In Makkah, where we grew up, we had a Bua who was Siraiki and originated from a village in Multan/Bahawalpur area. She lived with us from 1994 to 2009, until we left Makkah and moved to Canada. She was our nanny and househelp, but really she was family and like a Nani to us. She had a tough life with experience ranging from physical domestic abuse, isolation after separating from her husband who was a drug addict and then moving to the city to work for a household with her only daughter, despite being educated and literate. She was able to read and write Urdu fluently. She taught us how to read the Quran and also how to pray. She was a vital part of our childhood and taught me a lot about life. She even asked us to teach her English and about the world. I showed her a World Map to teach her about countries when I was only 10. She had never seen a map before. She didn’t know what a globe was. That was my first reality check of the privilege we had and others didn’t.
When we were leaving Makkah, Bua decided she didn’t want to watch our home pack up so she moved back to her daughter’s place in Multan. She was in contact with Papa and would send Papa boxes of mangoes in the current season every year. She even came to Karachi for my wedding and then again for my sister in law’s wedding to help us out.
Today, I decided to call her and tell her about Papa’s death. I didn’t know how to do it. I just knew that she had to know. I prepared myself all evening after Rahma slept. How to say it? Should I start with him being sick or should I just tell that he passed away? I went ahead with the latter. When I called her grandson’s WhatsApp and asked to speak with her, she received the phone with so much happiness.
She kept saying, “Meri beti Kaisi hai? Photo mein itni pyaari hai apni baby k saath”
Then she went to ask casually how everyone was. “Ammi theek hain? Ismail theek hai? Papa theek hain? Mein aap k Papa ko call kerrahi thi. Lekin call mil nahi rahi thi…” Before she could say anything else, I told her that Papa passed away last month. Her voice changed. She said the words Innalillahiwainnailaihi Raajiun. And continued to ask the how’s and why’s. I explained, and she continued to cry as I cried. “Mera Beta Jannat chalagaya”. She mentioned how she knew how much he loved me, how much he cared for his daughter and all the times he boasted about me and my job and recently my baby girl on his routine calls with Bua. She told me she already had asked her nephew to prepare the mangoes to send to him this week, but now she will just distribute them in his name to the poor of the area.
I thought the call would make me stronger, help me deal with the grief head on, but it paralysed me more. Until the end of the evening. Until I sat with my husband and cried, realising once again the magnanimity of my loss.
My Bua spent 15 years with us, that is half my life and more than half of the total time I spent with Papa. She knew all about our home, our childhood. How could talking to her not break me?