I have not traveled far and wide. I have not experienced the sights and sounds of the world. I have not met people from the great beyond… But I have lived a thousand journeys. The irony of life is never-ending. And it is in these ironies that you travel, break boundaries and realize that the same events are happening over and over again while the ebb and flow of time carry you far from where you once stood. Time is like the seas, the waters. It’s as ancient, deep and vast. As monstrous and gigantic; forming ferocious, gaping holes on land as it erodes sand mercilessly.
I was twelve, or rather 10 days from turning twelve (July 23rd, 1994), when I went up north with mom. Up north is a slight exaggeration as we went till Murree and Abbot Abad only. But really, we lived our lives.
By “we” I imply my elder sister Angel, mom and myself.
Till then we were carrying on monotonous, boring, rigid lives partly dictated by the rules of society and partly enforced on us by our status of a “broken family”. I remember vividly how the excitement stole the sleep from my eyes the night before we were meant to travel. It was a 9 o’ clock flight and we had to reach the airport by 7 am max. It was the day angel and I was really looking forward to. It was unbelievable. In fact, it felt like we were getting wings to fly freely rather than board a plane and fly to some particular destination. Everything was new to us.
I like using the term “us” at some places because I know I speak for angel as well as for myself.
I loved the plane; and of course the plane-ride. I did not conceal my excitement and bounded up and down the aisle all the while. Mom glowed with happiness as she witnessed her baby daughter’s thrill at being on board an air craft. I remember asking the air- hostess for a little bit of everything, from tea to coke to extra supply of napkins. It felt magical, the clouds outside the window, the polluted aerial view of my birth city and yes, oceans of sky around us. As the plane took off mom said a little prayer and bowed low as if praising the Almighty for His magnificence…. She did the same as we landed.
My recollections might not appear to be in order. But that is how they come to my busy mind.
Late July meant monsoon was still in full swing. We were greeted by rain clouds and humidity in the capital. Angel and I were even happier to see that because monsoon or not it hardly ever rained back home.
Mom had traveled extensively once. She had been up north uncountable times and seen Italy, France, England. She had also been to everyone’s idea of a dreamland, America in the swinging 70’s. At the time that mom had traveled my family was doing really well and all her tours were rather lavish. Yet, mom’s joy on this trip was heightened because she was taking her children, her assets on a journey that would free their spirits.
We spent a day or two in our most gorgeous capital city from where we headed off to Murree. The hill station greeted us with beauty that we wished we could carry home with ourselves.
We had a song for our trip. My brother had provided us with loads of candies, “slims”, and 2 music cassettes that we heard all the way. The song that has since been a reminder of our trip was from Bhai’s personal favorites too. It was a song I searched for years after that trip and finally got my hands on thanks to the advent of the internet age. A Tracy Chapman number it went, “oh mountains, oh times”. The African music blended in with our rural surroundings and the lyrics filled those spaces in our mind that needed appropriate words to associate the scenery with.
Murree had angel and me gushing over the wonders of nature. The morning we saw our first rainbow; the terror that gripped my heart one rainy night when the clouds crashed into each other producing window-shattering sounds of thunder; the precarious 60 degree growth of trees from the edge of a cliff all the way to the dark cloudy skies.
There were nights when we ate chicken pulao in the mess of our government owned guest house, and on other nights we had our dinner in candle-lit style by the terrace window during power breakdowns; the scenery replaced with rows of cars flashing their headlights like tiny fire flies on far off roads concealed by the dark of night.
From Murree we visited a few other places. Our stay in abbot Abad was brief but wonderful. Not only were angel and I elated by the height we stood on but by the thought that we were sharing the premises of Kakul Academy with the many cadets who got trained there! The cadets, presumably, had a much tougher routine and never did our paths coincide, yet we were quite content at just having them around somewhere.
I would like to pause with my reminiscence here and thank a very special somebody who sponsored our stay at all these lovely and prestigious locations all the way from Islamabad to Murree to abbot Abad. I cannot mention names because I have not had the chance to gain permission; also sadly, have not had the chance to enquire upon their health; have not had the chance to return the favor.
Abbot Abad further became headquarter for us as we explored its surrounding areas, there was Thandiani and Shangri-La and Taxila. Wonders of nature brought us to wonders of the past civilizations with the belongings of the Indus Civilization that had been excavated from Taxila.
Another wonder, or rather miracle of nature that we witnessed was the hot water spring flowing in the “nawa” town situated at the entrance of abbot Abad. A mosque was built at the site. Devotees crowded the mosque courtyards waiting for their turn at the water fountain. Mom also said her prayers in the mosque. Her religious zeal was enhanced by the happiness achieved in seeing her plans materialize and by the spirituality released by the forces of nature that we all felt on the tour. We woke up daily to find mom facing the green hills lost in the recitation of Quran. Her rhythmic recitation soothed us and became food for our soul in the mornings we spent in the northern areas.
Every tour, every journey has its highlight. And for us the highlight was definitely when we took a tour of the “oh-so- beautiful” P.C, Bhurban. It became our destination on august 2nd, 1994… my 12th birthday. Mom had always managed to throw nice parties for my birthday. She made every possible effort to make things just right. She always bought me some special present too. But this birthday lunch mom treated me to at P.C; Bhurban will forever remain embedded in my memory. I remember clearly the faded blue jeans and white shirt I wore that day. My hair was very short then, so I could not tie it up rather wearing it down was a have to. As is usual in that season, it was a rainy day. Mom, angel and I got a table by the window. The scenery was breath-taking. There was so much of green, yet our eyes did not get tired of it. It was an endless continuation of forest after forest and hill after hill. Clouds drifted by and each time angel and I felt greater excitement. We sat quiet. The three of us just gazed outside the window as nature played its tricks. There was no going back for us at that time. We were part of a dream that belonged to each one of us. We lived that dream together. Nobody was there to break our silence. Nobody was going to tell us that we lived our lives awkwardly. No one was setting patterns for us. Each individual sat and gazed outside with their little thinking clouds growing larger by the minute.
Mom had witnessed such sights so many times. Now when I think back I realize that probably she was not there with us at that very moment. She might have traveled way back in time to smell those fragrances, meat those people and cry those tears that accompanied her everywhere she went. Tears are so selfish. Mom could have been re-living some moment of a life that was now in some faraway backyard. That lunch, as I see it now, was more for mom than for us. God made it that way for us; He wanted us to ponder over the fond memories of mom those moments gave us; He made it that way so we could cherish the wonderful person that she was, so that we could understand the unthinkable traumas of life that she used as an inspiration to give her children happy memories, so that we could give her a little more love, so that we could see the larger than life person residing within her….. So that we would feel her even when she would not be here.
Here when I write “we”, it not only refers to angel and me, but to all my elder siblings. I am writing a language that only we know and understand. Each one of us will be able to interpret these words better than the other.
A lifetime has seemingly been lived within these few years. So much happens in such a short span of time that it becomes hard to believe that so much could have been achieved in such a short while. I got married to a man my mother decided was the best choice for me on December 12th 2002. It was a turning point. Like how it must be for any man or woman, alike. It was a moment of femininity, of girlishness. Just as much as Nadeem and I were excited to be getting married, we were equally scared of how things would be in the new life we were about to enter. Nervousness would have been an understatement to what we felt. Scared is the term that best explains our apprehensions of the time.
Mom was of the opinion that a man was full of praise and the most beautiful thoughts in the first year of marriage. And, as always, I found her to be very correct.
The following weekend after our wedding, Nadeem and I headed up north for our honey moon. Now whatever is this word meant to suggest?!! For Nadeem and me it was a true falling in love experience. The nicest gestures and words were exchanged. We were getting to know each other; adapting to love and hold dear the person we saw in each other, and growing to love and respect the person we both knew we could become for one another. I felt myself grow and expand as a human being while Nadeem nurtured the child in himself while with me.
On the morning of December 17th we almost fled to the capital in search for togetherness. At reaching Islamabad we quickly found the P. C. Bhurban van.
Once again I was headed for that romantic destination.
As the passengers, six in all, boarded the van, Nadeem and I arranged our luggage such that we occupied the entire first row. Soon the van was carrying us outside Islamabad, on the winding twining paths. I was sleepy and huddled into a deep carefree sleep next to Nadeem’s warm and comforting presence. I could not recall a similar carefree slumber.
After a two hour ride Nadeem softly nudged me awake as we approached the hotel designed to provide the most romantic setting for those seeking some quiet time on their own.
The next few days always come back to me as a dream. I learned that I was a princess. And there was so much I ruled. I learned that I was beautiful. And I had the ability to add beauty to someone’s life. I learned that I was special… and I emanated a glow of serenity, peace and contentment.
Then came that lunch when Nadeem and I got a table by the window. We made wonderful memories once again, by the thrills we felt watching the lazy clouds and the tall pompous mountains. Here I was someone’s doll. A doll he liked for her tiny hands and feet and her cotton candy hair. And there he was my strength, my faith… my man. We sat silently over the meal, smiling a smile that we both were unaware of. There existed an air of belongingness, devotion, sincerity and trust. I don’t seem to remember how those minutes ticked away. We were living that moment as we had never lived any other. We were just at the beginning of making happy memories and we both knew there were still many to make. I knew even then that my happiness touched peaks unimaginable. That dreamy moment was to bring Nadeem and me into the tightest knit bond. For us it was a simple meal meant to shun our hunger and quench our thirst. Those few words of affection that we spoke are now lost somewhere in the vastness of space.
I still cherish that one ghazal that my dear hubby often sang during that trip when he was in the highest of spirits. All I can do right now is to translate it poorly as the meaning and depth of those words in Urdu can never be caught correctly in any other language. It somewhat goes:
Two stars are to meet on earth tonight,
Flowers of hope are blossoming tonight…
Our journey of life went on with the usual twists and turns, ups and downs, tears and laughter for the next seventeen months, a year and a half, till it was brought to the doors of a grand new start with the first cries of our newborn son. That was some day. The joy, the disbelief, the pride… it was all immense! Nadeem, my sisters and I cried tears of joy. I missed mom. It again seemed like I had lived a decade or so in this short span of time because of the way things had been. I had found the love of my life, watched mom slip out of my hands, lost my grandmother as well, and now here I was holding my firstborn close to myself in my swollen arms. It was a grand new beginning for Nadeem and me. I turned out to be a finicky mom… and Nadeem a loving father, assisting the baby and me in all the tasks.
I was an emotional mom, wanting to celebrate each one of Yahya’s days in this world. As he would grow a month older I would have a small celebration. If nothing, I made jelly and whipped cream to mark the occasion. When Yahya was turning 5 months old, Nadeem decided to take us along on his official trip to Islamabad. It would be an interesting celebration to mark Yahya’s five months. And so we took off on a difficult journey, not because Yahya was troublesome, rather because we were not used to carrying a little one on board an airplane.
The first week kept Nadeem very busy. Soon, though, he got time for us. The three of us cruised through the streets of our clean, beautiful capital listening to the soaring voice of Atif. It was already cold in Islamabad, with shades of autumn brightening up the dryness and starkness of the early winter season. We felt free of all boundaries and enjoyed the closeness introduced in our lives by Yahya. Each picture we captured and everywhere we went we knew we wanted happy memories for him. Something we could tell him ten years from then.
One such memory is of our trip to Bhurban. The same old soothing spot that would ordinarily bore a person by the third visit, but it held an enigmatic attraction for me. It held memories of the best times of my life. Bhurban felt warm, cozy and familiar to us. But to Bhurban, we were always somebody new. At first a boyish 12year old spent time there with her family, then arrived a young happily married girl with the faint fragrance and hints of fading henna on her wrists and ankles, then came a woman who held her baby close to her body for protection from the chill of the mountain weather.
Another epoch in the history of happy memories: Nadeem, Sunya and Yahya got a table by the window. Yahya, oblivious to the drifting clouds, hungrily drank the first of chicken corn soup that his mom fed him. Mom and dad reminisced over sweet, far-off memories that now belonged to somebody else. Sunya’s mom was now nature. She lazily passed over the window or busily gathered over the glass roof to pour down the Almighty’s blessings. She raised her green head high on top of the mountains and softened the mount’s might and ferocity. I hummed to myself, “wo lamhe wo baatein, wo bheegi bheegi yaadein…”