The sea of Petunias

It is raining gently and today is my father’s birthday………He never celebrated it and I would not have remembered it if my brother had not sent me a note outlining his life in three paragraphs. Suddenly many of my personal milestones fell into place.

Here is a paragraph from his note:

Abijan was born today, exactly 100 years ago in Jullandhar East Punjab, May 5, 1913. He graduated from King Edward Medical College, Lahore in 1936 with many honors and gold medals in several subjects. He served in many districts of undivided Punjab including, remote areas such as Dera Ghazi Khan………

My father was a physician and in all things his patients came first. That was of course a point of contention as his family came second, but as I look around myself and at my physician colleagues that is the norm of all conscientious physicians from today and yesterday.

He was a woman’s doctor, and a brilliant one, his patients said the one he touched healed and the one who was infertile his treatment and care allowed them to conceive. Some of his patients were women from high profile families and that was a contention with my mother. Like all wives of doctors we do not want our husbands to pay more attention to the patients than the bare minimum, but she was a patient person who practiced Tazkiyah tun Nafs to a great degree and forgave him his engrossment with his patients.

I remember vignettes from my life with him, but could never piece together the forces that drove him to excellence and then to those periods of inflexible obstinacy on matters of ethics which made him sue the Government to challenge it to abide by its contract, needless to say, the outcome of that was not in his favor.

He told my mother……………

When I was very young I was told about the Fire of Hell and of the Day of Judgment. I was also told that The Hour could arrive at any time. When I would be on my way to school as a five year old boy I would remember the Day of Judgment and worry if it would arrive and my mother would die and I would never see her again, thus I never dallied on my way home so that I would catch a glimpse of her incase The Hour would be around the corner……..

I could envision the anxiety of a young boy hurrying home with the fear of losing his mother to Qiyamah, with no one to teach him of the Rahma and Protection of Allah.

Two things came out of these experiences. Qiyamah did not come in his lifetime, but his mother died when he was seven and his father remarried.

He instructed my mother to never teach his children about religion, he wanted us to learn by ourselves. She being a woman of Tazkiyah did not have to teach with words but taught with action. However none of my siblings except two had formal teaching of recitation of the Quran and I am grateful that I was one of the two.

We had a metal glass in our home which had a couplet written on it and laughingly we had been told the story of it but the underpinnings of terror, were missing till I actually read and heard from first hand witnesses the history of Partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947. It was worse than what has been described in any war so far.

It was August 14, 1947. He was on the train to Pakistan. His wife, and three sons and one on the way were with her parents. He had opted for Pakistan and had won a position at the Lady Wellington Hospital Lahore as Senior Medical Director. In leaving his home at the Glancy Medical College Amritsar he looked around at his belongings. Is there anything here that makes me happy that I must take with me he asked himself while perusing his worldly belongings. He picked up a metal glass, which would serve for drinking and ablution and left his home and belongings in situ.

The glass was a funny memory for us as children……….why did our father only bring this glass we wondered. We would read the inscription and giggle:

Dast e nazuk barhaiaa sahib

Jaam sharbat ka pi jia sahib

We never knew what he knew………….

Muslims in the Indian subcontinent on August 14, 1947 found themselves between a rock and a hard place, they had been asked if they wanted to stay in India or go to Pakistan?

When they decided to go to Pakistan they were tortured and killed enroute to Pakistan, when they opted to stay they were looted and killed, in their homes it was a no win situation for the Muslims of India.

He had seen the mob hysteria rise even in the normal Hindus and Sikhs of his acquaintance.

As the train left Amritsar, he was was unaware that the Hindu and Sikh mobs were attaching the wire at the exit from Amritsar which would slice the Muslims sitting on the top of the trains bound for Pakistan. In fleeing terror in what had been their homeland since birth, they would never make it to the sanctuary of Pakistan.

As the train chugged towards Lahore, he was unaware that this train would be the last one to arrive in Lahore from Amritsar with no casualties.

As he held the glass of water in his metal tumbler he smiled at the couplet and at the remembrance of how life was and yet he knew that the graceful life the couplet envisioned was lost for ever just as in Margaret Mitchells novel Gone with the Wind where the lifestyle of grace in the south was lost for ever.

 Arriving at Lady Wellington Hospital in Lahore, he realized with a shock that he had been catapulted from an OB Gyn specialist to a trauma surgeon.

All day long he would repair bleeding blood vessels from young Punjabi Muslim girls whose breasts had been cut off, or deliver the dead fetuses from dying mothers who had been speared with the Kirpaan………and yet they ended up dying. At the end of the day he would remove the blood soaked surgeons clothes and gloves and would see his children in the small apartment allotted to him in the hospital. He would tell my mother in no uncertain terms not to leave the house compound and not to let the boys out of the house compound……….

My mother found this state of house arrest frustrating, but slowly she came to know of the injured and bleeding men and women littered in the halls and gardens of the Hospital ……the result of the massacre of the Trains to Pakistan. There was not one person left intact, and hugged her sons thanking Allah for sparing them.

Thankfully due to the terse orders of my father, my mother and my young brothers were being spared the horror of the results of the massacre that hurt the Muslims but did not let them die immediately.

Perhaps that is why they gleefully played cowboys and Indians as children and shot each other with toy guns and bow and arrows never realizing the significance of such acts in real life.

My father never spoke of the horrors to us………….but I remember him singing “la hula wala quwatta……………” loudly while shaving in the morning as if to drown out the memories of the bleeding women of the Partition.

Perhaps the memories of the horror rose at odd times and were responsible for his labile moods in the evenings such that we never knew what to expect. The term posttraumatic stress disorder had not yet been coined.

He was not a violent man, despite the fact that he absorbed all the horror and carnage of Partition, into himself. He was a silent man and sometimes morose…….. Sometimes the sun would come out in my Dads face and he would challenge me to a game of checkers with a smile ………….

This is all I can write about him for now………………..

I regret those days that I spent with him where I never asked him questions about his past, I read every book in his library and all the recent medical journals in his office but never questioned him or asked him to share his memories.

At some subconscious level I knew that was a vault that had been locked and along with the horrific memories of his earliest days at Lady Wellington, he had also locked away his childhood and his laughter…….

He became a Sufi towards the last several years of his life, gentle, kind and extremely gracious in his hospitality when I would visit him from America.

 On my last visit to Karachi before he died, I see him standing in his verandah the Karachi sea breeze swishing around the marble pillars gently rippling through the petals of the sea of petunias he had planted.

It is raining today… and I have always wondered why I want to plant flowers when it rains. Everyone thinks I am crazy.

In my minds eye I am seven…………..He has bought some tiny flower plants from the nursery, he is on his knees planting, it is raining gently and I am happily holding the flashlight as the Karachi night is falling over us like a velvet cloak and for those magical moments I am secure with my father, the rain and his flowers…………..

His motto:

Learning, Humanity, Probity, Sagacity. It adorned the cover of the Medicus (The first internationally indexed medical Journal of Pakistan)

He died alone ,just over 24 years ago on December 7, 1988.

DUA: May Allah forgive him and enter him in the gardens of paradise, Inshallah. Ameen.

Please pray for his maghfi’rah, Inshallah.


  1. Pingback: GRATITUDE: My Grandmother and a gift of mercy……… | Siraat-e-Mustaqeem

  2. May Allah subhaanahu wa ta ‘aala grant yoyr father and all other marhums Jannahtul Firdous Amin, Thummah Amin. I loved reading your story. Fatima Abduraouf – Cape Town – South Africa


  3. Asalaam o alaikum my dear friends and well wishers, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have your duas for my father and me. May Allah reward you manifold and may you be given the opportunity to serve your parents and earn Jannah.


  4. May The Infinitely compassionate fill his grave with light and expanse. May he feel a healing breeze of Rahmah every instant and see the wide gardens of trees and flowers waiting for him, biiznillah, in his final abode.


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