That’s me in the lap of dad!Today is 6th June. Exactly 16 years ago my father passed away. The day he died I was at the university writing the last mid-term exam of second semester.
My father was very proud of being Pakistani, that’s why he attached a suffix “Pakistani” to his name. His full name on ID card was “Sheikh Zafar Ali Pakistani”. In Layyah, he was known as “Pakistani Sahib”. He even named our house in Layyah with a “Pakistani house” name plate.
Dad lived a tough life. Born and raised in Quetta, he followed the footsteps of his father and came to Layyah where he did all sorts of labour work from selling ice blocks and corn in the street to working as a butcher. Later he learnt how to repair the tyres and opened a tyre vulcanising shop “Quetta Tyres” in Layyah which is now run by my elder brother.
Even late in his life, he would often return home with blisters on his palms after a hard day at work. My mom would rub ointment on his wounds and dress them with gauze.
When I was in 3rd grade, one day dad came to attend our school function. Unlike other kids’ parents who were well dressed for the occasion, dad came directly from the work. He wore a light-green Shalwar Kameez with many dirt spots on it. There were some buttons missing from the Kameez. Nobody said anything but I felt embarrassed in front of other kids and hid myself in the back rows. But dad had always taken a pride in his work and would often remind us, “don’t forget you are the son of a labourer. There is no shame in doing labour work”. During my school holidays I used to work at our shop fixing tyre punctures just like other employees would do. This taught me to have the deepest respect for the lowest class workers.
In Layyah, a Siraiki speaking district, dad used to miss speaking Pashto language. If a shoe-polisher Pathan happened to come to our shop, he would serve him tea, and converse with him in Pashto language for hours. “I have been longing to speak Pashto for many weeks”, he would tell us.
Early in my school days, I used to write the zero digit like a dot. Dad tried to correct me many times, but I continued to repeat the same mistake over and over. One evening, dad had enough of it and gave me a big slap on my left cheek. Then he took off the calendar from the wall and by pointing his finger to it said, “look at the number 10! How is it written? The zero is of the same height as 1”. Since that day my zero has never been any smaller.
When I took admission in a college in Multan I went to our shop every month to collect the fee. Dad would give me the earning of whole week. Since I used to work at the shop, I knew how hard the earning was. Filling air was 1 Rupee per tyre. To this day, I carry this heavy debt on my shoulders.
Dad was an adventurer and a great story teller too. He once drove Vespa scooter from Layyah to Quetta. I still remember the tales of his adventure which used to fascinate me in the childhood. However I could never tell him about my intentions of bicycle tours because I was so afraid of him, but he never punished me for doing cycling tours, be it from Layyah to Multan or to Lahore. Now when I am on this long journey to home, I wonder if dad were alive today what he would have said.
One summer night I went to sleep while counting stars. Later dad told me that I could barely count till 125. After many years of sleep I am finally awake, but dad now you are sleeping. The night is still young with the sky full of stars. I begin counting from where I left and this time around we shall take turns after each number. Let’s finish counting all the stars before the dawn. 126, 127, 128…