Monday, September 07, 2020

Memories of Dad

Memories of Dad 
My father passed away last year  while I was in the hospital.  It was the night of March 16-17, 2019 just before his 91st birthday. I was unable to attend the funeral and still haven’t been able to visit his grave. (One day I’ll take up my brother’s kind offer).

These are the memories of dad I wish to pass on to our children.

He loved us, but his final thoughts when he slipped away were of his grandchildren.
I believe everyone chooses their parents, names and direction in life before they’re born. (Then forget their choices immediately after). And I was fortunate to be born to these parents, at that particular time, in Lahore, Pakistan. 

The earliest memory I have Is being surrounded by their love, so I’ve always tried to do the same for my kids. He set me on the arc of my life, and each step of the way, he provided the opportunities to move on to the next milestone. So I wish to remember him, and give thanks for everything, with love. 

A sense of Adventure:
Dad was born in the maternal haveli (mansion) in Lahore’s old city, owned by Kashmiri hakims (herbal physicians) but his heart was with the paternal family home in Mansuri (Mussoorie) India the foothills of the Himalayas. At 7000 feet, he developed a passion for mountains there, and trekked all over, once to the Khunjerab Pass altitude 4693 meters (15397 feet) on the border with China (I love mountains too).

Love of Travel:
Soon as I was born, he was posted to the London embassy (and after that, Tokyo) so I didn’t go back to Pakistan until I was almost 8 yrs old.  We went by ship, that’s how people got around then. 

He appreciated British culture, values and history and passed it on to us.

London was filled with the spirits of those killed in WWII, and likewise, Tokyo which informed my lifelong interest in spirituality. 

I remember how happy my parents were in each other our early years in the UK and Japan. These therefore are my favourite countries and cultures.

He insisted we only speak English at home which really helped me in life. (My second language was Japanese; I had to start learning Urdu when I returned).

My next memory was of me (age 2) and my brother Tahir (1) laughing like loons, crashing one of those oversized battleship prams down the stairs of our second floor flat in London. 

Another time I let myself out through the garden gate and was found later, wandering around a park. I was two. 

Later that year  King George VI died and Elizabeth II  became Queen (we left London before the coronation). This probably explains why I’m such a fan of constitutional institutions :)

After a brief stay with my grandparents in India we flew to Japan in a TWA Super Constellation, and a stewardess took me to visit the pilots in their cockpit. (It was early 1953, before the dawn of jet travel).

When we landed in Tokyo I remember sneaking out of the hotel we were staying in  and charmed my way into a cinema without paying. I was 3 1/2 years old and Captain Blood, with Errol Flynn, was playing. 

He disapproved of comics but mom and I convinced him I was improving my English. He enrolled me in kindergarten in an American school before I turned 4 because my birthday fell in the academic year. That early start was ok, I’ve loved school ever  since.

Our neighbours were a polyglot mix from all over, American, Turkish, Iranians, Japanese, people from India. He was unprejudiced, so made friends easily. Every one who knew him remarked his kindness and gentle manner.

Once, a gang of Muslims wanted to beat up an Indian kid with sticks. The gang leader was shamefully, another Pakistani, and when I asked why, it was like it was self-evident, “because he’s a Hindu”. I was 5. and these kids were all about a year older, so obviously, their prejudices came from parents. 

I slipped away and warned him, so he was able to defend himself quite capably and the gang slunk away.

Our neighbour was an American school teacher who allowed me to read books in his home library. He introduced me to Mark Twain :) and also, the author Joseph Campbell when he visited Japan (1955).

Many cultures:
Those were the early 50’s, when it seemed like I met the best of every nation and culture, American, British, Indian, Japanese, Pakistani and the number of people I met who affected my life, and how it was Dad who was the catalyst for change. So thanks, Dad.

He always had a smile for us and taught me to be adventurous and independent through personal example.  

Mom sang a lot; in Urdu and English-she taught me cooking and to appreciate reading, music and poetry.

He had a problematic relationship with his father, so determined to make his own way in the world, he left British India at the age of 16 to go to Sri Lanka where he found employment, slept on the floor of the store to save money. 

He went back to Qadian, Punjab in 1947 just before Partition to protect his parents from marauding Sikhs, patrolled the town armed only with a lathi (long cane). 

15 million people were ethnically cleansed on both sides in the biggest mass migration in history, and up to two million people were killed, but Qadian was miraculously spared till the town was evacuated by Pakistani military trucks. (300 volunteers remained behind to protect the town being occupied by evacuees from the other side of the border).

At heart, he was a romantic.

He’d known my mom since childhood, (they were cousins) and declared he would marry her one day. It was a love, not arranged, marriage and they wed in 1948.  

Processing grief:
He never was the same when his mother died tragically in an accident. Then when my younger brother passed after a long illness both parents changed, they never were the same again.

I was processing my own grief and knew I had to get away. So at the age of 11 I applied for and won a scholarship to PAF Public School Sargodha (thousands of applicants from all over East and West Pakistan, only 60 were admitted every year, I placed 11th). 

Earlier when my grandfather stormed out of the Qadiani sect (we have a long history with them) and sent a telegram to the Caliph saying he was taking all his family with him, they went along with his dictates-only dad defied him by sending a telegram saying he was still a loyal member of the Jamaat. I only hope I am half as brave as he.

They published an obituary of his contributions here: 

Respect for other beliefs:
He was a founding member of the Jamaat in Canada and helped establish mosques all over, yet bore with equanimity my announcement I wasn’t even a Muslim. 

He asked “so what do you believe then?” and listened patiently while I explained my syncretic Buddhist-Hindu philosophy. He was honest about his beliefs. I appreciated the relationship I had with him, that I could be honest about mine.

It was much later I discovered we were descended from Sufi mystics, which explains some inexplicable things.

Surprisingly modern, he encouraged my mother to wear a swimsuit to take us swimming in the local swimming pool in Tokyo.

Once, when a photographer took a colour photo of her in shalwar kameez and it appeared on the cover of a Japanese magazine he was very proud. She also appeared in fashion shows modelling traditional Pakistani dress- no hijab or purdah then :)

He spoke Japanese quite fluently and loved the people and culture. Tea tasting ceremonies, communal hot baths, visits to temples and shrines were all food for imagining and wonder.

He was a keen photographer so bought a twin reflex Mamiya medium format camera and took lots of pictures all over. The one thing I wish I inherited but it went missing over the years.

More Adventure:

He took us all over Japan. Once we stayed in a country inn and when the shoji blinds were pulled back there was Mt. Fuji, reflected by the light of the setting sun in the water of a still lake. Magical. Dad climbed it the next day.

Moving back to Pakistan  on a Dutch freighter we got caught in a typhoon off the Sea of Japan and had to shelter in a bay. We lost our anchor but survived. The rest of our trip from Hong Kong to Karachi was uneventful but sunsets over the ocean were spectacular.

He came to pick me up from school with the family in our new VW Beetle. On the 1200 kms trip back he taught me how to drive stick shift. I was 13 then. Made good use of that skill when I took my family to Europe for a four month long driving tour.

One door closes, another opens: 

He’d looked forward to being posted to the Los Angeles consulate but that fell through so we ended back in Pakistan which opened another door for us, he got a job with Mitsubishi and we went to the best schools. It was a better, earlier time.

When I failed the final medical exam to get into Air Force College Risalpur I was disappointed but he got me admitted to his old school, F.C. College, Lahore which was run by American missionaries and that's where I continued my education. 

When I graduated from University in 1970 and saw the direction our country was going, (it broke up within months) so I prayed and within two weeks he decided to emigrate to Canada for a better life for his children. Got a job with another Japanese company, Toyota :)

He even sponsored so many relatives to come here we have quite a clan in Canada 🇨🇦 

And even then he paid for my first year accounting course at the University of Toronto but after a semester when I decided it wasn’t for me he was fine with that.


For three years I was unable to get over grief for my brother passing till someone showed me how to contact spirits. That taught me there’s an afterlife, after all, what Tibetan Buddhists call Bardo, Christians Purgatory, Muslims Barzakh. 

So there’s no surprise this message from him showed up in my inbox: a photo of Sakura, the Cherry Blossom festival in Japan March 13, a few days before his 1st death anniversary. 

I remember he was enraptured by our first viewing of cherry blossoms back then 🌸 

These are my memories of Dad: at heart, he was in my opinion not a religious, but a spiritual person, who bore whatever life  threw at him with grace.

So thanks, Dad. I love you.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Iqbal Bano, Hum Dekhenge (We Shall See)

Listening to Iqbal Bano, the subcontinent's great ghazal singer. 

Hum Dekhenge

A protest poem written by her friend Faiz Ahmed Faiz in the darkest days of Zia's military dictatorship, she defied his ban on public music and Faiz's 'leftist' poetry by appearing in a concert at Lahore's Railway Stadium before a crowd of 50,000.

This song went on to inspire a whole generation of young activists on both sides of the Indo-Pak border; today you can even hear Hum Dekhenge chanted by protesters in Occupied Kashmir!

Her voice is sublime, with a range and power equivalent to great African-American spirituals. Even if you don't know Urdu, please listen.

This rekindled the love for Urdu poetry I developed in college, and the song is equal to "We shall overcome" imho.

(My translation)
"All crowns will be toppled/All thrones overturned/And rise to heaven/Like cotton fluffs/When the final days come/The invisible poor and oppressed/Will finally be visible/And all will see/The face of God/...

The refrain and closing verse Hum Dekhenge (We shall see) is from the Quran, the leftist poet is using Islamic verses to rebuke the dictator who used religion to divide the country

This recording is from a performance the next year in Lahore's Alhamra Hall at the annual Faiz Festival. Iqbal Bano is said to have worn a black Sari in protest against the dictator's ban on the 'Indian'  garment (he even banned kite flying, the sale of musical instruments and celebrations of the Hindu holiday of Holi).

The audience sang along with her and roared the refrain Hum Dekhenge! And then she did a remarkable thing, against the conventions of ghazal (Indo-Persian Sufi poetry). The performance is supposed to be by seated musicians and singers, but at the final stanza, she stood up in silent protest! The crowd went wild.

Zia's goons went around the next day and confiscated all the tapes they could find but the original had been hidden away and smuggled to Dubai where it spread back to India and Pakistan. The rest, is history.

Sadly, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Iqbal Bano are no longer with us but their song lives on in the hearts of oppressed people of India and Pakistan.