The art of living well till the eighty – eighth year of your life.
When sad, I can’t sit still. I wrote on her in Shahida Azeem, my mentor and friend. Still I was sad, so I wrote about the sadness and how I tried to cope in Dealing with sadness. So this time, I’ve written a list of things I’ve observed in Shahida Apa, which I believe are the secrets of her success . Mrs. Nasreen Haq Nawaz her family friend mentioned that Shahida Azeem has been like this even when she was thirty years younger!
After her passing away, I found out Shahida Apa was eighty eight years old. She walked straight and with grace and showed me how it is possible to live at this age. Here are a few photographs I took during one of my visits to her place. I wish I had taken some videos of hers too.
Whenever I’d mention her to anyone, the first question they’d ask me, ‘what is her age?’ I’d look blankly, surprised.
‘What has age got to do with her?’ I’d think.
When I meet a person, I see the person, not her/his age. So, I never bothered to find out, nor did it matter. I just loved being with her. Her phone calls were always a pleasure, and our chit chat was just fun. Sometimes, she’d ask me to find a good ‘Shia’ man for her friends’ daughter. Or a nice ‘chulpuli’ girl (cheerful) girl for another friends’ son. Sometimes she needed a driver or a maid. She’d ask me, what I thought about her idea to start a carpentry class in her school for those teenage boys who don’t study and needed a skill to live on. Once I went with a donation to her place. She was thrilled with the small amount I had taken. She said, ‘I wanted this to complete my Rs.100,000 which was her target amount to get the classes going! She was so thrilled. Of course, her receipt would soon be sent to my home.
‘I have to leave, soon.’ I’d be saying. She would be telling her maid to get me a cup of tea with those special delicacies that had arrived that day. Naturally, I’d end up staying, and our talk would move from her being upset about the political situation in the country getting worse. Through her worry for Pakistan, she’d end up saying,
‘So what? We have to do what we can to help the poor people!’
Always busy with events to raise funds, she would be holding grand events inviting ambassadors as chief guests who would be kind enough to give donations for the building of her school, or for the children of the school.
When I joined Mashal – the organization for poor children and women, which she owns. Eight years ago, a donation of a humble Rs.1000 could pay for one years’ education of a girl. Now with Rs.1200 per month you can pay for education of a girl. One can pay annually or quarterly also.
So, here is what I observed in her, these are the rules by which she lived; Yes, she can be anyone’s role model. So, let us find out what was the secret of her successful life.
- Take care of yourself. Always be elegantly dressed, with matching shoes, handbag. Usually, a self colored suit, wearing jewelry to match with ear rings, necklace and rings. On occasions she would have a flower in her hair. Yes, her hair was always perfectly groomed. The glowing complexion and her smile always there. Though a petite 5 feet tall she emanated grace, poise and dignity. Her dress was always appropriate, simple and elegant. – This included wearing beautiful nightclothes also! (She said you spend a sizable amount of your days in nightclothes, naturally, these should be really good!)
- Excellent memory: Though she met so many people on a daily basis. Can you imagine owning a school for the poor with over a hundred children, and knowing most of them? She knew how a child had come, what was his back ground. She monitored teachers and she paid great attention to how the school was being managed by the teachers, and ladies in charge.
- Took care of the ladies who worked with her: She was all the time worried about each one of the committed and helpful ladies with her. They had been together for over twenty years or so. She loved them and felt sad on anyone’s demise, or illness.
- Walk four to five times weekly: During her walk she would be talking with any neighbor meeting on the way, and would go and meet some too. Her walk was usually near the mountains also. That is where I went too and that is where we met for the first time.
- Live independently: Though she had a son officially living with her. But actually, he would be away on some travels most of the times. She was the queen of the home, managing everything, from the staff to the food and taking care of the house. Getting any repairs done or managing the disappearance of any staff member herself. Once her car was stolen by a new driver, and she found out the driver had a fake ID card. She was naturally upset, but soon bought a new car, and a driver and got on with her life. She would give a piece of her mind to about the crook, and then got on with her life. ‘Allah ghaarat karay uss ko!’ (She had the same set of words for my enemies too!)
- Caring for neighbors and friends: When she knew my daughter and I started living in this house, she would often drop in to see how I was doing. She was after me to get a full time domestic help. I told her I don’t want one. (Nor could I afford it.) But she was adamant. She asked all her friends to get me a reliable and good person. Finally, she got one for me. He is a real gem, and I’m so grateful to her. When she came over she would tell him that if he ever gave me any trouble he would have to answer to her! Once when he was trying to go to Saudi Arabia, (with my blessings,) she was furious with him. ‘Why are you leaving her?’ Finally, when he found out there was a big hoax and foul play, and he managed to get back to me. She was very happy for me. She gave him a good shout for having tried for greener pastures, and wanting to leave me.
- Entertaining: She loved entertaining. I’ve had grand lunches at her place with catering service serving delicious barbecued food along with soft drinks in stem glasses served by waiters. I’ve had a sit-at dinner at her place with delicious foods carefully made, and beautifully served. The guests being really interesting persons full of talent and zeal.
- Musical evenings, funfairs and grand dinners: She arranged charity dinners and musical evenings to get money for her school. The events were arranged by her talented event manager daughter Talat. The invitation cards would be simple and the programs arranged with a lot of detail. The singers would be good and the session was always interactive where the requests from the audience were considered too.
- Regular meetings: Mashal has regular meetings where the minutes of the previous meeting would be announced, the financial situation would be shared by all members. Many of these were held in Islamabad club or any restaurant. I had joined them in 2011 and soon I lost my husband. Afterwards, when I attended one of the meetings, she told everyone,
‘bhari jawani mein widwa ho gai!’ (She became a widow in the prime of her youth!) She was so loving, she only saw the good in everyone. (Seeing me as young and youthful made me secretly smile even more!)
- Regular food served in neighborhood and among the poor: Invariably, a plate with delicious rice with chick peas would arrive at our home. My dad would love the dish and say, that if its come from her house, he would certainly love to have it. During Ramzan, almost daily something would arrive with samosa, pakoras or some other delicacy, also separately for my staff. – Sometimes, only for my staff!
- Helping women in distress: She had special handicrafts section in the school for the mothers of the children. Along with a clinic for anyone who falls ill in school or in the community. There was a doctor and health visitor to look after the patients.
- Never talk about illness: Never once did I hear her talking about being ill. Though, she was always worried about other people’s illnesses, she never worried about her own. Always thanking God for her own wellbeing.
- Command over languages: She spoke fluently in English and in Urdu. Her knowledge of literature in both languages was really good. One only learnt new things from her, as she had an excellent memory which she used to recite poetry on every occasion.
- Love of music and the arts: She enjoyed music and encouraged and supported upcoming artists, by holding musical evenings at her place.
- Having Milad programs: At her home, as well as at her school. Afterwards, in school she would arrange for food to be given to every child. The distribution of food to over a hundred children was done with great discipline.
- Sense of humor: In every situation, she was ready with a good joke, and enjoyed jokes by others. She really caught the humor in situations and loved a good funny conversation.
- A strict disciplinarian: All said and done, in some things she was very firm, and did not take any type of slack from her staff or members of the organization. She made sure that while she worked with all her heart, so did the entire staff. Her keen eye easily spotted any lapses, and was quick to reprimand and admonish, and to quickly take steps to repair any damage.
- Kept a good staff at home: She always had a maid, batman, gardener and driver. Proper table manners and protocol was observed. In spite of so many staff issues. Her continued to keep an elegant home decorated beautifully and with great care. There are twinkly lights in the drawing room, giving an aura of special occasion.
- Chauffer driven car at her disposal: So, she was fully independent and went to Mashal and other functions on her own. She loved to take along whoever needed a lift.
- Gifts with notes: Often, a gift of a lovely doputta or cute accessories would arrive at my place with a loving note from her. Once for my father she brought a tray with gifts and a set of small hand towels tied with a bow ribbon. Such a useful gift! The gifts were thoughtful and appropriate. I have one doputta from her which literally matches every dress of mine! I sent her last gift to me, to my granddaughter Anya, I knew she would feel like a princess in it!
- Scrupulously honest in financial dealings: No matter how busy she was, she always kept an eye on all financial dealings. If I happened to send her a larger amount. She would make sure I received the change immediately. If I sent her a donation, her receipt would promptly arrive. Otherwise, she would follow that case till it got completed.
- No age limitation. She never allowed her age or any limitation come between herself and her current goals in life.
- Took care about food intake: She ate very little and mostly vegetables and fruits. She was very careful with her diet and food intake. This is why her weight was always normal and on the lessor side.
- Generals wife and a leader: Being the wife of a retired Lietenent General, she was a true commander, yet humble and straight forward.
- Practically religious: She was religious in a very practical and committed sort of way. Her complete faith in the Almighty made her fearless and courageous in all endeavors.
I could go on and on. Yes, she was a Queen herself, and had a knack of making everyone else feel like princesses or close friends. I suppose in a nutshell you can say her ‘Akhlaq’ or charater and personality was just amazing. This is what drew you to her.
Perhaps that is what impressed me that lovely evening, when I said ‘Assalam o alaikum to her.’ She said, ‘Walaikum assalam,’ (and peace be upon you too)
… and I was at peace due to knowing such a lovely person.