My Nana, the Lawyer
He asks me my name. I tell him. It’s not as if he forgets, it is just that he never bothered to remember. Committing the names of his nine children’s offspring is understandably a tedious task.
“Tell me about Sirhind, nana,” I ask.
He smiles, a maze of crow’s feet forming at the edge of his cataract-inflicted eyes.
“I went there last night.”
My nana’s ‘dreams’ take him to Sirhind Shareef, a place he calls home. Sirhind (the popular name of Fatehgarh Sahib), where there is a shrine of Shaikh Ahmad Mujaddid Alf-i-Sani, was situated in Patiala state, a ...view middle of the document...
Nana detects my skepticism and remarks, “Irrationality is no criteria to separate truth from lie.”
I am effectively admonished.
A Muslim tailor taught nana’s father, Chaudhry Ghulaam Rasool, to sew and he opened a separate shop for that purpose. He also used to take a buffalo to graze in a garden called Aam Khaas and the milk, yoghurt and ghee was sold for Rs.1, which fetched my great-grandfather a coin of silver weighing one tola. He also purchased one shop exclusively in his own name. It was shared by his two brothers, Chaudhry Ghulam Nabi and Chaudhry Ghulam Hassan. The shop was located in Sirhind mandi, the bustling market place of the region. Ghulam Rasool also started a business selling tobacco and cigarettes, taking some Hindus as partners in the venture.
His Hindu partners often invited nana for dinner, preparing loaves with ghee that nana enjoyed. A slave of habit, he went there every day. Once, however, he left late and was greeted by an orange sunset, a time that signaled the end of all commercial activity in those times. Nana couldn’t go back as his house was two and a half miles away. So he sat in the veranda near the floor of the shop and without realizing it, went to sleep. His father, on the other hand, was fraught with worry. He led a search party and checked every place his beloved Bashir ever went to. His last destination was the Hindus’ shop. With sticks in one hand and lanterns in the other, the group approached a sleeping Bashir with a snake looking over him. They argued over what course of action to take and finally tried to intimidate the snake with the light of the lantern. The snake calmly slid away, leaving nana unharmed.
Nana answers my unasked question, “The snake was protecting me, Mariam.”
“Maham”, I correct him.
I do not argue with him because I know there is truth in his words. I feel as if there has always been someone around to look after nana, and that God has always been kind to him. Even when things do not fare well, they invariably change for the better. I cannot explain it with reason or logic or rationality, but luck has always sided with nana.
In Sirhind, there was not a single Shia but the Sunnis used to take out processions during Muharram as well. There was a route prescribed by the government but once the people decided to divert from the path a little, as they saw not harm in it. A Sikh police officer wanted to stop them but Ghulam Rasool slapped him in retaliation. Surprisingly and, might I add, thankfully, there was no retribution from the Sikh’s side and he apologized for offending the Muslims’ religious sentiments.
Nana was in the 8th grade when the partition of Punjab took place and he, along with his family, came to Pakistan on a train. Nana came in the women’s compartment with his mother, Omari, as he was young. The other women did object to the arrangement but my great-grandmother held firm. On the way, a large group of Sikhs stopped the train and started hitting...