I must have been six years old. Daddy had a ritual every morning, after fajr prayers, especially in summers of Kashmir, when first puny rays of sun glittered the roads of our old city, some pigeon flight fluttering in the crisp skies, occasionally men walking with prayers beads in hands and white skull cap with patterns of pulpit on it. Daddy would offer obeisance at Pir Dastgir sahib shrine, stone’s throw away from our house in Khanyar. Folded hands and soothing Arabic prayers which he whispered, I would try hard to make sense of them, but largely failed. On the way back, Daddy would stop at the traffic circle, which went straight towards Khoje Bazar, the rotunda in couple of years was occupied by the Indian forces, erecting a sand bunker and concertina wires around it. From here Daddy would bow towards Sultan Sheikh Makhdhoom sahib’s shrine. We would turn left from here, a few meters away was where we lived. From our main gate, some steps ahead and shrine of Amir Kabir would be visible. The pattern would continue. Daddy bowing in respect and the tranquil sound of prayers suspending in the air around us.
May be forever was a word meant for memories, not people. Daddy left us early this week. I dreaded this day since childhood. It’s remarkable how a child processes the world around him. I must have heard from somewhere that our elders go before us. I carried that fear of this day – the indispensible reality of our mortal life. The day dressed in mourning did fell upon me, quivering a veil of fear rustle in my arteries. I didn’t know how to react. I still don’t know.
If I’ve to look back at Daddy’s life, he was so many things in one person. But what really stood out for me was his generosity and kindness. He shouldered responsibilities from an very early age. He married his sisters, including my mother. He supported his elder sister who lost her husband at an early age. Taking care of her children, like a patriarch of the family. That bedrock which holds the moors together, Daddy was a sight of soothness to so many people in our immediate family. There was not a single selfish bone in him. He lived for others. He was stubborn to a fault too. He carried that true ‘Khan’ rigidity all his life, and we would often chide him about it. Tough outside, softest inside.
Last summer I asked him to narrate our family tree. I wanted to chronicle it. He knew all of it by heart. He told me stories of Lala Hatim Khan who was our forefather, and who migrated from Kabul in early 19th century, during the Afghan rule in Kashmir. He told me how the dynasty spread its wings from a part of old city called Kaw Dour. Khwaja Haji Ahmed-ul-lah Khan, the most famous of them. Legend had it that he performed pilgrimage of Haj seven times in his lifetime. He had Pashmina business and for trade would often travel to Alexandria. There was always a tinge of sadness in Daddy’s kind blue eyes, when he spoke of his forefathers. He rued the fact that we had lost communication with a part of our family in Egypt.
Including many one of my earliest memories of Daddy were his engineering drawings and thick HB pencils. Daddy was an ex-Executive Engineer in irrigation department. Me and my sisters followed him to his various postings around the valley- from Bijbehara to Kulgam. He had so much affection for us, ready to fill any unreasoned demand of mine. Often on the way back from Kulgam to Srinagar, I would sit in his lap and hold the steering of his biege colored Fiat, almost every time stopping at Letpora joint to buy cricket bats. Life was a big mirthful joy, Kashmir was yet to fall in the throes of an ugly war. And every laughter of my childhood was linked to Daddy.
On annual urs days at Dastgir sahib shrine, I would hold Daddy’s hands and jostle forward towards the Hujre-khaas. There was immense respect from all priests towards Daddy. The gown of the head priest would every year be stitched by Daddy. After the urs days were over, the priests would be invited for dinner. To my innocence it looked like a presidential dinner. Utmost regard for small details, our house swathed in incense sticks. A traditionalist, Daddy made sure the protocols were followed. There was no excuse to it.
Looking back, its an mountain of memories which I can try to assimilate, but fail in every way. There are so many recollections related to him.
As a poet would lament, the color of ashes dropped from the sky few days back, the doves under it must learn how to deal with it.
For someone like me , who was very closely associated, Manzoor Ahmed Khan left behind his values, like high cordilleras. The values of looking after your own people. Being there for your family. Helping the needy. In his own way Daddy tried to make this world a better place. As a tribute it must carry on.
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