Friday, February 5, 2016

Series 2: “Checkmate” Part 7 Is she my daughter?

When we returned home, Abbu jee was away on a business trip. It took several years for the three of us to be able to finally sit together as a family, even for meals. I had withdrawn inside myself. All the vivacity and all the questions were gone. Life had answered them all.

I got into Northwestern after my senior year and graduated with honours from my high school. If Abba jee was proud, he didn’t say anything. The disappointment I had plated out to him had made all my other accomplishments unpalatable. Ammi jee was happy. She was attempting to move on and I took the hint. A few years after, I left for Chicago. Abbu jee and Ammi jee moved to Los Angeles (LA).

I sighed and got up. It was time for Ali and the kids to come home. I also had to book the tickets to LA. I had delayed it too much already. During all vacations, it seemed as if the entire country just charged towards sunny California. Shamim aunty had called and invited Ali especially. But though he really wanted to go, he told her ruefully, he would not be able to manage. So it would be just the three of us.

That reminded me, I had to talk to ammi jee about Ryna’s dresses for the wedding. She had been browsing through the internet and it was about time we finalised them. She wanted a dress for every one of the four occasions. I went inside. It was time to live the present.

LA was as sunny and warm as ever. Abbu jee had planted a guava, lemon, orange and even kadi patta tree for Ammi jee. Lemon and oranges were the most I could have in Seattle. Guava and Kadi patta were out of the question. Only LA weather made growing these possible. In my opinion, the rain in Seattle was major cause of seasonal depression in a lot of people. Ali could argue with me for hours over this. He refused to understand how the weather could affect moods. For me, at least, rain brought dreariness and the sun always meant cheer.

We had barely arrived home when Ryna started insisting on meeting Annie. I went with her. Her Annie baji (sister) was just as happy to see her. She was always so patient with Ryna and made sure she stayed in touch with her even when we were in Seattle.

“It’s very important for the younger generation to have good mentors,” Annie would tell me.

“I make sure I stay in touch with Ryna because many kids feel a greater kinship with elders other than their own parents. That puts an added responsibility on us.” I agreed with Annie.

Ali was a great fan of Annie too, always admiring the way she handled Ryna. He had also told me once.

“Kids often don’t like to talk to siblings because it’s not the ‘cool’ thing to do. But they accept mentors and mentoring.”

Shamim aunty’s house had all the signs of a traditional, desi marriage home. The great thing about Southern California was the community. You could turn a stone and find ten Muslim families. All increased the fun tremendously on special occasions, especially weddings. There was a dhol sitting right in the middle of the family room. The furniture had been moved to the sides and the dining table was full of both eastern and western mithai and snacks. Aunty was telling me all about the boy when Ryna ran in with a lovely kurta pyjama in yellow and purple contrast. The light dabka embroidery was not too heavy for Ryna’s age and there was even a paranda for her hair. It was aunty’s gift for Ryna.

“Aunty you didn’t have to,” I was quite taken aback.

“Why not Baji,” said Annie, she called me baji. “Ryna is just like my younger sister and Ammi got this made especially on order for her. I know purple is her favourite colour.”

There was no question that Ryna loved it.

“You know Annie,” I said. “Ryna is already making plans to get into a southern California University just so that she can be close to you.”

Shamim aunty laughed. “Then she can baby sit Annie’s kids in the future.”

Ryna was intently focusing on the gulab jamun in her hand,

“Yeah…wouldn’t that be great.”

Shamim aunty might have meant it as a joke, but it certainly had the wheels turning in Ryna’s head!

The wedding was well organised and the mayun and mehndi were more fun than I had remembered. Unless it was someone close to you, any other wedding just meant getting dressed, going to a well decorated banquet hall, eating dinner and returning home. Annie’s wedding however, was a whole different thing and all five of us had a great time.

The nikkah had been in the masjid in the morning, a quiet affair with few people. The grand reception was in the evening. Annie looked lovely in her dark red gharara. Her groom looked dashing in a black sherwani and a red safa. Ryna was quite enamoured by the ‘romance’ of it all.

“This was way better than any western wedding any day,” she announced on our way home from the marriage hall.

“Yes, we’ll make sure we bring you a boy from Pakistan too,” Omer teased her.

“Why do we have to bring one here?” she questioned haughtily. “There are plenty of good American Pakistani boys right here.”

Ammi jee and I raised our eyebrows at each other and laughed. Ryna’s being not averse to the idea of an American Pakistani boy for marriage was indeed a good sign.


His friend consulted him earnestly on every marriage proposal that came for her. She had graduated and though she had plans to go to graduate school, she wasn’t opposed to the idea of marriage at this time. The latest boy was most appealing and they knew the family well too. The boy’s younger sister was her classmate in college so she had also met the boy on numerous occasions. There was little reason to refuse.

“I want you to sign as her wali on the nikkahnama,” his friend had said.

But he was very apprehensive. He didn’t want his name coming into any of her legal documents.

“But she thinks very highly of you,” his friend persuaded.

“And she doesn’t have to know you’re related. You can be a wali on account of being a greatly respected family friend.”

The decision was made. His name appeared on the marriage contract. He may not have been the ‘visible’ person in her life, but he was certainly a reality on her nikkahnama. After the marriage, he strangely felt as if a huge responsibility had been lifted off his shoulders. ‘Just as a father would feel’ he thought to himself.


A couple of days later, I was looking for stamps and an envelope in Abba jee’s antique roll-top desk. He always had it very well organised with all paperwork in its right slots. Now the top was rolled up, a sign that he was in the process of putting things away.

As I looked for the stamps, the paper lying on the very top caught my eye. It was a copy of Annie’s nikkahnama. The kids had taken him with them so suddenly that he probably just left it there in a hurry. I picked it up absentmindedly, affectionately remembering how sweet she had looked on her wedding day. I casually skimmed through the document.

And then I felt like the entire house had come crashing down on my head. I couldn’t breathe. I stumbled into the easy chair lying next to the table. I read it again, incredulously, disbelieving. Though the words were as clear as the bright sunlight streaming through the window, my mind vehemently refused to acknowledge them. What was Usman Khan’s name doing on such an important document as Annie’s marriage certificate?

from The Express Tribune Blog

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