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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Here and Nowhere Else

I got a call today from a cousin who’s a particular favourite in the family. He’s about to get married and he and his fiancée were thinking of getting away for a bit over the long weekend before the wedding madness kicked in later this month. Things got a little tricky when they remembered that the extra holidays were on account of the 9th and 10th of Moharram and, given the possibility of violence, it may not be safe to travel. So what did my cousin do? Called his cousin who’d married a Shia, of course.

“Thanks, Puch,” I said on the phone. “I like how I’ve become the family resource person on Ashura security arrangements.”

“Of course, Aafoo,” he replied, blowing a kiss on the phone.

“I honestly don’t think there should be a problem getting out of Lahore. Just find out what the route of the procession is going to be and avoid that. Avoid crowded areas. And try not to take Kate to a majlis as a cultural experience.”

Then I told him I had to go say my prayers, which I’d been trying to do for the last half hour except the phone kept ringing. And sitting on the prayer mat, I begged God to please keep my husband safe this Ashura. I usually ask for protection for our family, but these prayers tend to become more distraught in the first two weeks of Moharram.

There were many things I was told before this marriage took place. I was given warnings, most of them about salvation (or lack thereof). Others tried to warn me about practical considerations like the importance of a husband and wife being on the same spiritual page, especially when there would be children in the picture. I lost some people along this path; people who were important to me. But there was something about this man that inspired me to be a better person, and in a vague but overwhelming way that outweighed all other religious or political considerations.

I’m not going to romanticize this unnecessarily. The fact is that Azfar very nearly didn’t propose to me. We were best friends, had immense respect for each other and loved spending time together, but he was a good son and would never have taken a decision to marry out of the Syed Shia fold unless he felt seriously compelled to rewrite fourteen hundred years of family history. I just got lucky that one day he did feel compelled to. He spent that whole night leafing through pictures of us together over the years and then made up his mind to ask me. It was so sudden that he never even managed to plan a proper proposal: he walked into my mother’s house after office the next evening, pulled a half-dead rose out of the inner pocket of his coat with a flourish and said, “Will you marry me?”

“Azfar,” I said once I’d remembered to breathe, “if you want to propose to me, you’d better do it properly. I’m not marrying anyone with a proposal like that.”

So he took me to the Marriott and there, sitting in Nadia coffee shop, he said, “Give me a minute.” Then he placed his fingers on his temples and closed his eyes like he was going to teleport himself out of the situation. And after that he delivered the BEST proposal: nothing over the top, nothing cheesy, just a simple, honest exposition of why he believed from the bottom of his heart that we should be together for the rest of our lives. I think what decided it for me was that while he was speaking, I had a sudden premonition. It actually came to me like a flash, electricity running through my body and all: we were sitting on a jhoola at our mehndi a few months later; then it was us again further down the line with a child in our arms. It was the Eureka moment I’d always been told to look out for when deciding whether a person was the right one, and there it was. As I wrote on the DWL forums a few months later, ‘I couldn't have imagined all these years that it was your warm neck that this cold nose would eventually call home.’

There were things I did not see that day. I never saw myself sitting on the prayer mat as I was this evening. I did not foresee the mortification of watching yet another news item about a sectarian attack on television with my in-laws. I did not see myself standing at the door every 9th and 10th of Muharram with dread slowly uncurling itself deep in my stomach as I bid goodbye to my husband and family leaving for the procession. None of the warnings that I got included, “Afia, you will be afraid for the rest of your life. You will be afraid for your husband and for your children too, because they will be his sons. You will be afraid of having suddenly gained everything and then having it taken away from you just as suddenly.”

‘I cannot wait to surround myself with happiness. My mind is full of giggles, excited whispers, children's voices. Running feet on the floor. Kitchen curtains in primary colours. White kurtis with blue embroidery. You.’

Something else I’d written on the DWL forums back in 2007, three weeks after we’d gotten engaged. There are times when I wonder if I would’ve accepted the proposal if I’d foreseen the fear. I would never have known any of this, of course: the way Solom looks up at me, his three-year-old eyes so full of soul and understanding; how Zain charges down the corridor with his torso perfectly immobile but his backside moving left and right like a ticker gone mad; or the way my heart soars when Azfar walks in through the door. I would never have known any of this. So I wouldn’t have missed it. Right?

It’s just that it is impossible to imagine another life when you married the man who gave you your Eureka moment. And there are no guarantees anywhere, in anything. I may never have found anyone worth settling down with, or worse I may have settled for someone who wasn’t worth it. A different decision back then would have cheated me out of my destiny – and this is my destiny. The fear is crippling, but there is also no greater happiness. He has the ability to make me remember: every time I see his smiling face come home, I remember why he was the one. As I wrote four years ago, ‘I cannot believe your stability... the carefree, unquestioning way in which you love, the carefulness with which you hold me close to your heart. You are real. You are here. You will stay.’

There are things I cannot foresee. So be it.


  1. I wish I could write a comment that is worthy of the warmness and sheer sincerity of this post so I am probably not even going to try.

    But I will say this.

    In a world that is so filled with hate and violence, a love like this is really, seriously extremely important.

    May you and your family always be safe and protected and always loved by everyone around you.


  2. Aw, so this was the 'click' you told me about.

    All my prayers. Muah.

  3. Sigh. Double sigh. I have nothing profound to say. Except bravo, good luck and my prayers are with your husband and the rest of the Shias out there. And Sunnis. And just everyone who deserves a shot at life. (oh god, that sounds ironic doesn't it?) - shaz

  4. Hi Afia;

    What a beautiful and touching post. I share Minerva's sentiment, when I say that I cannot offer a comment that does justice to your post.

    My prayers are with you and your family.

    Till later
    take care


    p.s.: btw what is a DWL forum?

  5. Thank you so much for your love and support :-)

    Anu, DWL is Desi Writers Lounge, an online writers' community I co-founded 6 years ago. Before I started blogging, I used to post any diary-type entries on the community forums.

  6. Salvation is over rated.
    13 years and 11 months on, I am still waiting for the proposal. Proper proposal. Married him thrice over but still waiting for the Proper "Knock My Socks Off" Proposal.
    Is rate me tau salvation hi milajayegi
    We did need more young ones living a life of hybridity so no more of the what ifs
    Plus guarantees
    are also over rated

  7. Oh Aneela. Lol. "Is rate me tau salvation hi miljayegi". What do you mean by marrying him thrice over? Is the answer hidden in your blog?

  8. Apa, I want to know too! How did you manage to CATCH the same man THRICE?!

  9. I'm guessing three marriage ceremonies is what she's referring to? Aneela?

  10. http://golkamra.blogspot.com/2010/11/tare-hai-baratichandani-hai-yeh-barat.html?m=1
    It won first prize. And I thought the best thing out of going through it was The Toddler. I hope posting the link here is a good shagun for your blog too

  11. Love and prayers. I turned to your blog to take a break from studying. I know this post was about fear, but when was love ever not just another word for fear?

    (If that sounded nuts, I'm sorry. I'm studying Contracts --> fear of a very different kind).

  12. It's true! And I'm sorry you to had to read this when you were obviously in need of something uplifting. First Contract, then this! ;-)

  13. Actually, it was heartwarming to read, which is what I wanted to point out with my comment :)

  14. Feelings, whatever sort they might be, always transcends all bounds. Religion, Race, Region. Love, transcends all feelings.
    Therefore, when you love someone, you love them with the bad in their life, the good in their life, their past, their present, their premised future. You love them even with all the things you hate about them. You love them with all their flaws. You love them as they are. It's a drug that destroys you and yet gives you life. An agent which morphs you to achieve self by becoming someone different.
    Because in the end, you give it your all.. and then you give some more.

  15. I do believe your fears, while not unfounded, are at least exaggerated. I am a Shia. And I doubt that such things cross my mind when my brothers and father leave for majalis, or while I am there.

    I married a man who is in the army. And the situation in Pakistan as it is now, with him being posted out to the border between Pakland and Afghanistan is more worthy of terror I believe.

    But even so, I am not afraid. I guess that's what we are taught as Muslims (shia?). Death will come when it will, whether you sit in an office or are in the middle of a warzone

    Best wishes

  16. Thanks, Fahad, for describing love so eloquently! It's always a double edged sword, as SW also said above.

    Anon, you are truly very brave! I pray Allah keeps your husband safe - ameen. Yes, the fear is largely a product of being an outsider, something I've tried to highlight in this post. Having not grown up with the axe of target killing or suicide bombers hanging over one's head, one is entirely unprepared for this reality when it's suddenly thrust into one's face. There's also a family history here that I have not gone into. What is amazing is that this year was the first when I was much more settled and not as afraid on the 9th and 10th - and it was because of writing my feelings out in this post and getting the support that people gave.

    You are right about being prepared for death at any time - that is what my husband says as well - but I have a problem equating death in an accident or by heart attack with being murdered. Yes, at the end of it we're all dead, but it makes sense to me to be on a higher alert when my family is going to the Ashura juloos rather than when they are going to office. Consider this post an attempt at humanising the phenomenon for those who are not a part of it, I guess? Hope to see you here more often and all prayers for your husband's long life and safety, inshallah :-)

  17. you just reaffiremed my faith in love.
    God Bless!

  18. That's so kind, Marium :-) Thank you.

  19. I Loved loved loved reading this. It gave me goosebumps.