Honoring My Father: Finding Meaning and Purpose in Adversity

Acknowledging your grief is not self-pity, nor is it a cry for help. On the contrary, it has been empowering for me to recognize that I will live with this grief for as long as I live. But I won’t be paralyzed or mired in depression.

My father’s death is not devoid of meaning. And my grief will not diminish over time. The realization that grief should be honored enables me to live authentically. Abba enriched my life and taught me so much about keeping one’s head above water, even in the most grueling situations. I see Abba’s life as a model to be emulated. I don’t pretend that life is perfect, and I don’t pretend to be perennially happy. Knowing that life is short motivates me to live it deliberately and responsibly.

I promise the retreating wraith of my father that I will commemorate and honor him in everything I do. He will not drown in oblivion. And my life will continue to be enriched by his wise counsel and unconditional affection.

We put our best foot forward in times of difficulty and adversity. My father’s unconditional love taught me to see hard times as an opportunity to grow, not as a misfortune.

My father would tell my mother that he knew his time was nigh, but every time I spoke to him, he told me not to take any impulsive decisions and promised to wait for me. And he didn’t let me down. He was so proud to see pictures of my oath ceremony and listened to my stories with rapt attention. That is something only an indulgent father can do. I kept my father abreast of every development and every milestone in my life. I would have candid conversations with him, and every conversation healed my soul.

His mind remained strong and alert till the end. My father didn’t suffer fools gladly. When I went to see him in March, he had my work cut out for me. He didn’t want me to brood or sulk, and made sure that I fulfilled every task he wanted me to. He insisted I call on my uncles who had been released not long before I got to Srinagar. Several of my cousins asked me if my father broke down when he bid me farewell. The truth is that he was incredibly calm and composed. He bid me farewell in his voice of steel and his demeanor was immensely dignified. He taught me to be grateful for God’s mercies and was a content man. I never saw my father grieve, because he looked for meaning in every situation, and didn’t forget to count his blessings. That’s the strength I want as well.

There is great strength in acceptance of the inevitable. There is great strength in recognizing that life is never free of pain, and it is empowering to embrace that pain. There is great strength in recognizing that we held up with dignity and resilience when adversity knocked on our doors. There is great strength in finding meaning and purpose in adversity. There is great comfort in knowing that we left no stone unturned to be with our loved ones in their last moments. There is great comfort in knowing that even when confronted with seemingly unsurpassable challenges, we didn’t let our loved ones down. There is great comfort in knowing that some wounds never heal. They simply become an integral part of our being. There is great comfort in knowing that’s it’s fine to miss your loved ones, every step of the way, when they are gone.

Soon after graduating medical school in Calcutta, my father returned to Kashmir.

As a physician, he spent his earlier years in rural areas and worked with immense dedication, which those who knew him recall well. He had fond memories of the time he spent in Kupwara and Budgam.

I am incredibly touched by the messages I have received from the backwaters where my father served as a physician. People from Baramullah, Kupwara, and Budgam, whom I have never met, have reached out to me.

I have also received very kind messages from the students of Madr-e-Meherbaan Public School, who had met my father on various occasions. Most of those children are from rural Kashmir. To see Kashmiri children believe in themselves, in whatever small way, would have given my father enormous joy.

My father believed in the dynamism of the Kashmiri people.

He believed that despite the blows that fate dealt them, they would emerge unscathed. He believed that quality education would give them the wherewithal to carve their own paths.

For my father, politics was not governed by pragmatism. On the contrary, he believed politics was governed by conviction and the ability to sway public opinion in one’s favor by moral authority.

He believed in those who invoked the moral, legal, and constitutional authority of the people’s voice.

He was tenaciously bound me to the territory, the people, and the sociocultural ethos of Kashmir.

His prayers for a peaceful and conflict free Kashmir where people would lead lives of pride, dignity, and liberty remained fervent till the very end.

It is for his sake that I will ensure that my daughter has a prideful identity, one layer of which is Kashmiri.

I asked my father to translate one of Mahjoor’s poems for me for an article I was writing. Given his evolved political and nationalist consciousness, Abba did an impeccable translation, which I incorporated in my book:

“Shun the dispute, open the discourse among yourselves,

Share true love along yourselves,

Cleanse your hearts, forget disputes,

Say no to malice, share your pains,

Strive together in hard times,

Hold each other’s hands at all times,

Milk is Muslim; Hindus the sugar,

It is natural that milk together goes with sugar

Co-existence in peace is the lesson Mahjoor teaches”

(Mahjoor, translation by Dr. Mohammad Ali Matto).

The biggest strength is in knowing that those loved ones gave us wings to fly and roots to come back to. That’s what my father did for me!