I remember the last time we spoke on a call while you were in the ICU in isolation surrounded by Hazmat suits, I assured you that I was watering all your plants on the rooftop and that you’d come back home soon. It was very kind of that junior doctor to call all the families from the covid ward. I never knew that it would be our last conversation. Your plants miss you; some rose plants even refuse to give flowers anymore. There is not one rose cutting or Sadaa Bahar that doesn’t remind me of you. I had been told that ‘Sadaa Bahar’ means ‘forever blooming’, but it doesn’t feel like that anymore.
In December it will be two years without you and so much has changed since then. I’m still in denial and cannot process that even your favourite daughter Bacchi Khala left us to join you in the garden you are in and with that I lost two of my most favourite people. Chachajaan said this to Abba at the time of your passing, Jab hamari ammi ka inteqaal hua tha toh meray ek dost ney pursey ka khat likha tha, usmey shuru mey ek sher likha tha jiska mai misra-e-oola toh bhool gaya hun par misra-e-saani yaad hai- ‘Waqt ke marham se hoti hai shifa’. Toh maine iske jawaab mey bas ek sher likha tha woh tumse share kar raha hun, ‘Waqt har zakhm ka marham to nahi ban sakta, dard kuch hotey hain taa umar rulaane waale’.
Our Chamanganj is very different now. There are so many old beautiful buildings that are gone and so many new ugly ones that have replaced them. The one in front of ours blocks the road and even the light now. I remember that you used to stand in the balcony to listen to Jumma prayers but now they have removed the loudspeakers and won’t even let us pray outside or in the park. You’d be so angry and sad to see what they have been doing here. I regularly receive news of the presence of bulldozers entering our neighbourhood. It would have broken your heart to see how they picked some of the people we know just because they were protesting against this systematic oppression. It’s so ironic that our area is called Chamanganj but there’s nothing left which is close to a Chaman, a beautiful garden. I find it hard to go back home now and I can’t imagine how Amma and Abba continue to live there. Maybe it’s because so many people from the neighbourhood and even strangers come looking for you every Eid and Bakr-Eid. They say that they miss you.
Amma still finds it funny that when you were with us you were so brave yet scared of the outside world. You were always worried about me being away from home. I get to travel a lot to new places now because of the nature of my work. Last year, I moved to Goa. It’s so different from Chamanganj. I am surrounded by trees and birds. There aren’t so many people though. There's a river that passes through the village where I am and it often makes me think of the Ganges by Kanpur. But I struggle with remembering the details and I wonder if it is because we had always been kept so cut off from it. I wish I could make you experience the trees, the people, the smell and sounds here that we would often talk about from afar. The red earth reminds me of your hands and nails that would always be stained with Mehendi. The plants are just like at home, only bigger and wilder. Yeh jahan ghar jaisa lagta hai. I don’t know how to really explain it. Maybe leaving Kanpur gave me the freedom that I didn’t know before. Maybe I’m starting to learn that home is not rooted to a place but a connection. Maybe that’s why I sometimes imagine you here still by my side as I walk along the river in that last lonely light of the day, you complaining about your diabetes and cravings for your favorite sweets.
Thank you for raising me and taking care of me when amma had to go for her work. Thank you for making me try all kinds of fruits from Jamun to Shehtoot to Faalsey. Most of my friends here in big cities don’t even know that these fruits exist. If you ask my close ones here they would tell you that I’m always quoting you and telling them all the plants and animals facts that you told me while growing up. I wish you had gotten to know them. I even made them try some of your recipes, but it doesn't taste the same when I make it. Thank you for making me fall in love with plants. I sometimes steal cuttings and bring them back home. I remember once when you had a fracture and you couldn’t climb to the Chhath to water the plants, you were scolding mother for not taking care of your plants. You said this line, Ghar ke pedon se insaan ki shaksiyat pata chalti hai. It has stayed with me and even now I look for how people treat their plants. I hope you are watching me. I wish you were here so that one day I could make a garden with all your favourite plants and the naayab ones that you have never seen. I hope you are living this through me. Miss you always!
“Jahan” is now showing as a part of “Growing Like a Tree: Sent a Letter” at Sunapranta, Goa until 15th May, 2023 in association with Ishara Arts Foundation, Dubai. Curated by Sadia Marium and Bunu Dhungana, exhibition design by Sohrab Hura
image credits: sohrab hura