Sunday, December 15, 2013


We only knew him as Baba. He was my paternal grandmother's house help. A World War I and II veteran, who lost his family in India to a plague in the 1930s, came to Pakistan in 1947, and met my grandmother in 1950. (I'll have to confirm the dates with my mother - it was the year my uncle was born and my grandmother, who was a school teacher had to rejoin her job after maternity leave)

When he knocked on the door, he looked very frail, so Ammajee tried to offer him food. But he refused. His self respect was great and he felt insulted by her 'charitable' offer. Instead, he asked her for work. My grandmother needed a nanny and a house help, so she asked Baba if he can cook. He responded in affirmative to cooking, cleaning and taking care of a newborn. Hence, he was hired.

His life, from what I have heard revolved around my uncle, whom he took care of for 16 years. One day, Baba disappeared and nobody was able to trace him. My grandparents lived in Jacoblines Quarters - one of the many areas inhabited by Urdu speaking migrants, apart from Martin Quarters, Jahangir Road Quarters, Abyssinia Lines and other neighbourhoods in the old city. In the 70s my grandparents resettled and later the quarters were demolished to make way for family residential apartments, measuring merely 45 square yards.

My mother tells me that one day, while my father was passing through the area, he found Baba living in a hut near some rubble. He had broken his leg, and had taken to begging. He also was suffering from some memory loss and chanted 'Allah hoo' almost all the time. My father brought him home, where his condition, despite visits to doctors deteriorated, and he continued to beg in our neighbourhood.

I remember as a kid, many people told my parents to hand him over to Edhi, since he was not even a relative, but a ‘mere old servant’, who begged and made everyone feel ashamed. However, my parents persevered. He stayed with us, despite his cursing and hurling insults at my mother and aunt for not giving preference to ‘boys’, for not taking enough care of children, and for not getting him the desired ‘tambaakoo wala paan’ in 25 paisas. He loved paan, apart from begging to save for his ‘funeral’.

Often, his demands were to buy him two Zahoor Rajajani Tambakoo Paans in 50 paisas. Even though, we told him countless of times that Baba, a paan costs 75 paisas now, and not 25. Since he never listened, we always used to cover up for the missing money. Baba loved feeding us kids ‘nihari roti’ with the money he begged. And of course, we loved eating it with him too - despite our runny noses and hiccups.

Baba was an era, almost a century, who left us when he was 95 years old. That was the first time when I found his last rites had to be performed in a different way. My chacha went to a Sunni maulvi to find out if he could be taken care of at an Imambargah, since we were not keen on sending him to Edhi. At that time, Sunni mosques were not equipped to deal with dead bodies. This was early 90s. He was a Hanafi Sunni, who had no trouble eating niaz, nazar or giving fateha. He had already bought a white shroud from begged money, which he had, a few months ago given to my mother with instructions for his burial.

Baba wished to be buried the Sunni way, and his grave was to be left un-cemented. With permission from a relevant Sunni maulvi, Baba was bathed and shrouded at an Imambargah, amid a mixed Shia and Sunni funerary gathering. He was buried the Sunni way, with the help of the Sunni side in our family. Nobody had a problem with the way it happened. Nobody had trouble setting foot in the Imambargah at that time, and nobody asked if he was a Deobandi, Ahle Hadees, Barelvi or Wahabi. We were tolerant then!

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