On my sister's death anniversary: Jasmines to ‘the daughter of the eastern stream’

I would be better off without a hand or a leg than without my sister. Though she's gone, she will always be in heart.

Shazia Tasneem April 20, 2013
Time is a great eraser, yet its weak opacity has failed to blur the loving memory of noted poet, short story writer, journalist, fine artist and columnist Abeda Iqbal Azad - my Apa, who passed away on April 20, 2012, leaving us behind in deep shock and sorrow.

She was a great lady, a good person, a beautiful human being, a devoted wife and a shield for the family against all odds. Unlike just a conventional ‘big sis’ figure in the family, Apa stood with us in all our ups and downs, supported us through and remained involved inseparable till parted by death.

There always flowed a stream of love and care from her heart that swept away all our sorrows and worries and we stayed together under her safe cover.

I do not mourn the loss of my sister because she will always be with me, in my heart; I am, however, rather annoyed that she has left me to suffer a lot alone.

I do not see as well without her.

I do not hear as well without her.

I do not feel as well without her.

I would be better off without a hand or a leg than without my sister.

Then, at least, she would be here to mock my uncombed and cluttered hair and claim to be a good hairdresser for a change. We have all lost her, but I have lost a part of myself as well. Apa and I had our lives tuned up with a tacit harmony so close that we could easily understand even the unsaid.

Time has passed in a fast forward mode and I even didn’t realise that a year has gone by. It seems only yesterday or this morning she was with us. She will be back in a moment or so drawing an end to my long, restless wait, and we will be happy again chatting together in the family room over hot cups of tea that she used to prepare for us.

I never thought that someday I will have to write a memoir on her. From where should I start? It is not about only a day, month, a year or two. It is about the experience of a life that I spent with her right from my birth.

My life with Abeda grew magnificently. It went on beautifully poised - sometimes rocked fast and sometimes sailed in a poetic rhythm.

She always tested out colours and music of life and made mine a varied and meaningful one instead of a regular and monotonic pitch. With her, every day, every moment and every breath that I took was full of diversify. Every day, she greeted me with a new feel. Every morning, she opened before me new horizons to fill up the void of my parent-less world.

Collecting all those pieces of beaming memories is just as together we collected Nyctanthes flowers (shefali or harsinghar) in the foggy mornings at our riverside home along the Brahmaputra.

She loved to wear floral ornaments, especially jasmine (locally termed beli flowers) in her earrings. When she used to wake me up holding me tightly by the frills of my frock, carefully tiptoeing over the dewy grass through the Nyctanthes or harsingar so as to save them from being crushed under her feet, she was not less than a princess to me.

She, Abeda, was a born fine artist with handiness over creativity. Her love and sensitivity for nature carried her away to the scenes of nature’s events and we used to take long walk along the river to watch the sunrise. There we stayed till the sun brushed over the river with a golden spread. We walked together, our eyes glued on the wavy white shrubs of Kans. To her, all sunrise, sunset, trees, birds, and rivers were superb pieces of artwork accomplished by a genius called Mother Nature.

She accepted life the way it came across and lived beautifully coping with every situation.
“My life is like a piece of poetry, full of beautiful moments, so fine and intricate that I hardly have anything to regret.” This was Abeda’s strong conviction about her own life.

She was blessed with a tremendous strength of mind to overwhelm the pain and distress while she was sick. Every time she was admitted to hospital, I was there with her. At all times, she was putting some added efforts to make our stay pleasant as if we were vacationing, partying, or picnicking there in the hospital room. Even during her last days in the hospital, she inte­­­­racted well with all her physicians and caregivers and made her stay happy and jovial.

Abeda Yasmeen Rabbani she was, but became Abeda Iqbal Azad after getting married and moved from Dhaka to Karachi with the memories of her early life sowed deep in her tear-soaked heart.

Here in Karachi she had a new life, new responsibilities and a social environment which she was not very familiar to.  She missed her flowery mornings and wrote “Khushboo” - a poem remembering the Harsingar tree at our ancestral home in Bangladesh.

Before moving from Dhaka to Karachi, she offered her last tribute to the nature, which supported and groomed the fine artist in her.

She wrote,
“Believe you me, I am not a stranger. The sun, moon and this starry sky will be my witness. This river, ragged boat sails and the milky stream of Brahmaputra will remember that I lived here around, within you and will remain buried, forever, as I am the daughter of your eastern stream.”

Who knows whether the Brahmaputra still remembers you, but I cannot forget you. My life has been shattered without you.

We are wrapped in a foil of heartbreaking grief and sorrows without you.

I feel empty, sad and unattended without you.

I can see your radiant face, can hear your vibrant voice and can feel the warmth of your touch around my forehead, yet feeling very lonely and gloomy without you.

I wish if I could make a U-turn back to those marvelous days and collect jasmines together with you, if I could amass jasmines in my fists and tell you, “Jasmines for you, Apa”; if I could tell you what I had never said before that I owe my life to you, you are the best sister of this world and I love you more, more and more — my full-fists of jasmines to you.
Shazia Tasneem An Archaeologist-turned-journalist who has worked with leading English newspapers including The news, Business Recorder, and Daily Times. She tweets @TasneemShazia
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Rubaiyat | 11 years ago | Reply Shazia Tasneem may I am touched by your writing skill and the offering you have dedicated to your sister. May Allah bless you and bestows Jannat to the departed soul. Ameen
Stranger | 11 years ago | Reply Sigh a very touching peice. Made me remember my own mum ( who was quite and strong in her own way ) who left us 8 years back.
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