rafique ahmed qureshi, my mamoon jaan, my mom’s eldest brother whom she loved like a father, has passed away. “surely we belong to god and to him shall we return.” he was an incredibly, intimidatingly brilliant man: well-read, articulate in a precise yet idiomatic way both in urdu and english, with a lively mind and a spectacular memory. he was born in gohana, india, in 1921. he studied at the anglo arabic college (delhi) and then at st stephen’s college (also in delhi) from where he graduated with a master’s in history. after partition, he moved to pakistan in a kafila (foot convoy) of 80,000 people. he was a young man at the time. he lived and made that momentous history. in pakistan, he worked for the railways. mamoon jaan’s house, in mayo gardens, will remain one of my most cherished childhood haunts – a sprawling mansion set amidst gardens with multicolored roses, all archways and verandas and heavy wooden doors and outdoor ceiling fans. it was magical, a place of endless adventure and discovery, a second home, something rooted and safe and permanent. that’s what mamoon jaan was like in a way. when my grandfather died leaving a large family behind, a few years after partition, it was my uncle who stepped up to the plate and took care of things and people. he made everyone feel safe.
just a couple of months before, my mom’s eldest sister, farhat razi, left us. seven years younger than my uncle, she too was an intrepid young woman involved in political activism like the rest of her family. she was a stunning beauty. my mom tells me that her school friends used to make excuses to visit their home so they could sneak a glance at her famously gorgeous sister. but my khala was beautiful inside and out. she had a kind and generous heart. when my dad was seriously injured in a car accident in 1970 and was hospitalized for 3 months, my aunt took care of me and my sister while my mom attended my dad. that’s when we started calling her mummy, just like her own kids. she had the most delightful girlish laugh even in her old age and she made the most delicious bhujias and chutneys and parathas. everything came from the heart.
“surely we belong to god and to him shall we return.” may they both rest in peace. they will be deeply missed. they both left their benevolent mark on the world.