Durdana Butt: A new beginning

I studied where my mom taught, I studied in the elitist Beaconhouse School. A lesser-known branch of the massive and widespread institution in the suburbs of Karachi, a housing colony dedicated to Pakistan Steel Mills employees who wanted their children to get quality education was made by Russian architects and engineers in collaboration with Pakistani’s.

My mother told me fondly when in my youth I was taken away with the drama serial called ‘Tanhaiyaan’ that the old woman portraying the jovial ‘Aaya’, Durdana Butt was once principal of the very school I spent the most pivotal years of my life. I was admitted to the school at the nimble age of 2.5 years and left after completing my matriculation, our branch still holds the odd distinction of being one of the handfuls of Beaconhouse branches that still offer matriculation whereas the rest have long shifted to O and A levels system of disseminating education.

She passed away today after a long battle with cancer which was exacerbated when she was diagnosed with the coronavirus, she was admitted to a hospital for a while where she breathed her last.

The loss felt very personal, I had the pleasure of seeing the woman up close when I was employed with a private news channel and she came limbering in one day as I was leaving the premises, something so motherly about her, the air filled with purity and serenity. I did not speak to her, I really wanted to but didn’t, she then walked by and that was that, my only meeting with this great soul.

Mom taught Urdu at Beaconhouse for almost 30 years and is now happily retired, she had never worked under Durdana Butt, my mom’s entry into the school came at a time when Butt was on her way out, it was a difference of a few months between Butt’s departure from the school and her subsequent position as principal, vacated and my mother’s entry into the educational institute.

The Steel Town Branch was set up by the quintessential veteran of the Pakistani TV screens, Mr. Rahat Kazmi who was at the time working as regional director of Beaconhouse School System.

Durdana Butt was often mentioned in my household whenever we got nostalgic about the old days, I grew up seeing her as this perfect reflection of what a grandparent should be like, a person who just exudes warmth, love, acceptance, relatability, empathy, and zero judgments.

I wrote something about ‘wrinkled old faces’ once, maybe in my subconscious, that writing was my tribute to the one and only Durdana Butt, referred to as Durdana ‘Dodi’ Apa affectionately.  

“Some of the things that I do remember from childhood were some old wrinkly faces with grey hair and Kind eyes who felt warm and welcoming and were known as Grandparents. I was pretty close to them growing up my Dadi and Dada are still alive and well, My Nani and Nana on the other hand left this earth a long time back, I never saw my nana but was pretty close to Nani, still remember some stories and nicknames she gave me (too embarrassing to share). I always thought of old people as angels who can do no wrong and people just full of love and positive energy, I would crawl into bed with them and hear stories all night and sleep to them singing lullabies. I don’t have a plethora of memories with them, the times I shared with my grandparents in my childhood were very minimal but they were good times, very good times indeed, maybe I cherish these “little things” this much because I don’t remember much of my childhood. Someone once said to me that, if a time machine were to be invented she would like to go and observe herself in her youth when she was a little girl seeing herself gradually growing older, at first I acted like a total douche and laughed at her and thought that her aspirations were a bit “selfish” with all the things she could do…she chose to see herself…but gradually I began to understand what she really meant. Sometimes I think peter pan was right: “Nonsense. Young boys should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older, and then before you know it, they’ve grown.”

Don’t let the magic run out is all I am saying. (circa, 2015).

May the aggrieved be given strength and patience to bear this loss, when I meet you at the beginning Maa Jee, I am letting you know all of this in person, InshaAllah.

The writer tweets @reb_ali_ous