By Syed Zainab Imtiyaz
Whenever I see the birds soaring high up in the sky, it reminds me of my grandmother. I used to call her ‘Boba’. When spring would be right at its peak, the sun harshly pleasant for her bones, we would be sitting in those viridescent grasses on that peculiar ‘patij’. She would look at these birds so high circumambulating the blue sky, then look at me, and say, “Ruud Chu peaun wol’ (Rain is about to fall). Somehow it would drizzle always. As a child, I felt she was a magician. She would make birds fly and then make the clouds rain.
She had that affectionate voice, the one in which after every third sentence she would be praying something for you. And those kisses, which would sometimes get overbearing. She would always speak in Kashmiri, but she understood Urdu. We would converse in a very odd way. She would be saying one thing and I would be replying something else. Sometimes she just gave up and showered me with more kisses and prayers.
I remember clearly one time, when she called me to her room, and handed me a light pink handkerchief with some flowers embroidered at the corner. It looked crumpled. It was covering something – something spongy. I thought it was an insect she wanted me to pet as I was into insects at the time, for reasons still unknown to me. It was a ‘rista’, a cold minced meat, which I finished within seconds, lest I might have to share with anyone else.
She would sometimes tell us stories of Kashmir from its glorious past, and of her own childhood days, which were cut short by her early marriage. I wanted to always know more, how she was as a child, when she was my age. Did she like dancing? Did she speak to trees? Did she fall in love with anyone else before getting married? I always had odd questions and, most of times, she would just smile.
For me she was always old. It was so hard to imagine that she was young once. She has always been my Boba with those graceful wrinkles and those gentle brown eyes, which looked sad and sick always.
We knew she was about to die. I never thought she would, though. I thought she would always be with me – old and sick but alive. She developed bed sores towards the end. She would hallucinate about people, who weren’t there. She would hold long conversations with them, which amused me in the beginning. Standing at the corner of the door, I would try to overhear and giggle to myself. It stopped being funny when she cried sometimes to those imaginary people. She would tell them of her pain and of her struggles. I would cry with her from the door and our tears became one.
One time, they were dressing one of her infected bed sores. Seeing the pus and the blood, I thought I would vomit. Her eyes were teary but she was silent. That day, I prayed that she passes away, that she doesn’t have to suffer anymore. I wanted her to be free of this constant pain. She lived in an entirely different world. She always felt the urge to poop, sometimes ten times a day. Her bowel habits had become her obsession, much to everyone’s frustration.
It was 2 am. I heard sounds of pleading and indecipherable mumblings from her room once. She was talking to my grandfather. Aba was in Mecca at the time, doing Haj. She was urging him to return and telling him that she wouldn’t bother him again. She was crying and talking. She would call him ‘Khal Saeb’. Those words stayed with me for a lifetime.
That night I broke down. I wanted Aba to return soon. I wanted my Boba to become like old Boba, who would stare at skies and make rain appear. That night was long. The morning brought loads of relatives and the possibility that she would pass away. She would no longer hold me, kiss my face, and say, ‘Balai Lagai’. And just like that, they told us, ‘She’s no more’.
I ran to her room, where she wasn’t present anymore and never would be again. I sat down. I couldn’t cry. There were no more tears. She was finally at peace. There were wailings. There were people shouting and crying. There were people remembering all the good things she did. There were people crying silently. Our home had become a funeral. They were washing her to clothe her in white.
I had never felt as happy for my grandmother as I did that day, when they covered her with earth.
Syed Zainab Imtiyaz, 26, is a Kashmiri doctor, working with NHS, UK.
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