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As I massaged my grandmother’s wrinkled feet, she sighed with relief, settled back into her bed and covered up herself in her much-loved blanket. I knew she was going to tell me a long story of her youthful past, as she always did and her stories always seemed to enthral me.

“I was just a young girl like you,” she begun in her throaty voice, “when suddenly our country went on war. I remember it had been an unexceptionally hot summer and now as cool winds blew in the September of 1965, India attacked us. Overnight our situation changed and my father, being army personnel, was immediately recruited from the dusty village of Shikarpur to the frontier. Unwillingly, my mother packed a bag for him, carefully ironing his uniform, making sure he had everything available possible. But no matter how much she fussed around, he was leaving behind his most important possessions.”

Tears filled my grandmothers eyes as the next part of her story played out in her mind, “At sunrise the next day he left, his shoulders held high and his walk as full of pride as a peacock when it showcases its beautiful wings. He felt pride to be of service to his country. The first few days without his presence were relentless.”

She continues remembering how every morning she used to arise early and every night, slept late just so she could welcome her father back, if he came.

“But daadi jaan weren’t there telephones?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.

“No dear! Telephones were not common in those days and letters were the main form of communication. I wrote him a letter every day and posted it addressed to the army camp where he was staying, but I never got a reply. As weeks passed, the length of my letters steadily dwindled and then suddenly disappeared as I too had lost all hope of his return. Now thoughts of him becoming a shaheed filled my head but then sharing these thoughts made my suspicions look too real. Nothing was ever confirmed because no news of his whereabouts was ever received by us.

“My mother’s face drooped lower with worry each day while my younger brothers seemed to get quieter and quieter. Then a letter arrived, the return address telling us that it was from our father. As suspicion mounted, my mother opened the letter with trembling hands and sat down in relief as the meaning of the first four words sank. It said, “Alhamdulillah, I am safe.”

Published in Dawn, Young World, May 11th, 2019