Herald exclusive: So, you’re Faiz’s granddaughter?
Since I was a little girl, I’ve repeatedly been asked the question “what is it like being Faiz’s granddaughter?” Though in reply I usually just smile a knowing, somewhat smart-ass-ish smile with a hint of self-deprecation, in my head I’m often thinking, to paraphrase Carrie Fisher, “well, compared to what? When I wasn’t his granddaughter?” That’s a tough one because I’ve been that for as long as I can remember, which is a fairly long time, and since my mother is older than me and her father was quite a bit older than her, it’s fairly safe to say, I think, that it would be quite inconceivable for me to have awareness of a period in which I was not his granddaughter but something or someone else.
And not knowing what it might be like to not be his granddaughter, it’s rather difficult for me to say what it’s been like to be his granddaughter. I suppose I should probably at some point sit down and think of a suitably reverent and wise-sounding stock answer but, I must confess, it’s not a subject I like to actively ponder over for fear of feeling, well, like the runt of the litter, to be perfectly honest. Oh I haven’t done that badly for myself of course but comparisons, even if they are imagined rather than explicitly expressed, can be daunting. That’s actually the reason I pretty much gave up writing poetry after my poem “I have a cat, his name is Pat” which I composed in Class 4; though it was favourably received, I didn’t see it standing up too well against the likes of “Aaj baazar mein pa-bajaulaan chalo” et al.
It was around the same time that he passed away, barely a year after returning to his homeland after a long time spent in self-imposed exile. He had lived for a number of years in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, as the editor of the literary magazine Lotus, where, in the summer of 1980, I went to visit him and Mama (Faiz’s wife Alys) accompanied by my mother and elder brother Yasser. I was six and the most vivid memories I have of that period of my life are of the time I spent in Beirut with my grandparents. I remember their small but cozy and welcoming apartment on the sixth floor with its tiny balcony out front, looking onto the Mediterranean, where Nana would sit in the evenings. The kitchen was the tiniest I’d ever seen, and the bathroom faucets gave out salt water. Nana had in his employ a handsome chauffeur called Musa, and Rita, his secretary, whom I liked to hang around because she was so pretty, and funny as well. On Sundays, Mama would cook us kids sausages and chips which we would devour while watching “The Incredible Hulk” on television.
Nana would spend most of the day in his office, which was housed in an apartment across the hall from the one which housed his home — an ideal commute. There was plenty of paper for me to draw on which Rita very generously handed out whenever I requested. With Rita clacking away on her typewriter in the back office, Nana would sit at his roomy desk and I would be sprawled on the carpeted floor near him, doodling away all day. Once Nana asked me to ask Rita if his coffee was ready. By that time in his life, his incessant smoking had turned his voice a bit gruff and I thought he’d said “Ask Rita if my copy is ready.” I went off dutifully to inquire after the said copy. Of course poor Rita had no clue what I was talking about. “Copy of what?” she asked, looking puzzled. I didn’t have the answer to that so I just repeated the question more forcefully, at which point I heard Nana in the other room, first chuckling and then roaring with laughter, having overheard my snippet of miscommunication.
I’m sure a lot of people find it hard to imagine Nana laughing out loud like that; some would be surprised to know he had a sharp sense of humour and that he enjoyed an off-colour joke as much as the next person. But that’s the wonderful thing, isn’t it? One is always surprised by new discoveries about those we love and admire. Like my surprise when his funeral was attended by hundreds of people, including so many faces I’d seen on television and in magazines; when condolence messages came from all over the world from all sorts of people, including Sunil Dutt and Dilip Kumar. That was one of the first inklings for me that he was much more than just my Nana. And I’m still getting to know him.
So what’s it like to be his granddaughter? I could try to say something profound here but suffice to say: Nice. Really, really nice.