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remembering aunty shazi

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one thing about being an immigrant is how you get used to living in a state of suspension. i don’t know how else to describe it, but it’s the opposite of being settled. it’s a suspension of belief, rather than disbelief, so that what is sharply real (sometimes painfully so) in one’s home country acquires a diffused, haunted quality, and remains permanently extraneous and unresolved. my dad told me his youngest (and last living) sister, my aunty shazi, passed away the day before i drove 6-hours to philadelphia. although i was heartbroken, i couldn’t mourn with him. living so far away from pakistan, the rituals that mark someone’s passing are simply not accessible to us. we can’t attend funerals, meet with family, cry and remember our loved ones together. we call cousins and pray for the aunts or uncles we’ve lost, here, in our new home, but these efforts seem awkwardly disconnected, almost disembodied. 

i write about family members who are no longer with us because in my own small way i hope to record their departure, capture something of their essence (something that tied me to them), and formalize a loss that will leave a gap in our family. i hope to mourn. 

my aunty shazi was a college student when my parents married and for the short time that my dad’s family lived together under the same roof, i became her favorite. she liked to spoil me and fuss over me, in a way that only young aunties can do, and so i became obsessed with her – as well as with treats, sparkles and pretty dresses.

she married young, right out of college, but believed in education and when she had her own kids she made sure they excelled seriously in school. 

i remember that when we visited her (on our way from lahore to islamabad) she would make my dad’s favorite makai ki roti (unleavened corn bread/roti) and sarson ka saag (mustard greens with garlic, ginger and a unique blend of spices). the presentation was exquisite, with a large scoop of homemade butter melting just so, on top of the saag. the recipe called for precision, a substantial investment of time and energy (her kitchen was small and not very user-friendly in those days), the freshest ingredients, and innate talent. she had all of those in abundance. i will never forget the taste of that splendid meal, so full of flavor and texture. so full of love.

as i grew up, i didn’t see aunty shazi as much. but my parents found her lovely home in islamabad to be a place filled with warmth and generosity. they would visit from lahore for eid and always be feted and celebrated with panache, by both aunty shazi and uncle zafar. a rare gift in a host. or a sister. or a human being. 

to god we belong and to god we return. rest in peace aunty shazi. u will always be surrounded by the love u shared with others. and lots of pretty sparkles.

[my father’s siblings, most of whom have left us. aunty shazi is in the front row on the left]

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