A Flame in the Wind

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By: H. Salman

Between giant mountains and in a lush green valley resides my maternal family in Nepal. Once a year, in our summer vacations, we go there to visit them. Just once in whole year for few days has never been enough for me, the love of nana, nani, mamu, mami, khala, khalu and bunch of cousins was what we craved and waited for the  whole year long until the day of departure arrived.
As plane would prepare for landing, breath-taking landscapes would start appearing and as I would take my first step out of the plane, the wind and world would feel different.... welcoming, warm and refreshing.
My nani always came to pick me with her arms open and eyes wet with tears. Though she was short in height all of us always fitted inside her hug comfortably.
In our ears, she would whisper about the countless gifts she had kept in her room for us... all the things she had planned for us. Then she would cry that we were there for few days only and would leave soon.
Never in my life did I see her doing anything else besides making things for us, cooking for us, making us comfortable. She fed us with her own hands and we slept in her lap.
I always saw her perform tahajjud on a daily basis and recite naats in her beautiful voice till the call for fajr salah. It is through her that I got the love of naats, nasheeds, and the love of reciting them from the heart, lost in the words.
Before sleeping at night she would tell me old age stories of kings and queens and her family. We were allowed to open her cupboards and take anything we wanted with us to Pakistan. She never said no to anything. Her expensive antique collection, her embroidered shawls, jewellery, everything was pours for the asking.
Behind her house was a snack and grocery shop which was owned by her and given on rent. We had full authority to pick anything we liked from there and she was usually left with paying a long list of bills at the end of the month.
We were bit spoiled and only ate chicken. Nani never waited for anyone’s help. We would ask for chicken or ice-cream and the next second we would see her grabbing her shawl and heading for the shop outside and then returning with more things than we had asked for.
Since it’s a Hindu country, our elder mamu never let us girls or ladies go out on picnic points but nani always took us all by herself.
I remember that as she grew older and weaker, she stopped coming to the airport to pick us up and when went out on a picnic or outing she came with us but sat in the car all alone while we climbed the small hills and rocky roads to shop and enjoy the scenery. As I grew older I spent more time with my cousins and less with her but nani never complained. She always kept our secrets and reasoned with our parents for us.
And on my last visit to her I was getting married in a few weeks. I spent all my time shopping with my girl cousins. Then I got married and got tied up in my own life so much that in three and a half years I never went to visit her.
My mom would come holding her phone and say, “Talk to nani, she wants to hear your voice.” and would say, “Not now,” as I played with my daughter or was busy in something else that I considered more important.
Then nani became very ill. Her lungs weakened and she stopped talking. She would stare for hours at only one object.
One night my mom called and told me, “Nani is on ventilator.” I felt a deep sense of loss. Would I never see her again? Hear her lovely voice? I recalled all my precious memories with her, how she had stitched a beautiful shawl for me for my wedding with her own wrinkled hands, how she had cared for me, loved me. I prayed to Allah to please let her live and come out of the ventilator soon.
After 17 days my phone rang. She was recovering and was out of the ventilator.
A few months later, my whole family went to Nepal but again I didn’t go. Her death didn’t wait for my plans. Nani spent a few unconscious, breathless days in the ICU and on the night of Friday, she died.
I felt angry and sad. Whoever consoled me only angered and upset me the more. She always lived far from us in another land and now she was gone for eternity. She didn’t even meet my two year old daughter. All the regrets overwhelmed me and I felt utterly depressed. My brother called me and told me, “Hajra, nani had opened her eyes few moments before her soul departed and she recited the kalima, drank a few drops of zamzam and then closed her eyes in peace.”
All my tears dried. I felt a lot better and happy that she had died like that and on a Friday night. My brother told me that she had cleared all her dues in her life and given away all her belongings. She had died a jannati.
My beloved readers, spend time with both, maternal and paternal grandparents... they are your true love. They are rehmat and naimat of Allah. Soon they will be no more in this world and we will only be left with heartache and memories. May Allah give them a long and healthy life, Aameen. Care for them now, love them now…while you have the time.