Shagufta looked at the time chiselled face in the mirror. She smiled. Fine wrinkles appeared around the corners of her eyes and lips. She stood reminiscing the time when Sameer would never leave the house without a peck on them. “You look so beautiful, I could stare endlessly,” he would say, and she would laugh at his expressive flamboyance. She remembered how she was shattered when the doctors said he couldn’t be saved. She remembered her first day of going to the bookstore as a co-owner. She loved running her own business, just like her dad. With Amir’s help and support she rose to the challenge like a queen. Amir watched with amazement how soon she learned the tricks of the trade. She was polite with the customers and firm with her suppliers and sooner than he had expected, she slowly got even better than Sameer.
Razia had learnt to live without her mother during the day time and slowly as she grew and made friends, her emotional dependence on her mother decreased. She had inherited her mothers' good looks, and needless to say, she captured the interest of many members of the opposite sex. Her mother was always concerned that she would come home late in the night, and though she did trust her daughter’s instincts, she felt like she was disconnected from the one person her entire life revolved around. Therefore, on Razia’s 18th birthday, she gave her an unusual gift. Her time.
She told her that she had given away her bookstore, and put the premises on rent. “But Ammi, you loved that bookstore! It was your heart and soul! How could you give it away??” “I know beta. I loved that store too much! The fragrance of the books when I entered, browsing through shelves of countless books, all of it! But there was something I missed even more.
“No beta. You. I was so engrossed in the store, that it became an obsession for me. I always felt guilty about leaving you home alone while I attended to the store. I wish I had more time to spend with you. Now I do.” Razia embraced her mother, and when she broke off, her eyes were teary.
“It was my fault too, Ammi. I know I haven’t been spending time with you even when you are home. You may feel that I am always out with my friends. And I also know that you listen to my phonecalls secretly!”
Shagufta shifted nervously in her seat. She was embarrassed.
“It’s alright Ammi. I understand. But I want to assure you that you don’t have to worry. I know my limits and I know where to draw the line. In fact there is something I wanted to show you too! She pulled out from her backpack some application forms and ruffled through them. She showed her mother a three page off-white form.
“This is a scholarship form, Ammi. I was thinking of applying to Kings' College London and if they like my grades, I can get a hundred percent scholarship. They have an amazing course in Biomedicine. If I don’t get a full scholarship, one of my friends dad is in banking and he said he could easily get me a student loan. What do you think Ammi?".
Shagufta sat still. After a while she responded, " I would be extremely happy for you if you get this scholarship my dear. Even if you get a part scholarship, you don’t need to take a loan. I will be able to fund you, don’t worry. You have always been an exceptional student, and you deserve good education. "
“Thanks Ammi!!” She gave her mother a tight bear hug, flashed a huge smile and excitedly ran to her room.
Sameer would have been so proud of his daughter, she thought. She had her priorities right. She had grown up to be so sensible and mature, for which Shagufta hardly took any credit. Her situation had forced Razia to grow up sooner than her age, and so independent. Razia would manage staying alone at home while Shagufta would be at work. Now it was time for Shagufta to be at home while Razia flew off to London. And she didn’t even have her business to run.
She decided to spend the next couple of months completely with her daughter, before she left for London. They went together for movies and dinners. She would cook the best of meals for her daughter and Razia would relish them. “I will miss your food ammi!” She would say. And then Shagufta taught her to cook and do laundry and all other house chores which were so easily taken care by Kanu maushi here.
Razia’s application was accepted and she received a hundred percent scholarship. Their joy knew no bounds, and soon enough, it was time for her to go. As they bade goodbye, Razia finally gave words to what was in her mind for so long.
“Ammi, what will you do, when I’ll be gone for three years? You will be all alone. I think it’s time for you to think about settling down once again. You have struggled enough, and now you deserve a break too. Please think about it, okay?".
“Okay, beta. I’ll think about it. And don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. Focus on your studies, and if you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Take care. "
Shagufta wiped a tear off her face as she gave her daughter one last hug before going. Life was now a clean slate for her.
Sometimes when you cannot see the way ahead, you have to look back in the past for your source of light. Shagufta’s deepest desire was to write. She remembered wooing Sameer with her Urdu poems and shayaries, and she had always yearned to write. She sat in her room, all alone with a notebook. And thoughts started to flow. She wrote and wrote.
She would video call Razia daily, and in her free time she would write. Razia would encourage her to write more and would also give her ideas. While managing the bookstore, Shagufta had made contacts with publishers and editors, and hence it was no surprise that her compilation of poems saw the light of the day and was accepted by publishers.
Today as she looked at herself in the mirror, getting ready for her first ever book launch, the deluge of memories flooded back to her in a flash. She stepped out into the press room, and stood on the podium.
“Zindagi thi ek ehsaas ki tarah
Har khwab chhipaate thhe raaz ki tarah
Aaj pohonch gayi tujh tak meri fariyad
Kisi sheeshe ke tootne ki aawaaz ki tarah..”
And there was a thunderous applause. The loudest claps emerged from her daughter, and her five year old grandson, Sameer. She smiled at them.
It was not like she hadn’t thought about getting married again. But would that make her happy? Was it the best use of her life? Today as she sat on the podium, doing a reading at her very first book launch at sixty- two years of age, in front of her dearest ones, Shagufta finally felt her life come full circle. She remembered her six year old Razia asking her, " When will you find your happily ever after? " She had found it today.