End Of An Era

End Of An Era
It was sobering as well as saddening to hear that our eldest aunt, Suraiya Chachi or Chachijan as known throughout the family, had passed away this morning.

Though she was elderly, one thought of her always as a constant and caring presence, particularly when our uncle, renowned policeman MAK Chaudhry, and our own parents, died. This goes for our community of cousins without exception. For over a decade she has been our emotional anchor and spiritual port of call in Lahore.

One called her and confided in her in times of trouble, and felt somehow safe in the knowledge that she prayed for each and every one of us, by name, daily. And consequently bereft now. It was cheering and comforting to hear her voice on the phone, and be in her smiling and serene presence whenever visiting her on every trip to town.

Married at a young age to a junior police officer with promising prospects, she accompanied him with devotion and good cheer throughout his career, across varying conditions, and in various countries.

How sporting she was is admirably clear from my uncle's account of the somewhat rudimentary living conditions in one of his earlier postings as SP. 'Well, I placed a packing crate upside down near the bedroom window, and that became Suraiya's dressing table!'

She was also the perfect partner for his outwardly stern, though inwardly kind, demeanour. Blessed with a sunny disposition, she had a kind word and real concern for anyone and everyone she came across. I remember her from my childhood as a radiantly pretty aunt, with a perfect 60's bob framing her perfect features, elegantly attired in chiffon saris.

During my uncle's postings in Delhi and Bangkok in the 1950s and 60s she epitomised the diplomat's lady; representing her own country while appreciating the one accredited to; and entertaining along with her husband in  elegance and style.

Her strength was seen when my uncle became - for quite an extended period - a prisoner of war in India after the disastrous 1971 war. He had been IG East Pakistan, based in Dacca. During his incarceration, he wrote a book of poetry dedicated to his much loved wife.

One can imagine how anxious and uncertain she must have felt during those long, dark days. However her faith in the Almighty and her sense of duty to her family kept her, her children, the family, and indeed her husband, going till the day he mercifully returned home to Pakistan.

When my uncle became Secretary Interior they moved from Lahore to Islamabad, and their house became here too a focus of family and friends' gatherings. Her husband's rank and position, then or when he was an IG, never affected her negatively: she remained kind, caring, and simply dignified always, this reflected in the easy ambience of their home.

She brought up her son and daughters to be committed and caring likewise; the former becoming an able economist and international expert, and the latter dedicated educationists.

Even now, although with a chronic back condition and bouts of hospitalisation, and after suffering the shattering loss of her youngest child, you never found her  complaining about herself but always reaching outwards.

Duly devoted to her own family and inlaws, she made and maintained friendships throughout her life: with her husband's classfellows, colleagues, friends and their families; her own beloved brothers in law and their wives; her children and grandchildren's spouses. Hers was an open house, with treats in store as per preference of whichever niece or nephew was visiting, from nihari to karahis (prepared by the talented Kausar, resident chef) to toffee pudding.

She evoked the same affection and admiration in others, whatever their situation or station. Zahoor, devoted chauffeur and household incharge, would be as crestfallen as any of us today and hereafter in her absence, along with his family. As relayed by our neighbour and friend Shafique in our small farm near Lahore, all those resident would be gathering, there and at her residence, to pay their respects and register their regard.

One or two grandchildren or great-grandchildren would often be found enjoying her company - and being spoilt! - in her room in the elegant abode in Defence. My son, her great-nephew, and as cynical as any youngster, like her 'direct' grandkids, called her 'Nunn'. Another result of her belief in the value of family ties and lasting friendships, so often alas neglected in today's casual, careless world. As she told me once, 'Always support and love each other'.

She was in every sense an inspiring force and an endearing figure. If only she had endured still.