My grandmother is a legend in more ways than one. For most of our extended family, she is the oldest living relative and cherished by it. While she is living a full and active life now, there was a time when she came to this country with little more than the clothes on her back.
When she lived in India, my grandmother had the life of a princess. Her family resided in a huge haveli, which is another name for a mansion or large townhouse. When she talked about her first home, her voice would change with rapture, still marveling at the rose-patterned tiles on the floor, the large, heavy doors, and the cars parked in the stables outside. The large house and all the luxuries were in her life until she was about twelve years old.
Then came 1947, and the Partition began. A part of India was becoming Pakistan, and as Muslims, my grandmother’s family had to flee. Oh, there were Muslims left behind in India too, but hers was a family that got its status from the British colonizers. Now that the British themselves were leaving, their allies also had to find their way.
Imagine it; the day’s meal still bubbling on the stove and two little girls playing around just as they always did. All at once, their mother packed two changes of clothes for them, and they all stole away to their uncle’s home in Delhi.
Everything was left behind just as it was; only their mother came back after some time to gather what she could on the last trip out of India. Eventually, the whole family managed to get to Pakistan.
From there on, life was predictably difficult. They managed to get a large house—their mother insisted upon that as it was what she was used to—but that was it. Inside that house, no furniture, no servants, none of the things that made living easy. Other than some clothes and jewelry, they had left it all behind. Even the few dolls they had remained in their old country.
The story is longer and more detailed when she tells it, but that faraway longing look in her eyes is only temporary. Within seconds after telling her life story yet again, she would look around her with an air of complete satisfaction. Everyone who knew her from her childhood would tell us that this satisfaction and contentment was always in her. Those things, that life she left behind. In the past—a beautify past but gone now. Family, health, and safety – this was what she cherished the most and what had rewarded her with a wonderful life in return.
The lesson we always got from her was that we might have to pick up and leave our lives behind at any moment. We may even die and leave all these coveted items right where they were. It is always possible to build a life from scratch again. So, please do not lose hope, and do not fear about losing it all. Longing for the past is natural, but only for some time. After reminiscing, go forth and take joy in what you have!