Remembering a Mother: Raziya tuz Zahra

23rd May 2021 marks the completion of the 14 years of physical absence of Ammi from my life.

My father expired on Friday 7th April 1978 and from then on to the evening of Friday 23rd May 2008, a period of 30 years 1 month 16 days she was both a mother and a father to me. Not for a single day did she let me feel an orphan or in need of some unfulfilled desire!

Born to Mir Ashfaq Husain in a year nobody cared to remember, Raziya tuz Zahra lost her mother at the same hour as she was born.

Mir Ashfaq Husain

Early in her childhood she was taken care of by her maternal uncle, her Māmujān. She was the first child of her father who sired 6 other children through his second wife, Nanna Ammi. Nanna Ammi was actually no stranger but a younger cousin of Ammi’s late mother.

Ammi was, as she used to proudly tell us, matriculate who had actually “solved the whole of Chakravarti”: ‘Chakravarti’ being a heavy tome on Arithmetic penned by a famous Aligarh professor of mathematics of that name!

Raziya tuz Zahra as a child

She used to tell us that she was married early in her teens to my father who was at least twice her age. It was his second marriage, his first wife having died of some illness, leaving him to look after two of their children, a boy, Najmul Hasan, and a girl, Amatuz Zahra nicknamed Najma.

Their marriage was solemnised at Fatehpur amidst much melodrama: I am told by those who attended the wedding that my father who had recently lost his first wife was in Lucknow and in no way was he ready for this marriage which was suggested to him by his father, Faizul Hasan. My grandfather approached the prospective groom’s best friend Maulana Saeedul Millat who along with his father whom my father greatly respected convinced him to agree. And thus after a delay of one day (for which the ceremony was scheduled) the groom reached the bride’s home at Fatehpur and the marriage was solemnised. Soon after that, they started living in Lucknow. They would however frequently visit the ancestral village of my father, specially during the Muharrams.

At Haswa, Ammi used to lovingly recall that they would always receive a grand reception. She would frequently tell us how when the train would reach Faizullahpur Railway Station, Dāda Abba would be waiting for her along with his retainers. One retainer’s duty used to be to stand with the guard with the express instructions that the train would not move until “bahu” and her luggage had all been offloaded! With a Chhadi (stick) in hand Chaudhuri Mir Faizul Hasan would then escort his daughter in law to a waiting decorated bullock or horse cart which would be covered with embroidered cloth coverings.

When she had been escorted into the waiting cart, he would walk alongside with my father all the way to his house in Muhalla Chaudhrāna. Bhaiyya (Najmul) would walk along with them, while Bajjo (Najma) would sit in the covered cart.

While at home, Ammi would be engaged along with Daddā (my paternal grandmother) in preparations for the Muharram. Their major duty being filling dry fruits, coconut fillets and misri (Indian sugar candy) into cloth bags tied with strings which were to be distributed during majālis. On the ten days of Muharram my father would recite the majālis and on the 10th an alam procession would be taken out.

Alam Procession beyond Hātha in Haswa in 1947 (Incidentally this gate survives till date)

Ammi with Fatima at Haswa during

Muharram 2007

Some other life incidents which Ammi used to narrate were set in the princely estate of Mahmoodabad. Just a few years before Independence Abba had taken up the job of the librarian at the Mahmoodabad State Library. Ammi too had shifted there with him, while Bhaiyya mostly stayed in Lucknow. One of her daughters, Marziya tuz Zahra, nicknamed Azra was born in Lucknow while another, Zakiyatuz Zahra nicknamed Kaukab had born during her stay at Mahmoodabad.

Soon after Independence and just before the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the whole family was once again back in Lucknow. It was there that her step children, Bhaiyya and Bajjo were respectively married in simple ceremonies.

In 1954 when Abba was offered a job at AMU, Ammi now moved with him to Aligarh. Here she gave birth to three children, one of whom survived to write this blog. The other two, a boy and a girl, Muhsin and Sabiha died in infancy.

Marziya and Zakiya in Mahmoodabad

Me with Ammi

At Aligarh, shorn of all relatives, Ammi devoted her whole life to her husband and the three surviving children, Marziya, Zakiya and myself. She reserved most of her love and affection on her youngest child, that is me. Since the age of a toddler I never ever remember any of my wish remaining unfulfilled due to her. I would just have to look towards something and Ammi would understand that I wanted it and would have it acquired: there was not a moment that she would waste to grant my unexpressed desire!

I remember that when I was riding this tricycle in the grounds in front of our house (see photo below), or even when I would casually step out of the house, she would station herself on the door, hidden behind the chik and constantly keeping a watch! Her vigil would end only once I re-entered the safe environs of the house!

Me at Azhar Manzil under her watchful eye from behind the chik

I also fondly remember how she gave her all when my bismillah and sunnat ceremonies were organised by my father! For my bismillah, the great scholar and author of al-Ghadeer, Ayatullah Shaikh Abdul Husain Amīnī had come. He initiated me to the alphabet and education. A great feast was organised on that occasion.

Similar celebrations were held for my sunnat. Ammi saw to it that I was dressed as a groom!

Me with my aunts and sisters. Also seen in the photo is Razmi, my eldest sister’s eldest son. Ammi is conspicuous by her absence in these photographs

Even when we were passing through a bad economic patch after the retirement of my father, she sheltered us like anything! Her love and affection for me grew by leaps and bounds after the demise of my father! Not a day passed when she would not suppress her own needs to fulfil ours!

Ammi single-handedly took care of us for 30 long years after the death of our father.

When my father died on 7th April 1978, one of my very close relative ‘advised’ her: “it is not necessary for everyone to go for higher studies. He has completed his Higher Secondary, there is no necessity for him to complete graduation when there is no earning member. What father has left behind can well be supplemented if he takes up a job!”

Without loosing her cool, she thanked him for the kind advice, and the next few years saw to it that I not only graduated but also registered for PhD. She patiently waited for me to land a job. Time and again she would just keep on feeding me stories of my father’s academic accomplishments. She saw to it that even when there was a great paucity, I would get what I needed. She would remain awake waiting till she heard the tinkling of my cycle-bell. Whenever I was in self doubt or in trouble, she would be by my side, asking me to have faith in myself and in the Almighty. If I would fail in something, she goaded me to work harder, and when success kissed my feet, she would coolly remark: you deserve it!

This is how she passed most of her time

It were her prayers and persuasions which saw me through! When she died, she had only one wish: that I climb the academic stairs as high as possible!

Ammi with her beloved ones who now miss her badly!

When age overtook her, she was in the end reduced to a person who was physically frail, hard of hearing and hard of seeing. She became almost a recluse and gave up eating altogether: to feed her was a feat! However she remained steadfast in two things: her prayers and her pān. When in the last few minutes of life, when I asked her Ammi āp kaisi haiñ? She replied she was fine and ready to go. And when I said: Ammi chaliye hum aap ko Medical ley jā rahē haiñ. She got up, covered her head, asked for a pān. As we carried her down the stairs, she left us. She was no more.

For the last fourteen years I am still waiting for my Ammi to bestow her duās on me….I love her from the deep of my heart, and pray that Ammi may forgive my faults which are many….