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Category Archives: Straight From The Heart

How Junaid Jamshed used ‘Us Rah Par’ to foreshadow his transformation

Published: January 4, 2017
Junaid Jamshed on fusion music, Pakistan’s elite and singing naat. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

Junaid Jamshed on fusion music, Pakistan’s elite and singing naat. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

KARACHI    : For him, the song was never about a beloved. It was always about the Beloved. But he could not have said it then.

The stubble Junaid Jamshed sported in the video was perhaps one of the first times the strikingly handsome singer was seen with some form of a beard. But it was seen as part of the costume for the character of the taxi driver he played in the video, chewing on a match stick while looking intently at a female gypsy singer.

PHOTO COURTESY: PAK FILES

PHOTO COURTESY: PAK FILES

As the nation reeled from the shock of his abrupt death in the airplane crash that took away 47 lives almost a month ago, both his songs and his naat renditions started going viral on social media. It could not have been either/or. It had to be both. Some chose the former part of his singing career – mushy, poignantly phrased and softly rendered ballads and patriotic songs that helped each one of us emote at some phase of our life. Others chose his latter offerings –Islamically inspired renditions in which he sung praises of Allah and the Prophet (pbuh). Then there were those, few in number, who celebrated both phases of the icon’s life – his voice had been with them in moments of both majaazi (of the beloved) and haqeeqi (of the Beloved) Ishq.

Recap: Some of the pop icons we lost to 2016

That was Junaid – a nexus between the two extremes. The song that was shared most by his fans on both ends of the spectrum was the ballad from his solo album in 1999, Us Rah Par. This is deeply ironic; that song represents the transformational phase of this complex, layered and loved icon of Pakistan. It would be unfair to his audiences that what he revealed about this song is not shared with them.

“That song was much deeper than romantic love for me, unlike what the video portrayed,” he had said, while talking to The Express Tribune in 2013. “By 1999, the transition in me had started. Others may not know but I know that for me, that song was about my journey. But at that time, it could not have been shown.”

Against the backdrop of his statement, the lyrics begin to make more sense:

Hum kyun chalein

Uss raah par
Jis raah par
Sab hee chalein
Kyun na chunein
Woh raasta
Jis par nahin
Koi gaya….

Time was to prove that whether people agreed with his choices or not, he did go on to choose a path that few from the entertainment industry would dare to step on. “The song had been conceived metaphorically,” Junaid had shared. While the lyrics were penned by Shoaib Mansoor, Junaid’s interpretation was very different. “I confess that I had no plans of leaving music at that time. But the love of Allah had hit me. I could feel I was changing. I couldn’t run away from it.”

Thousands bid last farewell to JJ

In many interviews and talks he gave later, as part of his work as a muballigh (evangelist), he shared that despite having fame, money and popularity, something in him would not let him rest, as if something was amiss. Investing himself in a material world had begun to seem like a waste of time. “It started with me going to religious people and the mosque for my own spiritual healing. I had everything – fame, money. But something was lacking. I felt incomplete. And being in a masjid made me feel calm. Masjid still has the same effect on me. Masjid, to me, is the place where we discover humanity.”

Junaid found his direction and that led him to discover the peace in himself we all aspire for to be complete within. PHOTO: JUNAID JAMSHED FACEBOOK PAGE Junaid found his direction and that led him to discover the peace in himself we all aspire for to be complete within. PHOTO: JUNAID JAMSHED FACEBOOK PAGE

Dil udaas nazrein udaas

Dilbar nahin gar aas paas
Din raat aah bharna
Aur beqaraar rehna
Yeh khail hee bekaar hai
Kuch bhi nahin angaar hai
Is aag main jalein kyun
Pal pal jiyein marein kyun

Many temptations tugged at his heart all through his life. He never stopped loving music, but eventually he made the choice that felt right to him. “The life of this world and the Hereafter… if you please one, the other will be upset. It’s a choice you have to make,” he had said.

An enduring memory: A conversation with Junaid Jamshed

I remember asking him if he missed his past as a singer. “Naheen yaar. No withdrawal symptoms of my past life. I am not proud but happy that as a singer, I contributed to the spirit of patriotism and my country in a positive way. I lived that part of my life to the fullest. I cherish my time with the Vital Signs,” he had said, adding that he recognised that his voice was a gift from God. “Shoaib’s poetry and my voice touched people’s hearts. They could relate to it. Rohail, Shehzad, Salman, Nusrat, Rizwan, Asad Ahmed, Amir Zaki…they are much better musicians than I ever was. But somehow, I have a voice that people connect to.”

Taimur Junaid recalls the relationship he shared with his father. PHOTO: FACEBOOK @TAIMUR JUNAID

Taimur Junaid recalls the relationship he shared with his father. PHOTO: FACEBOOK @TAIMUR JUNAID

He knew he was a people’s person. “Mein awaami aadmi hoon. The work I am doing now has much more human interaction, compared to the showbiz days. Back then, the stage was in between,” Junaid had said.

Chalo ishq ka kaha maan kar

Apna sanam pehchaan kar

Kisi ese rang rang jaayein

Sab se juda nazar aayein…

Much to the frustration of his fans, who perhaps never forgave him for giving up music, Junaid went ahead and did what he had to. H,e indeed, did become coloured in a colour that made him stand out amongst all. He saw that as the colour of the Divine.

Watch the song here:

Have something to add in the story? Share it in the comments below. 

The Junaid Jamshed not many knew

Sitting here, writing a blog that is an obituary for Junaid Jamshed. This is surreal. It is unbelievable. And is an unpleasant and painful task, but one that I must carry out as someone who knew him well. Because he would have liked me to write this. For two reasons: Firstly, Junaid, or JJ, or Jay as close friends called him, was a people’s person. He did not mind the attention. He was used to it from a very early age. I remember asking him, during one of the three interviews of his I did spanning over two decades, whether he was so used to attention as a celebrity that even when he came towards religion, he enjoyed the adulation. He laughed and did not deny it. So he would be ok with this. But secondly, and more importantly, he would appreciate that the correct, and the factual, and the good is written about him. Junaid was not as guarded with the media as I initially thought…not guarded enough. His utterances often got him into trouble – he did not weigh words as one would expect from someone who had spent most of his life under the spotlight. So he ended up saying things that ruffled so many feathers at both ends of the spectrum. More than three years ago, after I met him and Shahi Hasan at Shahi’s studio for a feature story, he had later requested me to write about the other side of him. “People just see me as the person who stops women from driving cars and wants to deny women independence. I’m not like that! And there is more to me. Can you write something positive about me?” he had said. I had told him that journalism is something I do with honesty, and I will not write positive stuff unless I find positive stuff about him worth penning. He agreed. I did end up writing some positive stuff after all. That is what I am doing once again right now. He would have wanted this.

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So there is stuff about Junaid we all know but then there is stuff that we all don’t know.

Like the fact that he was big on not just charity but in particular about mother and child health, and had raised money and set up many medical care centres for maternal health. “The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me. Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this,” he had said in that interview. During the interview, I had shared with him about the good work being done at the Koohi Goth Fistula Hospital. He started working on gathering both funds and support for the cause, and then raised enough money to support and cover the cost of some major projects the hospital needed funds for. Those getting treatment don’t even know that the person who helped give them a new lease of life is Junaid. The many unnamed individuals and families he was helping through his charity work will be hard hit at the loss.

Like the fact that he always, always struggled with his inner self after having chosen the path that he chose. I recall another pointed question I had asked, jestingly. “So the beard is your choice. But why not trim it?” “Yeh mat bolo (Don’t say that). It’s not easy,” he replied, and I felt guilty I ever asked that. An excerpt of the interview went like this:

“Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the Beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.”

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Trying to practice religion is an uphill task. There is always discrimination, and criticism, and of course he had to bear all that. Misogynist. Chauvinist. Mullah. The titles were many. So were the attacks on his selfies with female friends. Ironically, these were often hurled by the very people who supposedly believe that one should live and let live. The very people who will forever rely on his songs when they feel patriotic or heart-broken or in love or happy or sad.

For me, his voice has been with me through me own transitions. From a music buff to one who developed the heart and the taste for the naat and nasheed genre, his voice was a part and parcel of the journey. Even at the age of 52, his voice sounded young and untainted.

Junaid, like all of us, had his shortcomings. I strongly disagreed with so many of his stances, and agreed with others, like many of us. But he was a good soul, a loving son, husband and father. He made efforts to help others. He did help thousands, both through his charity and through his role in reviving the faith of so many. Like all of us, he may have fallen and gotten up many times on the path he chose. But he chose to stay on that path anyways. Not many take that path after a taste of such fame and adulation. Reminds one of his song:

Hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain

Kyun na chunain who raasta jis par naheen koi gaya…

He is just one story and this is just one obituary out of the 47 who lost their lives today. Each story unique. Each life unparalleled. Lives full of promise. Lives cut short.

Life is short. And unpredictable. If we take home one thing from Junaid’s passing, which I pray will be accepted by Allah as shahadat (martyrdom), it is to stop judging others.

Rest in peace JJ. And thank you for all the goodness you spread and the service you offered to humanity. May you be rewarded multi-fold in the Hereafter.

Published also at http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/43759/the-junaid-not-many-knew/

Thank you Abba, for making me the woman I am

Published: June 19, 2016

All I want to do is be a good person like him, so that I can become the best legacy he left behind. PHOTO: PINTEREST

It’s been almost nine years since Abba left us. I have written much about Ammi since then, about how she did not take his going so well, about her dementia. But I have somehow avoided writing about my father. Perhaps there is too much to write and it is difficult, even for someone like me, for whom words come easy.

In the last few years of his life, his health was flailing and he knew. He started to wrap things up, though he loved life and fought for it till the end. In that twilight phase, what came up repeatedly was him and I mutually agreeing that he needed to pen down his biography.

“I can be your ghost writer,” I had suggested. “You can be my assistant, and help me edit it. The rest I can do myself,” was the expected reply.

He really didn’t like depending on others.

It is Father’s Day today.

It’s not that I am big on celebrating ‘days’ personally. But it is because he was big on celebrating every occasion and so everything would become an excuse to celebrate – me getting good marks in a test, Father’s or Mother’s Day, Eid, second day of Eid, third day of Eid, some uncle or aunt performing Hajj, a promotion, returning from a trip, or something as simple as making a decision.

“I have decided I want to be a journalist and writer abba. I think I wasted time studying Business and Economics,”

I recall telling him after I was midway an internship at a magazine after my Bachelors.

“If you are sure that’s what you want, then I am sure you will excel at it. Let’s celebrate, everyone, we have a writer in the family now,” he said, taking the family out to eat.

The celebrations were usually at Bundoo Khan near Quaid’s mazar or some old Chinese place in Saddar, with generous helpings of food and lots of conversation.

My father was born in a remote village in Sindh. I have been asked multiple times in my life that he must have favoured his sons, my three brothers, more than us three sisters. I honestly reply that he loved each one of us equally, but if at all he had a tilt, it was towards the daughters – he treated us more gently and with more tenderness and gave the same opportunities to all his children irrespective of gender.

There is something about daughters who have had a father’s unconditional love and support – they are inherently equipped to handle what life throws at them, both the good and the not so good. We have read it so many times but nothing could be truer – a father is the first and the most important man in a daughter’s life. He acts as the wind beneath his daughter’s wings in a world that may sometimes try to put her down. He fills up the gaps which life may create in the niche of her heart. He stays with her, every step of the way, whether he is there with her or not.

I choose not to sanctify my father. When my siblings and I sit down and talk about him, we do not pretend that he was a saint or perfect just because he is no longer alive. We still laugh about some of his things we used to laugh about in his lifetime and we still recognise where he could have made better decisions. But we could not be more thankful having him for a father – he was an unusually soft-hearted, brilliant, smart and sensitive man, who was par excellence in his roles as a husband and a father.

From a village in Sindh to Aligarh Muslim University to a never-ending journey of acquiring education to serving his people, so that today it is one of the few and almost completely literate villages in Sindh, he lived quite a life. His book is due soon.

Till then, I walk around this world with many of his ideals etched in my heart and I live by them. Like him, I believe books, education, travelling and health are most deserving of spending your money on instead of clothes, shoes and other tangibles, because the things we buy don’t last, but human experience does.

I hope I can do even a minuscule portion of the kind of work he did to serve humanity, but I do believe, like him, that we are here for a purpose bigger than just our own little lives. Most importantly, he taught me that one must not be afraid to be one’s self, he allowed me to speak my mind and voice my thoughts.

Thank you Abba, for not stifling my thoughts and allowing me to learn to agree and disagree with people, yet respect and cherish them. Thank you for all the times you allowed me to debate and engage and converse with you about politics, religion, poetry and the many faces of activism. That has helped me become my own person. And thank you for teaching me what selfless parenting is all about.

I look so much like my mother they say and I am so close to her. But here I am, walking around the world with my father’s imprints – the rock on the bridge of my nose, the impatience when the other person does not get me, that slight lack of tact, the desire to forever have something to do, the tilt towards the mystic, the excitement at seeing every day as a chance to do more and so much more.

It’s pretty worthless telling people the ceremonial things like “take care of your parents till they are there, you don’t know how it feels when they are gone.” If they love their parents, they do and will for sure. Each one of those who read this, especially the daughters, will have their own stories to tell, stories of them and their Abba, dad, papa, baba, Abbu – whatever you call that most important man in your life  – the man who unwittingly made you the strong, loving, feisty and dedicated woman that you have hopefully grown up to be.

The circle of life continues and you are giving back the same to your children.

On Father’s Day, I don’t want to cry remembering my father, or on any day for that matter. All I want to do is be a good person like him, so that I can become the best legacy he left behind. That’s what children are supposed to do when parents have left – become for parents a Sadqa-e-Jaria (a continual charity). That way, we can continue to serve them and cherish them. And love them.

The making of the SPECTATOR

As a teacher at the Media Studies department of Institute of Business Management, during Fall 2015 I taught a course called “Magazine Production”. At  the end of the course, as their final project, my students produced an online magazine called SPECTATOR. It is a very interesting effort with quality stories on diverse subjects. My students have done me proud. Do take a look and read/share their stories.

Apart from the more formal Editorial I wrote for, here is look back at how we spent these four months.

The making of the SPECTATOR

By Farahnaz Zahidi

There’s a story. And then there’s a story behind the story.

So there’s a story of 23 strapping young individuals, and a teacher, who met in IoBM’s media lab one September morning, and embarked on a four month journey. The magazine that you are now looking at, Spectator, is the end result of those four months, which I hope you will read and enjoy.

What happens in the media lab stays in the media lab. Well, most of it. But here’s the thing. The whole exercise of being a student or a teacher of media studies, or being a journalist or a media person, is the inner compulsion to share information. Here’s some info about what happened during those four months.

The “Magazine Production” course has been exciting, to say the least. A class full of strong-headed individuals led to passionate discussions, resulting in both agreements and disagreements, and above all learning to disagree with civility and mutual respect. We had an eclectic mix of people in our class. We had the ideological young man who intersperses sentences with revolutionary poetry and the quotes of Karl Marx. And we had a young lady (I use the word “lady” intentionally) who has this royalty about her, in a very amiable way that made us feel we need to become classier. We had the photogenic hero whose one liners and crazy humour put everyone in place. We had someone who does not believe in conforming to norms and does not get threatened with getting less marks, but ends up doing well nonetheless. We had the student who reminded us that the best things come in small packages. And we had the best CR a teacher can have, helpful and efficient.

Each one of them is special and unique and brilliant in their own way. The ones mentioned and the many not mentioned here.

Incessant chatting, poring over each punctuation mark, loads of work, listening to Farida Khanum with hushed silence during tea breaks, bonding by sharing stories of our lives, reiterating the love of journalism and the written word, and a whole lot of learning. The fact that we were all studying how to produce a magazine meant we were not limited to one topic or genre of news and storytelling. Thus nothing was out of our domain. Above all, by dividing them into small teams for each assignment, the art of working as a team was taught to the students.

I say “we were all studying” because I have learnt though teaching these talented individuals. For that I am grateful, especially to the Head of Media Studies for his cooperation, support, and for having the perfect understanding of how media studies works.

Each one of the students and the teams (editorial team, marketing team, photography team, design team) have worked hard and pushed their boundaries.

This initiative is a labour of love. Here’s to the Spectator.

 

I Study, Therefore I Am

Last summer, multi-tasking breathlessly between free-lance writing, part-time teaching and being on my daughter’s case, I met a friend who, when I asked her the ritual “what’s up”, told me smugly that she was preparing for her Masters exams from Karachi University. My interest peaked instantly, as I badgered her with her questions: Why, how, what, when, and where. She is the same age as me, same profile, married, teenage kids, happily into the home-maker zone, with a stint or two on the side to ward away boredom for the thrill of it.

“Studying? Now?” I confess, was my response too. Books? Notes? Being thick-skinned and wanting to give exams that require coffee to keep you awake at night and have ink-stained fingers during the day? Between playing mommie, wifey, taking care of elderly parents, the socializing, the cooking, the groceries, the rounds to the tailor, maintaining a home … the best I can do is catch a show on TV, read or write for mental stimulus, and use Facebook to catch up with friends. Studying seemed a far cry. But something on her face told me she was enjoying every minute, even though she complained of exhaustion. She had the glow of forbidden excitement all over her face – an excitement that we often write off way too early in our lives. The feverish thrill of challenging yourself, of having a new dream and the anticipation of accomplishing something you as well as others think you can’t do!

On way home, I kept thinking about it. My inner soliloquies were never-ending. Somewhere after my graduation as a position-holding student with Business Studies and Economics as majors, I had figured out that Business Studies had never been my calling. I was “prone” to literature; it made me happy, while writing provided me with Catharsis and purging of emotions. But back then, we did not have career-counselors, a choice to mix up subjects of Sciences and Social Sciences, and movies like “3 Idiots” telling us that the world is your oyster.

But today, I had a choice to make a more informed decision. And so Masters in English Literature was my new goal in life. Little did I know that this would be a great learning experience, teaching me more than what the Greats have written. My husband was all for it, saying he believes that the role of a parent, a spouse or a friend is to let each other grow, and support them to fulfill their dreams.

The general reaction I got was “Why?”, and “What are you going to do after that?” But then those friends who believed in following dreams encouraged me in ways that I had never imagined – dropping by cooked food, picking up my daughter, leaving a pack of groceries and offering to lend me their driver so I wouldn’t have to drive to the University. In many of my girlfriends, I saw a feeling of living their dream through me.

Standing in queues for the admission process wasn’t easy. I had forgotten how to rough it out in a government institution. No concessions were made for me by the multitudes of students, even though I was older than most of them by a decade. The ride in the rickshaw the day of my first exam when my car broke down wasn’t a joyride. Neither were the long walks to the centre when I missed the university shuttle. The lecherous innuendos of a particular bored male invigilator were disturbing, specially the fact that whenever any student asked him for a B copy, he would say, “fikar mut karo gurya, mein hoon na!” Yet most of the invigilators were cooperative and respectful.

The Masters syllabus was tougher than I had anticipated, and acquiring the prescribed books was not easy. One particular day, after endless trips to Urdu bazaar and still not finding the books I needed, I landed up at Karachi University’s English Faculty’s Photostat shop. Standing in lines in the sweltering May heat, I sent an sms to my daughter saying I think I want to give up, to which she replied, “Come on mom, it’s all worth it in the end.”

From the day I filled out the form, a plethora of happenings has impacted the way I think. I have seen the brightest students coming from the humblest backgrounds. I have sensed how invigorating being competitive is, something that a comfortable and complacent life takes away. I have felt charged by the viable energy that seems to flood an educational institute. I have pushed myself to the limit of physical and mental endurance by studying till late night and waking up at five in the morning and writing till my fingers ached, in a bout of flu. Above all, I am a richer person in terms of knowledge, as a profound study of literature teaches you much about yourself and humanity in general. I fell in love everyday with a new writer. One day it was Keats with his Odes, the other day it was Marlowe dancing his way into my heart with “Dr Faustus”, and yet another day Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” would make me understand life much better.

It is fascinating to learn that a growing trend world-over is people going back to school at any stage. Mental idleness leads to aimlessness and eventually despondency. To be a contented and creatively-active person, one has to keep doing something that keeps your zest for life alive and inspires you. For me it was a study program. For another, it might be learning a new language, baking or venturing into something entrepreneurial. Who knows whether I clear all the papers this year or not, but I hope to persevere till I do. After that? Well, maybe learning product photography professionally. Whatever makes me feel alive.

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Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer.The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

http://www.dawn.com/news/813345/i-study-therefore-i-am

Dementia: Still Ammi

Published: May 18, 2015

“So what exactly is wrong with your mother?”

This is a question I kept hearing for seven years. Initially, I would reply, “She has let herself go after my father’s death” or that “she is depressed.” My responses have kept changing over time, as I learnt, unlearnt and relearnt about my mother’s condition, because what she was going through was much more than just melancholy or depression. The shock of my father’s death had triggered the progressive disease called dementia.

My mother showed no symptoms earlier in her life that could have indicated she could be prone to dementia. All I remember is that in her forties, she developed insomnia and began relying on sleeping pills. She often forgot where she had left the keys. There would also be bouts of paranoia wherein she felt she was being watched by someone or that someone was trying to harm her. My family and I shrugged them off, thinking she was overly cautious. Throughout this time, Ammi remained functional, meticulously managing her home, family and relationships.

Her dementia began progressing after an emotional trauma at a later stage in life, in her case the loss of a spouse and so, the deterioration began. Within months, she seemed to have aged by a decade. She was at a loss for words — literally. Having lost one parent already, we — my siblings and I, all adults — felt a double loss. We kept calling on psychiatrists and urging Ammi to stay strong. But today, we understand that she was never weak —  she was just not well.

Since then, her dementia has drastically progressed. While all the medical information one might require is available on the internet, personal details on how you can deal with dementia are sparse. It is amongst the most common ailments of old age but unfortunately goes undiagnosed and misunderstood in our society. While, I know some of my family members will disapprove of me writing about this private family ordeal, someone must speak out to create awareness regarding this debilitating condition. With this, I hope to offer support to patients, family members and caregivers who share what my precious mother and family went through and are going through on a daily basis. Since knowing Ammi, she would have wanted me to share anything that could help others.

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“You say she has dementia but remembers your name?”

How does one explain to an unassuming friend or relative what exactly dementia is. Most people don’t take it seriously unless you call it Alzheimer’s disease. We have all heard about Alzheimer’s so I suppose it rings a bell but in reality, the two conditions are very different. According to the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) USA, dementia is a mental disorder that affects communication and physical performance adversely while Alzheimer’s specifically hampers the parts of the brain responsible for memory, language and thought control.

Memory loss is, nonetheless, one of the main aspects of dementia. It isn’t just the names and faces of people that a patient forgets. For instance, one of the key tests our geriatric specialist (an old age specialist, in layman terms) ran on Ammi involved asking if she remembered which day it was and if she could tell the time on the clock. When she couldn’t, her dementia was confirmed. With one’s thinking affected, basic functions start getting compromised, specially language, vocabulary and communication. A patient knows what an object such as a spoon or a glass is for and uses it as well but has forgotten what it is called. He or she knows if she has a headache but has forgotten to call it a headache. They know what they feel like eating but forget the name of the fruit, vegetable or dish.

But what is truly amazing is that in most cases, the patient’s consciousness does not alter until the very last stages. Even if Ammi struggles with my name, she knows who I am. Social skills remain intact until the advanced stages so even if they don’t recognise visitors, patients generally make normal, pleasant and general conversation. However, they do realise something is not quite right with their memory and try to cover it up with generic responses. Often when someone asks Ammi if she recognises them, she smiles and says “How could I not?” She has forgotten their name but is aware that it is someone she knows and that it would be rude to admit she didn’t recognise them.

In a strange way, it is comforting to know that your loved one still feels the important things in life: a connection with other humans and the Almighty. The ability to laugh, cry and experience pain and joy are blessings that stay with the patient until the dementia progresses beyond limits. 

“I have forgotten how to walk!”

In the advanced stages of dementia, things start getting serious with various symptoms (sometimes irreversible) manifesting themselves. For instance, one morning Ammi stood up and wouldn’t walk forward. “I don’t know how to walk,” she kept repeating while we urged her to take a step, eventually giving up and letting her return to bed. Ironically, the next morning, she was walking again, with support as per normal. The doctors attributed this to a “mini stroke” which admittedly frightened us but we were assured that such episodes are common during old age. Over time, we learned to watch out for sudden changes in Ammi’s personality, behaviour or body language for possible signs of mini strokes and to deal with them accordingly.

A patient suffering from dementia often forgets how to chew and swallow. They can no longer gulp down food and water as normally as they used to. The result can be not eating enough, which may lead to wastage and eventually starvation if nutrition is not given to the body by alternate means. Another complication of this is Aspiration Pneumonia, which happens when food particles enter the lower airways, causing repeated bacterial infection. The patient can also lose bladder control and forget how to exercise basic functions like passing stool or urine, which we take for granted. The result is urinary tract infection, among many other, related problems. 

The caretakers, in this process, learn new concepts, and their vocabulary increases. Words like dignity sheets, silicon catheters, zinc oxide and peg tube are new to us. Before my mother went through this, I did not know who a geriatric doctor was. A more difficult word we learnt is “Palliative care” which is specialised care for serious patients with ongoing illnesses. Some doctors will, when you ask them what it means, say that it means “end of life care”. But that is not so in all cases, and many patients successfully come back from the palliative care stage to rehabilitation. In Pakistan’s urban centres, certain hospitals have begun home based geriatric and palliative care systems so that the patient can get the best care at home.

“But life goes on.” Or does it?

Life does not go on — at least not for the caretaker of someone with a progressive mental illness. Just recently, I texted a friend who has experienced a similar situation with a loved one and although we hadn’t spoken in months, she immediately understood how I felt. I told her that I was breaking and she said, “It does things to you. It alters you in strange ways.”

Truer words have never been spoken. The helplessness of a parent — someone whom you have grown looking up to — is perhaps one of the worst heartaches in the world. Not only must you watch them suffer but the child inside of you dies bit by bit, no matter how old you are.  Accepting that the person who raised you is no longer functional or needs an attendant or a nurse for the most menial of tasks is extremely difficult. Accepting that someone who loved food will never again eat by mouth due to the risk of aspirating and must be fed via a feeding peg in the abdomen is tough. Accepting that they will be bed-bound and catheterised for their remaining days takes a toll on you too.  In the midst of managing nursing staff, memorising sheets of medication and managing doctor appointments, one forgets that life was ever normal.

There is also that unsaid fear when a voice in the head whispers: What if you inherit your mother’s condition too? Over time, you learn to not dwell on the thought, pray to God that that does not happen, and move on.

It took me a while to accept that in so many ways, my mother is exactly like an infant. We make her do exercises and play games with her that will improve her motor skills. We sing her nursery rhymes and songs that she enjoys. Her eyes light up when she sees us. Her needs, now, are very basic, just like a child’s. But through it all, she still is our Ammi.

A few silver linings and things to do 

Here is what you can do to help yourselves and your loved ones through their illnesses: 

•  Balance and manage your work and families well and take care of yourself physically and spiritually, otherwise you end up being of no use to your loved one.

•  Breaks are a must, as is taking turns if there is more than one caretaker. It is at times like these that one thanks God profusely for the family values that help us stick together.

•  Try to spread awareness about dementia and similar disorders among your social orbit. There is still a general lack of knowledge and social attitudes need improving. For starters, tell visitors, politely, that they cannot discuss the patient’s condition in front of them.

•  Choose good doctors who can be reached at any time. Have numbers and contacts of nursing staff ready. Emergency medicines and numbers of ambulances are a must.

•  Try and develop an inclusive culture when it comes to older people in society. They need not be isolated and confined to their room.

•  Spend as much time with them as possible. Company, care and encouragement can result in surprising improvement.

•  Learn to retain the good counsel and support you get from understanding friends and relatives. Ignore patronising attitudes and unsolicited advice. Each patient is different and each family’s situation varies.

•  It helps to stay positive in such a situation and remember the good times. Keep telling yourself that your loved one has, for the most part, led a full life and that their present state doesn’t define who they are or were. Faith and prayer helps you stay strong.

•  Talk to others who have been through the same. You will realise that many other people have gone through this and you are not alone.

•  Cherish this time. It will pass, as will the exhaustion. Enjoy the physical warmth, love and the prayers of your parent.

•  Most importantly, do not give up on someone just because they are old. Even if you cannot cure the disease, there is so much you can do to make them feel comfortable and feel loved.

Understanding dementia 

Dementia is caused when the brain cells fail to communicate with each other. Damaging of nerve cells that may occur in several areas of the brain is why dementia affects people differently, depending on the area that is affected. However, even though the symptoms may vary, some of the common ones include:

Cognitive changes:

– Memory loss

– Difficulty communicating or finding words

– Difficulty with complex tasks

– Difficulty with planning and organising

– Difficulty with coordination and motor functions

– Problems of disorientation

Psychological changes:

– Personality changes

– Inability to reason behaviour

– Inappropriate behaviour

– Paranoia

– Agitation

– Hallucinations

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, May 17th, 2015.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/886462/dementia-still-ammi/

Real men do(n’t) cry

Published: November 16, 2014

Long before the Madhuri-fame advertisement, as part of a campaign against domestic violence, reminded us, we had all heard, “Larkay naheen rotay.” PHOTO: VIDEO SCREENSHOT

He was sharing some of his deepest secrets about his childhood; his fears, his regrets, his loss – of a loved one, of dreams, of time lost that could have been utilised better, of a life that could have been. I witnessed this man break some barriers in those moments as he dared to bare his soul, something men in our society are not taught to do.

But most importantly, this man dared to cry, that too in front of a woman.

In those moments, I saw bravery. Because he kept saying,

“See? I’m crying. I didn’t even know I could cry so much. Don’t tell anyone I cried, okay?”

This “he” is not any particular man. And the above lines are not any one particular incident. I have witnessed it more than once. And every time I have realised that for a man to cry in our society is a difficult boundary to push. We associate manliness with certain outwardly signs, like physical strength, like a temper bordering on rage, like earning a lot of money and like being not very in touch with one’s emotions.

Emoting and crying is something that is considered an aspect of femininity. We grow up listening to maxims like,

Mard ko dard naheen hota”.

(Men don’t get hurt)

Long before the Madhuri-fame advertisement, as part of a campaign against domestic violence, reminded us, we had all heard,

Larkay naheen rotay.

(Boys don’t cry)

So men eat, laugh, sleep, feel happy and sad, but are not supposed to cry as that is seen as a sign of weakness. Generation after generation of men grow up with this pre-conditioning. When a natural outlet of grief or frustration is not allowed in the form of tears, the next best bet for men is either cruel silence or anger. We keep talking of rights of women, but usurp men of this very basic freedom to express emotions without both men and women not even realising it.

The most courageous of men ever are my role models; the Prophet (pbuh) and ‘Umar (ra) and ‘Ali (ra), and their peers. They changed the world. They won hearts and they won territories. They fought bloody battles like lions, with bravery unrivalled. They buried their loved ones with their own hands, and went back to the work of serving the cause of upholding justice. And through it all, they dared to cry, unabashedly. We have all read accounts of how the Prophet (pbuh) wept profusely, sometimes on the death of a loved one and at other times for the fear of Allah (swt) and for concern for his people. We accept that, and love that, and idealise that.

But today, a man who is moist-eyed is often seen as a weakling.

There is no doubt that women, biologically, are more prone to crying, as testosterone prohibits crying to some extent and that is the hormone that almost defines men; this is perhaps why, on an average, men cry once a month and women about five times a month, especially during the premenstrual phase and after their menstrual period. However, culture and allowances of freedom of expression also have to do with gender disparity when it comes to crying. While excessive crying can be symptomatic of other psychological issues, there can be considerable long term harmful effects of not allowing someone to cry.

Parents, and especially mothers, need to understand this when bringing up boys. Crying is a natural, organic form of human expression and is a right if carried out in moderation. When we stop men from crying at any age, we deprive them of a natural human catharsis. We also rob them of a certain sense of empathy that helps them understand why women or children cry. This is precisely why many men, unable to handle a crying woman, end up getting up angry and ask her to stop crying or ask in frustration why she is crying.

Any human emotion, if stifled unnaturally, will have harmful effects, and will end up being channelised into other negative emotions like anger or emotional disconnect.

Manliness, often translated as strength, is not just about not crying. Some of the things we see as signs of strength, like violence, anger and yelling, are actually signs of inherent weakness. Strength is about a certain amount of emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate with one’s self and with others. It takes strength to show that you are vulnerable. This is what makes us human.