By Dr. Nasir Gondal, New York
My father, Chaudhry Mohammad Aslam, would have been hundred years old today. Born on the day after Armistice, he grew up in British India, got married on the first anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, lived almost all his life in Punjab and died in New York two days after his 74’s birthday.
Much of his life amazes me; he is my example of simple and contended living.
He lived an ordinary life. He was youngest of three boys. His father was the first to leave the village, matriculate and get employed in Army Medical Corps. Hailing from Dhok Mohka (short of Mohkumdin), a hamlet south of Rohtas Fort in District Jhelum, he spent most of his professional life in Rawalpindi and Murree. My father’s childhood was spent in those cities. He grew up in Committee Chowk on the Murree Road.
His elder brothers went on to get Masters in their respective fields and retired at the peak of their professions. In this upwardly mobile family, my father was not an ambitious man at all. He studied in Denny’s School and Gordon College, and then is Islamia College Lahore for a short time, he got a job in Military Accounts after he graduated.
He felt happy doing routine office work, and not compelled enough to move up the ladder. He preferred to live in small towns and felt uncomfortable when he was posted for some time in the metropolis city of Karachi. He appealed to be moved back to small town.
He had simple pleasures. He liked to read and visit places. He had been to every shrine I could think of: from Bari Imam to Zinda Pir ( Ghamkol Sharif) to Bahishti Darwaza in Pakpattan. He had been to Qadyaan a few times. He enjoyed the melas (Fairs) and political gatherings. He had been in Lahore on the day of Lahore Resolution.
He was a modern man, in many ways. His wife, my mother, was the first one in his family not to cover her head. He took his daughters to watch movies in the cinema houses. Every summer night, he took all the family out for a walk after dinner. He sent his daughters to boarding house at age 15 to Frontier College Peshawar, one after the other, as there was no college in Kohat at that time.
And yes, all this was not in a big city. It is about Kohat in the then North West Frontier Province, in sixties.
In other ways he was very traditional. He kept his fatherly distance almost all his life. It was only in the last few years of his life, here in the USA, that I could talk to him freely on many things; still many, not most. Even at age 70, he would show deference to his elder brother, who was a heavy smoker, and extinguish the lighted cigarette before facing him.
He always had company, they were mostly entertained at our home. But later in life, when he was living a retired life, he was okay to be alone and spend time reading and watching TV. He enjoyed company but was also happy being alone.
Nothing seemed to bother him. He handled many tough situations without others around him being aware of them. He handled indiscretions on my part with grace. On some, he did not let me know what he had to suffer due to my doings. I came to know much later of them.
A product of his time, he was not expressive in his emotions. It showed in his actions. When my mother Maqbool Fatima got sick, and she got increasingly debilitated for the last ten years of her life, my father took care of her as her first and foremost attendant. He made her breakfast, served her tea at her prayer station, gave her medications and when she had extended hospital stays, he stayed with her day and night.
He lived on for five years after my mother passed away.
With my mother, he raised five children, with modest means, and we could not have wished for a better childhood.
Through three daughters and two sons, Fozia, Farida, Bushra, Mubashir and I, my parents have 12 grandkids and four greatgrands.
My sisters are the luckier ones to know the parents more. My eldest sister Fozia, has been like a third parent to all of us and helped my parents raise the rest of us. My middle sister, Farida, had the privilege to take care of them after they moved to the USA; and the youngest, Bushra, took care of them when they were in Pakistan.
My brother Mubashir and I did not have chance to do our share in taking care of them. They both were in a hurry to leave.
Five years back, at this time, a few lines poured out of my keyboard. I end with them.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
The more I grow older the more I realize what a guy he was.
Carefree, funny, witty, caring, sensitive and honest.
He was unable to achieve many worldly goals.
In fact he settled for a lot less than what was expected of him by his family.
He was content with what he had.
What he did not have did not seem to bother him.
Always managed to bring some fruit on daily basis on his way home.
We always had sweets at home.
Perhaps that is why mother always thought he had more than he actually had.
When mother got sick, he took care of her for a long time, assisting her in all activities of daily life.
She perhaps did not know that he was not that well either.
He never let me know what problems and humiliation he had to go for me for my issues with the authorities.
He made sure all of us siblings knew if either of us were unaware of the expectation of the others.
Worked behind the scenes to keep us together.
He was a good man.
Wish I had known him more when he was around.
I miss you Abbaji.