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On Death

My grandfather had a lung infection two days ago. My mother hurriedly asked me if I have some savings which I can give for his oxygen supply. I quietly transferred the money. She promised me she will return it. I remember thinking if she asked my father for money or since he is not her safe space, she couldn’t muster the courage. Anyways, with little thought I continued my office job while my mother scuttled off in Uber to visit my Nana who was now in a hospital.

Yesterday morning was no different, I had the most amazing dream. A horror thriller unfolded in my sleep. I had plans with my best friend to go for shopping, and to get my nose pierced. But before those plans could materialize, I was forced to come back to the reality at home. My mother went off hurriedly to the hospital in the morning since she had received a call about her father’s dire condition. She then called my number at 9 am and told me in the calmest way possible, “Nana has passed away, please prepare to come here. We have to do the tadfin at home”. I was too shocked for a moment to utter anything so I screamed “KIA?”. She responded in a calm voice, “Nana ka intiqal hogaya hai”. I did not know what to say. So I quietly ran upstairs to my brother and told him. I had just cooked chai for myself with toast fried in butter. But when I tried to gulp the tea down my throat, it felt like it was getting stuck somewhere. I did not know what to feel. Was I supposed to cry? I tried to remember something about my Nana, and suddenly the horrific realization sunk in. I did not know anything about the man who had died today, it was like hearing news about someone at television. I had a faint memory of him giving money to me to buy ice lollies and khopra kulfis when I visited his house in childhood. But that was far far away. I didn’t even remember the last time I had visited him. I tried to rack my brains, I did visit his house after Covid, I am positive. At Eid maybe? Or Bakra Eid? It was there- possibly a year ago. He was sick and in his room upstairs and I had only said salam to him. And suddenly I started crying. I quietly wept and wiped my tears. I did not know why I was crying. I wasn’t crying for the man who had died. I was crying for the man I had never known. For the granddaughter I could never be. I was full of regret, why didn’t I visit him in his last days? Even when I knew he was sick from the past two years? Why did I never try to garner a closer relationship with him? I had always wanted a wholesome elder in my life. And maybe he could have been that, with his North Indian aap jinaabs and his principled gracefulness. I did not like my grandmother. My Daadi who is now an ailing, bedridden dementia patient was not a wholesome presence even before she was bedridden. She was the family matriarch who watched with a silent approval as my father verbally abused my mother in front of him. Who egged for my Chacha to divorce my Chachi on a mere plate crash.

But I could have had a wholesome relationship with my nanihal. Even if they were becoming increasingly tableeghi , my Naani had died when my mom was 21 and long before I was conceived so I never had any interaction with her. Apparently she was the most gentle woman ever and spoiled my mother incessantly. I had lost her but I did have my Naana, why didn’t I try harder to have a closer relationship with him! And now he was gone. I cried for a good fifteen minutes, I have never felt so much regret in any moment as I felt in that moment when I first heard of my Naana’s death.

Then my rational side took over. Even if you had visited him Aiesha, things would not have been different. It was too late for you to have a relationship with him. If you lost all contact with your maternal cousins because of the stark class divide between us, what ensures you , that you could have had a close relationship with him? Even your mother didn’t visit him a lot. So how could you have?

After a short breakdown, my mind started to wonder how to behave at a funeral. What needed to be done atm? The house needed to be cleaned, the clothes for funeral needed to be picked out and others needed to be informed. I had no white clothes so I guess I had to go with the black ones? At least that’s all I knew about funerals from the Pakistani dramas I had watched. Was Mom going to break down at the funeral? Was I supposed to stop her and help her? There was a certain tension in me. Any social event required performativity and I absolutely had no patience for any kind of performativity especially at a time of death.

Anyways, we finally left for the funeral. There were a lot of women. Most of them looked quite chill. As chill as people look at weddings. People were saying hi to each other. They were dressed in colored clothes. Most women just turned up in their black burqas which they didn’t take off. There were toddlers screaming like every at other wedding. Being a fluent reader, I completed two paras in no time. Most people were not doing that, they were just sitting or chatting with each other. Occasionally some people cried, an elderly woman wept while my Khala and her daughters cried silently. Another woman whose face I couldn’t see from inside my cramped room had to be escorted and given water to stop her from wailing. My mother and most of her siblings were perfectly fine though, they even wandered around to tell people about how the death took place. I heard phrases of ventilator and oxygen and tried to concentrate on my tasbeeh- what was this morbid fascination with the moment of death and how exactly it had happened?.After two hours of hearing all sorts of gossip ranging from how Shias were polluting Pakistan to how 40 days of mourning is an impure form of Islam, my head was buzzing. I messaged my brother and asked him when we are leaving. The funeral was turning disrespectful and gossipy now. My mother’s cousin who I think is now an Al-Huda certified dars aunty started talking about the economics of  going to Jannah. “If you donate a parah and another person reads it, the ajar to you will keep coming every time someone reads it, it is one of the easiest ways to get sawab”. Who quantified Islam this way and who discovered the maths of going to Jannah? I really wished to ask her that but I did not want a controversy at my Nana’s funeral.

My brother finally arrived from the graveyard and my sister and I prepared to leave. Just like every occasion, we came to our Nana’s house as guests and were leaving with the same takalluf and lack of intimacy. But it was very relieving, I wanted to go before the dars started. I just wanted to be in my home and take a hot shower and change my clothes because no one was observing SOPs. My mother was still there and would come late at night. It felt perfectly normal as I left with my brother. Everything felt normal and uneventful. I just felt very old suddenly. I had witnessed my first funeral.

Credits: Edward Okuń, Four Strings of a Violin, 1914, The University of Arizona Museum of Art, Arizona

Published by queenofclumsiness

I am the queen of clumsiness and bad jokes. I oscillate between being an Amy Santiago and being a cold-hearted workaholic . I like to overeat and write when I happen to be free . I specialise in overthinking so be kind with your feedback. :)

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