On Losing My Nana Jaan (Grandfather)

By Nadia B. Ahmad

Nana“He’s letting you beat him.”

“So what!? At least I’m learning something.”

My grandfather, a chess master, would allow us to beat him at chess every time much to the chagrin of our relative onlookers. I was and still am awful at chess.

And after succumbing to a sudden bout of pneumonia this past January, my family laid my maternal grandfather to rest in Ocoee, Fla. Alongside my maternal grandmother who had passed 12.5 years earlier.  Outwardly it appeared Mohammad Sadullah had lived an ordinary life, but he was a remarkable human being distinguished by his keen intellect and penetrating wisdom. My grandfather was the only one who read all my articles in their entirety and never criticized me. He only offered ideas about what to write in the future, which is precisely what grandfathers are meant to do.

From the partition of India and Pakistan which pitted brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor and to the recent geo-politics and back to collapse of the Ottoman Empire, my grandfather preserved his observations and shared them only sparingly. For better or worse I was the usually the one he would discuss these matters. My grandfather attended everything from my high school graduation to my attorney oath ceremony for my induction into the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida in Orlando’s federal courthouse, and my grandfather felt a sense of accomplishment that I was his granddaughter.

It was always the other way around, though—in that I admired that he was my grandfather.

You see, my grandfather worked intelligence for the Indian government.

He never discussed his work even after all that time passed. It was an on-going family joke. Incidentally, he took all those state secrets to his grave.

I miss my grandfather at the oddest of times. Just yesterday passing a road with the namesake of Gibraltar on the way to the Smokey Hill Library in Arapohoe County, Colorado, I thought back to when my grandfather first told me about that story. My grandfather, who has also been my SundaySchool teacher for some time, taught me about the history of Islam, a history of struggle and fortitude.

My grandfather lost his hearing and refused the use of hearing aids in his later years. It helped him be in his own world and so that he could continue to have a single minded determination without a tad of  concern for the world.

With the state of affairs as it is, I remember the battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad (s) that my grandfather would relate. From the Mount of Uhud to the Battle of the Trench, I hearken back to those lessons not for any sense of military strategy but for the lessons of self-sacrifice and the concept of working towards a greater good.

I am glad my grandfather is not alive today, though. I am glad he is not alive to see his brethren across the world celebrating the death of international justice, the loss of human rights, the unaccountability of lost lives, and the travesty and corruption of worldwide political systems.

My only regret was that my grandfather was not able to hold my newborn son, Senan, who was his fifth great-grandchild, prior to his death.

It is easy now to lose ourselves in this mad rush of geo-politics and consumer trending and hinge on the price of oil futures and the volatility of the world’s markets, but for me the world stands still because I lost my grandfather, but gained a son.

Is not that all life is? Everything between birth and death.

What we do between those two moments determines our eternities.