Last year, I wrote about the passing away of my dearest friend and sister, Sayeda Narges Jaffri, on the 1st anniversary of her death. It was a difficult post to write, and one that still makes me cry when I read it, because of the raw emotions that it evokes. Its hard to believe that I am here again, in the same place, the same spectrum of emotion, trying to write a few lines to honour my friend. Each muharram, now carries along with it, a new pain, shadowed by a greater tragedy: yet both tragedies make me realise that in truth there is no differentiation between worldly family, and that of the family of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), how does any one begin to put these emotions in to words, to make connections or not to make them. Death is something we will all experience, and death anniversaries, rather than causing me to contemplate this fact, leave me wondering what is worse: to quit this world, or to witness one you love dying in front of your eyes.
Last night, after the daily evening muharram majliss, we retired to narges’s home again, to remember once again, the life of a wife, a mother, a sister, a great friend, who’s time was written, was over, even though her work was not done, and those around her were neither prepared, nor capable of letting her go.
Ice covered the ground as the visions in black filled the large house. 2 years, exactly 2 years to the date on the Islamic calendar, and here we were. The same people, the same emotions freezing time and space, so that it almost felt like yesterday, when we were laying my beautiful sister in the ground to rest. BR Munawar had commented on this phenomenon in my last post on the subject, he talked about how the pain does not decrease, and yesterday, I knew what he meant. I got busy in making tea, and filling small dishes with keer to distribute after the majliss, as Sura Yaseen began to resound from the room behind me. I had not been expecting this: I had been so busy, with my marriage, with muharram, with surviving, that I had failed to prepare for this day. Ironically, I suppose I did not expect to feel the way that I did, there was no warning, no indication that such a torrent of grief was buried within me. I had been at home all week, unable to get out because of the snow, and therefore, not used to dealing with the circles of people that fluttered around me, chatting to cover any awkward pain filled silence that might occupy the space between the reciters and the people. I heard people speaking to me, asking how my husband was and how muharram was going, but the words didn’t come. I mechanically completed my work, and retreated to the women’s sitting room, which was thankfully much quieter than I had expected. I surveyed the small group of women around me: the same people, friends/family, the lines are always unclear in this house: every one is united in love, concern for the other in this space, regardless of where they come from, and the languages they do not share. Narges’s mother lay on the sofa, racked by fever and pain. She has been ill for the past few months, without any clear diagnosis, and our fear, though none of us air it, is that her own cancer has returned, and given her age, the doctors are unwilling to provide any kind of treatment. She leaves the room to vomit, and my body shivers, despite the intense heat of the packed little room. I look around, and am aware of how much every one of us has aged, only time has shifted, yet as it turns it etches deeper lines of agony upon our faces, so that in reality, we have not really moved on. The only person who has evolved in this time, is little Zara, the innocent baby girl Narges left behind. Zara, now 4 years old and almost ready for school dances around the room, chattering excitedly in eloquent mixes of English and Urdu. I smile at how she does not use Punjabi often, and how proud her father must be of that fact! Suddenly, the noha reciters stand up, and as the room continues to fill Zara becomes tired by the heat and the people, and lays down in Masooma’s lap. At that moment, Narges’s nephew stands and begins to recite the below noha. Meri Sakina co neend ari hi hain. My body froze: its 2 AM, and a child sleeps, a tiny perfect SayedZadi closes her eyes as a house bathed in light, yet filled with darkness mourns one of its own. I cracked. I could no longer occupy the space and slipped quietly out of the room, taking refuge on the stairs, in the same spot where I had mourned Narges, only 2 years before. Suddenly, all of the days and nights in between became one, became an ocean of grief that had not decreased from the very first day it was born in me. I hide my face in my scarf, embarrassed, and fearful of showing my tears to a family who’s sadness is greater than mine. Zara Batool sleeps, and Sakina (A.S) sleeps, and in one mother’s death, is a child’s life, and that life filled with so many unasked questions.
Later, as Zara awakes, she begins her childish play once again. Asking her Grandmother when all this will be finished? She does not know, and she will not remember her mother at all, this is a blessing for her, that’s what some people tell me. In it, I just see pain, and I wonder how Narges deals with watching her daughter grow from where she is, knowing that she cannot intervene, cannot be the mother she desired to be. I sit on the upper level of the house, shaking, crying, trying to understand what I could not understand on that day, 2 years ago, and what I am no closer to understanding now. If you are reading this for the first time, you might think I was questioning the wisdom, or the will of Allah (SWT), but this is not the case. I know that this life is a test, and I know we all have to be strong, yet I wonder how strong we really are, despite the desensitised facade we learn to wrap around our conscience to survive every day. Such pain when revisited, only exposes our vulnerability, and our inability to find the lessons that Allah (SWT) attempts to teach us through all that he gives, and all that he takes away, and as I sit there I wonder some more. I wonder how Imam Hussain (A.S) and his pure family (A.S) lived with the tragedy that would befall them in Karbala, how great was their sacrifice, and how great their resolve, when my own weak heart cannot comprehend what I know: let alone what I do not. I wander around the large house: and I think about the measure of 2 years, and the measure of 1400 years. I know now that what BR Munawar wrote on my blog is true, every year will feel like this, and every year, I will have things to say about the sister I lost, the mood, and the tone of these posts may change, but the pain will not leave them, neither will the aching questions. I smile writing this, for if Narges could read these posts, she’d surely think I had lost my mind! Yet as she sleeps, all I can do is keep her memory alive through my own empty words. In the memory of every sister is the echo of Zeynab (A.S) as she beseeches her father (A.S), and in every broken heart, is the call of Hussain (A.S), as he sets the benchmark for humanity “is there any one to help us?”, our work is to respond, with whatever we have, even if the effort seems meeger. Respond we must, and keep responding, till the earth reverberates with our responses. These are the only vibrations that will reach my sister now, and all those like her.
Sleep well my princess, know that I watch over you, with candles lit and tears fresh. Know that I am one of many custodians of your daughter, custodians greater than me pave her path with ease and beauty, and recite nohay, to soothe her to sleep.
Please recite Fatiha for my sister, Sayeda Narges Jaffri, and pray for her daughter, and all those who live with her loss, and the responsibility of safeguarding her legacy of love and light. Please also listen to the below noha, and may your pursa be accepted, wherever you are in the world today, aameen.