Slipping Story of My Father & Me

It is challenging to write for my father, with whom I have no memory. Also, it is impossible for me to not to daydream about his presence – and what that would have done to me. Equally difficult for me is to not pen down my bottled up emotions for him.
I discovered my father through countless stories, which spills out from everyone’s heart whoever he met in his 41 years of life.
This is ONLY one story about my father n Me.

It is one half of my old ancestral house in Rampur.

Storeroom Surprise
It was a terribly humid day of the month of Ramzan of July 1983.
A regular weekday, that day was Tuesday.
My mother was working non-stop in the kitchen, which was centrally built in my L-shaped ancestral house in Rampur.
Different habitable portions of the house were connected to this centrally located kitchen with aangans and lawns in between. My parents or grandparents had invited my two aunts & their families for the iftar n dinner that day.

Post noon, my fasting mother was running to get the huge utensils kept in our portion’s storeroom, attached to our bedroom. This storeroom had shelves as broad as train berths without shutters to lock. She climbed up one of the shelves to fetch a big ‘bhagona’ for biryani. That very moment, my 6months pregnant mother with me, saw a big cockroach running towards her.

She screamed in fear and jumped from a height of 2ft or more with a thud. She felt excruciating pain in her abdomen and was rushed to the hospital immediately. And I was born in an hour’s time around the time when fast had to be opened. This was how a premature baby – super hairy girl – me – with protruding ribcage, closed eyes was born on July 5th.

Siblings Comparison Tale
I was in deep contrast with my parent’s firstborn, i.e. my fair-skinned and blue-eyed elder brother. For days, I was wrapped in cotton and did not open my eyes, nor did I cry.
My logophile father, also a poet at heart, a Sahir Ludhiyanvi and photography fan, who had a couplet for every occasion and used to click many photographs – on seeing me however, he kept quiet. My mother and extended family members of my joint family got heavily invested in my care from various kinds of massages to feeding me with super care. Weeks after weeks passed and I started to gain weight, give smiles and chuckle a bit.

L – R : Sadaf Khan (my cousin, on whom my father doted the most; Iqbal Khan (my elder sibling); Maria Khan (another cousin); 6 months old ; & My Father, Abdul Saleem Khan (Pen Name : Saleem Jehangeer)

Silent Lioness Roars
One day, my usually quiet mother decided to confront my dad after my birth. She questioned him about his different attitude towards me, which was in sharp contrast to the pampering my brother or any other kid received in the family from him. My father used to dote on kids – each elder cousin of mine has endless stories about my father pampering them.

So, back to the point, my father kept listening to my mother very keenly, smiled, and weighed his words as he knew my mother would be the last person to bring anyone to account. So, if she has called him out, he must have thought to better answer her.

He smiled and lifted me in his arms and said, ‘Anjum, we will make her a doctor.’

She kept listening and her eyes did rest of conversation on her behalf. He cleared his throat and added, ‘She ain’t like you in looks and I think girls with professional education despite having average looks have more acceptance in society, in terms of decision making and authority’.

This is the only story, I have of my father about me. 

Had he lived enough for me to confront him, coz I have got his fearlessness and way with words, I surely would have argued or at least fought with him ferociously for his discriminating behavior then. This story got etched in my mind – not about my looks, but his worldly view about a girl’s respect and decision making. At many stages, it pricked me when I was commented on my looks with comments like ‘You ain’t so fair-skinned or tall like Pathans.’
It kept reminding me that I have to do much more than being assessed about my looks or boasting my Pathan genes.

This worked for many years as a challenging motivation for me – almost a second nature of mine ie I have to be challenged enough ‘externally’ to achieve anything. However, in the last few years, I realized so many girls gather the courage to break stereotypes from such stories in their set-up from their loved ones.

Stories Are Guiding Forces
This story was a guiding force for me for many decades.
I can not bring back my father, however, my guiding forces are changing. I also want to hold on to this story- as to date, this has been the only connection I felt like a placental cord between my father and me.
Owning a story for so long and then trying to hold that slipping story, due to so many other powerful stories, you feel that story is going down somewhere – I try holding it with my eyes closed.

I will turn 37 next month and his eyes are closed for more than 35 years.
Every day, it is a fight, I fight with myself to keep my eyes wide open and see my old story going into oblivion.

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