To Sir… with LOVE

What can I say? Where do I begin? These words have been lost inside me for so long, bouncing within the walls of my soul. Eight months.Long months that went by so quickly. I don’t even know how to string any one of these to complete a whole sentance. I don’t know what these words are. Does anybody? They are laments, and painful tears. They are fond memories. They are childhood visions that are so vivid in my mind. These words began speaking to me slowly on that fateful night. That awful, heart-wrenching, tragic night when we lost you…

 

I got a call from my brother, telling me that my granny phoned and he couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. My uncle had met in an accident on their way back from Durban. What? I asked him, swallowing the lump that had built in my throat the moment he said my granny called him. She tried to call me, but I was in the bathroom. With a racing heart and sweaty palms, I phoned her back. Till this day her voice over the phone haunts me. The urgency with which she willed this dreadful news not to be still claws at my heart and I wish I could make it go away. Even now, after all these months, my arms get goosebumps and my hearts thumps so hard I’m afraid of it bursting out of my chest. She was hysterical. She received a call that my uncle and his family had met in accident on their way home from Durban. She didn’t know if it was true. She didn’t know who to call to find out any news. She was alone. She was afraid. This was her baby boy. My aunty was in Durban, and my own parents were with my unlce’s youngest daughter in Mozambique.

Who do I call? The first person I always call is my mother. But she was across the border and I couldn’t get through. I tried to calm her down. To assure her that everything was going to be okay. But it wasn’t. It would never be the same. I willed myself to be strong for her. My husband made a few calls. I called my Foi. We comforted each other with a sense of hope that everything would be fine. I called my granny back to make sure she was fine. I told her I was on my way to Azaadville. I ran around my house trying to gather children and pack clothes and bottles and socks. I packed socks because Azaadville always got cold at night. I stuffed them into gowns and wrapped them in blankets, and I ran downstairs with a handful of clothes falling all over the place. I ran back upstairs as my husband loaded the sleeping children into the car. I grabbed a bag and stuffed the clothes in. I grabbed another bag and stuffed more things in, I can’t even remember the contents. I almost started crying once, but I willed myself not to.

I finally got through to my mother. They had heard the news, but no one knew anything further. I spoke to my brother. I spoke to my Foi. I spoke to my brother again on the stairs on my way down. Nothing was confirmed but three people were dead.  I sat down in the car and burst into tears. I wanted none of them gone. Was it cruel to hope that the three dead were from another car? My eldest son woke up amid the chaos to ask what was happening. Seeing me in tears, he began crying as well. I knew I had to get a hold of myself. I took a deep breathe and assured him that all was okay. He fell asleep crying in the back seat. My brother called back. The driver of the car was one of three. The passenger. And someone in the backseat. My mind started racing with possibilities. How were they sitting? My uncle!!!!! My mind was screaming and I was trying so very hard not to panic. My granny was alone and she needed me. I whispered prayers. I tried to read Yaseen. I begged Allah to keep them safe. My husband’s uncle called. I can hear his voice as clear as if it was this morning. I can feel the echo of the aftermath as the news sunk in without really hitting me at all. I felt myself slipping away. I handed the phone to my husband. It is confirmed. Aslam, Fatima and Muhammad passed away. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raaji’oon. May Allah grant them Jannatul Firdows. 

 

I relive this night every single day. I accept Allah’s decision to remove these beautiful souls from this darkening world. They are in a better place. It is us who have to live on and try to fill the void. It is his three beautiful, strong daughters who have to go on, every single day in the hopes that they will meet them one day in Jannah. Ameen.

I would like to follow this sad post with the tribute I wrote for my uncle at his memorial, held by his school, Ahmed Timol Secondary.

 

I stand here today with such deep sorrow, my heart is hanging at my feet, for never in a million years would I have dreamt that I have to pay this tribute, and so very soon. My earliest memory of the late Mr. Aslam Khan is of him making me laugh, and my last memory is of him making my own sons laugh. I look back and I can’t think of a single child who has passed by either Aslam, or his wife Fatima, and the child was not drawn to them, or whom they did not share their genuine smiles with. 

My name is Asmaa Khan, and the late Muhammad Aslam Khan was my beloved uncle, my father and my teacher all rolled into one. A heavy task, that only he was able to carry out so honourably. He and his Fatima so generously opened their home to me, He raised me, together with my granny, and guided me as his own daughter for almost 16 years.

You didn’t just teach life science, you taught us life, Sir….

Whatever he did, his mission was to teach through it. Even in the classroom, he never adopted that stern teacher-behind-the-desk-way. He had a way to engage his learners, and put things across in such a manner, that only he could. His teaching style was jovial, though he was stern where he needed to be. 

Let us look back into his life and draw from some of the few lessons he left behind as a legacy. 

Some of you may know that he wasn’t always exactly the ‘model student’ and he never claimed to be. He mentioned it countless times in his many chats to his students. That is why he always included the phrase, “I’m ten steps ahead.” But he was able to turn his life completely around, and use himself unabashedly as an example that there was, and still is hope for those that have slipped through, or are lost and struggling to find direction. From this example, let us take the lesson of hope. Things will turn around, everything gets better, and most importantly, change lies within ourselves. We just have to be willing to admit our mistakes, and be ready to take the first step forward. 

What the right hand gives, the left hand shouldn’t know about. This is another lesson we should draw from Mr. Khan. He gave, even when he had nothing to give. And I am good testament to this statement. There were days when he had no money to fix his cars, but he made sure to drive me to school. There were nights spent in the dark, but neither husband or wife phoned my parents to ask them to collect me because I was an extra mouth to feed. And now, years later, when they had even more, they gave even more, as we are finding out each since their passing on. This wasn’t a mere man. This was a humanitarian and there are no words I have to describe him that will do justice to his qualities.

There are probably a thousand more lessons we could take from the lifestyle he led, but I will leave with one more that is essential in living life. That is passion and dedication. Whatever you do, do it with so much passion that it fills your life with meaning, and as much dedication that you can already envision the end result of 100% perfection and no room for failure. That is why, through Mr. Khan, all those he touched in some way, we are that much better versions of ourselves. Because he was willing to believe in us. He was willing to give us that chance. The isn’t a single teacher who has the passion and dedication to phone the homes of his learners to find out why they were not attending school on that particular day. And drive over if he suspected they were trying to bunk. 

Passion is the powerful force in accomplishing anything you set your mind to, and in experiencing work and life to the fullest extent possible. Ultimately, passion is the driving force behind success and the happiness that allows us to live better lives. And so, when we measure the success of my dear unlce Aslam’s life, we should gauge this success by the amount of lives he touched, and aspire to instil even a percentage of his lifestyle into our own lives. How lucky are we all to have known such a dynamic personality.

Yes! Our family has lost its soul. The community and school has lost a limb, but let this heartbreaking, colossal loss not be in vain. Let us go out there and celebrate his life by trying to emulate the qualities he adopted. 

May Almighty Allah elevate Aslam’s, Fatima’s and sweet Muhammad’s status in Jannah, and may he grant us all the courage to step up and adopt these changes. Ameen.

 

Please remember my family in your duas. Remember my beloved grandmother, my father, my Foi. Remember his three beautiful girls, Sabeeha, Sameera and Yaseera. Pray that one day the pain will subside and Jannah awaits us all, so the link in the broken chain may be mended again ❤

Witness

Fallen leaves are witness to winter’s coming
Steaming roads are witness to summer’s rain
Injured toes are witness to her graceful pivot
Silver streaks are witness to wisdom

Broken dreams…
Shattered souls…
Sunken hearts…
are witness to hope and love and loss

Degrees and diplomas are witness to contentious minds
Scars and bruises are witness to holding on
Yellowing teeth are witness to the puff of nicotine
Messy houses are witness to happy homes
Kind smiles are witness to beauty within

Red carpets…
Standing ovation…
Parents pride…
are witness to dreams come true.

Chapter One: The Past – Part One

They say when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade. Probably to sweeten the bitterness, maybe to cool you off and allow you time to stop and think. Maybe they just say that. I wouldn’t know what to do with lemons, because I was handed beer cans, then mops and finally rose petals to soothe the cuts from the sharp edges of steel and soften the ridges of my palms from harsh detergents.

My story is long, mostly sad. There are only memories that I have left to hold onto. My survival depends on the pleasant reminiscences. I try to shed the terrible memories, but I cannot ultimately evade them. They haunt me in the deep recess of my mind. They taunt my future and question my merit. I needed to break free. Sometimes in life we all feel the need to escape the ugly reality that our lives have become. We may achieve escape upto a certain level, only to eventually come back down to earth and hate our lives more passionately than before. I needed that escape more than anyone, ever before. I needed that escape forever, infinitely and now. Escapism was my fortitude. I learned the art at an early age.

I was six when my father died. Nani told me that he had been wrongfully killed. Revenge on the wrong person. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A case of mistaken identity. They shot him twice in the chest, once in the head. He died immediately. He died a Shaheed – a martyr. How often didn’t I wish for those days when Daddy was alive – happy times. I had prayed many times to Allah to please bring my Daddy back to me. I understood, at the age of six, that the dead could never return, but I continued asking. I pleaded with Him unti my mother married Ritesh, now known as Riaz, because Nani would never allow Mummy to marry someone who wasn’t Muslim. So Ritesh converted to Islam, on the surface only, as we all came to find out too soon. Sweet, caring Ritesh turned into mean, drunk Riaz.

The good picture only lasted a few monts before Riaz started drinking and abusing my mother, insulting and belittling her during every moment his eyes were open. She begged him to stop drinking. She could have left him in those early days, but she chose to stay, igniting my first flikcering flame of hate for the pair. I sometimes wonder now, if my mother had a fear of being alone. Mummy wasn’t a showstopper, but she was pretty in her own way. She always took pride in her appearance and carefully chose her clothes to suit her neat and laidback style. Her dark brown hair was always shining and not a strand was out of place in her twisted bun at the nape of her neck. Maybe you wouldn’t look at her twice, but to me, as any child to it’s mother, she was beautiful.She tried to cover up Riaz’s drinking, but Nani knew, and it wasn’t more than a year after they were married, when one day Nani popped in at home, as grannies do. What she suspected was far better than what she saw that day. Mummys face was a series if colours ranging from black to purple to yellow, and about four times its normal size. Riaz was in the state he usualy was after a session of drinking and beating, sprawled out on the fuzzy brown sofa, mouth wide open, eyes shut. Thankfully, nothing could wake him from his liquor induced slumber. Mummy began desperately trying to hide the beer cans strewn around the lounge. I ussualy shut myself up in the room when several ice cold six packs came out, only to emerge after the screaming and thumping had stopped.

I did try to stop Riaz hitting my mother once. I knew it was a futile gesture; but I would die if it didn’t all stop. One slap from Riaz split my lip. I would’ve probably tried again, but my mother forbade me from inerfering again. “It’s not your business Mumtaz,” she scolded me, and the venom in her voice ket me from ever trying again. As if she was trying to tell me that she had made her bed, now she had to lie in it. Mummy had changed alot, so I couldn’t speak to her as easily as I used to. She would get snappy, and shout at me for no reason. I would retreat into my threadbare bedroom, with its ugly, brown rickety wardrobe, and single wooden bed with the lumpy mattress, and curl up under the duvet.

Nani begged Mummy to leave Riaz no mother could see her daughter suffering so. “He tricked you into this marriage, Yumna. Look at him, he’s Muslim only by name. Al gunnah!” she struck her own head, as if to cleanse all the sins. “Please come home, Yumna.”

Mummy refused. Nani took me with her. “I can’t have our Mumtaz living in this house with all the sin going on. What kind of upbringing will the child have? Her father will be turning in his grave.” And so, from the age of eight, I began living with Nani and Mummy’s sister, Fatima, twenty one years of age and still not married.

Please give me feedback. Chapter One introduces Mumtaz’s past. Let me know if I should make posts longer or shorter. Thanks!

NB: this is all fiction and all part of a made up world with real life problems.We are editing as we go along and there maybe some changes to characters, names etc. please bear with us. (please note we are editing as we go along, so there maybe changes,apologies,  mummy’s husband is now Riaz )