When our Pakistan posting finally came through after a 10-month long suspense of “will they, won’t they give us visas”, it wasn’t exactly a happy moment for us. My mother passed away absolutely unexpectedly just a week before and we were all in a state of shock. My mother’s passing away was the greatest tragedy ever for all of us, and I was just not prepared to leave my father, who had to be put on sedatives, or my siblings when we needed each other the most.
Yet three weeks later we were in Islamabad.
My father convinced me that I should accompany my husband and that it was okay to miss my mother’s “chaleeswan” (40th day ritual). “God will hear your prayers from there too,” my father had told me when I had argued that I did not want to miss her chaleeswan.
My father couldn’t hold back tears when I said “khuda hafiz” to him. He put his hand on my head, hugged me, and said, “There is no guarantee of life and death anymore.” I then noticed my brother breaking down for the first time since my mother had died. When my sister saw us off at the airport, we tried not to make eye contact, lest we start crying again.
We got the first taste of how our next few days, perhaps even months, in Pakistan would be when I made the first call home. For the first few times I couldn’t get through. When I did, my father couldn’t hear me, nor could I hear him. We screamed and then the line got snapped. My father tried to call us back, but the call never materialised.
It was just about the same routine for a whole week. I wanted so much to speak to my father, hear his voice and check if he really was doing fine as he had been claiming in his emails, but I had no such luck.
The day my mother’s chaleeswan was being held, I tried all morning to speak to my sister and my father, but couldn’t till late evening. Even then my father couldn’t hear me at all, so I spoke to my sister. She didn’t say much because she was crying.
I would often talk to my mother about our impending Pakistan posting. Sometimes she got excited about getting an opportunity to visit Pakistan again – she had visited Lahore and Karachi with my father to meet relatives and ended up shopping for our trousseau as well (including the gharara I wore for my marriage). At other times she wondered if a Pakistan posting was a good idea.
I allowed myself the luxury of tears for a while on my mother’s chaleeswan and concluded that the posting was not a good idea.
The events of the first Eid after my mother’s death were an exact replay of her chaleeswan. I couldn’t speak to my father (I got through, but he couldn’t hear me); I heard my sister crying and asking if we were doing okay.
After our first few months in Islamabad, the phone lines became better. I could then pick up the phone and speak to my father and my sister, like a civilized person, without yelling. My father could hear me fine too. Yet I will never forget that I couldn’t speak to my family, more so my father, on the day of my mother’s chaleeswan or the first Eid after her death.