for Papa — the paterfamilias
one by one
the old guard
we grow old, too.
Long before my grandfather was my grandfather, he was a boy who went to a large, colonial boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas. At dawn, they would all wake, bleary-eyed, and run a couple of miles before showering and heading to the mess for breakfast. There were three kinds of meals prepared each morning — English, halal, and vegetarian — for the three kinds of students. When summer arrived, he would often go to stay at one friend’s or another’s, following a patchwork of brotherhood that stretched across India, linked by the efficient trains of the Raj and schoolyard camaraderie. But, sometimes, he would come home, and then he would spend his days bicycling through the streets of Bombay; through sheets of monsoon rain; through Partition itself; until time caught up to him.
Now he walks in the neighbourhood park in the late Karachi afternoons with the other old men until the sun sets.
But, sometimes, in his dreams, he is a boy again and it is warm and bright again and his mother is still in the kitchen, humming as she cooks, and he hears a shout from outside and he grabs his bike and runs out to meet the other kids and together they cycle through their beloved Bombay once more, a city that, finally, lives on in them, lives on until the very last one remembers it for the very last time.
This morning on the news they said the monsoons will begin soon.
Photograph by Shanzeh Najam.