What I finally ended up writing for Dada’s memorial event.
“It is easy to put into words and on paper one’s achievements in life. There are a thousand different people who can do a hundred different things to help compile one’s life work. It is much much harder to put in words what someone means to you. As tributes and articles started pouring in almost two weeks ago, we have been overwhelmed. Overwhelmed at how much Jamiluddin Aali was. How much he did. How much he achieved. How much he believed in. What an important busy useful man he must have been, trying to change the world in his own inimitably poetic way. But to the 12 of us, his grandchildren, before any of that other stuff, he was just…Dada or Nanajaan or Al or Baloo the bear.
Ask any one of us and our earliest memory of him revolves around lounging in his chilled AC wala room on his bed, fiddling with Daddo’s paan daan, with his voice, that amazing, soulful, reverberating voice echoing from the bathroom, as he shaved, getting ready to go out. What he meant to each one of us 12 cannot be put into one speech. Or even one book. Each one of us was lucky to have our own special relationship with him. We have our own anecdotes and stories, our own shikway gillay and today, as I represent us all, I can only hope that we are doing him proud with the kind of people we are turning into.
While he loudly and publically rued the fact that our generation was not carrying on his legacy in Urdu shaeree, we knew that he was fiercely proud of each one of us. “Art can take many different shapes,” Maria would argue. “Whether it’s being able to argue a case or design something or teach, or perform an operation, the fact is that you have produced a generation of artists and adventurers.” He would smile then, because there was nothing he loved more than a good argument with us. We know that because we all got that from him. He took a deep and involved interest in all our doings, often turning these talks into veritable interrogations as he asked question after question to ensure we knew our own mind.
For someone of his generation he was remarkably young at heart, from showing up in jeans to Sara’s 16th birthday so he could fit in with the “modern” young crowd to wanting to stay up late watching movies with Binny. He was so excited when the first wedding amongst all ours happened, wanting to be involved in all the details, and then he fell ill, and Najla’s nikah happened in his room at the ICU. He loved all this “adventure” as he called it. It makes memories, he used to say. Always make memories.
Dada was the one who introduced us the art of keeping in touch. Every time he would go abroad to magical exotic far away lands, we would all receive postcards from him in his poets writing. And then he would come back armed with suitcases filled with gifts. He had a love for travelling, for the exploration, love that has manifested itself in Khaula’s travel photography and Koko scuba adventures. Each time one of them would start their stories, his eyes would shine with excitement, reliving his days through their passions.
He introduced us to the Coupe Sherezade, a fancy dessert of the 80s, he would drive us all to have at the Sheraton. Order whatever you want. Always try new things. More Dada wisdom. We would be holding our breath as he drove us across the city in first gear, only revving the engine more to the sound of us shouting “Let us goooooo”.
We were all so lucky to have had him for so long. We have all shared different stages of our lives with both him and Daddo, as more common one as children and then individual ones as adults. Baagi was the first, and he enjoyed 7 years of solo attention and love before the rest of us started arriving. He was the wise one, the one who Dada would rely on for medical opinions, theoretical discourse on the likes of Carl Sagan and an explanation of what exactly this internet thing was. A whole gaggle of girls followed after, a full club of 6 of us, completely different form each other and yet held together by the fact that we were all full blown feminists, giving Dada’s household a good taste of anarchy. As a round of boys came next, they were his babies. He was softer by then, having been through the whirlwind that was his granddaughters and as we scroll through the old photos, we see Dada emerge as yet another persona. The playful grandfather, hugging and kissing Alai, Umair and Mohib or giving piggy back rides to Ghazain and Saif. Our dynamics with him, though always evolving were really quite set. He knew which one of us was what and he never let anything else matter. Family first, he said. Always family first. No matter what.
When people ask me where I get my patriotism from, why we all seem to love Pakistan with all its flaws so effortlessly, I must blame him. He was such a believer. In the passage of time. In the power of love. In Pakistan. “Will things get better?” we would ask him. “It will get better and worse and then better again. It always does.” he would say. Indeed. Jeevay Jeevay was not only a song he wrote, it was dream, a wish and a reality. Ours may be the only family that actually sings it on birthdays as well.
They may have left us but they left us with so much to carry on. Little things that over the years became big traditions-Cake cutting for all birthdays, no matter how big or small. Naashtay ke paisay and Quran ke neechay se guzarna for anyone travelling. Lemon tarts. Celebrating and mourning together. We all see him and Daddo in ourselves all the time in all kinds of everyday things we do. It’s in the way Baagi can tell a story Nana jaan style, or how Binny effortlessly wears her saree. Alai’s expansive knowledge and interest in random facts, marching to his own beat. Ghazain and Saif’s behtereen adb aur lihaaz. Mohibs artistic and warm nature. How Najla and Maria will attempt to keep the waters calm when tempers flare, Umairs sense of duty, Khaula’s similarities to Dada’s own choices. Its in Kokos love to make everyone happy and Sara’s passion for writing. Everywhere we look, we see their habits, talents, their love, their quirks reflected in us all, alive and breathing, creating its own legacy forward.
Afiya, the eldest in the fourth generation, sends a message from Qatar saying, “11 years ago, my dearest Baray Dada gifted me a writing pen set, inscribed in his classic incomprehensible handwriting. It said “Mustaqbil tumhara hai”. I promise to uphold the legacy of my great grandfather, his passion and commitment towards the Urdu language by improving my own. So one day I can try to understand and appreciate his works.” As a great grandfather to 7, he was happy to inform us “naalaik” lot that they were much better than us and I think he would have been thrilled to hear this promise.
As we draw this “mehfil” to a close, I cannot help but think how much Dada and Daddo would have enjoyed a gathering like this. They both loved attention and they loved being surrounded by people, especially family, something they were blessed enough to have had till literally the last moments of their life. May we all be ever so lucky and blessed. Thank you so much for being here. Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan. And Adaab.”