By Dr. Fozia Kamran Cheema
I was reading the biography of the late Arfa Karim, and I came to know that her father Col (retd) Amjad Karim left the Pakistan Army, a couple of years before Arfa left the world. And the sole purpose of leaving the Pakistan army was to be there for Arfa and to make sure that she could reach her commitments on time.
Col Amjad was appointed as the C.O in Chor Cantonment. He decided to refuse the job and left the army after serving it for 21 years. As there was no one else who could be his daughter’s driver, her manager, her caretaker, her mentor, her peacemaker, her emotional booster, and her person to be in thick and thin. Between being a father and an army officer, and not alone an ordinary army officer, but the one awaiting a bright career ahead, he picked being a father. Tough choice, but not unusual, not extraordinary, not impossible, neither strange nor rare.
It was not the choice of leaving the army and becoming the chauffeur of his daughter, that forced me to make that phone call on Tuesday the 12th of October 2021.
I called him to know how big was the regret of leaving the army after he lost the biggest blessing of his life too. How did he identify himself after he missed the opportunity of being called Baba by his little daughter as well?
I wanted to understand how wrong his decision of leaving the dazzling career, all the prospects and retirement packages were, to be the father of Arfa.
Finally, that rope of recognizable regret was right in front of me —all that I required and what was necessary to come out of the blackness and into the light.
That was the ultimate déjà vu I was rummaging for.
I fastened my seat belt, checked cabin pressure, and put the plane on autopilot. I was eager, I was ecstatic, and I was callous. I was only concerned about my own healing. Today my wound was crucial. Today was the day. I was evil and wanted to use him, his story, his repentances to suture my scar. I was dreaming to be finally home and sleeping again after telling my pillow ….nokrian chornay sah, qurbania denay sah kuch nahen hota ,janay walown ko koun rok sakta hay, bad main pichtawa hota hay jab naa ruknay waly bhe chalay jata hain aur ap khud bhe khale hath rah jatay hain (We cannot influence the time of departure of our loved ones, they leave when the final bell rings and sacrificing anything does not change the inevitable)
My misery was about to over, needles were around to be removed –one phone call and I shall be sleeping like a baby again.
I did not message Col Amjad before I called him. I did not want him to plan the answers. I required that raw remorse, that regret of making a non-calculated hasty decision for dearest and then being left alone with the consequence of that decision for the rest of his life. I needed that grief for my own survival. That phone call was my one chance of parole- my only lifeline left in the event of life. The audience was watching and I was prepared to wrestle, ready to win.
I recalled my assertive voice when I asked, “can you walk me through the journey of you leaving the army?”
It was late in the evening, but who cares. I had 15 minutes to spare.
I actually had no intentions of listening to his answers, as I already knew the replies.
He would tell me that it was a tough decision, but he took it for his daughter’s sake and then Arfa left, and he of course had regrets of not thinking thoroughly about his decision. And then perhaps he would say…Jo Allh ke marzi, mujhay faisla letay waqt pata to nahen tha kah kal kia ho ga (it was the will of Allah, one never knows on forehand how future will turn out). And then he might weep, and tears of sorrow would blend with tears of regret and grief.
I would nod accordingly and would say sentences of condolement and then it would be over once for all.
Our dear ones don’t want us to sacrifice our careers, our bank accounts, our own self… right? They want us to thrive, to prosper, to flourish and they love us for who we are and don’t force us to make hard decisions.
I wanted to know how he felt after losing both of his identities.
That autumn evening, Amjad Karim Randhawa started talking in his heavy charismatic voice and my relevant converted into irrelevant, all my sureties transformed into useless garbage and my significant became insignificant and my expectations drowned immediately. My life’s credit card got erased and went back to zero. All my medals of certainty and confidence got snatched one by one.
An avalanche of words was coming from his side… words of tashakar (gratitude), words of tafakar (wisdom), phrases overflowing with the love of his daughter, statements loaded with the joyous time spent with Arfa, pride for what his daughter achieved, the dignity of never begging for any favors from anyone in this world, the honor of serving the country and then parting the army silently and with poise when justice between work and taking care of his daughter was not possible–aur han gham bhe tha bohat karb tha (and yes there was grief as well, tons of heartache, bundles of sadness)…. But not an ounce of regret, not at all….
Koi shikwa, koi shikayat nahen, shukar he shukar tha, Arfa jaisay tohfay kah liay shukar,Us kah sath guzray satra salown ka fakhar (no whining, no complain, only thankfulness, gratitude for having a daughter like Arfa, pride for all the seconds spent with her)
I was not prepared for defeat. I wanted victory. Cabin pressure was reducing, and in my annoyance, I got nastier and more malevolent. I started querying difficult excruciating questions.
“Put a hand on your heart and tell me honestly, did you not leave the army because of the fact that Arfa became renowned, and you did not care less about the army?” I asked the most agonizing question and that too in the most dramatic way imaginable. What a heartless vindictive statement I made for the father who already had lost the most prized asset of his life.
My tongue was rough, but my heart was imploring …give me something please, only an iota of guilt, if not more. I want to heal myself; I have not slept in years. Please do not sabotage the agenda of today’s conversation.
He did not mind my question at all. He was in a trans….na in kah lab larkarhiay, na jumlay phislay, na lahja kampa, na wo khafa howay,na taiwar badlay aur aanso to maujhay yad aa gaya tha kah onhown nain apni beti kah janazahy par bhe nahen bahaiay thay …(his sentences did not change, neither did his tempo nor did he panic. And tears —suddenly I recalled that he did not even cry at the funeral of his daughter).
He answered with so simplicity, “My decisions are never influenced by the environment I am in, I choose with my heart, with the power of khudi (self-awareness) —main faislay karta nahen, mujh sah karwaiy jatay hain (I don’t make decisions myself, mystic powers are involved in my decisions making)….so no regrets at all”.
I could not concentrate on his words any longer, everything faded and the universe clogged for a minute or more. And while I was powerless to listen to what he was saying, my heart was gathering the essence of the conversation “We are not our jobs, we are not how much money we have in our bank accounts, we are not the cars we drive, and we are definitely not the contents of our wallets, we are human beings and when we understand things with the brain of our soul, we can’t make the choices regrettable.
He stayed in his irresistible motivating voice while reciting this verse:
Nee saiwon asi nainan day akhay lagay
Jinhan pak nigahan thayian
Kadi nai janday thagay …
(Those who make decisions with the pure forces of heart and soul, never ever fails)
The person on the other side of the handset was peaceful and calm and had mastered the art of letting go.
Then he might notice my disappointment and made an attempt to soothe me by saying that it was not the first time he chose relationships over a career. Years back, he did the same for his mother by opting to be along with her in Okara Cantonment over promotion.
He was free and satisfied in all the possible ways. I did not hit the bottom this time. I had already been there since 2015 after my father died. Now I realized, I might never be coming out of it.
I was dribbling and screaming and was not ready to spend the rest of my life in this limbo.
I swiftly changed my battle strategy as well as my weapons and decided to talk to the mother of Arfa. I knew she was an extraordinary woman, but still, a woman and women are well-known for not being satisfied and are easy to break.
To be Continued