Grandparents are the fragile threads that bind families; the common factor between fractious siblings; the ‘soundkeepers’ of their grandchildren. Grandparents are a precious fort of wisdom, experience, and tenderness. Few of us are fortunate enough to benefit from both sets of grandparents – I know my paternal grandparents through the values their children embody: a strong family bond, forbearance and the love of books. My maternal grandparents directly influenced my formative years and youth.
Growing up in the shadow of two strong, trailblazer personalities – Amma and Abba, as we called our maternal grandparents – was not easy. However, now that both have passed away, we find ourselves following their footsteps and adopting their habits. Their lifestyle reflected a sense of brotherhood combined with Sunnah practices ingrained in the Muslim culture of the bygone era they represented.
Self-Discipline and Perseverance
Born in the flux of the pre-Partition time, both my grandparents achieved education and professional success through the strict discipline their upbringing inculcated. Fiercely independent, Abba, a Muslim League supporter, set up a successful business in what was then East Pakistan, surrendering his right to a wealthy inheritance. Political turmoil in Dhaka forced him to relocate his family and start afresh in Karachi. Yet, perseverance, calculated risk taking and patience helped him to survive and flourish in difficult times.
My grandmother Amma meanwhile was one of the first four Muslim girls, who passed matriculate exams in that region. With her family’s support, she was able to attain a Masters in Political Science despite the responsibility of six young children. It was self-discipline that helped her balance her family and professional responsibilities as a college lecturer.
This sense of discipline and time management (both were early risers) was actively inculcated in their children as well. A consistent routine anchored around prayer times – their inherent ‘clock’ – enabled them, their children and later grandchildren to balance busy personal and professional schedules.
Unlike modern-day couples and their struggle for equality, my grandparents practiced the Sunnah of being in a caring, respectful relationship. Amma never referred to Abba by name, always addressed him with the formal ‘Aap’ and was truly horrified by the casual attitude women adopted towards their husbands – including us. She deferred all decision-making to him, but Abba had the grace to always discuss and explain things to her. They often joked together and had a nightly ritual of three games of Scrabble that allowed them to manifest their love for words.
Education, Equal Opportunity and Tarbiyah
Continuing the time-honoured Muslim tradition of providing boarding and lodging to ‘Talib-e-Ilm’ (students), their home in Dhaka and later in Karachi was available for any relative or family friend seeking an opportunity to provide their children with education.
Far-sighted and ‘progressive’ according to his times, Abba ensured formal education for both his boys and girls, while Amma ensured that the girls, including us, were well-versed in all aspects of household management, including knitting and embroidery. Abba, who loved quoting Akbar Allahabadi, taught not only us but also my best friend how to make the perfect cup of tea using his special Earl Grey and tea leaf blend!
Within the immediate family, the single most significant role that they played was constant communication with all members of the family. Through stories about their life experiences and discussions in the garden and around the dinner table, we developed a pride in our culture and a strong patriotic spirit. We were encouraged to share our opinions and with humour and patience, they wisely counselled us.
Throughout our childhood, we observed them gently respecting their own frail mothers. We lived the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (sa) to start with the eldest in serving food and always give them the best seats – kindness to the elderly is a way of life for us.
Ever conscious of the rights of kinship, my grandfather would extend any kind of help to people trying to re-settle post-partition time. During the riots of Bangladesh, he would go to the airport every single day to search for and then shelter and support not only relatives and friends but also strangers. He even paid for relatives to be able to travel to Pakistan after the fall of Dhaka.
In addition, they established a Zakah fund that helped fund education and business start-ups. This helped many families in gaining financial stability. Years later, one of such families wrote a letter of gratitude to my mother.
As well-known figures of our community, both Abba and Amma focused on maintaining family ties with even distant relatives and developing friendships across communities, irrespective of social or economic status. Relatives would occasionally turn to them for counselling, where much tact and sensitivity was needed.
Their inherent humility helped them survive the vagaries of life cheerfully. I remember them making their own breakfast and tea, repairing things themselves. Highly organized, they believed that if you earned through Halal means, you would never allow wastage, so each scrap of paper, bottle or cloth would be carefully reused or recycled.
Congregational prayers for Maghrib and Isha were a daily ritual that helped us memorize many oft-repeated Ayahs. Abba’s daily recitation of the Quran Kareem could be heard throughout the house, and their respective Quran copies had certain Ayaat marked and Duas highlighted throughout the Mushaf.
I rarely saw them idle, except when they were deeply ill. Perhaps we are in a state of deep spiritual illness for our hands are oft-idle. Amma’s hands rarely rested – she even took her knitting to college to avoid being idle in the staff room.
Carrying on the Legacy
Carrying on the legacy of teaching, I willingly transfer my skills and knowledge to my children and students. I love the idea of Amma’s hand-knitted sweaters being worn by countless infants and children, so I crochet to keep the tradition of giving hand-made gifts alive.
We continue to pool in the Zakat fund to finance education, health, venture capital and well digging.
The book on Salah that Abba gifted me rests on my bookshelf and my Mushaf is full of notes and highlighted Ayahs. My children have grown up listening to me repeating Amma’s stories. I often dream of them both, and I pray that Allah (swt) has rewarded them manifold and keeps them in His infinite mercy.
Winner of hiba’s Mega Writing Competition 2019