Wonderful fragrances, stylish attire, regularly smiling, and always keeping busy. That is the image which comes to mind when I recall Durdana Phuppo. Her huge home (with lovely, sprawling lawns) in Karachi’s Defense was also our home in Karachi, and some of the earliest memories I have are of her are of visiting her home with my parents.
“Assalamoalaikum bhaabhi!” she would loudly exclaim, as she would affectionately greet Mummy, embracing her and exchanging kisses on the cheeks. Then, my sister and I would step forward and get patted on the head as she would ask “Kaisey ho beta? Ajao ajao.” Phuppo’s home was a cool respite from Karachi’s heat and welcoming as it was beautiful. One never felt out of place, as she would tend to every detail to make guests feel comfortable. Rushing from one room to the other making sure the linens were fresh, summoning house-staff, speedily preparing sumptuous dishes in the kitchen; vivid images which come to mind as if yesterday.
There would be an excitement about these visits to Phuppo’s, and each day there would be something new happening. Often it was family weddings which took us to Karachi, so one would arrive to a house full of activity. Cousins, aunts, and uncles would continuously stop by, cars and drivers would be organised, multiple trips to bazaars would take place, and there would be chai-sessions throughout the day. Children were left free to do as we willed, as long as we should up at mealtimes. We would play video games inside, and cricket and make-belief games outside. It was not uncommon to see one of us streaking across the lawn with others in chase as part of some game.
Evenings would be alive with delicious meals, often going out with our older (and cooler!) cousins, and dance practices. Yet other times we would all be together at a wedding function – everyone dressed in their best. There would often be a last round of coffee or chai in the late evening, post-wedding event, when the family would gather in the lounge to debrief on the proceedings of the day. My memory of these, though I was little at the time, is of the men discussing politics and business, and women discussing relationships, dresses and jewellery, and the next event. The discussions would get progressively irreverent as the night progressed, with much good-natured verbal fencing.
Phuppo would relish these occasions and would be found in her element, effortlessly switching from steamy kitchen handis to stylish saaris. Throughout the day you would find her smiling, exchanging jokes with the elders, recounting family stories, managing the house, and planning events.
The second distinct phase of my own interaction with Phuppo was when I went to attend college in Karachi. Phuppo’s home, of course, was the first stop, as it had been for my brother before me, and before us, Abu. When Abu took me to Karachi, we went straight to see Durdana Phuppo and Sajjad Phuppa. She was warm and reassured Abu that there would be nothing to worry about, and welcomed me to Karachi saying “This is your home too and you can come by anytime. Baita yeh aap ka apna ghar hay. Ab chakkar lagatay rehna.” And to Abu I am pretty sure she said something about making sure that like my brother, I too would not only complete my studies but be married by the end of college!
Her love and affection for Abu was abundant and evident. She would address him as bhaijaan, and had great regard for his advice. Whenever she would see me she would ask about him, and tell me stories from their younger years and their life after migration from India, and share tales from my parents’ marriage.
Though these were tough years for Phuppo and she was handling multiple challenges, she faced them so gracefully that one would never be able to tell. While she had a sensitive soul, it was combined with nerves of steel and a deep faith.
I visited Phuppo several times over the next few months, normally catching a ride with Sajjad Phuppa, Shaukat Uncle, or Fauzi lala from their office in Sadr. This would normally be on Fridays, after classes were over. After lunch, I would often sit with her at the kitchen table for a gupshup session over chai. Quick of wit and of laughter, Phuppo was always interested in the spicy details of life. “Aur bhai, shaadi k baarey mein kia programme hai?” she would tease. Then adding “Aaj kal koi girlfriend hay ya nahin?” I think my answers were always boring variations of having too much work to think of the matter. Sometimes I would say “Chorain Phuppo shaadi kar k kia karna! Koi faida nahin!” In response to which she would exclaim “Chalo! Aisi fazool baatein nahin kartay!”, and then the kitchen table would fill with laughter. During these afternoons, Phuppo would also sometimes tell me of her struggles as a young person, and share her observations on society, life, and faith.
One incident which I will never forget was when just a few months into college, I fell terribly sick with Hepatitis A. For the first week, I didn’t even know what was wrong. I experienced severe weakness which meant I would attend classes, come back to the hostel and collapse. I would only wake up to eat something, and eventually again for classes the next day. Abu flew into Karachi, took me to get medical tests done, and then transferred me to promptly to Phuppo’s. Phuppo did not flinch for a second, she knew exactly what was to be done and I believe it was her idea to shift me to her house. I was taken care of better than what would have been possible at any infirmary. In the mornings I would attend classes, then promptly return home to a regimen of soft food and ample fluids. Phuppo ensured that everything happened correctly and on time. I survived two terrible weeks like this, thanks to her care. Eventually, I got better and everyone joked how this was a rite of passage to Karachi!
Those few college years were again a happy interlude, with family gatherings, visits by my cousins, and yet more weddings. Another distinct memory I have of Phuppo is when she and Sajjad Phuppa went for Hajj. Upon their return, there was a dinner at her home to which some close family and guests were invited. I believe I was in the final year of college then, and I too went. She looked very happy. In following visits I found her to be very calm, even more spiritual, and having the aura of someone who had completed a tremendous responsibility, which she had.
Little did we know that Phuppo would not be with us very much longer. She was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, which in a matter of months, claimed her precious life. Right before she went to the United States for final treatment, we went to visit her. She was every bit her radiant self, and I remember her characteristic smile, once again facing the challenge with courage. We were all still very hopeful, but alas, God had other plans. Her passing away left the whole family heartbroken, and created a void which can never be filled.
In dealing with this tremendous loss, one once again turns to faith, which reminds us that the end of this terrestrial journey is the beginning of yet another, timeless one. In making her way through the former, Phuppo left us innumerable lessons, amongst other things, about the importance of family, positive thinking, zinda-dilli, hard work, courage, and having zest for life. And these are merely my observations having participated in only a small proportion of her life. Undoubtedly, much more could be written about her qualities and experiences. In this great mystery called life, one truth is that we all have only limited time, which underscores the importance of how that time is spent. Phuppo’s conduct in this regard was exemplary, and it assures us that inshAllah, her next journey will be peaceful, and filled with happiness.
We will miss her immensely, but Durdana Phuppo will always remain alive in our hearts, in laughter, in positive actions, in courage amidst adversity, in kindness to children, in faith, and in so much more. May God always protect her.
Weekend listening. Amongst my favourites.
During one of the many impositions of Martial Law on the country, my grandfather was posted to military duty which required him to oversee coast-guard operations. During this period, on one of their sorties his subordinates discovered a large stash of gold bars, cash, and other valuables aboard a boat. Apparently, someone was trying to sneak these out of the country. When he was notified about this, my grandfather immediately ordered for the goods to be taken into custody, and reported for a further investigation. He refused even to go near the goods or to be tempted to ‘have a look’ at what was a very large volume of gold.
One of the security officers who was charged with looking after the valuables succumbed to his desires and stole a small amount of gold. He was caught, and court martialed.
They don’t make ’em like you any more Nana Abba.
We have ventured out into the Levant. While most of last year was spent shuttling between assignments in East and West Africa, this year saw a shift in focus to the Palestinian Territories, where the British Government is sponsoring a series of economic development programmes.
While the politics of this land are familiar to anyone with even a cursory interest in international affairs, one knew less about society, and the daily lives of individuals.
Earlier in the year, a series of trips between London and the West Bank gave me my first glimpse into a place which I had earlier known only through the news media. I was deeply fortunate to be able to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and go hiking in the northern part of the West Bank. While this is indeed a deeply troubled land, it is also one of unparalleled historical significance, and of rich traditions.
During my trips, rather than becoming fixated on things which were not working, I reminded myself of a principle I once learnt from a wiser man – when introduced to a new place and people, to see them first for their common humanity, the things they strive for, the occasions they celebrate, the relationships they value, and their sense of humour. This allowed me to listen more than to speak, and to better connect with people, who, in turn, received me with warmth.
Later in the year, the project asked me to come for a longer term. After discussions with the home office in London, I was offered a longer posting to Ramallah. I happily accepted.
My new home is a small, hilly city, with winding streets and traffic that zips along them. On colder days, if the the clouds come down low, it reminds me a bit of Murree. In the evenings, if one goes for a walk around the city, one is alternately treated to whiffs of Arabic coffee and jasmine, which residents are fond of planting. The city centre, called Al-Manara, is normally buzzing with life, and houses a large variety of shops. Not far from it is the Old City, which has commercial buildings and homes from the Ottoman era. Some of these gorgeous stone buildings have been converted into fancy restaurants, while others are (still!) used as stores and shops, and yet others lie abandoned.
On the weekends, I like to go for walks into the Old City, and explore its streets. My favourite one thus far is one upon which there is both a Church and a Mosque. Daylong, both are frequented by worshipers who go about their business in a relaxed and friendly manner. Both the communities mix at an old coffee house on the street, and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Occasionally, if passing through, I purchase a coffee (or qahwa) and sit down for a break from the day’s normally hectic proceedings. While doing so last weekend, the muezzin’s call to prayer rang out, and I realised how long it has been since I was in a city where the call to prayer could be heard in public. It also made me realise that there are two realities. One which the news cycle has a penchant for focusing on, in which divisions are endless. And another, which can be found beyond the sensational mainstream, but takes more effort to find.
There is much to explore, and in doing so I hope to learn more about my new home and its aspirations.
And yes, the olives are very good indeed.