Four Boxes Less

Zeinab Masud thinks about loss and grief in the era of a global pandemic

Four Boxes Less
All summer long, I thought winter at the end of the year would bring respite from Covid blues, more engagement and some badly needed social entanglement.

But here we are: it’s December Rain. Seattle skies are a dark grey and we are in the throes of our second lockdown.

Normally this time of the year finds me involved in a flurry of activity as I excitedly get my ‘Karachi’ errands done. Part of this involves racing around to get little stuff for my loved ones. Seattle chocolates are always a favourite with family back home – this almost makes living in this rain-stricken (albeit stunning) city worth it. Enthusiastically looking forward to the sight of that Emirates aircraft, I would eagerly pick out the most luscious sweet stuff as I did my last-minute shopping in Seattle.

This year, however, it will be four chocolate boxes less.

A lot happened this year.

I think of it in two different ways. 2020 has been for many, a year of giant leaps in comprehension. One was the realization of what it means to live with oneself without the neccessary breaks of distraction that the spirit craves.

Yusuf Raza

Schools, offices, travel, the social circuit and more – it all came screeching to a halt in the face of a stampeding virus. We were shown our space, asked to own it and we had to come to terms with the fact that we could not escape. Some tried to flee and for that reason we are still suffering the consequences of not understanding the fine art of isolation and the persistent strain of this virus.

As I think of people close to me, I realize that social isolation impacted all of us and our relationships in different ways. Some of us lost our ways and some found them. Similar things happened to relationships. Some bonded, some broke.

But what about the other bonds? The ones which bind us to those who are no more. Were we ready to explore the colossal pain of that loss?

This winter, I will buy four boxes of chocolates less. And that breaks my heart.

Like many around me, I lost loved ones this year: not Covid-related, but deeply sad losses all the


My Choti Phuppo, Akhtar Ispahani, faced the challenges in her life with courage and charisma. Till the end of her years, (and we wanted more years with her) she was intellectually curious and full of loyal love for her family and friends alike. My father’s youngest sister and my mother’s best friend took her passion for life with her and left us bereft. There was less of my parents’ essence in this world now.

Cousins and best friends - Akhtar Ispahani and Nigar Raza
('Choti Phuppo with Mummy' for the author)

In Choti Phuppo I had continued to see my father’s thirst for knowledge and my mother’s wonderous joy at what her world offered.

Then in October, my valiant friend, Maiyetri, continuing to battle her grave illness with bravery, laid down her gauntlet. Gracious and utterly kind, she was 45 years old and dynamic till her last days. She left her beautiful family and grieving friends with an understanding of what grace under fire actually meant.
Distances seem greater than ever and loved ones feel more precious and terrifyingly finite. What I do know is that I will be buying four boxes less this year and that breaks my heart

Her insightful ideas and determined strength echo in my heart and in our neighborhood trails where Mai would encourage me to trek, navigating Seattle’s hilly terrain. I would feign aches and pain trying to get out of uphill climbing, angling for incessant coffee breaks but beautiful Mai urged me on. She was sensitive, strong, her soft brown eyes soaking in the silence of the inevitable, the stillness of the Seattle waters she loved so much. She was brave till the end.

Then came November and a pillar of our family, our Kemal Bhai left us.

He had been a well of wisdom and support for us all.

A brilliant and deeply considerate gentleman, Kemal Bhai’s partnership with my lovely cousin Tanoo Apa created a haven of warmth and hospitality for all of us, our impassioned and sweetly eccentric family.

Who would we turn to for advice, for wise guidance?

And then came December. This was the time of year when my ‘Mamun Jan’ and I would discuss the perils of the Quetta breeze with bated, slightly terrified breath. Both of us asthmatic and nervous about this season of weddings and the dreaded bronchial wheeze.

'A little rain on the needle' - acrylic painting of Seattle

Yusuf Raza, the most beloved of all my mother’s siblings left our world as he had lived in it, uncomplaining and with gentle dignity. His heart full of tender consideration for all around him, his soul, generous to the core. My ‘mamun’ was nonchalant about his striking good looks and all things material in life.

An artist in the true sense of the word and world, Mamun Jan created beauty on canvas and through his serene, simply kind presence for those fortunate enough to be around him.

Maiyetri Krishnaswamy

It’s not just me. I know there are others out there trying to make sense of the loss and pain of this year. And of course, we are aware of what we have understood and gained this year. The grace to own and face our own space? Truth is that I’m not sure when I will get on that old familiar Emirates flight, taking off through Seattle’s rainy skies.

Distances seem greater than ever and loved ones feel more precious and terrifyingly finite.

What I do know is that I will be buying four boxes less this year and that breaks my heart.