The Muslims of the world are about to reach the end of the month of Ramadan. Those who are able to would have fasted and made special efforts to pray and read the Quran.
As the month draws to a close, Muslims feel a sense of sadness. This month they’ve made special efforts not only to fast and pray but to refrain from anything which, in effect, would’ve “broken” their fast. We are supposed to take care not to lie, cheat, fight etc. If we do any of these then the fast is in effect starvation; it’s not a fast anymore.
As the month draws to a close, Muslims make even greater efforts to pray during the last ten days. One of the nights in these last ten days is the Laylat al-Qadr (لیلةالقدر, Night of Power). This is the night the Quran was first revealed to the Holy Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). The Quran in Surah 97 (Al-Qadr), āyāt 1–5 tells us
1 We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
2 And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is?
3 The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
4 Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand:
5 Peace!… This until the rise of dawn.
No one knows the exact night on which Laylat al-Qadr falls (though it’s believed to fall on one of the following 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th and 29th night). Hence Muslims make an effort to pray on all ten nights as much as they can. You may wonder why we haven’t been told the exact night on which it falls. To me, keeping this a secret is a sign of Allah’s benevolence. If we knew the exact night then
1. We may have neglected to pray thinking we canmake it up in that one night
2. If, for some reason, we were unable to pray on that night we wouldhave been devastated
3. As we don’tknowwhich night it falls on, we pray every night and therebymaking Allah happy with us on every such night
4. If we knew which night was Laylat al-Qadr and we still indulged in some sin or the other, then we would have had sinned twice; one the sin we committed and the other of disrespecting the special night.
Laylat al-Qadr is the night of forgiveness. The Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said, “Whoever establishes the prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards (not to show off) then all his past sins will be forgiven.”
Hadith, Bukhari Vol 1, Book 2:34
To all Muslims who’ve fasted andprayedduring this blessed month, may Allah acceptyour prayers and reward you. To all non-Muslims who’vejoined us in fasting and in iftar (meal in the evening), who have made allowances for the fact that wecan’teatordrink and who’ve engaged with usgiving us an opportunity to explainthe significance of this month, a heart feltthank you.
As we draw to the end of Ramadan, my thoughts turn towards Eid-al-Fitr, the day which marks the end of the fasting period. This is one day in the Islamic calendar where it’s forbidden for Muslims to fast.
Pakistani families have a pudding, seviyan, or vermicelli noodles for breakfast and then leave to go to the mosque for special Eid prayers. They give money to charity and then return home. The rest of the day is spent visiting family and friends. Older people give presents (usually cash, called Eidee) to younger family members. It’s a joyful day with laughter and happiness. For me, this year, Eid will be different. I will make seviyan and go to the mosque to offer Eid prayers but this year will be the first year my father won’t ring me and say Eid Mubarak, baitay (Eid greetings, my child) and that’s hard to bear.
My father, my loving Daddy, passed away on 31st October 2018. I still haven’t come to terms with the fact that I can’t see him, I can’t pick up the phone and hear his voice, I can never have the sense of security again which he gave me. I have now lost two important persons who used to make Eid special, my grandmother and my father.
My grandmother lived about 100 miles away from us. We used to spend all our holidays at my grand parents’ house and obviously that included Eid. A few days before Eid, my grandfather used to withdraw cash from the bank and give it to my grandmother. She would use this to give Eidee to her grand children and to people who worked in their house and on the farm and who would come to visit her on Eid. One day I saw my grandmother putting the money away which she’d just been given by my grandfather. As he used to get out a significant amount, it came in bundles like one below.
In those days we used to have a one rupee note too (now replaced by a coin). I picked up a bundle of one rupee notes and asked my grandmother how much money was that. She said Rs 100. Now hundred seemed like a really big number to me (remember I was very little then) and I couldn’t believe that a small bundle could actually have a hundred notes. I asked her if I could count them. She said yes. So I sat down and carefully counted them and was amazed that there really were hundred notes in that bundle. I stood up and held it towards my grandmother. She told me that as I had counted it I could keep it. I was so happy; it seemed all my Eids has come together! From that day onwards, she would always give me a bundle of freshly minted, 100 one rupee notes as Eidee. This was a secret between us (it’s only recently that I told my mother about the story behind my getting Rs 100 on each Eid day). I also got what other grandchildren got but I got this additional 100 too. So, when I think of Eid and Eidee I always think back to the little girl looking in wonderment at the riches before her, made to feel special by her grandmother who handed her that bundle to count so she could satisfy herself that it actually was 100 and then rewarded her curiosity by gifting her the same bundle of 100 crisp, one rupee notes.
The night of the last fast, the night before Eid is called chand raat (night of the moon) in Urdu. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one and the sighting of the new moon signals the start of the new month. A lunar month is of 29 or 30 days. If the moon is sighted on the night of the 29th Ramadan then that night is chand raat and the next day is Eid. If it’s not sighted on the 29th then chand raat will be be night of the 30th. When I was living at home with mum and dad we had a tradition to go shopping on chand raat. Our new clothes, which we would wear on Eid, would already have been stitched and hanging ready in our cupboards. Shoes would’ve been bought. Matching bags too if we needed one but we would leave one item till chand raat, matching glass bangles like the ones below.
Once the announcement was made that the moon had been sighted and Eid would be tomorrow, we’d eat dinner and then Daddy would take us out. Karachi is a huge metropolitan city; it’s among the top most populated cities in the world. Traffic on chand raat is chaotic, cars are bumper to bumper on the roads, there’s no parking to be found for miles, the pavements are heaving with people but Daddy didn’t mind. He would drive us where we wanted to go and then patiently go shop from shop while my sister and I tried to find the perfect set of bangles. He would never hurry us along, he’d never say make up your mind now, I’m not taking you to yet another shop. But that was Daddy all over. Nothing was too much trouble for him where his family was concerned. I know he would’ve walked over hot coals for us if he had to.
As I said, there were literally thousands of people out shopping too. Daddy would hold our hands and we loved having this tall, handsome man hold us close to him protectively. We knew as long as he was around we were safe.
That warm feeling of being loved more than anything else in the world and being protected from anything and everything is what Daddy gave us and it’s going to take a long time to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have that anymore. In fact I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with it. It may get easier to bear the loss but that loss now defines who I am and the person I am now is different to who I was before 31st October. It took me years before my grandmother’s loss became a bit easier to bear but it’s still there in the background. She used to pickle mangoes and other fruits and send us jars and jars of the stuff. She passed away in 1980 and I have not eaten pickles since then. With Daddy I suspect it’ll take even longer for the loss to feel a little lighter. Maybe even my whole life won’t be enough and the big, gaping hole will always be there.
On Sunday, I made my way to Tate Britain to see The EY Exhibition, “VAN GOGH AND BRITAIN”. To say I was blown away would be an understatement! I can’t do justice to the exhibition, but I will give it a go and try and capture why I found this to be an amazing experience. I’m really grateful to the Tate for allowing people to take photographs. I have relied very heavily on the exhibition leaflet and the information about the paintings in the rooms for which I’m very grateful too.
Vincent van Gogh in London
Vincent van Gogh spent nearly three years in England (1873-1876). London, at that time, was a technologically very advanced city but also had slums where people lived in extreme poverty. van Gogh worked for two years at the Covent Garden offices of the art dealers Goupil. He lived at Stockwell and Oval. He used to travel by boat and underground and loved walking in the city. Each day he would walk across Westminster Bridge to Goupil, wearing his top hat. “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.” Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, London, 1874
van Gogh loved Victorian novels, describing them as “reality more real than reality.” He read Bunyan and Eliot and re-read Dickens’s Christmas stories every year. Of Dickens he said, “My whole life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens describes.”
In a letter to his brother, Theo, van Gogh wrote, “Reading books is like looking at paintings…..one must find beautiful that which is beautiful.”
The Arlésienne, Van Gogh, Jan-Feb 1890. French translations of Dickens’s Christmas Books and Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin can be seen
Two of van Gogh’s favourite books feature weavers, Dickens’s Hard Times and George Eliot’s Silas Marner. He made a series of paintings and drawings of weavers when he was living in Nuenen. He described his work as, “weaver who must control and interweave many threads…so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts.”
Vincent van Gogh,Loom with weaver, Nuenen, April-May 1884. Oil on canvas
van Gogh liked the poem, Song of the Shirl about a seamstress by English poet Thomas Hood.
Vincent van Gogh, Woman sewing and cat, Etten, October-November 1881. Chalk, wash and watercolour on paper
During his time in London he visited various galleries. Among the works he admired he listed John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, George Henry Boughton’s Pilgrims Going to Church and John Constable’s landscapes. van Gogh liked the briskly brushed “stormy skies” for which the British artist Richard Bonington was known for.
Vincent Van Gogh, Bleachery at Scheveningen (recto), The Hague, July 1882 Watercolour and gouache on paper
Giuseppe de Nittis. The Victoria Embankment, London. 1875. Oil on panel
van Gogh saw the above painting in the Paris office of Goupil. He wrote to Theo, including a sketch of the painting, saying, “A couple of days ago we got a painting by De Nittis, a view of London on a rainy day, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. I crossed Westminster Bridge every morning and evening and know what it looks like when the sun’s setting behind Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, and what’s it like early in the morning, and in winter with snow and fog. When I saw this painting, I felt how much I love London.”
van Gogh was homesick and also suffered the pain of unrequited love for his landlady’s daughter. His letters home from this time are depressed and religious. After being dismissed from his job he tried teaching and preaching in Ramsgate (in Kent) and Isleworth (west London). Later he would write, “I often felt low in England…but the Black and White and Dickens, are things that make up for it all.” Vincent van Gogh, 1883.
Hoping a change in scenery would help van Gogh, his uncle arranged for him to move to the Paris office of Goupil. Van Gogh left London in December, 1876 but his love for British art and culture influenced his style and subject matter. “When I was in London, how often I would stand on the Thames Embankment and draw as I made my way home from Southhampton Street in the evening.” Vincent van Gogh, 1883.
van Gogh painted three night scenes after moving to Provence in 1888 including Starry Night below which he described as “the town under gaslight and reflected in the blue river with the starry sky above.” His night scenes remind one of the views of the Thames but without the fog.
Vincent van Gogh,Starry Night, Arles, August 1888 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh’s love for autumnal scenes
van Gogh saw Meindert Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middleharnis (1689) at the National Gallery and admired the perspective.
Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middleharnis, 1689
van Gogh drew avenues of trees in his letters and pictures. Road in Etten (below) was his first important experiment with a figure on the road in autumn.
Vincent van Gogh,Road in Etten, 1881. Chalk, graphite, pastel, water collier and ink on paper
The woman in mourning dress and the autumnal scene makes this a picture of sadness. van Gogh would later write, “How perfectly simple death and burial happen, coolly as the falling of an autumn leaf.”
van Gogh had been reading about colour and this is reflected in the contrasting blues and oranges used in this landscape which shows a side-on view of the avenue.
Vincent van Gogh Autumn Landscape, Nuenen, October 1885 Oil on canvas
van Gogh had met John Everett Millais and had seen his Chill October (probably at Christie’s). He mentioned it often in his letters.
John Everett Millais Chill October, 1870 Oil on canvas
His Autumn Landscape at Dusk has a “personally intimate” effect that he admired in Chill October.
Vincent van Gogh, Autumn Landscape at Dusk, Nuenen, October-November 1885 Oil on canvas on panel
van Gogh copied out Keats’ poem “To Autumn”. He said Keats was“the favourite of painters here, and that’s how I came to be reading him.”
van Gogh had seen John Constable’s “The Valley Farm” (below) in the South Kensington Museum.
John Constable, The Valley Farm, 1835 Oil on canva
Years later, he would write to his brother,“I….always keep thinking about some English paintings- for instance, Chill October by Millais…the Hobema in the national Gallery, a couple of very fine Constables.”
van Gogh continued to love autumnal scenes. He painted The Bois de Bouligne with People Walking in Paris. He had adopted the bright colours and brushstrokes of the impressionists.
Vincent van Gogh, The Bois de Bouligne with People Walking, Paris, 1886. Oil on canvas
van Gogh spent his last autumn in hospital in Saint-Paul.
Vincent van Gogh Path in the Garden of the Asylum Saint-Remy, 1889 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh The Stone Bench in the Asylum at Saint-Remy, Autumn 1889 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh and the British newspaper, The Graphic
van Gogh admired the community of artists at the British social reforming newspaper, The Graphic, calling them, “the great portrayers of the people.” He collected a series of prints called “Heads of the People Drawn From Life” by various artists at The Graphic. He learned from these prints and used light and dark shadings to emphasise the shapes of his figures as seen below.
Vincent van Gogh Paul Ferdinand Gachet. Auvers-sur-Oise, June 1890. Etching on pper
Vincent van Gogh, Old man with umbrella and watch. The Hague September-December 1882. Graphite on paper
Vincent van Gogh. Old man drinking coffee. The Hague November 1882. Graphite and lithographic crayon on paper
van Gogh collected most of the illustrations of Hubert von Herkomer, a leading illustrator at The Graphic.van Gogh had an engraving of Herkomer’s famous church scene. He produced his own (see below) by assembling his “heads” to represent a congregation.
Vincent van Gogh. In church. The Hague, late September-October 1882. Graphite, ink and watercolour on paper.
While living in Paris van Gogh started a series of self-portraits, using some of the principles of his British-inspired”Heads of the People”. In these he is seen as a dignified, modern man of depth.
Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait with Felt Hat. December 1886-January 1887. Oil on canvas
van Gogh painted the self-portrait below during his last months in Paris. The eyes are emphasised, strokes are bold and colours have been combined. This was featured in the first solo exhibition of his art in Britain at the Leicester Galleries in 1923. The Tate tried unsuccessfully to buy it for the nation.
Vincent van Gogh Self-Portrait. Paris Autumn, 1887 Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh and Black and Whites
van Gogh learned about British “Black and Whites” while working at Goupil. British print makers wee portraying modern subjects using light and shade. van Gogh’s study of these prints helped him develop his drawing style.
“I often felt low in England…but the Black and White and Dickens, are things that make up for it all. Vincent van Gogh, 1883.”
van Gogh’s first known drawing from the time he took up art in 1880 was a drawing of men and women miners from the mining area of Belgium.
Vincent van Gogh, Miners in the Snow, Cuesmes, September, 1880 Graphite,chalk and watrcolour on paper
The cityscape below, commissioned by van Gogh’s uncle but was not to his taste.
Vincent van Gogh, Carpenter’s yard and Laundry,The Hague, LateMay 1882 Graphite, chalk, ink and watercolour on paper
Vincent van Gogh’s influence on others
Francis Bacon said, “van Gogh is one of my great heroes…[He] speaks of the need to make changes in reality…This is the only possible way the painter can bring back the intensity of the reality.” Bacon’s brushwork shows van Gogh’s influence.
Francis Bacon. Study for Portrait of van Gogh VI 1957 Oil on canvas
Francis Bacon van Gogh in Landscape. 1957 Oil on canvas
Francis Bacon Study for Portrait of van Gogh IV 1957. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and British flower painting
Alexander Reid, the Scottish art dealer, gave van Gogh the still life below. It influenced him greatly. He hoped that his paintings would be of commercial value as were Monticelli’s. He wrote to Theo, “If our Monticelli bouquet is worth 500 francs to an art lover … then I dare assure you that my sunflowers are also worth 500 francs to one of those Scots or Americans.”
Adolphe Monticelli. Vase With Flowers. c. 1875. Oil on panel
“Modern European art has always mistreated flowers, dealing with them at best as aids to sentimentality until van Gogh saw… the arrogant spirit the inhabits the sunflower.” Roger Fry, Art critic 1910
Christopher Wood Yellow Chrysanthemums 1925. Oil on canvas
William Nicholson.Sunflowers c 1933. Oilon panel
Frank Brangwyn Sunflowers. Early 20th century. Oil on board
Jacob Epstein Sunflowers 1933 Watercolour and gouache on paper
Samuel John Peploe. Tulips in a Pottery vase. c.1912. Oil on canvas
Matthew Smith. Yellow Dahlias. 1940s. Oil on canvas
The van Gogh below isn’t of flowers but I’ve included it here as I absolutely love it! van Gogh was out walking with the Scottish art dealer Alexander Reid and was struck by the beauty of these apples. Reid bought them for van Gogh who rushed home and painted two versions; the one below he gave to Reid and the second was given to Lucien Pissarro. Reid and Pissarro brought these back home to Britain and they became one of the first van Goghs to come to Britain.
Vincent van Gogh. Still Life, Basket of Apples. Paris, Autumn 1887. Oil on canvas
A Toi, van Gogh!
Artists such as Walter Richard Sickert, Harold Gilman, Spencer Gore and Matthew Smith adapted van Gogh’s brilliant colours and brush strokes. Gilman had a print of a van Gogh’s self-portrait on the wallof hisstudio. Before he started to paint, he would wave his brush at the print and say, “A toi, van Gogh!” (Cheers, van Gogh).
Vincent van Gogh. Horse Chestnut Tree in Blossom.Paris, 1887. Oil on canvas
Harold Gilman had seen the above painting in Paris. Later, he would paint “nothing but trees” many of them with van Gogh’s brushstrokes.
Harold Gilman In Gloucestershire 1916. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh. Olive Trees. Saint-remy, June 1889. Oil on canvas
Vanessa Bell’s The Vineyard reminds one of van Gogh’s Olive Trees. Bell, too,suffered from mental illness and found comfort in painting the Provence countryside.
Vanessa Bell. The Vineyard c. 1930. Oil on board
Matthew Smith. Winter in Provence. c. 1937. Oil on canvas
Walter Richard Sickert was a British art critic who supported van Gogh. The self portrait (below) was exhibited in 1907 during the Paris exhibition, Portraits of Men, with four van Gogh’s.
Walter Richard Sickert The Juvenile Lead 1908. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh. Shoes. Paris September-November 1886. Oil on canvas
In 1920 William Nicholson was commissioned to paint a portrait of Gertrude Jekyll, a garden designer and writer. She refused to stop her work to sit for him so he, taking inspiration from van Gogh, painted her boots.
Vincent van Gogh’s use of prints of other artists as inspiration
van Gogh used printed images as inspiration. He said,“It’s not copying…It is rather translating into another language, the one of colours.” van Gogh knew about London’s prisons from the time he loved there as well as from Dickens’ “A visit to Newgate”. van Gogh had over 30 prints of prisons and prisoners, including two Gustave Dore’s illustrations of Newgate.
van Gogh’s personal copy after Gustave Dore Exercise yard at Newgate Prison.1872
The “translation” below was made while van Gogh was in Saint-Paul hospital. He described the hospital as, “The prison was crushing me, and pere Peyron didn’t pay the slightest attention to it.” pere Peyron was his doctor.
Vincent van Gogh The Prison Courtyard. Saint-Remy, February 1890. Oil on canvas
Vincent van Gogh and Lucien Pissarro
Pissarro was part of a group of artists experimenting with painting in dots and dabs of contrasting colours. van Gogh saw Pissarro’s La Maison de laSourde, Eragny in an exhibition.
Lucien Pissarro.LaMaison de la Sourde, Eragny. 1886. Oil on canvas
van Gogh started experimenting with neo-impressionism. Path in the Woods is one of a series of paintings he made during this time.
Vincent vanGogh. Path in the Woods. Paris, May-July 1887. Oil on canvas
Shortly after attending van Gogh’s funeral, Pissaro moved to Britain and shared his knowledge of van Gogh with British artists. His The Garden Gate, Epping, shows van Gogh’s influence.
Lucien Pissarro. The Garden Gate, Epping. 1894. Oil on canvas
“You may not always be able to say what it is that confines and yet you feel I know not what bars…and then you ask yourself, Dear God, is this for long, is this for ever, is this for eternity?” Vincent van Gogh, 1880
The following van Gogh’s really touched me.
In London, van Gogh had seen a print, Worn out” by the Scottish artist, Thomas Faed. He gave this English title to his work below. He wrote that he was also thinking of a scene in the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Vincent van Gogh. Worn out. Etten, September-October 1881. Watercolour on paper
The war veteran, Cornelis Schuitemaker (below). Images of thoughtful people facing the end of the year and the end of their lives had along history in British and European art.
Vincent van Gogh Man Reading at the Fireside. October-November 1881. Black chalk, charcoal, grey wash, opaque watercolour, on laid paper
Vincent van Gogh. Woman Seated. The Hague April-May 1882. Graphite and ink on paper
van Gogh made drawings and lithographs of another war veteran, Adrians Zuyderland (below). He wrote that this was “to express the special mood of Christmas and new Year. At that time, in both the Netherlands and England, there’s still always a religious element.”
Vincent van Gogh. At Eternity’s Gate.The Hague, November 1882. Lithograph on paper
“I met a woman…who roamed the streets in winter – who had to earn her bread, you can imagine how. I took that woman as a model and worked with her the entire winter. Vincent van Gogh,1882. The model was the prostitute and seamstress Clasina (Sien) Maria Hoornik. van Gogh met her in a soup kitchen. She lived with van Gogh from 1881-1883. Their relationship was not accepted by his family, though Theo did not stop supporting him. At Theo’s urging,van Gogh left Sien in 1883 to paint in Drenthe, ending the only domestic relationship he would ever have. On 12th November 1904 she threw herself into the Schelde river and drowned as she had predicted to van Gogh in 1883, saying, “what the bad moods are is still more desperate…it’s bound to end up with me jumping into the water.” She was 54.
Vincent van Gogh Mourning Woman Seated On A Basket. The Hague, February-march 1883. Lithographic crayon and watercolour on paper
The painting, “Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate) seen below was done while van Gogh was at the Saint-Paul hospital. It is based on his lithograph made eight years earlier (see above). When he was not well enough to go outside, he used to make “translations”from prints. When van Gogh was unwell, his doctor said, “he usually sits with his head in his hands, and if someone speaks to him, it is as though it hurts him, and he gestures for them to leave him alone.”
Vincent van Gogh. Sorrowing Old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’).Saint-Remy, May 1890. Oil on canvas
On 2nd March 2019 I did a session on governance at researchED Birmingham. I’m very thankful to Claire Stoneman and Tom Bennett for giving me the chance to talk about governance to teachers. My slides from the session are below. I’m also adding a few lines of explanation so the slides make sense to those who weren’t there in person.
For teachers who haven’t worked as or with governors, governance may appear to be something mysterious that happens behind closed doors in the evening when all the teachers have gone home. You may hear your head say governors want data on X or governors are coming in to monitor Y. And that’s about it. So today I’m going to try and lift the veil on who we are and what we do and hopefully by the end of the session you will know…
My dad once said to me, ”As long as I’m alive your problems are not your problems. Your problems are my problems”. Yesterday, may dad passed away. My problems are mine now. There are no words to describe how devastated I feel at having lost the most loving and caring of fathers. pic.twitter.com/GtSKZtGOO9
A month ago I lost my father; the man I hero worshipped, the man I looked up to, the man who moulded me into who I am today.
I lost my Superhero and, for me, life and the world will never be the same again. The birds are still singing in the trees but some of the joy is gone. The sun is still rising in the day but some of the warmth has gone. The moon still lights up the night sky but some of the luminescence is gone. Water still flows in rivers and streams but some of the coolness is gone.
Daddy gave the best hugs. When he drew me towards himself and encircled me with his arms I knew that he’d protect me from anything and everything. This is how I felt when I was a child and this is how I felt when I was a grown woman. I’ve lost the person who made me feel safe and the world will never be the same.
Daddy was the man you wanted near you when you were ill. He’d stay up the whole night with you. He’d rush out and bring the doctor home to see you. He would wipe your fevered brow and you’d feel better. When I was on the plane on my way to see him the thought of what I’d find when I reached the hospital made me feel physically ill and I had to use the sick bag. I remembered how he would hold your hair back and support your head when you threw up. Feeling ill while hurtling through the sky and dreading what I’d find when I got there is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
I’m the eldest of the siblings and my younger sister and brother call me aapi which is what you respectfully call your older sister in Urdu. This is what he called me too. I can’t remember a time when he asked for me by calling out for Naureen. Can you imagine how empowering it is to be treated with utmost respect by the man you adore since you were knee high to a grasshopper! Because he believed in me, I believe in myself. That’s my yardstick; would daddy approve of what I’m saying/doing? If yes, then that’s what I’ll say/do irrespective of what the rest of the world expects from me.
I can write and write and write but I’ll never be able to do justice to him. He was the man who, if I felt I was walking barefoot on hot sand, would scoop me up and carry me to an oasis. He was the man I looked towards for guidance when I was young. He was the man I looked towards for guidance when I became a mother myself. He was a superhero amongst heroes. He was a king amongst men. He was the best father a girl could wish for. To have him hold your hand was to feel safe and warm and loved and appreciated. When he was here he used to ask me to ring when I checked in, ring when I was about to board and ring when I landed. When he was in hospital I thought we’d have a day or so with him when they took him off the ventilator. Then, looking at his stats, I thought we’ll only have a few hours. In the end we didn’t get that either. Allah spared him the pain and us the anguish and he left us to be with the angels of heaven. I love you with every fibre of my being and I wait for the day when we will be reunited in heaven, In sha Allah.
Today, as I write this, is the 30th of November, 2018. The love of my life, the pillar of my strength, my rock, my role model, my stunningly handsome father, my source of pride and my source of joy, the man I so desperately wanted to imitate, the man I so wanted to be, the man I always looked up to and the man I always sought guidance from, heeded the call of our Most Merciful Lord, our Creator and our Sustainer and left us on the 31th of October, 2018 and so exactly one month has come and gone.
It has been exactly one month since I stepped down into my father’s grave and gently lowered him into it. This would be the last time I would feel his touch. This would be the last time I would feel his weight in my arms. This would be the last time I would look at his beautiful face. It was about 5:30 pm but the sun was still shining and my father’s left eye was slightly open and it still twinkled in the sunshine. He definitely had the most beautiful eyes. This would be the last time would see his eyes, the last time my eyes would see the twinkle in his eye. He was so beautiful. Truly a gift from the Almighty!
P.A. to Paaji – meaning “Personal Assistant to elder brother”. There is a story behind this, a story of my love for my father. Once my aunt called us and I had picked up the phone and she thought it was my father who answered the phone and in a display of respect which is common in our culture, she would always address my father as “Paaji” meaning elder brother. So she thinking it was not me but my father at the other end of the phone call, started the conversation with the Islamic greeting of “Asalam-o-alaikom Paaji”. It was a moment to EXTREME pride for me to think someone mistook me for my father!! I sounded like my father?? WHAT A COMPLIMENT!! But I knew very well that I would be the luckiest person alive if I could be half the man my father was. So my response to my Aunt addressing me as “Paaji” (elder brother) was to tell her in a way that she would know it was me and not my father who answered the phone and also convey the fact that I could never be as great a man as my father and the best I could be if I tried real hard would be to become a personal assistant to my father, be someone that reported to him, someone that had a habit of addressing his father as “Sir”.
Exactly one month ago, the Almighty with His infinite wisdom decided to replace me from the position of “P.A. to Paaji” with a shiny Angel from the heavens. Exactly one month ago, my father, my Superman, man I would always address as “Sir” left us and ascended in the company of Allah’s angels to go live in that shiny palace made of silver and gold in the heavens up above. Oh sweet God, I miss my father so much. I shall always be incomplete without him.
Oh my sweetest Daddy, may Allah’s angels wrap you in their wings, may Allah Almighty in His infinite wisdom and infinite mercy shower you with all His blessings and may we soon meet again in heaven and may I look at your beautiful face and proudly declare “P.A to Paaji reporting for duty sir!”.
The little girl, no older than five, sat by the window looking out. She was feeling unwell and was running a temperature. It was evening and the street was lit. The evening traffic was heavy; people were going home from work and others were out shopping. The street lights, the headlights of the cars, the pedestrians walking quickly to get to their destination were keeping the little girl engrossed. Suddenly she caught sight of a donkey cart on the road. She was fascinated by the cart which seemed out of place amongst the cars. She had been lethargic but on seeing the donkey cart she stood up to get a better view. Her father was sitting beside her. She was his princess and she was unwell and he wanted to stay near her, comfort her. When the cart passed from the little girl’s sight, she turned towards her father and, with tears in her eyes, said,” I want a donkey cart”. He gathered her in his arms, kissed her and stood up. He called out to his wife that he was going out. A little while later he returned. He had in his hand a little, wooden toy donkey cart. He gave it to his daughter who looked up at him and smiled. The father’s name was Mian Iftkhar Afzal. The little girl was me. He was and will always be my hero.
This was typical of my father. He loved us totally and made sure we lacked nothing. This isn’t to say he spoilt us. We were taught what Islam expects of us. We were taught that manners maketh the man. We were taught the difference between right and wrong. We were taught the importance of good education. We were taught to respect our elders. We were taught what’s worth doing is worth doing well.
He once said to me, “As long as I’m alive your problems are not your problems. Your problems are my problems”. And he proved this time and time again. Just one of a million examples of this was the time I was visiting him. My eldest daughter, Sara, was around three at that time. The time difference meant we were quite jet lagged and on top of that I wasn’t well. Daddy came to my room and said he would take Sara to his room so I could get some rest. Sara loved her grandfather and happily went with him. She then spent the whole night chatting with him. My father stayed up the whole night entertaining my daughter so that his daughter could get some rest. That was just the way he was; nothing was too much trouble for him where we were concerned.
Another example of this was when I went to Norwich for my MPhil. As this was an entirely research based course I used to go to the lab at a time dictated by the experiment I was running. This meant sometimes I was in the lab till quite late. My father was uneasy about my walking back home late at night. He called me and said he was sending me money and asked me to buy a car. The way his children travelled to and from educational institutions was something he was always concerned about. He would pick and drop us when we were at school. He only stopped doing this when I passed my driving test. My friends say that their memory of my father is of a tall, handsome man picking up his daughter, holding her hand and crossing the street to get to the car. After my Masters I started teaching at university. One monsoon season the city experienced a really heavy downpour. My father rang me and asked me not to drive home by myself as the roads were flooded. His office was at the opposite end of the city. He drove to the university himself (a distance of about 25km) and picked me up.
My father was a highly accomplished man. Research on cotton and textiles was his passion but he was interested in all manner of things. His knowledge of Islam, Islamic history, Pakistan’s history, literature and politics to name a few was legendary. He was writing opinion pieces for newspapers till the very end. I grew up surrounded by books and for that I’m eternally grateful. I loved sitting with him and listening to him; he could make the past come alive, he could make the future sound exciting. He would recite relevant verses from the Quran, he would recall ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad pbuh) which were relevant to the topic we were discussing. He would quote Persian poetry, he would recite poetry by Allama Iqbal. How many times did he make me smile by quoting Oscar Wilde.
Daddy was someone who wouldn’t compromise on his principles. An example of this is from the time he was working for the UNESCO in Sri Lanka. When we arrived in Colombo someone told him that in order to be accepted socially and to network he would have to serve alcohol. Being a Muslim buying, storing and serving alcohol was against his principles so this was something he wasn’t prepared to do. He said he didn’t want this social acceptance at the price of his principles. Turns out that that person was misguided; my father and the rest of us never faced any discrimination because of our religion and no one ever refused his invitation.
I have followed his example in my social dealings with people. I have a very large circle of friends and they know I don’t drink or serve alcohol. Seeing my father stick to his principles has made it easy for me to stick to mine.
My parents were married for 58 glorious, marvellous years. He treated my mother like a queen. Once my mother had seen and admired a gold necklace. The next day my father went to the shop and bought it. The shopkeeper was amazed that he didn’t look at anything else or haggle (something very common in Pakistan). The fact that my mother liked it was enough for him. The day they got married he added her name to all his accounts. All family decisions were hers to make.
He was proud of all his children (I’m the eldest and I have a brother and a sister). He told us that all he asked of us was that we did the best that we could. He treated us like prince and princesses. No matter how old I grew, it was comforting to have my hand held in his tight grip, to be enveloped in his hug, to know that he would never let any harm come my way.
The fact that family is important is something I’ve learnt from him. The fact that my teachers deserve my respect is something I’ve learnt from him. The importance of sticking to one’s principles, of doing what’s right is something I’ve learnt from him. Most importantly he and my mother have taught me how to be a good parent and for this I can never thank them enough.