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Today, I wish to use this space for a personal note.
February 17, 2020 marks the First Death Anniversary of my wife, Rukhsana Bajwa. Exactly a year has gone by since this loss.
This post is not a customary note on loss and mourning. It is actually a celebration of a life beautifully spent. I am sharing it to inspire others. It is a long story and I shall complete it in three installments.
I shall start by saying a few things by way of introduction.
Rukhsana was a PhD in Botany from Sheffield University UK and was teaching at Punjab University. She became Professor in Botany and later established a new department which was then upgraded as Institute. She retired as Director of the Institute. During her career, she supervised 23 students for PhD and numerous students for Masters. I worked in Pharmaceuticals and am still working.
Rukhsana and I met in 1985 through common friends. We found each other to be highly compatible and decided to marry, which we did in February 1986. We had 33 wonderful years together and celebrated our 33rd Wedding Anniversary on 13 Feb 2019. On 14 Feb, she was hospitalized for respiratory distress from which she never recovered. She passed away on the evening of 17 Feb 2020 surrounded by all children, their families, and her best friends who came from other cities to be with her in her last moments.
Rather than telling about how she died and how did we, the family, cope with the loss, I would rather talk about how we lived.
We were considered to be an ideal couple by all who knew us. Here are some things that we did differently.
Respect – we always respected one another; from the way we addressed one another to all matters small and big. The respect was not just verbal; it was always the running theme of our life together. We believed that a relationship could not sustain without mutual respect. We did it visibly in front of children so that they also learnt the same. During the initial years, we had our moments of discussions and disagreements, but these had no effect on the level of respect. Our respect was genuine, heartfelt and deep, and it arose from our sincere appreciation for other’s individual decency, capacity to love, talent, capability and achievements. Rukhsana had much higher education than me, but she never even mentioned it to me. She always said to me and everyone else that Asrar knew everything. It was not just talking; she actually asked for my input in everything she did. Ours were joint decisions, though I see in retrospect that those were mostly what I suggested.
Ours is a patriarchal society where men are supreme. In that feeling of being supreme, it is common to see men treating their women shabbily. Like love begets love, respect begets respect in the same manner. Love cannot sustain without respect. I quoted a study earlier also about finding clues in a relation about its sustainability. The most common and earliest clue for breaking-apart marriages was CONTEMPT. Contempt develops out of complete disappointment, distrust, disillusionment, and disenchantment. Contempt erodes respect completely and kills the relationship ultimately. Respect therefore must be guarded as jealously as love.
Support – We supported one another and stood together in all situations and at all times. We covered one another’s back so the other could do what she or he wanted to do. In late 1992, my job portfolio changed, and I started traveling extensively, within the country though. Our children were young, but Rukhsana supported me through and through. She took hold of all home matters and let me work freely. I would come back late night from some other town, but she waited so that we could have dinner together, which we did. During the last eight years of her job, Rukhsana became extremely busy due to new department affairs. She worked till the late evenings and even on holidays. I supported her fully to facilitate her so that she could work with full concentration. SUPPORT creates GRATITUDE. Grateful people carry respect and will always be good to each other.
Our support was also a running theme of our lives. We had twins within a year of marriage. We were working parents and lived independently. A third child was born a year and a half later. We raised the children together. We did their things together including but not limited to their cleaning, bathing, dressing, feeding, weaning, and washing. Our mutual support was always our greatest source of energy. We also had couple of occasions of financial difficulty, but we came out winning due to unconditional and unending support to one another.
Love and Romance – we married for love, and we nurtured our love all our life. We did not let that light become dim ever. We found ways to celebrate our birthdays, our anniversaries. We also actively celebrated family events, children birthdays so that the circle of love keeps getting bigger. Love is a feeling inside and shall only be seen when expressed as a tangible, visible action. Gifts are a good expression, and we always gave gifts on all occasions and sometimes without occasion. During 2003-2009, I was traveling a lot internationally. It was a given that I would choose something special from that country and bring for her. Rukhsana loved decoration pieces, crockery and selected perfumes. She always got plenty of these. Her face would light up when I brought her these things.
Romance is the expression of love in soft, delicate, emotionally laden manner. We had plenty of romance in our life and we kept creating it. Once on our wedding anniversary, we went for a long drive and ended up at Bathikka, a small, riverside, town in Neelum Valley, some 30 km ahead of Muzaffarabad. It was a picture-perfect beautiful place. We spent the evening on the riverbank and the night in rest house on the hill. Next day we came back; it was a lovely treat. Romance brings energy to love. Love without romance is dry and frivolous and may not be sustainable. We created romantic occasions to keep our love growing.