It was very hard for me and took so long to finally find a closure – you’re actually gone and no more? but how can that be? my mind simply wouldn’t process it. His long absences had conditioned me to accept the vacuum, but he’d always return to reclaim it. Till very recently, in my mind I’d still get excited to tell him of a new development, or restless to seek solace at a bad turn of events, only for the glaring reality to set in. Finally, I learnt to let go and reconcile. I was not just moving on but doing it with a renewed vigour and promise. I didn’t want to merely mourn your loss but celebrate your life and the tall order you leave behind. I Know this is what you’d want of me and expect of me. Forever a fighter that’s what you instilled in me – to bounce back after each adversity, get up with every fall.
It was you who had given me the strength to want to spread my wings and map my own journey. You gave me the vision to stand out, better stand up. In a deeply patriarchal society you took pride in me and my abilities no matter how slight the achievement or trivial the successes. Always the crusader, you never ceased to shun the traditionalist proposing a “real” heir or the perceived validation that came with fathering a male child – You were way above all that. With the entrusted liberty, however came a sense of responsibility, dignity and conformity that you so painstakingly endeavoured to imbue in me. Conformity not to the regressive diktats of society but to the divine values of our religion, evolved ethos of our culture and the revered precedents of our tradition. You were careful to strike this delicate balance, so often missed by so many, while treading this less charted territory.
Me, I always looked up to you, wanting to measure up to you. This was not just something that came naturally to me as a daughter but was earned by you – how enriching is that for a child! As I saw you toil and sweat giving the best you had to a conviction you believed in and lived by – I could never feel prouder. In extension, it also gave me a sense of purpose and destiny and the desire to be part of something much greater, more sacrosanct and far beyond just myself. Looking back, I couldn’t be more thankful for the towering examples you set, both morally and intellectually. The fact that I was provided a practicable blueprint for achieving something much greater and more powerful in life – there couldn’t be anything more inspiring and empowering.
I too endeavoured to live up to your expectations and prove every bit I was worthy of the trust and confidence you vested in me. Very early on, I had realised your self-respect and credibility being your prized possessions – your only possessions actually and always remained conscious of guarding and upholding them. While mostly I succeeded – there could be nothing more rewarding than that beaming smile and the faint twinkle in your eye; there were times I failed. As I stood there on the campaign podium that bright winter afternoon, everything inside me however went dark, as if the very light of my soul had been blown out. My heart sank and my body trembled as the news of the campaign’s impact on my father trickled in – how brutally it was used to tarnish him, break him, not by men of standing but minions of mischief and malice who lacking character of their own revelled in pulling others down, but God has his own ways and his own devices – “Oh Allah You honour whom you will and humble whom you will” Surah Al Imran – Ayah 26.
Overcoming weaker moments of doubt and dithering I finally collected myself, got back up and continued what I had set out to do. This was not just about a mere election or an Assembly seat for my husband (I always thought he was much beyond that) but his credibility and integrity, his pride as a person, a stakeholder, his political legacy, his political aspirations for his people, himself – everything he had ever vied for, believed in was at stake, on the line; more so given the vicious speculation surrounding his campaign, the calculated narrative writing him off and the petty machinations devising his defeat by both friends and foes alike – I couldn’t just stand by and see him being taken down, more so as the malice was driven not so much by ideological conflict but the political rivalry and insecurity he embodied. He may have changed course but the ultimate destination remained the same – the empowerment of his people, (as clichéd as it sounds). He wanted to let loose from a system where he had to be a hapless spectator, at times (reluctant) abettor to a space where he could practically make a difference, beyond just the rhetoric. While bereft of the halo of popular sentiment he had the strength of his instincts and intentions.
Under attack from all sides, all camps, I had to stand by husband’s side and rise to the occasion – it was an obligation conferred on me by my religion, my society and so rise I did as I campaigned relentlessly for his dignity, his honour and his pride – for me it was never about an Assembly seat. The resilience that you imbued in me Abbu was what kept me going, kept my sanity. The exercise however left me drained, not so much physically but emotionally due to the pain it had caused not just you but the way it had torn me apart, left me unassured and insecure of my own self, there was but a silver lining. After years of censuring you, your image, your very existence (by India, Pakistan and shamelessly within Kashmir itself!) I was able in a way to revive your name, your identity, your brand more forcefully once again in the land you had long left behind – Kupwara. I was welcomed with open arms and genuine hearts and I’m sure reminded so many of you, rekindling so much about you. Therein lay my consolation of sorts and my vindication too.
These were extraordinary times Abbu, extracting an equally extraordinary response – for this one moment my obligation towards my husband somewhere outstripped that towards my father. For me it was not about my husband’s success but his redemption – fighting the many demons both within and around us. He would’ve made it anyways with or without my support but I stand content and exalted for having played my part and left my mark. I also hold great pride in the fact that my husband is today one of the most scrupulously honest and performing functionaries in the present government and trying his best to deliver in his given role. I strongly believe as a people having suffered great grief and destruction each one of us need to play our part in every way and walk of life, we can no longer afford to compartmentalise our obligations nor outsource our duties to a select few – whichever camp. This nation needs rebuilding, its best to come forward and deliver. It needs a concerted effort and combined agency. It also needs responsibility and accountability. As an individual I may not agree with everything but I deeply respect my husband for his transparency, passion and above all lack of duality – an attribute that comes very rare in the political landscape of today.
I must confess though, there were times Abbu when I resented your commitment, your time, your energies towards your cause, utterly detesting the small typewriter that had become your soulmate – something that should’ve been my domain. All those times our plans were cut short or upended due to visitors from Kashmir – especially when I was younger becoming more conditioned to it as I grew older. Your long absences as you toured half way around the globe disseminating, raising, igniting the Kashmir Issue – this when most of the Valley was yet in deep slumber. Those missed birthdays, empty chairs in school plays, skipped events. I felt especially let down when I spoke to you about my higher studies abroad, pat coming the reply “that’s great, now start looking for scholarships!” – it only pushed me to strive further eventually getting into one of the finest seats of learning world over. It was years later I realised the sense of dignity, self-respect and self-sufficiency that had warranted that response, never the one to ask for undue favours lest they lead to undue compromises in return – each day you give me a reason to love you more, respect you more. It was however in your passing away that I realised the fruits of your labour – the unprecedented send off, the never before mourning that was observed in all three parts of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, the exalted recognition – the Kashmiri nation had truly paid its tribute and risen to the occasion. However, you too gave them ample reason to do so not just in your life but also in your death. Your will identifying Gilgit as your final resting place was not by coincidence but by conscious design (in opposition to the majority opinion of your organisation which had preferred Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK). This was to be your final feat, your parting gift in a farsighted bid to unite spiritually if not physically the erstwhile regions of Jammu & Kashmir – The Masterstoke of a pioneering Ideologue erecting his lasting legacy. A link which had long and deliberately been snapped was revived as many people from Azad Kashmir continue to visit Gilgit to pay their respects to the final abode of my father and in the process explore new bonds while reviving old connections, as graciously did Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan Sahab, President Muslim Conference and former Prime Minister of AJK, who remained by my father’s side during the latter’s last journey along the treacherous slopes of the Karakoram Ranges – displaying the high moral bearing and grooming imparted to him by his own great father (We had refused the official helicopter offered by the government as it would’ve contradicted all that my father ever stood for!). My brother-in-law Bilal Lone Sahab too had travelled all the way from the Kashmir Valley to Gilgit despite many difficulties, validating my father’s vision of converging all representatives of Kashmir in one place as one entity!
As I wind up this piece, which I didn’t realise periodically lapsed into a monologue with my father, I end with a little prayer and greater hope that I am able to live up to the expectations my father had of me and the principles he tried his best to imbue in me. I have always tried my best to do just that, following my instinct and my conscience to the best of my abilities. I will continue to stand up for what I believe in and espouse what I am touched by. Having no strings attached I’m afforded a free spirit of my own account, my own will and more importantly my own terms – Just like my father.
Finally, am I able to came to terms with the exacting reality that my Abbu is no more – making a forced peace with the unimaginable yet the ordained. My sense of betrayal and loss however continue, as do my longing for your tender touch and that reassuring soft smile. I miss those radiant eyes that evinced a million tales or the curated words that conveyed so much beyond what was spoken. Those long hours of silent togetherness or those charged moments of intellectual stimulus, the high bars you’d set for me, the moral challenges you’d throw at me, the intricate philosophies you’d introduce to me – So perfect, so fulsome. I miss everything.