Speak, Memory

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.

“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.

On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.

When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.

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An honest man

Many moons ago, Love InshAllah co-editor Ayesha Mattu asked me to be an advance reader for the anthology. I used the word “honest,” and structured my thoughts around that idea.

Ayesha engaged me as to why I thought being “honest” was so important. It’s because honesty is hard, and no matter how much we practice it – and it is something we practice, because it’s not natural for us – it’s still a radical thing.

We never want to present ourselves in a way that makes us seem less than we think we are. That means we obfuscate, divert, and weave tales of who want to be, both to ourselves and to others. We craft these narratives, and in the telling, there are omissions and commissions. We are not lying or being dishonest, but we are not being honest. We want to be well-thought of by other people.

Love is a hard topic. Along with money, it’s probably the one place no one likes to think of themselves as being less than successful. To talk about sex in a way that intersects with religious sensibilities adds another layer of complexity. Unless these women were all malamati, seeking opprobrium to detach themselves from this world, their stories were radical because they were honest.

When Ayesha came to me and asked me to contribute to the blog, I readily agreed.

Then, I panicked.

I realized that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be that honest.

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