I lost my father to COVID-19 on May 28, 2021. He was the best there ever was, even though I couldn’t see it for a long time.
My Uppa was not a learned man. Not in the formal sense, that is. But he was very open to learning all his life.
My Uppa’s schooling was very limited. He went to school till Class 4 as he had to help earn money for the family. He worked all kinds of odd jobs. I remember Uppa telling me about the days he spent selling ice lollies, the milky ones and the semia ones.
When his hometown didn’t give him any opportunity to better himself, he migrated to the Middle East at a young age. He did many different jobs before he stuck with the one that he had till his demise.
He didn’t have many regrets in his life except for not getting proper education. He knew the doors education could open, the opportunities that only education could bring and the respect that education fetches. He wanted his three daughters to get the best of everything that the world has to offer, and a formal education topped that list.
When I was three – my sisters had not been born by then – I was admitted to one of the best CBSE schools nearby. My Umma still recounts the story of how people, including some relatives, were against that move. But my Uppa was sure, and nothing could change his mind. He wanted to give his daughter the one thing he couldn’t have; the one thing he had pined for.
Though he wanted all of his daughters to get the best education, only his eldest stuck with it. The younger ones were interested in anything but studies. When he spoke of his eldest daughter and her education, his eyes had a different texture, a soft glow – he knew he was not wrong in giving her an education, except at times when her education and his religious beliefs clashed. Then again, he didn’t preach or force – he lived with that fact. He was accepting and loving. Moreover, he was kind.
Though coming from an orthodox Mappila family, he was nothing like the men I know. He was different. He was open to learning and suggestions. Most of all, he was open to life. He was the best partner to my Umma, which she appreciated and was proud of; the best brother to his sisters, which they didn’t appreciate enough; the best uncle to his nieces and nephews, which they were very sure of; and best father to his daughters.
One August evening in 2019, when I blurted out a big fat ‘no’ for marriage, I thought I had lost him forever. But he just said, and I quote, “La Hawla Wala Quwwa Illa Billah (There is no power, not strength except by Allah the Lofty”), a phrase Muslims around the world say when something big happens.
He accepted this fact and moved on. All hopes of nuptial bliss he dreamt for his eldest now shifted to his second. My younger sister was the happiest to oblige. When her wedding was finally fixed, my Uppa was there for her engagement. That was the one day I saw him the happiest, beaming with pride and joy.
When he left home the week after for Abu Dhabi, with plans to return in May for the wedding, nobody knew it would be the last time we would see him. If we had known, we would have had the wedding in February itself, and he wouldn’t have been robbed of seeing his daughter get married.
I would have done anything – namaz, like he wanted me to; recited the Quran; I would have been the daughter he always wanted me to be. I would have talked with him a little more, and I would have hugged him a little longer and a little tighter.
Death has its ways. But so does life.
A year after his death, all of us have moved on with life – not on the inside, but on the outside. On the outside, we live the life that our Uppa wanted us to live. On the inside, we fear forgetting him. We feel guilt over feeling any happiness without him. We cry, we sob, we complain. Most of all, we remember.
Now that he is no more, we all hold on to the little things that he had told us before he took his leave. I make sure my Umma eats and her needs are met, my sisters are happy and at peace; my Ummamma (grandmother) makes sure the stray cat which graces our homestead, which was my Uppa’s favourite, is fed. My brother-in-law is making sure that my sister completes her graduation. My sisters are making sure they live a life our Uppa would have wanted them to live.
And my Umma makes sure my Uppa is not forgotten.
In the 54 years that my Uppa had lived on this earth, he didn’t hurt a fly – neither with his words, nor with his actions. Nobody that knows him has one bad thing to say about him. His kindness knew no bounds. His kindness was not about those grand gestures, but the small, ordinary ones.
Whenever I come across those small acts of kindness in this world, he will be remembered.
Noora Ashraf is an English teacher. A country soul trapped in a city. Lover of beaches and mangoes.