A writer and educator from Mumbai pays tribute to Pakistani historian, scholar, politician Hamida Khuhro who passed away on February 12, 2017
The warmth and humility of that wonderful, grandma-like figure the world knew as Hamida Khuhro are qualities that I will never forget. While interacting with me, she was just Hamida Apa, and not the historian, scholar, and former education minister of Pakistan. Her kind, affectionate ways are strongly etched in my heart.
We first met on October 31, 2013 at the Children’s Literature Festival in Lahore, and subsequently on May 3, 2014, at the Children’s Literature Festival in Islamabad. Between these two meetings, and after them, we stayed in touch via Facebook chat and email. Each conversation was filled with joy, appreciation and blessings.
I miss Hamida Apa, and will take a while to come to terms with the fact that I will never see her again. It was my dream to go with her to Larkana, Mohenjodaro, Bhit Shah and Jamshoro – places in Sindh that I have only read and thought about. Though she walked with difficulty, and spoke with exhaustion when I last saw her, I did not expect her to go away so soon.
I love the Children’s History series she wrote for Oxford University Press, and have savoured each of them – A Children’s History of Punjab, A Children’s History of Sindh, A Children’s History of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and A Children’s History of Balochistan – multiple times. These are dedicated to her grandchildren growing up in Europe. In one of them, she wrote, “I am myself responsible for any errors for which I beg the indulgence of my young readers.”
I used to wonder why Hamida Apa, five decades my senior, was keen on my feedback as a reader. I guess, to her, I too was a child and, therefore, her target audience. These books are special because they narrate the history of Pakistan’s provinces in a way that celebrates ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. They talk about love legends, Sufi shrines, and the intermingling of cultures.
These books hope to share, with younger generations of Pakistanis, a broader view of their South Asian heritage. Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus, who are often missing from Pakistan’s imagination of itself as an Islamic republic, occupy an important place in these books.
An autographed copy of A Children’s History of Balochistan is lying on my desk right now. It was a gift from her publisher Ameena Saiyid. I stood beside Hamida Apa as she lovingly wrote, “Chintan, a good friend and a great encouragement for me – With best wishes, Hamida Khuhro.” Her unsteady hands attempted to grasp the pen as she wrote. I was so moved that I cried.
Today, the news of her death reached me through a status update on a friend’s Facebook wall, and I have been trying to process it ever since. I find myself reading our digital conversations over and over again.
The last email I received from Hamida Apa was on May 7, 2016, in response to my request that she write for an anthology of essays on Gandhi that I was planning to put together:
“Dear Chintan, I accept your invitation to write a piece on Gandhiji with great pleasure. I have not actually written on Gandhi before except references to him in other essays – but I would like to actually think and write about him for your book.”
What an honour that would have been! I have not been able to devote enough energy to that project but, in view of this recent loss, I feel like approaching it with a renewed resolve in fond memory of Hamida Apa.
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