In Loving Memory

I lost someone very close to me this year. Naeemchacha. Always one word, said without a pause. We weren’t a standard family where you could add up two parents and the number of kids and you’d have the number of the household. People would ask how many siblings I had (3) and they’d be like so there’s 6 of you in total, and I’d say no there are 7, you missed out naeemchacha. He was my dad’s younger brother who had down syndrome and so lived with us his entire life. He helped raise us and we lost him in April of this year, suddenly without warning, and home hasn’t felt like home since.

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In the days after his passing, we recount stories, I text everyone who has ever stayed at my house, asking if they remember him, suddenly needing to know that he was known to people when otherwise I wouldn’t go out of my way to mention him. Yes, my friend replied, your sister was telling him off for wearing woolly hats in July, yes I remember him, he gave me a thumbs up when I couldn’t understand him, yes he used to go on those walks right? He would walk every day to our nearby relatives’ houses, a planet in its own orbit, stopping to say hello before heading back home, a daily routine. In all my memories growing up, they are marked by his presence in all of them – just being there, every family dinner, every family fight, every family movie session – there’s naeemchacha. Even now when we’re sitting as a family, it’s like he’s about to come in and sit with us, his absence only temporary, to be filled once he’s back from his daily walk. 

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People with down syndrome are magpies – they collect things, and hide them away where only they can find them. for naeemchacha it was always books – textbooks, journals, notebooks, anything that could be used to write on he’d steal and then copy out meticulously by hand as best he could. Then we’d be called in to see our textbooks all ripped up and copied by hand on a notebook we’d lost the last week. Parh na, he’d say and we would read it, making up the words we couldn’t make out, pretending it was all legible, and he’d beam ear to ear, delighted that he’d written it so well that it could be read, main sahih likhiye? [have I written it correctly] and we’d say much sohna likheye [you’ve written it so nicely]. We’d taken to warning guests – please don’t leave books around they’ll go missing, no not even a newspaper you want to return to, are you kidding you left a notebook in the study? I remember every time we’d have exams, it’d be D day, we’d be cramming like crazy, naeemchacha would come into our rooms, see us studying and show us notebooks filled cover to cover that he’d spent hours writing in and say parh na?

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Naeemchacha was religious to the point of hilarity, he’d run in to the mosque late to friday prayers and hug the moulvi during his khutba. Every time we had exams we’d ask him ‘marre aaste dua kareyo acha?’ [pray for me okay?] and he would pray loudly into the night that we’d pass our exams, so loudly that we wouldn’t be able to sleep. He was cheeky too, other people in the family would always ask him to pray for them, believing his prayers were special, and he’d promise to, but never would. Keeping only us kids in his prayers and excluding everyone else. Since he’s passed away I haven’t managed to pray for him, believing him to be incapable of sin I never felt there was a need to. I found out that the kailash tribe doesn’t pray for those that pass away, instead, believing they’ve gone to a better place, only pray that they pray for them while they’re there. Now I do the same, at his grave I say the same old phrase, naeemchacha marre aaste dua kareyo acha?

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When my phuppos are recounting their stories, the character that stands out the most is that of my grandmother. I guess she’s not how most people i know talk about their foremothers, as fearless pioneers in education or work for their times, no, our ancestral village was largely untouched by these notions, but she stands out by the feat of being a woman that had the virtue of being listened to. Her wishes, often said as a passing comment, would be rushed to be fulfilled, by her children or spouse or relatives. And her only worry before she passed away was who would look after naeemchacha, her eleventh child, nine of which had survived. That wish was fulfilled by my father, her second youngest, and my mother who looked after naeemchacha like he was their own, and, barring more stolen notebooks, left him wanting for nothing.  

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They say those who raise others never die, and in my dreams now I see you laughing the way you would laugh – with your entire body – the way I’ve never seen anyone laugh, head thrown back, cackling, fingers on your temples the way you would put them. I want you to know that across this wide night and the other world you have slipped into and the distance between us, I am thinking of you. 

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