ATLANTA: This is it. The moment I’ve been waiting for.
I am standing in front of a petite Pakistani lady, only a little taller than I, yet with triple my spunk. And she is triple my age.
As I greet her, my mind races. She looks at me, and smiles a beatific smile. I relax. She does remember me. I smile back.
But then I notice the light of remembrance in her eyes is gone, faded like murky, roasted cumin. She smiles differently now, as if seeing me for the first time. In a regal tone of voice, she inquires politely, “And you are?”
My voice is mute. I try to emulate her poise, and answer simply, Reem. What I do not say: Reem, as in Reem Faruqi. I share your last name. I’m the daughter of your son Zaheer. But this I do not mention. She compensates by pretending to remember me. I humour her. And so our evening progresses.
She differs from the typical elderly Pakistani lady in so many ways. For one, she married for love. Her marriage was what we call a love marriage - as in unarranged. In the 1940s, this was unheard of.
Second, she was educated. Highly. After winning a scholarship, she received dozens of letters from potential suitors. She decided to write back to the quiet, polite gentleman with immaculate handwriting. Letters turned into love letters, and then they married. She arranged her marriage.
And yet Pyarijan, which means “loved one” in Urdu, was different. She is love in action. She defied tradition again by carving out a career for herself. But her husband didn’t want her to leave home, so she complied.
An educator, she put her creativity to work. At first, by having students come to her home and innocently calling her school, Happy Home. As her house quickly overflowed with students, she leapt at better opportunities and started her school in another building. And this was just the beginning of principaldom for this educator, Pyarijan. Does it make sense now why she chose the man with the immaculate penmanship?
Today, she has founded numerous schools, still with the same title, Happy Home Schools. I know dozens of teachers who look forward to dismissing their students and heading home right after. I’m one of them. She inspired me to become a teacher. At the end of her school day, she would often take a small catnap, and then return ready for her second half of the day, with even higher expectations than before.
As I sit with her, I realise that yes, her memory is fading, but the curls in her hair are anything but faded. Every night, Pyarijan will meticulously put curlers in her hair. Her high expectations for her curls are minuscule compared to those she has of her students. She has won dozens of awards, yet treats them matter-of-factly. It is her students who she lives for.
She even has high expectations of her flowers. Her garden lacks flowers at the moment, she explains apologetically. Not even a second later, she calls out for her gardener and tells him he’d better have some flowers up within two weeks, otherwise he’s leaving. She says all this with a twinkle in her eye. Magically, a week later, one of her trees has sprouted fragrant, pink flowers. She makes sure to point them out - flowers that match her pale pink and green shalwar kameez - while simultaneously complimenting the gardener and walking me to my car.
Yes, to this day, this 90 something woman, when saying good bye, will walk you to your car, and wave as you depart. Regardless of who you are, she will do this every single time.
Before embarking on my journey to Pakistan, I feel sorry for myself. I mope as I brush my teeth for five minutes, extra-long as I do when I’m feeling gloomy. I fear she will not remember me. I agonize during my pregnancy and worry she may not live long enough to see my baby. When she does live long enough, I worry she will not remember her, not remember her own great granddaughter.
But I am blessed: I meet Pyarijan with her great granddaughter. Yes, my fears are confirmed in that she doesn’t and will not remember me, but she loves my infant’s delicate features, falls in love with the simple things only babies do. Each day that she sees her, it is as if she is meeting a new baby, and to see her joy upon meeting my infant for 'the first time' makes me appreciate the sacrifice, putting my 13-hour flight into fresh perspective. She is effortlessly happy and unknowingly encourages me to be the same. I brush my teeth for two minutes that night.
Back in America, my toddler reaches out for her favourite book, Are You My Mommy? As I read the story, I can’t help feeling sorrow. The duckling asks different animals whether they’re her mommy, before finally reuniting with her mother at the end. I wish that I could read a story called, Are You My Granddaughter? to Pyarijan and have us reunite happily, with her remembering me.
I write letters to her. In Urdu. The language only she took the time to teach me. As I painstakingly write, and rewrite, I make errors that remind me of those my second graders would make. But I write my letters anyway. She sends them back like a true teacher, with corrections and suggestions. When I sign my letter, Reem, I make sure to write,
Reem Faruqi (your granddaughter).
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Rafat Habib [email protected] May 1, 2012
Dear Reem: I am your highly controversial great-uncle on your father's side. I loved your mom very much. She had great business ability, which is proved by the great success of the Happy Home school system. She also had a great sense of humor. I loved Ghazala and Ferzana, both great beauties. I presume they have spawned many handsome and gifted children. I am controversial throughout the Muslim world 'cause I mastered Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and then renounced Islam. I will not give you my reasons as they might offend you especially if you are five-times-daily namazi. I will give you my reasons only if you ask me. In 1969 I returned to Karachi and starred in several tv comedy series and dramas. Aslam Azhar, then karachi gm, and I had a falling out. I wrote letters to Bhutto, z.a., pointing out that Azhar was an Altaf Gauhar man. Azhar was ousted. Please write. I have all kinds of goodies to tell you. Cordially, Rafat Habib
May Allah rest her in peace
It takes more effort to be a strict parent but worth it to raise a good kid... May Allah be pleased with her...
ASSALAMUALAIKUM....i am a happy homer......proud to be a part of his home.....She had been a great teacher and a great source of happiness to my grandfather's family, he was his colleague. may Allah rest her soul in peace. do pray for this lady. hope its not an end for several Marium Farooqi coming soon for my motherland.....may Allah bless her and PAKISTAN......
I great lady and a true preacher of Education. Rest in peace
Reem , I am so sorry for your loss. We share this grief with you. Mrs. Farooqui was all one could ask for a teacher to be. My mother was one of her students and belonged to the second batch that passed out from Happy Home and that was just the beginning. More than half of my family has studied at Happy Home and we have benefited from the seed Baree Aapa sowed so many year ago immensely. May Allah grant her the highest place in Jannah and grant you and your family the courage to bear this great loss with Sabr, Ameen.
iINNA LILLAHI WA ILLAY RAJION MAY HER SOUL REST IN PEACE .SHE WAS A GREAT LADY
Indeed she was a lady of courage... May her soul rest in peace (ameen)
I couldn't read even whole of it and a burst of tears...! Can't help it! May he soul rest in peace. she was a woman of great strength and courage. a real inspiration for many.
Inna lillahi wa inna illayhay Rajioon
May her sould rest in peace. She was indeed a great woman.
@Reem Faruqi: i realy appreciate and pround with my principal she always being in our heart Inshallah her soul rest in peace
I still remember how she always strictly told us to cover our head and the way she used to dress and her stunning red lipstick.. :)
We didnt know so much about her past when we were her students, but now i am so inspired by her achievements and her life story. She achieved in that time, what many women can never dream of achieving today! My most vivid memory of hers will always be of one woman who was very active, strict about discipline and education and who wanted to see nothing but the very best behaviour in her students, inside the school premises or out. May Allah rest her soul in heaven. Ameen.
Mam marium farooqui was truly an institution for us all. May her soul rest in peace (ameen)
I'm happy you like the article! She is truly an amazing lady and it is nice to see how many lives she touched.
what a great lady...my principal..may her soul rest in piece...
She was very strict about discipline. I still remember each stick and shield that I received from her during my 10 years at Happy Home. We need more ladies like her in our country.
Inna lillahi wa inna illayhi rajioon May Allah SWT provide her Jannatul Firdous...what amazing history she created masha'Allah, which I sadly never realized as a student years back. It all makes sense now - the origins of the name which used to raise eyebrows in the West when I moved here. How I wish I had knowledge of the meaning then, it carries so much weight. I would love to do what she did, God Willing. She is an inspiring woman.
Beautifully written, thank you
Inna Lillah-e-Wa Inna Ilaih-e-Rajioon Madam Marium Farooqui has passed away. But she will always live on in our hearts as the true role model that she is. I am not one of her students but my teachers were... some of my elders too... and all this makes me a better person than what I could otherwise have been. May she rest in Peace
May her soul Rest in Peace.
What a great woman this is. She got herself educated and then married of her own free will. She chose her husband herself, as should always be, she didn't let any man make the decision for her. And she imparted education to countless others. I hope the rest of her days are spent in comfort. She has made a very positive contribution to the world in her lifetime.