I wouldn't say this is my fondest memory of her, but that is one of the days that I remember most vividly.
We were in our classroom, (grade 8th). Everyone had just been back from the recess and we usually felt very lazy after the half hour break, so no one was too keen on completing the tasks assigned by our class incharge Mrs. Dar (may her soul rest in peace). It was one monotonous day, and then a girl knocked at the door and respectfully waited to be summoned in the class. Then she explained to Mrs. Dar that my mother wanted to see me and could I please leave the class and meet her near the water taps. Now I don't remember why my mother had wanted to see me on that particular day, and that too when the school day was approaching to an end. I believe ammi must have gone to visit her chachi who happened to live in the area near our school and decided to visit our school out of blue.
Mrs. Dar was a really sweet person, though she appeared a bit strict. She didn't permit me to leave the class but instead asked that girl to tell my mother to come to the classroom. Ammi came as told, wearing one of her favourite ajrak chaddors, and she was offered a chair and was seated next to Mrs. Dar. I was mortified, although now when I look back at it in retrospect I don't quite understand why I was so embarrassed. Maybe it was the fact that everyone's attention had suddenly focused on me. And then ammi had to ask Mrs. Dar in front of my entire class how I was doing as a student. :"She is a good student" my teacher said but she also added that I was too shy and quiet. They chatted for a few minutes then ammi took her leave and went back home.
And then for as long as I was at that school, I had to bear the mortification of being told time and again how incredibly beautiful my mother was, and then girls invariably added, "How come you are so plain?” Now imagine having to hear that time and again for the next three years. I couldn't forgive ammi for years to come!
I don't know why I keep going back to that day in my head, and for years I couldn't get over the fact of being always compared to my beautiful mother.
These days, I find myself thinking a lot about her. Unfortunately, mine is not a photographic memory and I fear that after a few years I may even forget her voice. But I will never forget how loving and affectionate she was, and how caring. She cared for other people's needs so much that she always put her own needs aside, and people got so used to being cared by her that they began to take her for granted. Nay, some weren't even grateful and still complained; she took it all in her stride and continued to care for others regardless. She was one of the truly generous persons that I have come across in my life. Abbu is a very, very generous person too when it comes to giving money or even forgiving others. But ammi was a class apart. Naturally she was very hospitable too, and unlike me she was very sociable too. She forgave people without their asking for it. I think her extreme generosity spoilt people and even we began to take her for granted. I cannot express in words how sorry I feel for being such a brat when I was growing up. Back then it seemed that she would always be there. Then one day it all changed.
I had slept really late at night (as usual) and woke up to discover that she had gone to the hospital alone. I felt slightly guilty because the previous night she had asked me to accompany her to the hospital. However, in the end she decided to go there alone. Ammi wasn't very tech savvy and she had never really gotten used to the idea of using a cell phone. So when she hadn't returned in the afternoon, we began to get anxious and worried. Then she came back in the late afternoon and said that the doctor had told her to get admitted in the hospital because she has cancer. It shook us terribly though we didn't know the details and I am sure nor did ammi but she was very calm and composed. She was an extremely courageous woman. We quietly packed her bag for the stay at the hospital. This time I went with her. All the horrible things I had read about cancer came back to me. Ammi had been very ill for over a year now. She constantly complained of stomach aches, suffered from fever very frequently. She had seen one doctor after the other in the past twelve months but nothing seemed to do her any good. And now it turned out she had colorectal cancer.
I stood numb by her side while she explained to the staff on duty time and again how she had been admitted to the hospital and had taken permission from the doctor to go home to tell her family and bring some stuff with her. They didn't appear to understand, or else didn't really care. We were told that the doctor who had examined my mother had already left for her home. So we decided to see the doctors who were on night shift. Both of them were young girls, probably interns. They just sat in a small office and chatted while my mother and I waited outside. In the end we got really exasperated and decided to go back home.
The next morning we went to the Sheikh Zayed hospital and there the doctor examined her, had some tests done and she was admitted that day. She had to undergo a surgery that was supposed to cure her. We were very optimistic at that time, because the chances of recovery were very high. The surgery went well and she was even told that there was no need for radiotherapy or chemotherapy. But unfortunately, she developed liver cancer after that. Her own mother had died of primary liver cancer. Things looked grim, but ammi fought her illness very bravely. From then on she had to undergo various surgeries and long periods of recuperation. Not to mention undergoing the painful (and what now seems futile) sessions of chemotherapy. And yet, whenever she regained some energy she was on her feet again. Cooking, cleaning and doing all the stuff that she loved to do.
Whenever we told her not to do anything, it made her extremely angry and unhappy. Part of the reason was that she had always been industrious and didn't like to sit idle. But sometimes she said to me, "I do it all because if I will lose heart and become despaired, what will happen to the rest of the family?" Time and again I noticed, how even when she was weak and in pain, she tried to sound cheerful on the phone, while talking to my brothers or abbu or for that matter anyone else in the family. She wanted them to think she was okay so that they wouldn't worry about her. On days when she didn't have strength enough she refused to talk to them on phone, on the pretext of being too sleepy or irritable.
When she was fit and fine, she not only took care of her own five brats, but also had to take care of a really large extended family too. Even people from our village would come and stay at our place, even those people who weren't even related to us. If someone was in the hospital she would cook food for them everyday and take it there herself. If someone wanted to go see a doctor she would accompany them to the hospital too. She was a true philanthrope. Even a few weeks before she passed away, she was only concerned about others welfare and told us to give money to such and such people in the gaon because they were needy. And that was when she could barely sit up on her own.
We took her for burial to our ancestral village and by the time we reached there people had already flocked from all over the village. There was not a single person who wasn't teary eyed nor a single soul who did anything but praised her for being the nicest human being. Indeed she was the most wonderful person I know and I don't say this only because she was my mother. She was very humble, very down to earth. She didn't tell us about right and wrong in words, but always through her own example.
There are so many times a day when I am reminded of her. There are going to be so many days and occasions when we are going to miss her. Zee's first birthday is coming up and I remember how excited she was about his birth. How she always bemoaned the fact that she didn't have the strength to play with him and enjoy being a nani. Sometimes, I find myself wishing crazily that she would come back. How can that be? People tell me it would not hurt so much after a while. I know time heals, but would the longing go away too? Wanting to be hugged by her and kissed by her again and to be told that everything will be okay.
There were times when she used to sigh and say, "None of my children have taken after me" and we would laugh and tease her by saying, "Thank God we aren't like you!!!" If she could ever come back, I would like to tell her that there is nothing that I would want more.