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Rainbows and Richter scales. My father’s brothers.

Rainbows and Richter scales…

Eid (the day of feasts marking the end of Ramazan), marriage proposals, exam results and evening meals taken together.  When they come out on paper the words don’t make sense, but in my mind they bind memories of my family, especially my father’s brothers.

For as long as I remember the big Eid family lunch was the event that brought our entire family in one room and their collective personalities out in one spontaneous explosion of flavors.  From the very loud to the very subtle, it was a combination of rainbows and Richter scales. If you weren’t a Farid son or daughter you couldn’t understand why we were so loud, obnoxious and aggressive as a group. If you were, you wouldn’t miss it for the world. It was the gathering that charged our batteries till the next Eid lunch rolled around. As cousins we knew that all that talk, that mischief, that aggression, that noise was the best way that my father’s brothers showed their love for each other and their families. It was their language, their own code.

Like rainbows and Richter scales.

In a family blessed with fifty plus first cousins in the eighties, it was marriage proposals where you could see the rainbow shades truly blend together. It didn’t matter who was getting married to whom and why, our family got together and discussed the proposal from one end of the earth to the far side of the moon.  The four primary colors in that rainbow were Asad, Hadi, Sohail and Razzak. Four elder brothers, four personalities. Distinct and markedly different, you wouldn’t think they were related if you heard them on the radio or saw them at an event. When needed they would bring the calm and depth of silent rivers; leave them in the same room for five minutes and they would be as bad as a collection of naughty two year olds.

The elder brothers that we all looked up to and listened to. Wise men made wiser by the hard lives they had led and the family they had loved and held together when their world collapsed around them. Once you had them on your side the decision (if you wanted it) was in the bag.  Then all the groom (we had more girls than guys) had to do was to survive his customary interrogation at the hand of my father, agree to the date and the standard terms of meher for the daughters and the wedding was on.

My favorite personal memories were exam results. The minute I would come back home with a respectable result (occasionally) I would really want to go do a round. My father’s brothers hadn’t had the luxury of a paid for education on account of the turmoil surrounding partition.  But they lived through the challenge of re-establishing a family in a new city in a new country with nothing but love.  They fought to make a place for themselves and if you could look deep enough, you could see that aggression show in their bearing. Given this upbringing our parents pushed us throughout their lives to focus on studies and exam results, sometimes even when the choice meant giving up dreams.  But our chachas made it worthwhile. A good result was guaranteed to get you a sparkling new high denomination currency note and a loving hug. My father cared that his brothers should share in what we did at school, and his brothers lovingly cared back.  For a fourteen year old that meant the world.

The houses that my father’s brothers built were home away from home for all of us. The comfort of an informal evening meal when you drop unannounced for a visit. The family they held together through good times and bad became the basis of the lives we chose to live and the values we believe in. But their best gift are my cousins, each a replica of the original mould. Some bolder than the primary shade, others more sublime. As my father’s brothers have moved on to a better place, their memories reminders of our shared lives, I see the brighter brush strokes they have left behind.

Asad, Sohail and Hadi. Colors lost, grieved and mourned. Their lives, fully lived and celebrated.

This Thursday evening, Razzak chacha joined them.

Rainbows and Richter scales. The Richter scale has gone silent.  

Chacha (not the Cuban cha cha, but pronounced the same way) is a term of endearment for a paternal uncle in desi lands.

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