Anxious men in the passenger seat

wife driving

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/anxious-men-in-the-passenger-seat-1.1871220

There are certain things you remember about your childhood that were an integral part of growing up. For me, one such thing was that funny little tomato-red Daihatsu Charade that we once owned. The car was a 1985 model that Dad had purchased refurbished, which meant we became its owners some 10 years after it was born.

It made funny noises when you drove it (stick-shift) and the trunk closed with an earth-shattering jolt. Pulling the windows up and down was good exercise for the biceps and if you got lucky, the air conditioner would sometimes work. This strange object, however, came in handy when I wanted to learn to drive.

After a few lessons of the basics, I decided to take my parents out for a ride. Bad idea, I know. Dad was a bundle of nerves as I took the car outside the gate, and he covered his face with his hands. A car sped along in the opposite direction and he jumped. “Can’t you see that car?” he said frantically. “We are on the other side Papa, please relax,” I told him.

Mum murmured in agreement from the back seat. Dad ground his teeth. I tried to laugh valiantly but found this first ride with him distinctly confidence-draining as I tried to reassure him that everything would be fine.

We were driving along the main road happily and I could sense him relaxing just a tiny bit. It was almost as though he had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t look up much and we would all make it home in one piece. I was pleased that he wasn’t quite as excited as before and things started to get a little more pleasant. We finally turned home and as everything had gone well without any trouble whatsoever, I decided this was my time to speak. “Well, I’m quite okay driving, aren’t I? Look at you guys, you don’t trust me at all!”

Dad almost looked sorry and he was about to say something, but I’ll never know what it was because at that precise moment I banged the rear of the car while reversing into our unopened front gate, which I had presumed was open. Typical. Dad felt vindicated and the “I told you so” lecture that followed was positively grating. Fast forward a few years and I drive every day, sometimes for long distances. It has become second nature. I would even say that I enjoy it (minus the traffic, of course) and ferrying the girls around town is part of my job description. Yet, my husband recoils with apprehension every time he sits with me in the passenger seat.

We are driving to the airport to drop him off. “Change lanes, we need to take the next exit,” he says. I roll my eyes. “Thanks, but I kind of know the way,” I respond coolly. He shrugs. When I finally do change lanes he shakes his head in despair and wonders how much to say because he is travelling after all and making up over the phone might prove a little tricky. He (wisely) restrains himself from speaking about the details of my lane-changing abilities, but I notice from the corner of my eye, he looks extremely stressed. I don’t know about you, but the men in my life generally hyperventilate when I’m driving.

I enjoy speeding every now and then (the engine roar is so satisfying) but sadly my husband doesn’t agree. “No wonder the fuel costs as much as it does and do you realise how unsafe this is?” he says pointedly as I let it rip. I slow down because we need to pick up something on the way and the only parking available near the grocery store is parallel. Herein lies my real test. I take a deep breath and try it — five times out of ten I manage to do it and at other times, the car just doesn’t seem to obey. Sadly, this time the car ends up jutting out at a strange angle and he smiles vindictively. “You bribed them to pass your driving test, didn’t you?” He breathes easy and I scowl. He picks up the grocery and then knocks at my window. “I’m driving,” he tells me.

The man who looked completely distraught moments ago is now happy and relaxed and shows the girls how we take off in an aeroplane by going full throttle and making the engine thunder. My eyebrows almost disappear into my hairline. It’s nostalgic. I remember that red Charade and Dad. I smile wryly. Until he learns to relax in the passenger seat, I really don’t mind being chauffeured around by my man, especially if there’s parallel parking around.

 

So why should I fast anyway?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/so-why-should-i-fast-anyway-1.1850796

dates iftar

The clock strikes four and I gulp down the water quickly. I hear the distant call of the Fajr (dawn) prayer and realise that for the next 15 hours, I can neither eat nor drink anything. I think warily of the fact that the girls have school almost half this Ramadan and pick-ups must be braved in the searing heat. It’s not the food I mind giving up, I say grudgingly to myself, it’s the water and the caffeine — and the sleep that gets interrupted when I wake up to eat the pre-dawn meal. I’m a grouch early in the morning and the idea of not being able to get a long lie-in irks me.

“Why must I fast anyway?” I ask myself in a moment of restless, bleary-eyed grumpiness. There’s a voice inside me that tells me to come to my senses, but another stronger voice pipes up, “Because everyone fasts during Ramadan”. I complete the Fajr prayer lazily and throw dirty looks at the clock that just doesn’t seem to move on. As the day wears on, my mood thankfully improves, much to the relief of my family. The conscience is uncomfortably guilty as I question myself again, this time wide-awake and pleasant enough — why, at any rate, do we fast in Ramadan?

The obvious answer of course would be that because Allah commanded us in the Quran to do so. He also told us that He intends ease for us and not difficulty, and that those who are unable to fast due to reasons such as ill-health, travelling and child birth are exempt from doing so. There is also great reward in paradise for those who fast. Just that should be enough for someone of sound faith to want to fast, but I want to delve deeper into this question.

Let me, for starters, examine my relationship with God. When things are going well, I don’t really talk to Him much. I pray mechanically, almost like I just want to tick off a task in my day. But when the going gets tough, I earnestly talk to Him, in the darkness of the night and during the day when no one but Him understands my whispered pleas. When I feel inadequate, unable to do everything that’s expected of me, I reach out to Him and tell Him everything, safe in the knowledge that His mercy is greater than His wrath and that He, alone will not judge me.

One thing about people is that they’re quick to judge you. Say, a woman might be having an illicit affair and people would condemn her for being a two-faced hypocrite, but the only One who knows her full story and still has the door of mercy and forgiveness open for her is Allah. When you’re in the wrong — say things you dearly regret and actions that you’d give anything to eradicate — Allah is the One and only who understands you and still loves you and appreciates the fact that you came back and said sorry. Just the thought is emancipating.

Another beautiful thing about this relationship is that Allah knows me better than anyone, imperfections and all. He still loves me and listens to me every time I need to talk — no matter even if it is too trivial and I can be myself. He takes care of my requests, provided I ask like I really mean them. Even while I prayed and fasted like it was a chore, He continued to bless me with every passing day with gifts such as a functioning body, my family and countless other things.

I feel like a very selfish person — all I seem to care about is MY comfort, MY coffee and MY entertainment. I feel shallow, insincere — but one thing I do not feel is despair, because I know that the moment I reciprocate the love He shows me, Allah will give me another chance.

Outward signs of practising religion are indeed a part of it, but the actions are weightless if the conviction of faith isn’t behind them. I reflect upon the fact that I have this One friend that I have counted on in every moment of need and found Him to be true and incredibly caring and merciful. He continues to love me despite the fact that I mess up way too often. The more I know Him, the more thankful I am to Him and the more I want to show Him my love and devotion too. From hereon, I will fast because I want to, because He said so, because it is a privilege to be able to worship Him in the way He wants me to.

My Harry Potter obsession

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Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” Published May1, 2016

http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/my-harry-potter-obsession-1.1816154

‘Sweetheart?” I prod her on the shoulder gently. She looks up distractedly from her book. “It’s time for lunch,” I tell her, gesturing towards the book in her hand, which she must now close and join the family. I see her slip the book discretely behind her back and throughout the meal, the book is open at a strange angle on her knee, held with her left hand as she surreptitiously reads while eating. She thinks I’m not aware but I watch her eyes moving swiftly across the concealed book and she knows I know but reads on the Famous Five novel anyway with a sheepish smile.

We have a “no screens on the table” policy but I wonder now if I will have to include books in the agreement too. My oldest one reminds me of myself a lot. I remember when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the seven-part series came out I was 14. I was the biggest Potter-fan I knew — the orphaned boy-wizard in his magical world had me hooked and I would have given anything to get into Hogwarts. I had read the first three books so many times I could probably recite them verbatim from memory. The new 640-page book was eagerly devoured in a matter of three days and two nights. By the end of it I was a mess (much to my mother’s dismay), but I felt great. The rest of the series was read with a similar frenzy, but by the time the last book, The Deathly Hallows, came out, I had a year-old baby, and reading without a break was far trickier, but of course, I managed somehow.

This same baby is now ten years old and she adores reading. She was recently gifted a white Kindle reader for her birthday by her paternal grandparents with the entire Harry Potter series preloaded. I was, understandably, very excited. She’s loved all the books I loved as a child — Heidi, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Pollyanna, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl’s books to name a few, and I couldn’t wait to introduce her to J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t see her for the next few days as she would want to read the Harry Potter series like I did — all at once.

harrypotter

It was lovely to read the opening pages of The Sorcerer’s Stonetogether until she took over and was enjoying the book. I would finally be able to discuss Hogwarts and Hogsmeade with her, and we could do a little quiz to see who remembered more spells!

She finished the first book in a day or so and began reading The Chamber of Secrets. Then after a couple of days, I expected her to begin The Prisoner of Azkaban, but things had taken a different course. The Kindle was lying on her bedside and she was back to her Malory Towers. I was positively despondent. “What, you’re not reading Harry Potter?” I said ashen-faced. She shrugged. “I think the second book is a bit boring, honestly.” The book hadn’t even been read halfway through.

I began reading the book (again) from where she had stopped. It didn’t have the charm that it did when I was younger but it was fun all the same. It came as a bit of a shock that my daughter wasn’t glued to Harry Potter like I had been. The Potter-fan inside me was indignant, but the mother shrugged as though to say, “Well, it’s her life after all. She certainly wouldn’t like everything you did as a child.”

From that point on, I gave up trying to make her like the Harry Potterbooks, but I did have another sneaky plan. The movies! Over the weekend, I played The Chamber of Secrets and began watching it myself — all the while looking at her from the corner of my eye to see if she was interested. The plan worked! She plopped down beside me on the couch and began to watch. When we reached the place where she had given up on the book, I told her we could go on only if she’d read the written work first. She finished the book by the next day and has now embarked upon The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Harry Potter made up a huge chunk of my teenage and young adulthood and I’d love to share the fun of the enchanting series with my daughter, and relive an interesting part of my childhood. While I certainly hope that she gets nowhere near as obsessed as I did, I do hope she discovers all of what goes on inside the mysterious magical world and appreciates the literary genius that is J.K. Rowling.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” published March 27, 2016

http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/what-doesn-t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger-1.1698786

negativepeople

Bullying is real. Bullying in schools, in the workplace and even in homes, is a reality that many of us go through. My 10-year-old has recently become the target of it in school and as I heard her recount her experiences, I felt like a little schoolgirl myself, all over again. I had that uncomfortable, familiar feeling of being hot in the face, feeling the redness creep up my cheeks as it consumed my insides and made them writhe, as though I wouldn’t be able to face anyone ever again. What my girl went through at school is a form of psychological abuse.

The bullying did not, (this time) come from her peers. It came from above — a teacher. The woman first developed a bond with my daughter, gave her extra responsibilities and then, gave her an unwarranted personality analysis (twice in two weeks), which explained exactly all that was supposedly wrong with my daughter’s mental make-up. That she was outspoken, over the top and didn’t feel “right”. That her bubbly nature was simply not what people were looking for and she would never be successful/appreciated in life because she was a little too “in your face”.

All this and more was said to her under the premise of “because I want to make your life better”. Understandably, she was shaken and began to cry and has not wanted to return to school since. My daughter is a sensitive, emotional girl and her self-esteem has taken a beating.

I could rage and storm and complain to the management and I feel like doing so, and may well complain at some stage. But on the other hand, I could give my daughter strategies to deal with this and prepare her for the big bad world. As our tete–a–tete went on, I noticed a hopeful and inquiring look in her eyes, as though she expected me to somehow make it all better. I’m just desperately trying to do this parenting thing right, and sometimes it’s more challenging than anything else in the world.

Finding internal strength

A response such as “that really hurt my feelings and I wish you wouldn’t speak to me like that” to a bullying superior at school or work may just backfire because research proves that responding to a bullying superior irks them, and they go about making your life more difficult than before.

Being extra nice to them does not work either and possibly the only thing that really helps is finding internal strength to still have confidence in yourself and to tell yourself that you are still good, and valuable and worthy, no matter what anyone else might think — and to distance yourself from the bully as much as possible.

There’s that nagging feeling at the back of your mind “what if everything she said was true? What if I really am a worthless person?” That’s when you realise that the negativity really did make an impression inside your head. I looked my little girl in the eyes and told her that she needed to understand and accept the fact that she had been emotionally abused, and that the abuser probably has too many skeletons in the closet herself.

We know nothing about the lives of people, about how much they may have on their plate at any given point of time, and what prompted them to commit actions that are cruel or passive-aggression. Unless we truly forgive them and detach ourselves mentally from the situation in a healthy way, we cannot move on. And moving on is essential for healing.

As is another thing — counting your blessings and remembering that there are so many precious things in life other than this one person and how he or she feels about you — and that they cannot get inside your head unless you allow them to. Connecting with yourself and God on a deeply spiritual level and finding that inner peace and satisfaction helps bring balance back to life.

I can’t help feeling like my daughter has had to grow up a little too soon over the past few weeks, but I’m sure there’s some good in it — however painful it may seem right now. I want my girls to grow up strong, independent women and I will leave the decision of responding to this teacher to my daughter.

All I want for her is to know that her parents and her family will stand by her no matter what and appreciate her for who she is, love her to bits and are very proud of her. I want her empowered with self-belief, backed by our love and appreciation. And to anyone out there who’s being bullied right now as we speak, let me tell you one thing. You’re wonderful.

Does my ten-year old need her own mobile phone?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion, published March 9, 2016: http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/does-my-ten-year-old-need-her-own-mobile-phone-1.1687337

mobile-phone-for-kids

She looks at my old, battered iPhone 5 (now repaired exactly four times) as though it’s the most beautiful thing on earth and I swallow my chuckle. “Well, nine days. You can have the phone for nine days. Only until we’re out of Dubai,” I say firmly.

The next nine days, while we were on vacation, were all about “my phone” and selfies, videos and texts were the order of the day. At the end of the nine days, however, the device was taken away. My daughter insisted that many of her classmates had their own phones and that she too, deserved to own one, but we did not relent.

The average age at which children are given ownership of mobile devices is getting younger than ever before. In a 2014 survey involving 10,985 parents from the Middle East (conducted by the Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government), it was determined that 20 per cent of parents felt that children between the ages of eight and 10 should be allowed to own their own smartphones. The largest majority of parents, 28 per cent however, felt that children only above the age of 16 should be given smartphones, while 6 per cent believed that children under the age of five can be given their own smartphones.

Smartphones are used for everything — from talking, to texting, to playing games and of course for using the internet. In research conducted by the GSM Association (GSMA) involving children from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq and Algeria, it was determined that 38 per cent of those children who own a smartphone are “cell-mostly” internet users — they mostly go online using their phone and not on a desktop or laptop. The internet comes with its own risks — McAfee (intel security) reports that 87 per cent of children have been the target of cyber bullying, leading to anger and embarrassment.

McAfee further states that only 61 per cent of youth have enabled the privacy settings on their social networking profiles to protect their content, and 52 per cent do not turn off their location or GPS services across apps, leaving their locations visible to strangers. Additionally, 14 per cent have posted their home addresses online.

As parents, we trust our children to make smart decisions online, but monitoring them on the internet (and educating them about it) is essential. GSMA reports that 60 per cent of parents have concerns about their child being online and a whopping 88 per cent were worried about their children viewing inappropriate content. McAfee’s research further states that 74 per cent of parents (children’s ages 10-23) say they don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with everything their child is doing online. 46 per cent of children say they would change their online behaviour if they knew their parents were watching. Mobile phones offer far more freedom and personal space than, say, a family desktop or laptop and it becomes all the more tricky to keep a check.

When entrusting a child with a device such as a mobile phone, academics, in some cases, appear to suffer as well. Kent State University in Ohio carried out research that linked excessive mobile phone usage to poor grades and anxiety. Many children stay up at night just to be able to text their friends and many sleep with their devices under their pillows, exposing them to harmful radiation.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified smartphones as possibly carcinogenic to human beings. Radio waves received and sent by mobile phones transmit in all directions to find the nearest base station, even when the device is not being used and are absorbed by the body closest to where the device is held. A study by the Environmentalist Health Trust determined that the rate of radio wave absorption is higher in children than adults because their brain tissues are more absorbent, their skulls are thinner and their relative size is smaller. According to one study by De La Salle et al (2006), children absorb 60 per cent more radiation into the head than an adult.

Children’s immature nervous system makes them more susceptible to the long-term effects of mobile phone radiation, most of which remain to be documented. The heavy usage of mobile phones is only a few decades old and studies to find out just how damaging to health mobile devices are, are ongoing. It will take time before enough data is collected to prove anything certain, but many studies point towards brain tumours, reproductive problems, sleep disorders, headaches and anxiety.

For us, the risks of giving our ten-year-old a smartphone outweigh the benefits. Perhaps a simple device without internet would be useful in situations when she needs to contact us, but for the most part, I will be encouraging face-to-face contact with friends, sports, sunshine and as less screen time as possible.

Falling on my face and other hurdles: How I nearly missed the PSL final

psl

Photo courtesy of PSL Facebook Page

Originally written for Dawn Blogs, published February 25, 2016: http://www.dawn.com/news/1241842/falling-on-my-face-and-other-hurdles-how-i-nearly-missed-the-psl-final

If there’s one thing I’ve always wanted to do, it is to watch a cricket match live in the stadium — I’ve been a cricket buff for as long as I can remember and I follow the game closely.

The recently concluded Pakistan Super League had me excited and proud. For the sake of my cricket-starved country, I wanted the PSL to shine, to be amongst the best leagues in the world, to be the league all the international stars yearn to get into.

Even though my favourite Zalmi and Afridi were out of the tournament, I still liked the gutsy Moin Khan-esque Sarfaraz Ahmed and was hoping that Quetta would win.

So, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to go and watch the PSL final at Dubai International Stadium.

My sister and her family had flown in from New York especially to watch the match and had one extra VIP ticket — it was fate. After settling the kids down at home, I set off for Dubai Sports City at around 7:30pm.

The drive was fairly smooth and my best friend Google ensured that I was on the right track.

As the beautiful lit-up stadium came into view, I called my sister who was already inside and told her that I had arrived and would soon be joining them. Little did I know.

As I neared the exit for Dubai Sports City, the traffic came to a standstill. The queue was extremely long and many people resigned to just parking their cars in the sand on the right and walking to the stadium because the match had already started.

After being stuck, for around 20 minutes, I realised that even if I did cross the exit and get into the stadium area, finding a parking spot there would be near impossible.

So I swung the car to the right and entered the sandy area where thousands of cars were already parked.

I could see the stadium a little farther ahead of where I was. I took relief in the fact that if so many people had parked here, there was probably a way to walk to it too.

As I measured my options, I realised that I would either have to walk along the main road (easily a 35-40 minute walk) or find a shortcut to the stadium from the sandy parking area.

None of the options seemed exciting — the road did not have a sidewalk so it felt dangerous to walk alongside the heavy traffic, and the sandy area had no lights and looked pretty scary.

I took a deep breath and finally decided to follow a group of men nearby, who were also trying to find a shortcut to the cricket stadium.

Only a short while later, a big fence cut off our progress. But one of them inspected it carefully and found a spot where the fence was half bent and jumped over it easily. The others followed suit.

Realising there was no other way except jumping over, I, too, gathered my flowing chiffon top (green, of course) and decided to go for it. Shaking, both because of how challenging it seemed and because of my company that night, no one was more surprised than I when I made it to the other side.

Just as I went over, I heard one of the guys say that their tickets were at the East side.

Mine’s premium West, I thought to myself and felt faint: I had left my ticket in the car!

I made the jump again and this time I nearly ripped my jeans because a pointy bit of the fence got stuck in the side pocket. Now began the process of trying to find my car in the big sandy jumble of vehicles. I traced my steps back and to my utter horror, my car was nowhere to be found.

Alone in the dark and eerie parking lot, which was in the middle of nowhere, with scores of people who didn’t even look remotely friendly and with a car that was lost, I wondered if the cricket match was worth it at all.

I decided to drive back home — as soon as I found that dratted car.

Just then, coming out of the darkness, I saw a lady in a long white skirt leaning on the arm of a man. “Oh come on, Rano, walk a little faster. And I told you not to wear a skirt and heels!” he told her.

Rano looked as desperate as I felt. Then, just as suddenly, I spotted my car and I rushed over, grabbed the ticket and followed the couple.

“Err,” I began uncomfortably. I told them that my family was inside and that I had to get to the stadium, asking if I could walk with them.

The couple was sweet and happy to let me tag along. I gladly did so, relieved that I hadn’t already left.

When we arrived at the first fence, the man, Hassan helped Rano and then they both helped me. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, had I not forgotten my ticket, I would never have run into the helpful duo.

On the other side of the fence, things looked pretty grim. There was a humongous construction pit on the ground, and that was the reason a fence had been put up in the first place. I’m terribly scared of heights and here I had to walk on the narrow path by this huge pit.

Another fence! I swallowed the lump in my throat and ploughed on resolutely, not looking left or right. Rano landed on the other side of the second fence with some help from Hassan. Thanking God that I was wearing sneakers, I, too, crossed the hurdle, sweating and exhausted.

I wondered how much longer we would have to walk in the dark. It seemed as though the stadium was moving farther away from us, and for one long moment, I wondered if we were even going in the right direction. But Hassan was confident that all was well, and so, on we went.

Ten minutes later, the night air brought a welcome sound to my ears. We could hear the faraway noise of a national song, which I surmised to be ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’.

My heart leapt with joy — we were close.

The atmosphere in the stadium was electric.The atmosphere in the stadium was electric.

In front of us, not more than a ten-minute walk away was the entrance to the Dubai International Stadium. Quite a sight for sore eyes. But just then my phone rang (the family had been calling all this time and had called again to get an update on my progress).

In answering the phone, I missed a gutter along the road. It was covered thankfully, but the cover jutted out at a strange angle and wham! I fell flat on my face on the road.

Hassan and Rano helped a dishevelled me up and I let out a groan as my knee began to throb. Gladly I was okay except for minor scrapes. I walked along carefully now.

At last, we walked into the entrance and showed our tickets. We were seated in different places, so I thanked the lovely couple and found my family.

What I saw next just blew me away!

It was a real cricket match, just like on TV, only better and clearer. Ahmed Shehzad had just hit a four and the crowd had gone crazy.

People were wearing Quetta Gladiators and Islamabad United jerseys and screaming and signalling four, swaying from side to side.

If I had any doubts at the parking lot about the match being worth it, I had none now: the atmosphere was electric.

A young Quetta Gladiators fan.A young Quetta Gladiators fan.

The next three hours just flew past. I followed the game closely but the side I was supporting (Quetta) lost, thanks to Islamabad’s great batting.

The energy and the vibe of the crowd were infectious. I’ve heard of people having a passion for the game but this one I embodied in a way that I had never imagined.

Crazy as it was, my experience of watching my first match live was truly memorable and I would definitely go again.

When a mother of three, all alone at night, save for a strange couple, jumps over fences thrice to watch a league final, you know the PSL has made it.

 

My Dad, my hero

Originally written for Gulf News ‘Off the Cuff’ http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/my-dad-my-hero-1.1598893

Published: 16:45 October 11, 2015

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“Papa?” I say gently, stroking his hair. His eyes are half open. He smiles and with a little bit of help from me, he sits up. “How are you?” I ask and envelop him in a big hug. He smiles serenely and asks how I am. When I ask him my name, he says, “I know who you are. Isn’t that enough?” When I insist that he say my name, he shakes his head sadly. “I’m sorry but I can’t quite remember.”

My eyes well up with tears. My Dad, who could recite sonnets of Shakespeare verbatim, the poetry of Ghalib and Allama Iqbal without pausing — today he struggles to remember the name of his daughter. I hold his hand and tell him my name. He nods and says “Yeah. I knew that.”

My recent trip back home was as heartbreaking as it was peaceful. For the first time in my life, my Dad appeared vulnerable, almost like a baby. I spent almost every waking moment by his side, talking to him, helping him remember things, and making the girls play with him.

My dad has always been my hero. He was the person who was there for me at every juncture, as a child and as an adult. He wrote my school speeches, drove me around just because I wanted an ice cream late at night, and had those heart to heart talks with me that were an essential part of growing up. In a household of 14 people, all of whom were his dependents, my Dad had time for me, for each one of us. Later into adulthood, he was there if I ever needed any help.

I remember the day in third grade that I borrowed a Sweet Valley Kids book from a girl in school. I lost the book at home. When I went to school the next day, I told her that I couldn’t find the book. This happened at dropoff right outside school, with the girl’s mother and my father watching. The girl’s mother unfortunately lost her temper at my losing the book and told me that if I was so careless and irresponsible I need not borrow other people’s books. I began to cry. My Dad stepped out of the car, his eyes flashing. He gave that lady the look of death and told her that she would have the book tomorrow, no questions asked, and that she need not lose her temper at his daughter on a busy school morning. That evening after Dad came back from work, we visited every single bookshop in Karachi. The next morning I triumphantly handed over the book to its rightful owner. Dad had come to the rescue, like he always did. He was my knight in shining armour.

I cherish the memories of the endless talks we had over the dining table, long after the meal had been cleared up, and he would spontaneously produce these gems of poetry which he himself had composed, or from the great collection of poetry that he remembered, both in English and in Urdu. His memory had always been amazing. He would hear something just once and absorb it like a sponge and was able to reproduce it later on with perfection. How time has moved on.

His hands are frail, but it’s reassuring all the same when he pats my head. It’s time to leave. I must go back to Dubai. I can’t seem to say goodbye. Dad is more alert than I have seen him in all these days. “I hate it. I hate it when you go away,” he says, almost like a little child. I feel like my heart is going to break into a million little pieces.

Just when my father needs me, I’m going away. When I was small and needed him, he held my hand as I took my first steps, fed me, clothed me, nurtured me and most of all, loved me unconditionally. When the hands of time have turned and he needs help walking, I’m not even there to hold his hand. When he needs someone to give him a hug and tell him everything is going to be fine, I’m not available.

The beautiful verse from the Holy Quran comes to my mind, “And lower to them the wing of humility out of mercy and say, “My Lord, have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small.” (Surah Isra, verse 24).

“Papa, it’s okay. I’ll be back soon,” I tell him in a soothing voice. He looks down. I see his eyes are wet. I hug him once again, and I walk out the door quietly, unable to stop my own tears as I wonder when I will see him again. Suddenly I hear his voice calling out my name. I spin back on my heel, pleasantly surprised. “Yes, papa [jaan]?”

“[Khuda Hafiz], Mehmudah.” He remembers my name.