Let me take you back to 20th April, 2012 – the day you were born. I remember talking to your mom that day and she told me about a form they had to fill out at the hospital. The form required details about your weight, height, time of birth, etc. Another field that was required to be filled in was “Religion.” Your parents decided to leave that field blank for you to decide for yourself which religious faith you would like to follow when you are old enough to do so. Such a thing was unthinkable of in our family but when it came to you, no one dared question your parents’ decisions!
The reason I am writing this letter to you is because I know that while she was battling her disease, your Mamma wanted you to know, among other things, about her religious beliefs. And I don’t know where to start from! So let’s go back to when Mamma and I were 10 and 7 years old respectively. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, Mamma was always the naughty child – forever up to some mischief or the other – while I was the goody-to-shoes one who did as I was told. To get her to do something that she knew would bore the living daylights out of her, was a task in itself. Learning to read the Qur’an was one such task whose responsibility was assigned to a very nice old man we fondly called “Mullasaab.” Mamma just couldn’t understand why she was being made to read the holy book in Arabic, a language she didn’t understand, and why she couldn’t just read it in English instead. During our sessions with Mullasaab, I remember trying to focus hard on all my letters and learn how to read as fast as I could, but every time I’d turn right, I’d see Mamma’s head dropping down as she would randomly doze off in the middle of a chapter. Mullasaab would then tap her on the knuckles and call her name out loud to wake her up. We would both look at each other and burst out laughing then.
Prayer time was more like racing time as kids. We both often used the same prayer mat and would end up competing about who finished first. Needless to say, I would win (:P) and she would go complain to Nani about how “Zeba eats her words up and that’s why she finishes so fast.”
Mamma was not one without faith though. Her faith was just of a very different kind. She had a unique perspective on everything and nobody could force her into doing things she didn’t agree with. One of her good friends told me about one incident that speaks volumes of her faith, something that I was quite surprised to hear myself. I am going to quote her friend Alankrita Narula on this as she talks about one of her most vivid memories with your Mamma:
“Sam and I had applied for Symbi (Symbiosis Institute of Media Communications – Mamma’s dream institute) at the same time. This was when we were completing our final year at Sophia College. Our group discussion was scheduled to happen on a certain day in Mumbai and I remember asking Sam “So.. I'm gonna see you at the interview tomorrow right”….. Sam confidently replied, “I won't be able to make it tomorrow as I need to fast. There's a day in our religion where we fast the whole day and pray to God for everyone's wellbeing.” Surprised with her response, I asked her, “So what happens to the interview? You'll miss this opportunity” and again in the confident Sam tone I got the response “I'm fasting for God, I'm sure he's going to make sure he figures a way out for me”….and surely he did! I have no idea how Sam made it but we were there together sitting for the final admissions in Pune.. :) Till that day, Sam was this cool, party loving gal I knew.. But that day I came across this girl who had a strong faith in her God.”
While Mamma was not exactly the most religious person around, her belief in God was strong. She always had her own ways to communicate with Him and maintained that religion would never be able to explain the connection she shared with her God. Maybe that’s why, since her diagnosis, she was pretty angry with Him for not letting her spend as much time with you as she would have liked.
As I write this letter to you, we have all just woken up after spending the last night offering our prayers on the most important night of Ramadaan. We call it Jaagwaani Raat. Up until last year, this was the most looked forward to night of the year. All of your aunts and uncles (mamma’s cousins and aunts) would gather at our house and we’d stay up all night, all of us praying together. After a point, all of us kids would get tired and we’d take off on our mid night adventure, roaming the streets of Mumbai while gorging on some of the best street food available at those late hours. Slowly over the years, the cousins got married and moved on to different cities. Mamma too, moved to America. Even then, the few of us that were here, would catch up on Jaagwani Raat, true to ritual, and talk about the good old memories that we all had growing up. Then suddenly last year, things changed drastically. The morning of Jaagwani Raat, we learned about Mamma’s condition and we knew right then that Jaagwani Raat would never be the same for any of us ever again. It was at this time last year, that we received the phone call that would change our lives forever.
Armeen, truth be told, I don’t know what your Mamma’s idea of God was. But I can tell you that with her passing on, my idea of God has become crystal clear. For me, your Mamma is my God. Looking down upon us all just as I had envisioned my God doing. And we can all sleep peacefully at night now knowing that our God is going to keep you safe always. You are a child that is truly blessed, to be able to have the choice to choose your own path. My only advice to you is, choose wisely. And if you falter along any step of the way, don’t worry. God will pick you right back up and take you on.