Piecing together the past, from letters exchanged between the siblings of my father’s mother, and from correspondences between her and her husband, I have learnt a little bit about my Dadima. Her name was Sakina, the eldest child, with big expressive eyes and a soulful expression, something we can only tell from the few pictures of her in my father’s collection as, sadly, we never got to meet her….
These are a few pictures of my Dadi Sakina taken by her husband, my Dada, TayyebAli.
One of the biggest regrets in my father’s life was that he had no recollection of his mother. Whatever little he knew of her had been gleaned from his grandmother and his aunts and uncles. Little did he know that his uncle Hatim had been entrusted with holding on to her correspondences or burn them, whatever he deemed fit…
Hatim mamaji called him over one day in 1985 thinking it was time he showed my father those letters he had preserved from all those years ago. As you can imagine, my father went through an intensely emotional experience then. He still does, as I witnessed today, when he was reading some of the letters out to me since I can’t read them myself (they’re in Gujarati), and his voice choked up as he read some of the passages describing his mother’s funeral in a letter written by his dearly beloved aunt Shirin to her brother Hatim, who was away in Poona at the time, studying to be a doctor. This is what he wrote to someone back home the day after being informed of her death…
She died of tuberculosis of the intestine, a condition that began with a pain in her stomach that persisted for months. My father remembers them splitting aloe vera leaves in half and tying them onto her stomach to ease the pain. He also remembers the confusion he felt in what were to be her last hours in this world, when family members urged him to recite the aza’an in her ears and to ask for her forgiveness. What was he to be forgiven for? What had he done? It was all very strange and inexplicable.
My grandfather, Tayyabali was one of two sons by his father’s first wife, and from bits of information from here and there, we gather that he was a bit of a scallywag, and not in the good books of his father at all, a man my father refers to as Dada Bawaji. He had studied agriculture from a university in a town close to Sidhpur and wanted to be a farmer, for which his father gave him a plot of land to experiment on. Sakina must not have been too convinced of his prowess as a farmer after they married, and declared her desire to see him doing some big business for which he had to go away from Sidhpur and work elsewhere, a place he described in one of his letters to her as somewhere ‘there were no people of their community, and no one spoke Gujarati.’ He meant Madras.
In the meantime, Sakina lived at Dada Bawaji’s house with her step mother-in-law and hated it. The wrath Dada Bawaji felt for his errant son probably rubbed his bahu the wrong way and she longed to live separately. She wrote to her husband, telling him Dada Bawaji had scolded her for something and told her to leave the house and go back to her mother’s…..which she did, along with her little son.
When my father read about this, so many years later, he was outraged. How could Dada Bawaji drive his daughter-in-law away this way? But his anger subsided when he read the letter from his Shirin Masi, where she revealed how Dada Bawaji stayed with Sakina the whole night as she lay dying, praying, and reciting the Quran…
She died around 3 am on the 9th of January, 1946. According to Shirin Masi’s letter, her funeral prayers were led by none other than Syedna Taher Saifuddin, who not only sent a handful of blessed earth for her grave, but also headed the sipara for her on the third day after her death.
Hatim had sent Rs 150 enclosed in a letter with instructions to his mother to use the money to fulfill a ‘minnat’ she had made to perform ziarat at the grave of Syedi Fakhruddin Shaheed in Galyakot, so her first-born would get better. But before this promise could be fulfilled, it was too late. Shirin asked her brother what she should now do with the money. She was instructed to use as much as was needed to order a tombstone made of marble, the same as for their father Akberali (who had passed away earlier the same year), and 25 rupees from the same were to be donated to the local library.
Mohammedi was to be given his love and regards, and was not to to be made to feel the loss of his mother by anyone.
Even so, my father still remembers being met with sad faces and pitying words everywhere he went, reminding him that he was now an orphan.