Her lovely face serene, a white cloth covering her head, her neck, a black cloth inscribed with Quranic words gave her slender body a second cover. Still, cold, her skin flawless, her face so calm it was as if she was in the midst of a dream she didn’t wish to wake up from. It was just that she wasn’t asleep.
Even the loudest noise couldn’t have woken her up. Even the plea that was worded in the deepest pain wouldn’t have pierced her silence. Even the wails of her sister wouldn’t have reached her. Even the silent tears of her other sister and brother wouldn’t have worked. Even the stony silence of her father wouldn’t have been effective. Even the heartbreaking stoicism of her mother wouldn’t have changed her stillness into life. She was dead.
Her name was Isha Sadaf Khawaja. She was 25 years old.
Those who stood around the wooden cot on which her body was placed in repose that had an indescribable finality, looked shaken with grief. There was more than grief. There was the unexpectedness of seeing someone so full of life, someone so young — the youngest in the family — be the first one to die. The long rectangle of the drawing room in which furniture had been moved to the side to make room in the middle for her shrouded body was full of people, of all ages, one old woman shaking her head, the lines of her face moist, as if she was saying: Time toh hamara tha, yeh kaise chali gayi.
Even the loudest noise wouldn't have changed her stillness into life. (Picture for representational purposes only) (Source: Reuters)
A group of young women — Isha’s friends — crying in grief, seemed to have one question: How could she die, just like that? As if dying young was something none of them could even relate to. At their age, time is merely a trifle that is there in so much abundance that it is almost unnoticeable.
I didn’t know any of them, but I hugged each one of them. My 24-year-old niece is more than a daughter to me, and I know how much her friends mean to her. Isha wouldn’t have wanted to see any of her friends crying, but cry they will be, today, tomorrow, for many days, for a long time.
Before Isha’s body was taken for burial, there was a loud chant of Quranic duas and duas in Urdu. Hearing those prayers broke my heart. You do not use those words for someone so young. Those words are for someone who has lived a full life and died happy, content, old. Those duas are not for a young woman whose entire life was ahead of her.
The last time I met Isha was when she was a child. Her oldest sister, Vaneeza Ahmed, was one of Pakistan’s most famous supermodels, and I knew her since she was my junior in college. Vaneeza’s family was wonderful — her always-smiling mother, her younger sister, Ayesha, also a very famous model, and an educationist post her marriage and having children, their brother Aamir, and the baby of the family, Isha. Everyone who knew Vaneeza, or read and watched her interviews, were familiar with the love she had for her youngest sister — she talked about Isha all the time, Isha was often seen at Vaneeza’s shoots and shows. All of them, everyone in her family, loved Isha beyond measure.
3 women died in a split second! (Picture for representational purposes only) (Source: Reuters)
On Saturday, February 23, 2019, at about 1 am, five people, talking, laughing, joking, in a silver Honda Civic were driving down a road in Islamabad, a road they had driven on many times. A young woman, Rimsha, was on the wheel, and Isha sat in the front with her. In the back were two young women and one young man.
What happened, and how it happened, no one really knows. But it all happened in a matter of seconds.
The car swerved, smashed into the iron fence around a cluster of trees canopying a water-filled ditch, and went in, face down. Reportedly, the impact opened the airbags, crushing the two front-seat passengers to the point they were unable to get out of their seatbelts, even if they could. The car filled up with water, drowning their motionless bodies. The man was conscious, and he pulled the woman closest to him out of the car. The third one, Hina, a young mother of three, also died.
Three young women died. Just like that. It was over before it began. Their entire lives frozen into that one moment.
The death of a child, to me, is the worst thing among all the bad things that happen in our world. The world has so much heartache and heartbreak it is a miracle human beings continue to breathe after every tragedy. The resilience of heart, the strength of mind, warrior-like endurance of soul, together, they form that human shield that, again and again, comes into play when you find yourself helpless. But when a child dies, even at the age of 25, the world stops in its axis for a long moment of grief, shifting to one side everything that you were used to, turning every familiar response upside down, leaving human beings feeling clueless as to how to even breathe. Each breath becomes a shard of glass when the person you love the most, dies.
Life, it is all over in a second, yet we take it for granted. (Picture for representational purposes only) (Source: Reuters)
When a child dies, imagine the innate human helplessness, the immovable human powerlessness. You live even when each breath becomes a shard of glass. A parent is not supposed to bury a child. Older siblings who love their sister like a baby are not supposed to bury their baby. The youngest member of the family is not supposed to be the first one to die. And when that happens, the world changes. Forever.
I do not know how to offer condolences to a family who has lost their beloved daughter. In this story, three women died, three families are mourning. There is grief that becomes easy to live with as time passes, but never ever ends. I didn’t really know any of them, other than Isha, yet I feel my heart breaking as I write these words. I wish there was a rewind button in life, and Isha, Rimsha and Hina had reached home safe on that night between Friday and Saturday. All I can do is pray for the souls of the departed, and pray for their families. Prayer is all we have for those in pain, that may no one ever go through their pain...
Life, it is all over in a second, yet we take it for granted. Assuming there is another day when you’ll make that call to your mother, meet your brother, have lunch with your sister, visit your father. That there is another day to reach out to a friend you’ve not met in ages, text an old friend you miss, spend time with cousins who’re your childhood friends, say sorry to someone you hurt. Love, family, relationships, friendships, dreams, goals, everything is taken for granted. Abhi bahut time hai. Until that one final second hits you like a bolt of lightning, and it is all over.
Love as if there is no tomorrow. Make each moment count. Start right now. (Picture for representational purposes only) (Source: Reuters)
Reach out. Make that call. Meet that person. Make up. Be with your loved one. Don’t be scared to have someone new in your life. Work for your goal. Make that one big dream of yours come true. Fly, even it is just in your head. Unfreeze your feet, unfreeze your heart. Hug your child, your mother, your best friend, the love of your life, your beloved dog. Love as if there is no tomorrow. Hug tight. Laugh with abandon. Live with all of you. It will all end in a moment. But while you have it, make each moment count. Start right now.
Rest in peace, Rimsha.
Rest in peace, Hina.
Rest in peace, Isha.
You will live forever in the hearts of those who love you...