Saying goodbye to Sara on Jan 20 as she prepared for the most painful journey of her life was one of the hardest things to do. Getting home I switched on the TV to find Obama ready to take oath. Would Omar be able to see the ceremony and listen to his speech? I knew that even with the last breath in his body, he would want to. That even if another world summoned him, he would somehow manage to evade instructions — as he often did in his younger years — if only for a while. And he did. When he went away a few hours after midnight, I don’t know but I am reasonably sure that hope sprang eternal in his heart.
But that would have been only too natural. Always cheerful and carefree, it would have been difficult to find someone with a more positive outlook on life. When I first called him after the diagnosis was confirmed, he said, on hearing my tearful tone, “I am going to fight it.” And he did so tenaciously even if overpowered in the end. He used every weapon — the love and support of his wife, family and friends, the best medical treatment in the world and, not insignificantly, an irrepressible sense of fun that found him contemplating wicked Sarah Palin/Zardari cartoons.
Little Omar was not too different from his grownup self. He was kind and generous, uncomplicated and friendly, but not without audacity. He loved challenging authority, rigid postures and any notions of morality that threatened to restrain his free spirit. On Independence Day, we were required to come to school in our national dress. For all of us this meant wearing starched shalwar-kameez. For Omar, it meant donning a short shirt, a make-do turban and a sarong-type piece of cloth associated with the richness of the Punjab hinterland, and not with the urban severity of Karachi where few would consider it the hallmark of elegant society. For the stiff upper-lipped this get-up was sacrilegious, for Omar, it was only logical. “This is also a national dress,” he declared, as school prefects gazed at him in fascination, unable to decide whether or not he was in breach of the rules.
But this talk is dangerous, for it pulls you through a haze of unending memories of a now distant childhood filled with happy days spent with loving siblings and cherished cousins. Of afternoons at the beach where Omar stretched himself out on the low parapet of his parents’ beach house, a drink (as in coke) in one hand, and a book in the other. Of mornings at our grandparents’ when we finally managed to get up in time to paint the sunrise using Omar’s brand new set of crayons. Of days when we played ‘Africa Jungle’ and ‘North Pole’ using our grandmother’s drawing room cushions as the wreckage of the plane from where we alighted to challenge this world’s insurmountable dangers. How could it strike us in our make-believe world that some 30 years later, one of us would be looking a far more pernicious enemy in the eye? And as we grow older, play was replaced by the merriment of shared jokes, humorous poetry and mimicry all refined to the status of an art — Omar was a great mimic. When it comes to a person like him, the healing process will inevitably be long. But even then, the happiness he exuded will always be felt. A prayer for this happy-go-lucky, beloved cousin can only be that he rest always in peace and utmost cheer.