KHATUN’S STORYPublished July 12, 2018
I look at Khatun’s photo. She is wearing a sheath dress that shows a voluptuous figure and shapely legs in white pumps. Her curls frame an oval face with high cheekbones. She wears a string of pearls and smiles confidently at the camera.
Mum is next to her and about six months pregnant with me. She looks pretty as always, her tummy disguised by her flowing dress. I show Mum the black and white photo. Behind them is a small lawn and trees.
Mum and I having tea in her Vancouver apartment in the summer of 2009. We see the ocean and passing ships from the French windows.
“Mum, you were so trendy!”
“Well it was the Sixties, Shela. You can’t see in the picture but Khatun had unusual eyes –a blue-grey color. She was so full of life…”
“It must have been in 1962. You both look so happy.”
“Yes, we were happy, Shela. I was six months pregnant with you and excited to be having another baby. Khatun was going to a cocktail party later that evening and came home to see me and Ma for chai and samosas, We sat for hours talking with Ma. Then Dad came home took that picture in the front garden.”
Jena Kakee didn’t like to go out much, she was always depressed. So when his daughter Khatun became old enough, Madat Kaka always took her. From the time she was sixteen, Khatun would dress up and go to all the parties and functions with her father.
“Khatun met Kassamali at a party and got married a few months later. After one year she was pregnant. She would come home and play with you when you were a baby. She was saying she hoped that her baby would be as healthy as you. She was so terrified of childbirth.”
“But it did go wrong, didn’t it?” ”
:Yes, they forgot something in her stomach.”
“Oh no …. What did they forget?”
“I don’t know, Shela. Maybe a pair of scissors or some cotton wool, something. So she got an infection and they couldn’t save her. She died on March 28th, 1963, only twenty three years old. Madat Kaka was heart-broken, he had lost his oldest child. The funeral was so sad, the whole town came. Khatun was like a princess, lying on the bier. She wore a white sari and looked like she was just sleeping.” Both Mum and I had tears in our eyes as I held Mum’s hand.
“Everyone told Madat Kaka to sue Aga Khan Hospital and the doctor who delivered her but he refused. ‘Suing them won’t bring back my Khatun’. Kassamali couldn’t look after a small baby on his own and Madat Kaka wanted the child to live with them. He hired a tip-top English nanny for Anisa. Nobody had an English nanny but he wanted only the best for the baby.
The nanny didn’t do any housework or nappy washing, the ayah did all that. All she did was look after the baby. She read the newspapers and relaxed while Anisa was sleeping. Anisa came home to play with you and Rasul, she made the whole house happy, we all loved her.
Gulistan Aunty warned him to adopt Anisa. She said, ‘legally, the child is not yours; her father can take her back whenever he wants.’ But Madat Kaka never adopted her. Maybe he was afraid to bring up the subject with Kassamali. And then when Anisa was five years old, Kassamali got remarried. Soon after the honeymoon he came to take his daughter back.
A four year old Anisa at Tazmin’s first birthday party.
Madat Kaka begged Kassamali to leave Anisa with them. He refused. She was crying as she barely knew her father. It was very bad. They really missed her. But then she got used to her stepmother. Yasmin was kind to her and had two more children, Jamil and Farah. Anisa would go and see her grandparents every Saturday for the whole day. Then she went to that in boarding school in Limuru, the one you ran away from, Green Acres. Kaka paid all the fees and everything. When Anisa was ten years old, Kassamali moved to Canada. So he took her as well. You remember we visited her in Burnaby.”
Anisa came back once when she was fourteen, to see her grandfather. Madat Kaka was so happy to see Anisa that summer. She came to our house for sleepovers. She also got a crush on Rafiq, Sultan Uncle’s son. In vain we tried to tell her that he was her cousin, like a brother to her.
“I don’t care, he’s so tall and handsome, I like him,” Anisa insisted. Rafiq was amused by her interest but didn’t share it.
Madat Kaka’s younger daughter, Anar, her children Taslim and Abid were visiting as well. Anar had moved to Texas. He took them all to the Robinson Baobab Hotel in Mombasa for a week. Rasul agreed to drive them there.. His son Taju was going through a divorce and he went to Mombasa as well.
Taju was heartbroken and Rasul tried cheering him up as they sat by the pool.
“Forget about Zarin, it”s finished. There are so many sexy, German women here in bikinis, go and talk to one of them.” Regardless to say, Taju didn’t take his advice.
Anisa lived in Vancouver and worked as a hairdresser. She married an Ismaili from Afghanistan but the marriage didn’t work out.
“Do you remember how she met Daddy that time?”
“Yes. That was so funny .He loved Khatun and Allah wanted him to see her daughter one last time.
This was my father’s last visit to Canada in 2002. My parents came to Minneapolis to see me.. Then we went to Vancouver and met them there in August. We all stayed at a hotel in Richmond for a week and Asad drove us around in a hired car. One day we went to the Richmond Mall. We were sitting in the food court having lunch when I heard a squeal.
“Pilu Uncle, Pilu Uncle. What are you doing here?” It was Anisa, wearing jeans and a tee shirt. She was a little plump and older with curly,black hair and big eyes just like her mother. She lived in Richmond.
Daddy stood up to give her a long hug.
“I was going to phone you but here you are. What are you doing here?”
“I always come to this mall, Pilu Uncle. But today I just came by chance.”
She sat with us and had a burger and fries. Dad interrogated her about everything; her job and her life. He was most interested in Shamira, her young daughter. The subject of her mother came up. Mum told Anisa about how glamorous and kind Khatun had been.
“I wish I had met her,” Anisa said.
“You look just like her. Be happy, that’s what she would want,” Mum said.
Then we had to leave for West Vancouver. Daddy gave Anisa some cash and another big hug. He never saw her again. He died later that year.