Dear Father and Mother,
Once again the autumnal winds of October sing in the dusky hour of the day.
Once again, the leaves fall.
Once again, the winds blow through the spaces of the ancestral cemetery where you have lain for ages, in monsoon rain, in scorching summer.
It was an October twenty eight years ago when you took leave of the world. You did not take leave of us, though, for you have, even in the silence which comes with mortality, stayed with us. We see you every evening, waiting for your children --- the five of us --- at the gate, tired and yet with your eyes gleaming in expectation of union. Your children are adults now, but they are still your babies. They come home to you. Home is where you are.
It was another October when you took to the trail Father blazed fourteen years before you decided to join him. You are with him, giving him the company and the courage to face the world through the long seasons of hope and despair. On the night he closed his eyes on the world --- it is strange to think --- isn’t it? --- that when it came time for you to go, it was again the nocturnal hour --- you sat on the prayer mat. And you wept copiously. We did not know how to console you. We waited, as your tears flowed for the dear husband you had just lost.
Dear Father and Mother,
Yes, you have remained with us all these years despite the cycle of life and death taking you away from the world you fashioned for us. How can you not? We have not forgotten the bitter snow-driven winters when the two of you, despite the travails visited upon you, made sure home was a warm celebration of life. The sacks of coal for the fireplace, the jerseys and blazers and trousers you brought home from the tailors in Quetta are gold-dipped memories which pull us back to those days of innocence. We know now how lost we are without you. The woods are thick and dark.
Dearest of parents,
We remain young. We are your children who bury their faces in the warmth of your being in their waking dreams, in the reassurance which wafts forth from the familiarity they have always known. Even so, will it surprise you to know that in the years since we left you alone and asleep in that new world which God fashioned for you in those long-lost and yet close-to-home Octobers, we --- your sole daughter and four sons --- have aged in unmistakable ways?
Fayek, the chirpy son who many moons ago hung on to you, demanding that he be admitted to school, is now a serious man sharing life with his wife Zinat in distant America. They arise at dawn to the songs of birds in summer, to the soft falling of snow deep in winter. Life is hard, but its beauty for them remains.
Shopan, the baby you loved to bits in his baby era, today has a soulmate in Bithi. The pain of losing you is deep in him; and it is pain he bears on his own, in silence. He and Bithi are parents of the precious twins Shahan and Suhani, the brilliant lamp glow in their lives.
Baby, the girl you held close to your bosom, for she is your only daughter and whose well-being was your endless prayer, today dreams of seeing her daughter, the beautiful Binita, the first grandchild in the family, finish her education, marry and settle down in life.
Nadeem, your youngest child, still the baby of the family, has given us reason for happiness by marrying the pretty Disha. They inhabit two geographically disparate parts of the globe but will be together sooner than you can imagine. We know they have your and Father’s blessings, carried by the wind blowing in from the other world.
Tareq, the eldest of your children, lives life in his own fashion. Zakia, your eldest daughter-in-law, as settled in London, as you know but Father doesn’t. Your son spends time with her and with his siblings. He ages, naturally and without complaint, as does your daughter-in-law.
Do you remember the times when you bought all those new, fresh-smelling textbooks for us every year when we went to new classes in school? Finance was a difficult proposition for you and Mother, but that did not hold you back from giving us education at the best schools in town. We recall those eyes of yours shining in pride as you told your friends that your boys studied at St. Francis Grammar School and your girl went to St. Joseph’s Convent School.
Do you remember, Father --- we do --- how the sounds of your footsteps at the gate signalled your coming home at the end of the day, sounds which made us rush to finish our homework? You sat before us, reading the day’s newspaper, and of course making sure that each one of us had finished the homework and was ready to pack the schoolbags for the next day.
Do you recall how we nearly lost you, thought you were about to die because of that weak heart in you? You were a young, beautiful woman when you married Father. Then there was a time when recurrent illness pushed you into hospitals. You went through chicken pox and then through typhoid. And then came that weakening of the heart. We prayed to God, begging Him with folded hands not to take you away from us. He listened to us. You stayed, until that October night.
Every day, until you came home from your workplace, we worried to no end. We waited at the door for you, praying that nothing bad had happened to you, that you were alive. You worked late in the office and then went buying groceries for the home before coming back to us. Within that gap of time, we went through some of our worst nightmares. If you died, we asked ourselves, who would take care of us? How would Mother keep the family together? And then you came home, your arms laden with biscuits and fruit. We cried for joy. You were alive and well, and remained so, until the night the angels came and took you back to your Creator.
Dearest of parents,
Do you remember the day life brought you together in a little village called Demra on the banks of the Sitalakhya? The birds crooned at dawn to celebrate you. In the deepening hours of the night, the crickets sang their limitless songs.
A couple of days later, in your new avatar as husband and wife, you sailed down the Sitalakhya, all the way to Ghorashal to catch a bus for another little village named Noagaon deep in Araihazar. The groom was taking his bride to her new home.
It was October when you decided to tie the knot. It would be October, years down the road, when the earth would claim you.
Dear Mother, dear Father,
We your children pray every single day for you, for the strength and forbearance in you to be transmitted to us as we go through life.
You were scrupulously honest and we have never let you down, for we have stayed away from committing any wrong. You were our parents. You were much more. You were our teachers, telling us that life never lets one down if one stays true to its nobility.
The stars hang low over your pastoral graves. In its luminescence, the moon delights in showering its graces on you. When it rains, we travel back in time, missing you in a profundity of pain. Images of you giving us showers, combing our hair for us, cutting our fingernails and toenails, cleaning our shoes and putting a new shine on them, tucking us in bed, fixing our school tiffin, waiting for our exam results in nervous expectation come alive.
We miss you. Couldn’t you have stayed a while longer?
Your children --- Nadeem, Shopan, Fayek, Baby, Tareq