‘We’d play until the moonrise’, she said, recalling her days as an eight year old, in Aligarh. Her face lit up every time a memory with Abbu in it, came forth. Abbu was the eyes with which the three children saw the world around their little home set amidst a sea of farm on all sides. His were the shoulders on which she perched when the mustard stalks grew menacingly higher than her little self, in the winter. Abbu was the ship on which the children sailed setting on voyages across lands of literature – Persian, Russian, Indian and of the Progressives. Kissa Chahr Derveish was for all seasons.
The distancing from those memories brought by time gave a distinct character to her sentimentality. She was happy in the moment, but the moment was embedded into Aligarh of 1950s. For those years with Abbu and the world that they created around themselves had developed into a deep and nourishing spring. As later life moved through deserts of life’s trials, she knew well to tap into the only spring she knew of and only spring that could revive her.
On winter evenings, the children from families living inside the Nawab’s enclave played aati-paati. Two teams of dozen kids pitted against each other, where the team has to collectively go out and fetch leaves of a certain tree that the opposite team demanded of. This got particularly interesting after the twilight faded and the moon came up. The trees around the houses, farms beginning just beyond the houses and the expanse of the little village-like enclave was wrapped up in aati-paati.
For her the game continues. The conversations of Abbu’s friends – they called themselves Progressive Writers – working their way into her conscience. Ali Sardar Jafri wrote a poem as he sat with Abbu at her third birthday party. She knows the lines better than her name.
This deep spring of clear water she continues to kneel by and move through life, as long as it wishes to extend itself.