duaas as we said goodbye. My mom told Zakia Antie to get ready to visit America again, and she retorted back smiling with a swift glance at me, “kyoon bhai, shaadi kar rahi hain?” I joked back that I would if she promises to come.
We left walking down the stairway from Misha Bhabi’s house, full of food and full of laughter.
So nice having a Nanu. Very thankful.