Tuesday, April 13, 2010
We called her Nani (grandmother) due to her old age and because our mother insisted that she should be addressed respectfully.
No one was allowed to question who she was. She had been living with us, since the time I could remember. She helped around the house and kitchen, although it was not expected of her. But she insisted on taking up few chores, because sitting idle and wasting time was sacrilege in her eyes. She made the most amazing dolls with cotton balls and pieces of cloth and as a young girl I remember having a basketful of dolls in all shapes and sizes made by her.
One day she said ‘There are distances in countries but there must not be distances in hearts.’
She was sitting beside me while I was grappling with my Math, as usual. I remember picking up my measuring scale of geometry and putting one end of it upon my chest and another upon hers.
‘Nani, the distance between my heart to yours is two feet.’ I said jokingly.
She was cutting mangoes and she waved the knife at me playfully and then she added gravely, ‘ Distance of hearts are not measured. You only feel such things. If you feel there is no distance, you don’t feel the separation.’
She had got up with a sigh to put the sliced mangoes in the refrigerator, and I still remember the cold sigh that had escaped her lips, along with the crackle of her old bones.
I often pondered over her words, realizing what Nani meant by having distances in hearts. It is the love gone cold. It is running after material comforts and letting the close relationships wither with neglect.
Personally she had lost almost her entire family in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. However, we had come to know that she still had few relatives who lived on.
She never talked about the loss of her immediate family that comprised of husband, two married daughters and a mother- in -law. Maybe the pain was too much to bear, but she often talked about her nephew and a brother who had settled down in Karachi, and talked of them with much love and longing. But as far as I could remember they never made any effort to get in touch with her. She lived on memories, sighs and I often caught her staring pensively towards the door.Hoping that someday, some loved one might come back, and moisten up those arid eyes.
But no letter, no postcard ever arrived for her.
However, despite the apparent desire in her eyes to go back to her roots, I never saw her crying or complaining. She maintained a stoic calm and whatever time was left from her namaz (prayers) she kept herself busy around the house, arranging the linen cupboard, cutting vegetables, cooking something special in the kitchen or making dolls.
One day a letter arrived for her, with the postmark from abroad. She wept with joy while her eyes scanned the words hungrily.
Her brother had asked her to come and live with her. He had arranged for the tickets, visa and other requirements for her travel. We were all very sad at the thought of her leaving us but we were also very happy for her. Her happiness was extremely contagious and we couldn’t help basking in that warm glow emanating from her.
Nani left one day for strange shores, amidst loads of tears and promises to remember us always. We received a postcard a week later, informing us about her safe arrival to her destination. Months, years and then more years passed. It took away the edge from Nani’s memories but we did talk of her now and then, remembering her with fondness...
However, nothing could have prepared us for what we heard, five years after she left. The news of her missing from home.Nani missing? Where did she go?
It so happened that one day she had left home after a rather bitter quarrel with her sister-in-law and never came back. The police couldn’t find her, the relatives couldn’t trace her. After few weeks they even began to look for her body, assuming she was killed or met with an accident. But she couldn’t be found.
It’s been twenty years now, since she has gone missing. Something tells me she is still alive. I don’t feel it inside my heart that she is dead.
Perhaps, the distance that she spoke of had not settled inside my heart even after so many years and I could feel the vibes, of her living somewhere.
She must be around eighty years old now, assuming she is still alive.
And wherever she is, I pray that she is safe and peaceful.