I’m not sure how or when or why I “saved” this learning in my hard drive, that I must not ask for money or borrow money from anyone. And if I do, I must return it as soon as I am able to.
I never really had more than I needed at any particular time. I was never wanting but I was never flush either, always having just enough to get by. And somehow whenever a dire need appeared, so did the opportunity to fulfil it with my own resources. I think that is probably what you had to face throughout your life.
I found out much later, from how many different ways or different avenues you would receive money to keep our needs satisfied.
I never ever remember Mama and yourself having a discussion about money. There was always food on the table, our school and college fees were paid, we had clothes in the cupboard, even though it was second hand stuff from Landa Bazaar (flea market) as I remember buying sweaters from the pavement outside Mayo Hospital, but we were warm in the winter and protected from the sun in the summer. There were no luxuries, that’s true, but I suppose that taught us to value fancy food and other luxury articles when we did come across them: the ice creams, the rides in cars, the movies and treats in the intervals, the birthday presents under our beds, the Eid jaunts to collect precious eidi which bought us chaat and channas in school, my first watch that Bhai Saeed gave me for my birthday, the year he died. I could go on and on.
As I was saying, I just have never been able to ask anyone for money, no matter how dire the need.
And yet the only person who I did ask was you. Never once did I feel embarrassed or ashamed asking you for cash or other favours. You and I had that relationship of absolute trust, self-esteem and immense love. In college I was always cribbing about the heat, bad food, cold water in the freezing winter. You always had your wallet open, quietly doling out to my needs. When we were building our house, I remember the $500 gift (that built Ali’s bedroom and bathroom), which you slid into my hand with a smile and a wink, more of a twinkle in your eye. And we always hid this from Mama, who kept mentioning how you spoilt me, and how important it was for us to learn to “do without”. You mention this so openly in your letter. “Don’t tell Mama,” you wrote. It was a sort of conspiracy between you and me.
You knew I was struggling to make ends meet, bringing up my two boys, working in a job that was both challenging and rewarding but at the same time made me feel threatened and despondent. You knew I was frustrated and at times almost clinging to sanity to carry on. You knew I was not cut out to take orders or decisions against the strict code of ethics and integrity instilled in me, and you also knew that I was no quitter. I would face up to the challenges of intolerance, gender discrimination and prejudice against my family. You knew that I would depend on an inner strength that would make me push harder, strive more, keep my eyes focused on the ultimate goal. You knew I would come out bruised, but not defeated. And the funny part, now as I reflect is, that I knew you knew. I knew you were probably the only person in the world I could trust, look up to, unabashedly love and ask for money which I never had to return.
The thought of you gave me the courage to withstand ridicule and misogynistic remarks hurled at me from all sides.
I remember the cold morning of 14th December, 1958 when a black car came to fetch me from school. As I reached home, I watched you walk away, accompanied by strange men who had come to arrest you a day after you arrived home from London. I felt the physical blow of losing you again. You never looked back and did not see my expression of, “Where are you going Abu? When will you be back?” The pain of losing you without explanation will always remain with me. I still can’t ask anyone for money, because it was only you with whom I had that connection.
Believe it or not your support still keeps coming to me. Money from the royalties of your poems. Money that seems to appear at the most unusual and yet most appropriate times.
I see a concerned father watching out for me.
The excerpt shared above is from Moneeza Hashmi’s latest book “Conversations with my Father”