When you’ve celebrated 58 wedding anniversaries and claim you’ve reached a cusp in time where you now enjoy spending time at home with your grandchildren more than going out and socializing, chances are people around you have already begun writing you off as old and boring. Not the Javeris however. For everyone who’s ever met Syeda Ayesha Feroza and Hassan Javeri, better known as Ayesha aunty and Hassan uncle – parents of photographer extraordinaire Tapu Javeri – would nod in agreement when I say they’re still perhaps one of the most inspiring couples about town. There’s just something about them; an urbane coolness that makes them interesting to both young and old alike. They’re cheerful and vibrant; have lived a long blissful life, and they’re still certainly also very handsome together. Come to think of it, they’re pretty much everything you would hope to be when you get to their age.
“So what’s the big secret?” I ask them bluntly as I as we settle down in their artsy PECHS home for a conversation planned to pry and divulge.
“I think it’s all about give and take… I of course like taking more!” Hassan uncle declares matter-of-factly, and they both burst out laughing, and I realize right then that I’m in for a very interesting hour indeed.
Born in 1930 in Jamnagar State in India, Hassan uncle went to some of the finest schools the country had to offer. There was a boarding school in Dehradun, Raj Kumar College in Rajkot and Shri Shivaji military school in Pune among others. He developed an interest in hunting quite early on, and has a leopard skin in the house to prove just how good he was. After migrating to Pakistan, where there’s hardly any wildlife as compared to India, he cut down on his hunting trips and started concentrating on the family business; the Javeris were the royal jewelers for the states of Jamnagar and Junagarh, and Hassan uncle took on the responsibility of continuing the legacy in Pakistan.
Not so far away around the same time, a grey-eyed Ayesha aunty had also just relocated to Pakistan with her family from Meerut. She still vividly remembers her early years in India and has written a book of memoirs that everybody’s been pushing her to get published. For someone who hailed from an educated Muslim upper-class UP family that “in all honesty was quite arrogant like all the other families of the region with their hum-hum culture,” Ayesha aunty admits she found it rather difficult to embrace the modest lifestyle Pakistan offered at the time, an infant country that literally had nothing. “When we came to Pakistan, we came as refugees in a refugee ship called Battori. We traveled some of the distance in a train, and the one before that had been slaughtered!” she recalls. “And we were made to live in a flat! It was a totally new concept. Everything was so tiny compared to the big houses, gardens and all the servants we had left behind… it was a totally different lifestyle!” The change may have been a huge one, but there was something in the air, she adds, that compelled the people to love their new home. “We didn’t care about money; we were just thankful for having made it here!”
So how did fate bring the two together?
“Please don’t divulge any secrets, Hassan!” She warns her husband quickly with a mischievous laugh.
“What’s there to hide!?” He shrugs, and goes on to tell me the story of how they first met. “One of her very good friends was friendly with my brother, and that’s how I came to know her… she was only 16 at the time.” And that, according to him, was that! Love at first sight. Hassan found himself completely bowled over by young Ayesha’s beauty and mannerism, and on their third meeting, told her that he wanted to marry her! “I obviously didn’t know a lot about her back them, but whatever I saw and knew convinced me that she was the one… I knew right away that she was the right person for me.” He says.
“We didn’t know each other at all before the wedding.” She quickly adds in, “Like he said, we’d only met a total of three times before the proposal came along. I just knew him to be one of the handsome guys running around in the atmosphere… It’s not that my family was strict about me befriending boys; I went to the Karachi Grammar School at the time. It’s just that there was no concept of boyfriends and girlfriends back then, it was a different culture totally. If you fell in love, it was for life…”
So is that the level of purity and devotion one needs achieve to reach where these two have been living happily for the past six decades? Perhaps. But sadly, theirs wasn’t a fairytale right from the beginning, and things were not as simple as they seemed.
Ayesha’s father, Barrister Syed Ahmed Rafique was a Sufi who despite always having taught his children that divine love should be expressed in human love, was very unhappy with his daughter and her unexpected suitor. She had only just completed her Senior Cambridge was getting ready to go to medical school to become a doctor when the intercessions began, and her father was adamant; he would hear nothing of it. Ayesha aunty thinks it had to do with him being proud of his Syed gene and the concept that Syeds don’t give their daughters away to just anyone, “but I didn’t agree with that at all… Rasool Allah didn’t judge people like that!”
She fondly remembers how persistent Hassan uncle was during the one year of family interventions they both had to endure before her eldest uncle, Barrister Syed Ahmed Ashraf, who was the first General Secretary of All-India Muslim League of UP, finally talked her father into saying yes. “My uncle was a very romantic guy, and we owe it all to him for marrying us off on the same day as his own daughter Mehro.”
Everything happened very quickly once the decision was made; the cards were printed and sent out almost overnight. Her family didn’t have any time to make preparations for the wedding, and it helped that Ayesha aunty didn’t have any young-girl dreams about her big day. She was just glad that her father had finally given in. Hassan uncle and his family however had it all planned out. “We were in the jewelry business, so we had no issue coming up with jewels for the bride. We had it all under control! And my family refused to take anything from her family; I didn’t want anything except Ayesha.”
And I think it was this love and devotion of Hassan’s that finally convinced the rest of her family that he was in fact a good match for their little girl. Hassan uncle has proved to be a wonderful husband and father over the years and everyone including Ayesha auntie’s English mother Margaret, who had initially objected to the wedding eventually saw and appreciated that. Even her father, who had refused to build a relationship with his son-in-law despite having said yes, made peace with Hassan uncle the last time he went to see him on his death-bed in England. “He told me I was a good man and kissed my hand.” He recalls with strong emotion, glad that they got to share the moment before he passed away in 1998.
Ayesha aunty’s marriage to Hassan uncle turned her into the heroine of her family, at least among her younger cousins. “The elder ones looked down on me and called me a kharab larki. They were mad that I’d gone ahead and fallen in love, and that I was having a sort of a love marriage… but the younger ones were all very proud of me. I got a lot of shabaashi from them.” And she definitely deserved it for opening the gates for the younger ones in the family to go ahead and have love marriages as well!
Life after marriage shook her up a bit however. Leaving your comfort zone and moving into a new house and family is naturally taxing, especially when you’re only 17 and there’s a clash of cultures involved as well. “You see, UPites we have this innuendo; we’re never completely open with others.” She explains. “There are threads that you have to recognize because what you’re saying is quite different from what you mean. But then there I was, in a family where they say what they mean. It was distressing!” She laughs. “That was a difference of culture and I still feel it today after all these years!” And although both Hassan uncle and Ayesha aunty agree Mr Javeri adored her, she admits her mother-in-law, who was also an Englishwoman, took her time opening up to her son’s young bride. “I don’t blame her though. I didn’t even know how to make daal-chawal! It took me four years to become an expert cook.”
But then one day, tired from all the cooking and baking, Ayesha aunty broke down in front of her husband and he suggested she go back to school. “You cannot imagine how happy and relieved I was to hear that!” She recalls. When she had gotten married four years previously, she was studying to become a doctor, but now she had a husband and children to think about. Hassan saw her dilemma and encouraged her to go to college nonetheless. After graduation, she did her masters in Philosophy from Karachi University with distinction—while she was pregnant with her daughter Rabia! Not one to stop, she then took up the challenge of doing a doctorate in Comparative Religion with Dr Manzoor Ahmed, which she later put on hold because she wasn’t well versed in Arabic and had also “grown lazy.”
It’s commendable, really, how these two have always dealt with each other and their needs so maturely. “Giving the other person have space is very important. You can’t go in the bone of the person if you want to make the marriage work.” Hassan uncle tells me, and he couldn’t be more right. Every marriage has its share of problems and low points, but if you truly want get past them, you have to use all your intelligence to make the marriage work.
“I’ve been blessed because Hassan has been a very generous husband in that sense. He’s not demanding at all,” Ayesha declares. “I’ve always found him to be a good person. He’s very unassuming and compassionate. And these are the qualities I wanted him to pass on to our children as well.”
And that’s exactly what he did. It’s apparent the Javeris made it a point to bind their five children together so they would understand the importance of a large, cohesive family. Although Hassan had five siblings of his own, he was never as close to them as Ayesha was with six brothers, all of who had relocated to England with their parents shortly after she got married. She was brought up to be extremely proud of the legendary familial bonds of UP and Meerut, and so has extremely strong family values. “My father would hit the roof if someone in the family was ever referred to as a ‘distant’ relative. There was no such thing! And even though my children are sometimes irked by the whole protocol, we’ve tried to instill in them the same values… and thankfully I think they’ve all picked up on the UP culture as well as the honesty of memons from Hassan’s side of the family.”
Sunday were always a fun day in the Javeri household. Ayesha aunty and Hassan uncle would take the children for a family outing so they could all spend time together and bond with each other. They indulged in everything from hunting to picnics and travel. “Everything you see in the house today, we have now because no body’s going to college—we used to spend all our money on the children’s education and traveling, because we felt that was the best education we could give them!” And now, they do the same for their eleven grandchildren, doing everything doting grandparents could possibly do, from taking them to Nepal to see the Mount Everest to spoiling the little ones with a small present every day!
Another reason why they’re such a close knit family, Ayesha aunty believes, is perhaps because neither of them ever pushed their children into doing anything they didn’t want. They were all given the freedom and space to do their own thing, including deciding who they would marry, as long as it didn’t conflict with the family’s basic ethical and moral commandments. “I’m so glad all my children have a great love for God and the prophet. I think that’s a saving grace that guides you throughout your life.”
“So what advice does such a blissful couple have for newlyweds everywhere?” I ask, and Hassan uncle is quick to suggest men should first take a good look at the girl in question because physical attraction is very important. “Once you’re absolutely sure you like her and can see yourself spending your whole life with her; observe the girl’s mother, because it’s more than likely that your bride-to-be will be just like her mother in 20 years’ time!”
Ayesha aunty agrees with the importance of physical attraction, but considers praying to God for things to work is equally important. “Once in love, you can’t think, so try not to rush things. Once you’ve committed, put as much work into your marriage as you would into your BA or MA.” She suggests, “Work to serve and preserve the relationship. If not for yourself, do it for the children… because if you break a home, you shatter the lives of your children, and that’s just unacceptable.”
Every marriage requires a certain amount of adjustments and sacrifices, and the Javeris aren’t an exception. Ayesha aunty loves social gatherings and theater; Hassan uncle can’t stand either. He is a self-proclaimed shopaholic who loves to collect antiques; she claims she’s given up trying to shop with him because every time they go out to buy something together, he takes over completely and pushes her back! Yes, even the golden couple argues sometimes, but it’s usually about the stupidest of things. Their arguments, she tells me, are usually about such inconsequential things that they don’t affect or solidity of the marriage. “On ethical and other serious things like children, family, our sense of duty, we’ve always been one.”
Both uncle and aunty agree that they find young girls of today to be under a great deal of pressure. Not only do these young mothers have to look beautiful all the time, they have to look after the children and help them with their insufferable homework as well. As if that isn’t enough to drain them out completely, most of them feel compelled to express themselves in some creative way also because all their friends are doing something or the other. “On top of that, they have traditional mother in laws… and dealing with all that is difficult, and yet these girls are making it work and I think it’s phenomenal!”
Some Pakistani men really need to change their ways, she urges, especially in contrast to the western men who she feels are much more cooperative. “When living abroad, these same husbands will do the dishes, take the garbage out and happily help around the house… but not here, no. They’re all nawabs and feudal lords here!” Ayesha aunty goes on to tell me how during her day she could wear a sari and go out, just like that. She’s all praise for the women who preplan what they’re going to wear to an event days in advance and then spend hours applying makeup to look presentable and up-to-standard.
“Come on! It was the same back then as well. You didn’t put in any effort because you didn’t need to!” Uncle teases her and she slaps him on the arm. “Ever since I first met her, I’ve been looking for a better looking woman, but I can’t seem to find one!” He proclaims. It’s heartening to see them declare their love for each other like this; subtly, with coy smiles and side-way glances as they talk to me.
Aunty pushes Hassan uncle to continue working to keep himself busy. He leaves for their shop early in the morning, where Tapu joins him later on, and comes back home early in the evening. At 81, he has developed a hearing problem which has caused him to become a bit of a recluse. I urge him to speak more, but both he and Ayesha aunty tell me he’s never been much of a talker. She is much more social and voluble, of course, and that makes them all the more perfect for each other. “I’m all froth and he’s the strong undercurrent!” She jokes, “But trying to stay on the same trail as you grow older is full time work, let me tell you. You have to learn to be very patient with each other!”
But surely after spending 58 years under the same roof as man and wife and having brought up five children together, they can safely call each other their closest ally and best friend?
They look at each other and she asks him, “Are we best friends?”
“Almost” he replies, and they both burst out laughing again.