Khala Jan - (Aunty)

One evening Asghar danced into Arif's apartment unexpectedly while he was sitting at the table translating Kafka's "Letter to His Father" into Urdu and shared the good news. "The wait is over. Mom got her visa after eighteen months of hassles and she is arriving in Toronto next month." He was in a euphoric mood. "Congratulations," Arif said with a touch of cynicism. "Finally I will get a chance to meet Khala Jan." "Why are you being so sarcastic? Why don't you want me to invite my mom to Canada?" "Because she does not want to come here. It is you who is pushing her." Arif closed his notebook and got up. "Have a seat. Sit down. Let me make a cup of tea for both of us and then we will have a serious dialogue." Arif and Asghar in spite of their different philosophies and lifestyles had been good friends for years. They were both writers and had worked on numerous literary projects together. They were genuine and sincere with each other. They were so close that they could openly disagree and argue for hours and still shake hands and embrace each other at the end of the evening. One of the topics they never saw eye to eye on was the institution of family. Asghar considered it sacred while Arif called it neurotic. Arif believed that it was hell for anyone to live with people he didn't like. And that difference was always highlighted whenever they talked about their mothers. While sipping tea the discussion started where they had left it. Asghar said, "After my father's death mom has been living alone." "But that is her own choice. Her daughter invited her to live with her family but she turned the offer down. She loves living alone." "You know Asian mothers belong with their sons, not daughters. That's why I always suggested you should invite your mom to Canada." "Why should I?" Arif was abrupt. "Because she is your mother and she wants to live with you rather than your father." "I don't think choosing to live with one's son rather than one's husband is a healthy choice." "But she has a right to make it." "But I don't want to be a part of it. We are not suited for each other. We drive each other crazy. She leads an unhappy and miserable life." "She is miserable because she does not see her only son for years and her own kin don't appreciate her despair." "She might feel better if she lived with you for a couple of years." "On the contrary, I think she would get worse. Can you imagine her coming here and seeing her son drink wine, eat pork, go out with a white woman, not pray even on Fridays and Eids and not fast in the month of Ramadan. I think she would have a heart attack like my aunt did who came to see her son in California." "I am sure you can make some sacrifices for your mom the way she made sacrifices all her life for you." "You don't know my mom. She is a travel agent for guilt trips. Don't you think, Asghar, that the whole situation is ironic?" "What situation?" "That you want your mom to come to Canada and she doesn't want to and it is the other way around in my case." "And what do you think is the reason behind that?" "I think it is because my mother is desperately lonely with no friends and no hobbies while your mom leads an active social life. She is happy with her neighbours and friends." "But they are not her family. Over here she will be with her own son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren." "She will be completely lost here. Like a fish out of water. She does not speak English and her grandchildren don't speak Urdu. By the way, did you buy a return ticket?" "No, one way." "Why is that?" "She is coming here for good — as a landed immigrant." "What if she doesn't like it here?" "She has to." "You can't force people to like things. What about her house she is living in?" "I asked her to sell it. She has to burn all her boats." "It's not that easy at that age." "What do you mean by that?" "My friend's father cane to New York in his old age. He felt so lonely he got depressed. He needed to be hospitalized for a few weeks. Transplanting an old tree into a foreign soil is not easy." "I think it is a matter of will power." After tea when Asghar left, Arif noted the day and the time for Khala Jan's flight in his diary. ~ * ~ The day Khala Jan arrived Arif joined Asghar, his wife Shazia and children Saleema and Yasir at the airport. When Khala Jan came out of the terminal, in spite of the long flight she was pleasant and cheerful. She looked younger than her age in her beautiful, colourful Sari. She hugged Asghar and his family and kissed Arif on his forehead. During the drive home she told Arif that she had gone to see his mom in Lahore before she came to Canada. "Your mom misses you a lot. She cried the whole time she talked about you. She wished she could have come with me." Arif remained quiet. He did not want to get Khala Jan involved in his conflicts with his mom. After a couple of times when Khala Jan talked to her grandchildren in Urdu and they responded in English, Khala Jan asked Shazia,"How come your children don't speak Urdu?" "They understand Urdu but choose not to respond in it," Shazia said apologetically. "What do you mean they choose not to?" Khala Jan sounded disappointed. "It is only possible if you choose to speak English with them. Now they can't even talk to their grandmother." Then she looked at Asghar and said in an angry tone, "Son! Do you expect me to learn English at my age when all my hair is grey?" There was dead silence in the car for the longest time. Arif could see that Khala Jan was not a meek and mild grandma. She had a mind of her own and she knew how to express her feelings. He could sense what was to come in the next few weeks and months. To change the mood Arif said, "Khala Jan! Asghar told me that you are an excellent cook and baker." "What else are Asian women good in? If they don't know how to cook they are sent back home by their mothers-in-law. Their mothers tell them that the way to get to their husbands' hearts is through their stomachs." "I love halva." "After I get over my jet lag I will make a special halva for you." "That will be nice." After Arif went home that evening he decided not to go and see Khala Jan for a couple of weeks. He did not want to get involved in their family politics. Finally one evening when he went to see her he was surprised to find her in bed. She was complaining of migraine headaches. When she came to the living room she was angry with Arif and she did not hide it. "Asghar told me that you are his best friend and you did not come to see me for two weeks. You did not even call. I feel as if I am in a solitary confinement in a foreign country. There is nobody here to talk to. Asghar and Shazia go to work and the children to school. I don't understand TV shows. In spite of my poor eyesight I can see that they are obscene and vulgar. I can't even talk to my grandchildren. They even make fun of me." While talking to Khala Jan, Arif found out that a major conflict had already developed in the family. One evening when Khala Jan wanted to watch the only religious program in Urdu and Yasir wanted to watch a Disney movie, Khala Jan had snatched the remote control and changed the channel. Yasir left the room saying "Grandma! You hurt my feelings." Khala Jan was offended and felt that Yasir was ill-mannered while his mom felt that she was insensitive. Arif listened to Khala Jan and tried his best to be neutral. He was supportive but non-committal. Khala Jan liked Arif probably because he was the only person to whom she could vent her feelings in Urdu. Arif was a good listener. Every time Arif came for a visit Khala Jan made special halva, zarda or some other special dish for him. A few weeks later, Arif took Khala Jan for a drive to show her the countryside. That afternoon Khala Jan had a lot to say. She told Arif, "I am really disappointed in Asghar and Shazia. They are not teaching their children any Eastern traditions or Islamic values. I am afraid they will turn out to be Canadian." "Can I ask you something?" Arif said in a mischievous way. He knew he could take liberties with Khala Jan because she liked him. "Go ahead. I know you are a devil, a Shaitan." "What's wrong with those children becoming Canadians? After all they were born in Canada." "They will become kafirs. They have not read Quran or Hadees. Whenever I try to teach them their father pleads on their behalf and lets them free to play. He is more concerned about their piano lessons than prayers." "What is your biggest concern, Khala Jan?" Arif wanted to get to the bottom of the problem. "I am afraid my granddaughter might marry a non-Muslim one day. That will ruin our future generations." "You don't want her to marry one even if he is a caring and a kind man." "Arif! You are like my son. Let me tell you one thing. The most important thing in a Muslim's life is her Iman, her Faith. Once she loses that she loses everything." That evening when Arif dropped off Khala Jan at the house, he knew that she would not stay there for very long. One day Arif went to see Khala Jan on his lunch break. She was sitting next to the window crying. "Are you okay?" Arif was concerned. He knew she was home alone. "I have been sitting in the window for the last two hours. I haven't seen a single bird, animal or human being. It is a dead and cold society. I can't live here." When Arif asked Khala Jan what her lifestyle was like in Pakistan, she told him that she was a popular and respected member of the community. She knew a lot about herbs so people came to her with their minor ailments and she gave them herbal medicine. She was also invited by her friends to weddings and funerals and she joined her neighbours in Eid, Basant and other ceremonies. She knew most of the young men and women in the community so she also helped in arranging marriages. Although she lived alone, she was rarely alone. Either she was visiting her neighbours and friends or they were visiting her. She led an active and rewarding life. She told Arif that in Pakistan she felt she was somebody but in Canada she had been feeling she was nobody. Khala Jan became increasingly dissatisfied. The more Asghar and Shazia pressured her to stay, the more she insisted on going back. Finally there was a big confrontation between Asghar and Khala Jan. Asghar confronted his mom. "Amma Jan! You did not give us and Canada a chance. Don't you realize that you belong with your family? You belong here. You belong with us." "My son!" she was angry that evening. "Enough of this nonsense. I don't belong in Canada. You belong in Pakistan. I don't have to live with you. You have to live with your mother and your motherland. You are a traitor. The country that fed you, looked after you, educated you, you left her for your selfish reasons. Why don't you pack up your bags and come with me? There are lots of jobs in Pakistan. But if you want to be disloyal, don't force it on me. I have a few more years to live. I will live with my daughter. She will look after me better than you would ever do. At least in her home I can see my grandchildren praying and reading Holy Quran. If I die there at least someone will come to my grave to pay respect and read Fatiha." The tension in Asghar's house escalated. One day when he went to see Arif he had tears in his eyes. "What happened?" "Shazia left with the children." "What was the last straw?" "They all went to the Zoo. They had packed a picnic lunch with them but the children insisted on eating a Big Mac at McDonalds. Shazia agreed but mom created a stink insisting that Shazia listened to mom but the children cried all the way home. They told their grandma "Why don't you go back home? We were happy before you came along. You have made our life hell." Shazia dropped mom at home and went to her own mom with the kids. When I called she told me that she wasn't going to come back home as long as my mom was there." Arif called his travel agent friend that night and made reservations for Khala Jan to go back to Pakistan. When Arif and Asghar dropped her at the airport, she hugged Arif and said, "I wish I had never come." "Khala Jan! Can I make a last request."Arif was mischievous again. "What is it this time?" "Please visit my mom when you get back and ask her if she still wishes she could have come with you." "You are a real devil, a Shaitan." She smiled even as she was crying. While Arif and Asghar were driving back from the airport Asghar was quiet. He looked sad. When Arif drooped Asghar at his lonely house he gave him an affectionate hug. He had tears in his eyes too.