Today is my father’s fifth year death anniversary. It was December 25th where I was living at the time (Hawai’i), but it was the 26th in Karachi, Pakistan, where he died. Each time I tell someone that I was not there, they say, ‘Ah, that is our nightmare.’ There is nothing you can do to take back the two absences – the death of a parent, and not being able to say goodbye.
The passport was in the UK Consulate in Los Angeles. I’d submitted it for a UK visa just a couple days earlier, as I was scheduled to be in London in March/April 2010 for the UK release of my book The Geometry of God.
My father was in hospital when I sent the passport. He had pneumonia. Every day, I’d call the hospital, wondering what to do. I’d already been fingerprinted (before he got sick), which is what all Pakistani nationals must do before submitting a visa application. There is an expiration date on how many days after fingerprinting an application is valid. The clock was ticking.
My father would say he was getting better, and that I should submit the passport, go ahead with my plans, and have a beautiful book launch in the spring. I still kept waiting. Then on the 22nd he sounded so cheerful and we made each other laugh and I thought, “Okay, now or never.” The consulate would close for the holidays, and by the time it reopened, my fingerprints would have expired.
So I mailed off the fingerprints form, the application form, and my passport.
The next night, when I called him, he was not in his room. The morning after, I was told he was in ER. It was Dec 24th. The consulate had closed that very day. How was I to get my passport back now? There was NO direct number to the UK consulate. I had to go through some agency that charged an absolutely obscene amount per minute to speak with some total moron to get the message across that they just weren’t getting: send my passport back now. I called obsessively. I also sent faxes. And I called everyone I could think of in case they happened to know a human being who could help retrieve it. That was the 24th.
On the 25th I got the call: he had died.
On the 26th I finally found a kind person who’d once met someone who worked at the consulate and had her direct number. Luckily, she still worked there. By the time I left her voicemails I was a crazy person. She did call me back and I have little recollection of what we said, except that she had a Scottish accent, and that when I begged her to send it via Fed Ex overnight mail she said they only used UPS, but I was not to worry, it would be with me by the 30th.
I booked a flight home for the night of Dec 31st.
The passport did not arrive on Dec 30th.
UPS said it was due Dec 31,st during business hours. I did nothing that day but go online, to track it. I also called repeatedly to make sure they knew it HAD TO come today. They assured me they were on schedule. By 6:00 p.m. when it had not arrived, I again called. Their office had closed. I don’t know how I managed to get hold of someone at whom I screamed and swore more than I’ve ever screamed and sworn, till Dave (who’d returned) took the phone from me and told the guy what had happened. The guy on the line eventually promised to find out more. When he called back, he said there was a “mistake.” The driver of the delivery van they thought my passport was on did not have it. It was on another van, and he’d try to find out which one, but it might not be this evening...
The language I discovered at that moment involved not only swear words in at least three languages never heard before but a whole lot of scenarios along the lines of, What if it were your father. That usually changes them, if they’re human, which this guy turned out to be.
He found the truck. My passport was delivered at 9:00 pm. I left for the airport soon after.
When I got back from Karachi, I couldn’t find the strength to go through the whole wretched process of being fingerprinted again, in order to be “eligible” to apply for a UK visa to promote a book that took five years to write. It meant that I did not travel to London – or anywhere else – for the launch of The Geometry of God.
It is only this year that I found the courage to part with my passport again; for five years, I have clung to it like a limpet. I still live in absolute terror of being without it.
Those who’ve never had their mobility snatched from them because they happen to be the wrong nationality cannot understand. Those who’ve never missed kissing a parent goodbye because they’ve never had their mobility snatched from them because they happen to be the wrong nationality cannot understand.
I’m glad he got to read the book before he died. It had come out in the US, India, and Pakistan the year before, so he knew it well. He was excited for me, and would have been devastated to know that I missed the launch. But that would have been a small devastation compared with all the other grief that has taken hold of our country. He was a religious man and a Hafiz-e-Quran and some of his most serene moments were on Friday mornings, when he read from the very same Quran that he memorized as a six-year-old boy. (His mother’s brother was a book-binder; he bound those pages for him when they began to fall apart.) I’m glad he was not here on December 16th, to see what those who spit on all faith, all love, and all peace, did in Peshawar, when they killed those 132 children. It might have killed him.
If it is possible to quote one’s own work to the spirit of a beloved one, then it is this passage from The Geometry of God that I send him now, five years after he left us. “At one time, faith meant devotion to multiple pleasures – mathematics, poetry, music, anatomy, calligraphy. Knowledge was holistic. It had to be tasted. The mosque in Cordoba reflects that vision. It could not be built today. Tell me, how can an eye so penetrating have grown so dim?”