Today is January 4th. This date is an interesting one for me. Sixteen years ago, on what would have been his 69th birthday, my maternal Grandfather passed on and I will never forget it. That morning when we found out, the world was changed forever. I was almost 20 years old, things and thought processes were already in flux. When he died, it felt like my heart died- even God died for a while.
My Grandfather, or Nana (Urdu word for maternal grandfather) was a towering figure in my life. I met him when I was a toddler, which I don’t remember and then again when I was eight years old, when he came to the US. He was boisterous and loud and larger than life. He had pockets full of little things that he thought my siblings and I would like. Suitcases full of loot. He brought me my first Enid Blyton book, an author unknown to American children.
For the next several years he would come to the US and stay with us (alternating between our family and my Aunt’s) for a few months and go back to Pakistan for a few months. Nana was the only grandparent I knew in any kind of substantial way, until recent years when I have gotten to know my Nanee, my maternal Grandmother (she only came to the US once, but I spent lots of time with her when I visited Pakistan in 2006 and 2010). It became a routine that Nana’s here and then he’s not. But a member of our family, always.
He used to cook lentil soup for me and have me iron his clothes. He would call me” Gul-oo”, a pet name he used for his grandkids when we deserved it. Gul is Persian for rose and adding the “oo” makes it slang or informal. He was well known by all the neighborhood kids because he made it a point to know who we were with. He scared the heck out of me when he sneezed because he was so loud. When we went to Pakistan when I was 9, he took me to the marketplace on the back of his scooter and bought me a spinning top. He brought me a carved necklace with elephants on it, now long gone, which makes me think of him everytime I see an elephant. He watched Wheel of Fortune everyday and on Saturdays, he and I would fight about it because I wanted to watch Star Trek the Next Generation. He would always win and I would be very angry. When I graduated from high school, he took all my awards and my diploma and displayed them all on his special shelf, where he kept his medicines and prayer beads and such. It made me feel special. And when I was 16, he saved my life.
My favorite memory of Nana is when I was 17, I went to the airport to pick him up because both my parents were working. I remember loading up my car and starting up the car and driving home. The whole time my Nana sat there confident and excited that I was driving. He didn’t grab the dashboard once. And that was unheard of. Whenever anyone drove him anywhere, he had one hand on the dash, just in case something happened. Yet that day, as I drove him home, he was relaxed, sitting back and enjoying the drive. I asked him about it and he said, “But you would never let anything happen to me”. No one had that kind of faith in me. I didn’t have that kind of faith in myself.
Today I am thinking of and missing him as I always do, but my heart is full. It’s funny how time does heal all wounds. Sixteen years ago today, I thought the world ended, but two years ago, today, I didn’t cry tears of sadness because I missed my Nana. I cried tears of joy, because I was holding my niece Sareena, who was born the night before, in my arms for the first time.
I wrote that these “orange peels” of mine float in my mind. But not this one. Even though I can’t see him or touch him, my Nana is here with me today, an orange peel, floating forever in the ocean that is my heart.