A letter for her (XVII) – we’re… good

3:01 PM | 25 January 2019

So imagine this: a little boy in middle school is in a bad mood. He woke up late. He spilt milk on his uniform as he tried to gulp it down in time to climb the honking school bus outside. Whoosh! He misses the bus, of course! Quickly changing into a fresh uniform, he is rushed to the school by his cranky dad who is also getting late for work. As you can guess, this kid is late and punished by the teacher. He’s made to stand outside the classroom. He can see his friends giggling inside. He knows they’ll make fun of him during recess.

He is suddenly angry. This isn’t fair. The world is cruel.

He rushes outside the corridor. He starts running. He runs fast towards the playground. He’s running and he’s furious and his little mind doesn’t know of any other way, yet, to take out this anger. And he keeps running.


He crashes into his P. E. teacher – his favourite teacher – and spills the sport’s day balloons that he’s carrying all over!


Who wouldn’t laugh at the sight of a small kid and a grown-up lying on the floor, astounded, balloons of all colours flying over their heads?

So life’s like that, too. I’ve been running and running and running – sometimes away from the monsters and sometimes towards them – and in all this confusion, I forgot to laugh. Until today. And now I wish to bottle up this feeling forever. I laughed and smiled and it doesn’t matter how hard the road ahead seems to be; it doesn’t matter that unconventional, difficult decisions lie ahead; it doesn’t matter that things are probably not going to go my way – it doesn’t matter because that’s natural and I’m still here – waking up to the cuckoo’s song each day – and a smile and gratitude, and a heartfelt prayer, and a crazy desire for some crazy fun and a happy longing to be happy is all that matters. Spreading smiles is all that matters.

Do you know who taught me that today? Dr H. F. at N.I.C.V.D.
And I’m beginning to think that the magic dua I made before starting this rotation worked! It’s not that bad; it’s turning out to be nice and fun, and that patient who loved Mirinda reminded me of you, and we’re learning, and Z & I have been giggling away like teenagers, and even the library is nice, and we’re… good. So far. It’s going to stay that way, isn’t it?


Miss you all the time.


A letter for her (IV) – a hug from God

Dear *Nani Jaan,

It was the evening of the twenty-third of this month. I was about to fall and scatter into a hundred billion pieces. I was about to fall very badly. But once again, you saved me. Thank you! This life that I was playing around with, I now owe it to you.

It was a bleak summer evening. The nights have been long, too. I was losing my way …almost. But then you held the candle for me. It’s incredible and magical how you do it. So you and I have been chosen to hide away in this peaceful bond that marks the beginning of so many journeys all at once. And I just never knew!

I knew that day how restless your heart has been – how could I not? And I also knew – just like I did that starry Saturday night – what would bring us the relief that we were seeking. And so I did what I had done then, what I always do -what we always do together; I played your favourite – our favourite – Surah Rehman.

Why did you suddenly start crying? It was like the verse humming out of my phone was the voice of your long lost friend, a very dear friend. And then the way your arms went around me in gratitude, holding me close, your fragile fingers cradling me – reaching down to my soul – and tears soaking my face – I don’t know whose – and then that heavy feeling in my heart melting away into an expectant joy, like that of a child who gets excited at the thought of running in a park, chasing the wild ducks. How did it come to this? Your eyes wouldn’t leave my face, your hands were in mine, and your face was glowing. And you kept saying how you love these words, how your father loved these words. I love these words, too, Nani Jaan. I love these words, too!

Why does it feel like a hug from God every single time I meet you? Do you know that this was the best hug of all? How could you make me feel that way? That magical way that is now suddenly making me look forward to a (forgotten) happy tomorrow that I have been waiting for? It was like God asking you to pat me on the back and tell me – lovingly – that there’s a happy miracle waiting for me, that there’s something wondrous looking for me, that it’s very near and just a little more patience. Just a little more. How easy it is for our Friend to console me, isn’t it? It was a moment that I would never exchange for all the happiness in the world – your quiet prayers blessing my future, Him telling me that the morning is just a few blinks away, Him consoling me, Him promising me a reward greater than my feeble imagination, Him reminding me that His love – as always – is here, right here!

But I am also scared, Nani Jaan. I learnt to live for you, to make this journey easy for you so that He can make it easy for me – send me someone like we were sent for each other – to be your friend, your best friend. I don’t want to stop living for you, I don’t want to stop waking up for you. Or maybe I can live so that I can join you in His Gardens, then?
Yeah, I think I can manage that if He gives me a chance.

I miss you. I owe you this new life.
Thank you for listening to me in this silence, Nani Jaan. Thank you for seeing what the world doesn’t see.

You know something, Nani Jaan? A little girl cried herself to a peaceful dream the night of this twenty-third.

Love you.

Your Arfu.

*Nani Jaan: maternal grandmother

Photo credits: Vashma Junaid

A letter for her (III) – this Big Black Car

Dearest Nani Jaan,

They always remind me of you, these jasmine flowers. Every morning, just as the sky is lit with the first rays of sunlight, and the birds come out of their nests, and one begins to feel the clouds painting an image on the sky, you would pluck the jasmine flowers from their shrub. With the grace of a queen, you would sew them on ears, your heart fresh with love for all and Him.

I love these jasmines, too!

It’s getting scarier, this Big Black Car. And as we drive forward, we’re beginning to see all that was lost along the way. I’m reminded of the stubborn child who will want that toy again from his favourite toy-shop but he won’t ask for it because he’s already broken the same one before. Does that make sense to you? It’s getting even more scary, this ride on the Big Black Car. Amongst the crowd of people, the Great Wall riding on this Car is all strong and sturdy. But on a deserted, dark road leading to the depths of the forest, it scares us because it’s dark, and forests are supposed to be haunted by ghost stories, isn’t it?

So in our silence lives our locution, that’s what we’ve decided, haven’t we?

And so every time I see you, it’s a new song, a new smile for my heart. How do you always know what to say to me? How do you always know that it’s only the firm grasp of your weak hands holding on to mine as I prepare to leave that can pass on a lovely, magical legacy to the mystified hunter that is my heart?

And then when you spin magic with the sacred words that you breathe your prayers into when hand in hand we enjoy our Surah Rehman, you beautifully, effortlessly teach us – teach me – how to love God.

“Stay happy, stay blessed”. Amen. “Live long. Live happy”. Amen, yes!

Miss you!


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Photo credits: Maham Jawaid Ahmed

A letter for her (II) – it’s getting quieter in here

Dearest *Nani Jaan,

You didn’t wish me ‘Eid Mubarak’. You didn’t get up to tell me how my dress looked. You didn’t even chide me for not getting henna on my hands this time even though I love it. Why?
You didn’t lovingly order us to pile our plates with food. So I didn’t. I just sat by you not wondering why Eid didn’t seem like Eid.

It’s getting quieter in here, you know.

There are highs and lows. I have raged and fought with God. I have demanded justice. There was no answer but I know it will come. I just don’t want those empty days to return. Can you possibly come back? Giving up isn’t easy and who would know that better than you? Because this silence that is becoming my new best friend is haunted by guilt.

Regrets are not easy to live with, Nani Jaan. And every time I bend down to move you, every time my own hands touch yours as I tie the damned sphygmomanometer cuff around your bony arm, every time I glance at your sunken cheeks, I find myself beaten up by guilt and regret. And then I run away from myself; my feet falter with the weakness of my heart, my tongue begging Him for help. And then you know what happened? One such moonlit night brought me the answers I had never expected.
Life is so, so strange.
It doesn’t seem fair that through this I’m seeking the mercy that I need, that through this will come my relief, that this is my way out.
It’s so true, Nani Jaan, that human intelligence is bound within the first degree of imprisonment; no matter how many nanoseconds we discover, no matter how many moons we land on, no matter what great genetic engineers we become, we are always helpless in front of His plans. Always.
I wonder if introspection and retrospection are His favourite ‘-tions’? Because they steer us towards His love, and through our own follies and short-comings, we discover His Being, and then with shaking hearts and hopeful souls we go Home to Him.

We go Home to Him.
We go Home to Him.

This doesn’t seem fair. But then who am I to decide that? A small collection of cells that is nothing without His beautiful Will. Absolutely nothing. And I know that when I see how marvellously my own plans fail and how wise are His.

Remember several of those sunny afternoons when we would ask you if you’re hungry? You’d say, “No. God has filled my stomach. I don’t feel hungry. I’m content. Thank God”.
And of course, you don’t. The hypothalamus in your brain has taken care of that. See. I found my answer. Why does that always happen? Why do I find the how to the why as soon as the when happens? Because it’s all a matter of perspective, you’d say, and it all goes back to Him.

This is just so crazy.

You called me your friend, your ‘saheli’. You said that because your friends left, you found me.
“Meri saheliyaan chali gaeeyn tou yeh saheli aagaee”.
Yes, Nani Jaan. One friendship for another. Maybe this is the meezan that God lovingly spoke about, isn’t it?

It really is getting quieter in here. And I miss a lot of a lot of things. Thank you for not giving up. Not yet.


Your Arfu.

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*Nani Jaan: maternal grandmother

yeh sab tumhara karam hai Aaqa, k baat abb tak bani hoee hai

Huddled conveniently between memes and celebrity pictures, your noisy Facebook newsfeed often carries ‘miracle stories’ that talk about how the zam-zam water cured someone, or some such similar thing. And you smile without as much of a thought and you move on because you can’t be bothered to research the ‘how‘ of the science that may have caused it. I was guilty of the same until a very recent personal experience reminded me of my own words: “It’s like the workings of a car – how you put in the key, start the ignition and the engine starts working, you pull the hand-break and the gear and turn the steering wheel and the car goes in motion. You’re doing these acts because that’s how this car is supposed to work, otherwise, it won’t move forward and you’ll be stuck in the same place”.

It was Saturday night. Kaplan opthalmology and I snuggled together by my ailing maternal grandmother’s bedside. With one eye on the image of the normal retina on the screen of the laptop, I kept glancing at the frail figure sleeping next to me, looking out for the number of breaths that she was adding to those of her children and grandchildren, with her own. Her medicine time was lapping by so we decided to disturb what seemed like her sweet slumber. But she refused to wake up; she had – in very simple words – fainted.

We monitored her vitals: no red flags at all. We contacted her doctor: “maintain her oxygen saturatuon and keep talking to her, reassure her”. Check.

As we did that, I – either out of desperation to see my favourite lady talking or out of an unwavering faith in the power of our unseen God – played Surah Rehman on my retiring phone. What followed was surreal enough to make our eyes hug tears of incredulity, and relief, and gratitude. Within minutes, her previously unresponsive eyes began to flutter. A few more grains of the hour-glass later, her previously stiff jaw loosened and her mouth began to move till she was loud enough for every person in the room to hear.

“She’s saying something!”

“She is. She’s saying ‘Fabiayyi alai rabbikuma tukaththibani’!“

Recent studies have strongly suggested that listening to the Holy Quran causes the release of the neurotransmitter (a chemical released by the nerve cells), dopamine, to send signals to other nerve cells. Dopamine has a significant role in reward-motivated behaviour, also leading to pain reduction and helping individuals recover from stroke or other injuries. It aids in the betterment of cognitive skills, improving endurance and symptoms of dementia. There have also been studies showing that listening to Quran recitation can generate alpha wave, and can be more helpful in relaxing a person as compared to resting and listening to slow and hard rock music.

And so that’s how the car works, that’s how we work!
Because “yeh sab tumhara karam hai Aaqa, ke baat ab tak bani hui hai!”
(O beloved Lord! All is Your grace that my affairs continue to prosper, that my affairs continue to advance!)

And that’s how much she loved her Lord – gentle whispers from His scripture had the very calming effect that her neurons were craving for.

Life – despite its fragility and hues of sadness – can be very beautiful if you choose to listen to the notes of love, (and miracles) and hope dancing within the songs promising you the Everlasting, courting your patience, bejewelling your strength.

I love the sunrise. Don’t you?

Photo Credits: Omama Batool

and there is much peace in this chaos here

My surgery and orthopaedic rotation ended two weeks ago; sadly, it was not a very enjoyable experience at the time, owing to, perhaps, the unfortunate fact that I was trying to juggle too much all at once.

What I did learn in time, however, was to accept the gnawing, glaring fact that one must not – or ever – wait for the hard times to pass to wait to laugh, because life – married faithfully to time – will otherwise unscrupulously leave you behind, trapped in the same old shell of you, a you that does not know of uncomfortable growth, and unchartered terrains, and the extraordinary surprise of discovering that you certainly can live without what you thought was your very own gravity.

I learnt that often stressful situations bring out the best in you, that the love of and for God is delightfully selfless, that unconditional gratitude will inspire you beyond the pretentiousness of the tangibility of this world; that wrapped up as a heartfelt prayer, you always have something to give to another mortal. And during these prolonged moments of self-discovery, I also learnt that a mother’s love is an enigma you can never solve, an antidote to all your aches, teaching you to walk down the magnificent isle of peace, away from the strangling emotion of hate.

And all of those lessons are pretty useful, you know? Because as my tachycardia races against the bradycardia of a loved one, as my blooming youth bows down to the frailty of old age, as my present self – inspired by a grandmother whose hands are forever looking for mine, whose life is dominated by remnants of her past and not a map for a tomorrow – hopes for a future dedicated to geriatric medicine, as I find myself being released from the shackles of emotional dependency, as I find myself growing – spiritually, emotionally – to the velocity of what I am meant to be, I find myself finally finding meaning in suffering, beauty in sorrow, gratitude in hardships, smiles in tears, forgiveness in hate, and most importantly, life in death.

So healing a broken spirit and giving me a heart transplant, surgery and allied led me to surrender my soul to where it truly belongs. And there is much peace in this chaos here.

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