Two days ago, a great friend and fellow designer, Uzma, passed away suddenly and without warning. I hadn’t spoken to her in a year (for all the usual, sad reasons—marriage, responsibilities, life), and I heard about the tragedy on Facebook when another friend posted a brief remembrance.
Uzma was one of those people who was easily overlooked. In school, she was shy and awkward, rebuffed by the cool kids and often the butt of cruel jokes. If it hadn’t been for our mutual love of books, I am ashamed to say that I might have avoided her myself. Instead, I had the pleasure, the honour, of being called her friend, a relationship that lasted twenty-four years. She was 42 when she died.
In college, Uzma struggled to make friends, but once she had, they were friends for life. She understood loyalty in a way few people would, and she deserved better than the lot she was given. During the days of her mother’s worst episodes (she was schizophrenic), Uzma was her primary care-giver. She was the de facto carer of her younger brothers and her doctor father. At a very young age, she took up the mantle of ‘woman of the house’, managing household tasks that would have been unthinkable for any other teenager. Even when she started art school, with its long hours and back-breaking manual work, she was unfailingly dedicated to her responsibilities at home.
Perhaps because of her constrictive life, Uzma loved books. She craved escapism in any form and read the classics, science fiction, fantasy, crime, romance—the genre was irrelevant. We bonded over Asimov, Shaw, and Mills & Boons. She was one of the few people I lent my books to without any qualms. I knew the books would come back, and in great condition. The most fun we ever had together was browsing through second-hand bookstores (or anywhere we could get lots of books for very little money). Both of us consistently and regularly gave each other books for birthdays and special occasions. To say her appetite for books was voracious would be a gross understatement.
When she wasn’t reading, she was gardening. She had a tiny garden and a green thumb so potent that even in water-starved Karachi, her shrubs and flowers were lush and healthy. She took the time to learn about plants. She knew their botanical names, their classifications, their requirements. For someone like me, the queen of black thumbs, her ability to grow practically anything was almost magical. I realize now that much of that had to do with her ability to focus her complete attention to any task. That focus was one of the reasons she was considered pedantic and boring, but the subtle beauty of this woman just escaped most people.
There’s a word in Urdu, nafasat (which cannot be easily translated), that I associate with Uzma. It implies skill and delicacy, an exquisite fineness. Nothing about her appearance would have suggested delicacy. She was overweight, she bit her nails to the bone and her hair was always either frizzy or flat. But if anyone cared to delve a little deeper, they would have seen her loyalty, her deep concern for people and animals alike, her dedication to her family, her patience and her incredible ability to see the best in everyone.
Over the years, she’s accumulated a large circle of friends, people who all recognise that her death is a great loss. Uzma’s exquisite personality spun a fine web of silk around all of us, a soft, gentle flutter that isn’t realised until it’s gone.