He lifted her veil and the world’s most beautiful brown eyes looked at him lit with the fire of passion. Even as a grandmother she would describe that moment “ I am your grandfathers Ashiq (lover), I looked at him on my wedding night and fell headlong into love with him and have remained so for all my life though he frustrates me many a time”
Their love affair lasted their entire lifetime though a World War where he served as a surgeon, and they did not see each other for five years and through Partition of the subcontinent of India where they were parted, and through the anguish of premature babies who died in infancy, and divorce in some of their children. They were severely tested by all sorts of calamities but their love and loyalty to each other remained immovable.
To her dying day she would say to her daughters “ I am an Aashiq of your father” though she would explode with frustration when he would reinvest what he earned in the land, living a spartan personal life, yet she would not allow anyone to criticize him.
He would look at her affectionately and say to his daughter “ Your mother had a shock to her system in the fields at Jullundur at Partition before I brought her to Pakistan, and she developed diabetes but you know she loves her mangoes………” and he would look the other way when every summer since partition she would indulge in mango season.
In talking to him about her his answers were that of a very reserved person. He would smile when you asked him a personal or stupid question. Yet he volunteered this to his daughter(my mother):
“The saddest and most frantic moment for me was when I left your grandmother in Jullundur with the buildings around our home were being set on fire by the Hindu mob in partition, My telling her to take her gold jewelry as she may have to barter it for her life and honor is a nightmare that I never want to relive even in memory. My last memory of the house was her regal presence in the living room, the diamond in her nose scintillating in the chandelier light , the table set with a damask table cloth with fine china and crystal just as she always did every evening and waited for me to come home to dinner” I looked in her eyes and knew that she was a survivor and yet my head said the odds are that you will never see her again”
“ and your scariest moment? “ My mother had asked.
It was when I tried to return to Jullundur to bring her and the two boys” he paused as if he was at the border again. His eyes reflected the horror of the possibilities of never seeing her again.
“Dr. Sahib you cannot go to Jullundur the borders have closed, even the rangers cannot guarantee your safe passage, the trains to Lahore are arriving full of injured women and children and dead men, maybe you can check there first”
And …….” His daughter had prompted.
“I pretended to be a Hindu and joined a Hindu caravan going to Jullundur…………”
My grandmother said on being asked about when my grandfather came to rescue her and the two boys and take them to Pakistan: “ We were waiting in the cabbage field under guard of the Muslim rangers, I had been shot in the belly but fortunately the bullet had ricochet on my keys tied to my waist and lodged in my abdominal fat. There was no pain just Dua to get out of this cabbage field. To this day I cannot see a cabbage and not puke”
I saw him from afar he looked like a beggar with his clothes creased and dirty and he was wearing a Nehru cap, but when he looked at me………his eyes, his expression even through the tattered clothes I knew it was him, Beta (my child) I am an Ashiq (in love with) of your father. I knew he would come to rescue me and the boys and take us to the safety of Pakistan”
My grandfather’s family tree begins with Shaikh Bahaudin Zakaria, a famous scholar and Awliya of great repute. He lies buried in a beautiful mausoleum in Multan and people come from all over the world to pay their respects to him. His ancestors came on Mohammad Bin Qasims’s ship to rescue the Arab girls abducted by Raja Dahir and stayed to free the oppressed public from the cruelty of Raja Dahir. Our ancestor had stayed behind to teach and practice Islam in this new subcontinent.
My Grandfather was the eldest and had just graduated from Medicine, and the entire village had great expectations from him.
He had won gold medals, topped his class but one woman i.e., his mother subdued him. He walked the seven miles to his village after getting of the train thinking how to handle the subject that was bound to come up.
“Beta ( my child) you have seen her all your life, that was your stipulation you wanted to see your bride, do you need to see her again before we go to take the rishtaa? ( proposal)”
He was silent, they were going to go through this again, he thought.
“Bibiji, I have mentioned to you the reasons why I will not marry a first cousin”
In their previous conversations whenever he came home for the holidays, he was pressured into marrying his first cousin. The argument went like this: “after all, should we give our educated boy to people outside the family when we have our own family girl waiting?” His mother was a highly intelligent women and ran the entire business of the land and farming and the farmers that worked on it with ease but with a firm hand, she was feared and respected. Granted her sisters daughter was not the best specimen of beauty but it was nothing that could not be improved upon by a little facial waxing, to remove the mustache and well shampooed hair braided without oil dripping from it.
Patiently he went over their family tree and all the children of intermarriages in the family with inherited blindness, mental retardation etc. to which his mother’s reply was “ Qadar” ( Divine Decree)
He looked at his mother and his soft hazel eyes turning to steel. He did not bat an eyelash as he said looking straight into her eyes: “Bibiji no cousins, I am going to Lahore tomorrow, and I will contact the matchmaker”. He left leaving a stunned silence behind him. The woman who ruled the whole village and her husband could not bend her son to her will.
On the train to Lahore, he brooded if he was not to marry a cousin, they will get him married off to someone else maybe a second cousin, it was a void that his mother wanted to fill and she wanted grandkids.
At the Lahore station his roommate and close friend was waiting to pick him up. He slapped him on the back and said “ So you want to pick your own bride and make history?” He smiled a secretive smile like he always did when he was asked redundant questions.
While at my grandmother’s home in a luxurious part of the city the servant came running to the Lady of the house ; “Bibiji the matchmaker is here and wants to see S, can you please send her down”.
They lived in a three-story Cantonment house. She loved to wear high heels which her father bought for her as a treat whenever the cantonment had a sale of English goods.
“ come down we have guests” called her mother.
She clattered down the two flights with her heels clicking on each step. She stepped into the room and was taken aback………..it was the matchmaker! not really a guest. The matchmaker looked at her appraisingly…….. and thought to herself “Hmm she is beautiful, wearing silk as an unmarried girl and high heels, are totally inappropriate and too modern, but she has a regal beauty, perhaps a little short for the tall and lanky groom to be” She drank tea, asked questions and left, assuring them that she will return soon.
While at my grandfather’s Hostel, the matchmaker waited in the guest drawing room. He came down the stairs languid, graceful, tall, slim and elegant. He sat down and after she had shared her information of the potential bride for him, he said:
“ I told you I will not marry anyone without seeing her” he said , “but sir” the matchmaker replied “that is impossible as you know for a highly respectable family like theirs, they will not allow it” “ well” he said “ Then the deal is off if I can’t see her”
The matchmaker was aghast at the breach of cultural etiquette but saw her golden purse fading away.
“ Ok Ok” she said quickly “ I will arrange something, it will have to be accidental as she wears a burqa when she leaves the house but not if they travel in their own car, let me see what I can do”
He saw her……… and the rest is history.
My grandmother lies buried in the family cemetery alongside him in the farmland of Lahore. He outlived her by many years never forgetting her and starting a conversation about her with ” Your Bibiji used to ………..”
What was in his heart other than love, unspoken but unwavering love for the beautiful little spitfire he had married and lost to an early demise.