A trove of treasure - The legacy of renowned writer Altaf Fatima

Despite her literary achievements, Altaf Fatima remained a humble and saintly woman. She was not driven by the desire for fame, wealth, or recognition

Altaf Fatima, a name that resonates with literary excellence and selfless philanthropy, was born in the city of Lucknow in 1927. Her life's journey is a remarkable testament to her dedication to the world of literature and her unwavering commitment to the betterment of society.

Altaf Fatima's literary journey began with her debut novel, "Nishane Mehfil," which marked the inception of a brilliant career. However, what sets her apart from many other writers of her time is the fact that she chose a path less traveled, dedicating her life to her work and her students.

Her passion for education led her to teach at Islamia College Cooper Road in Lahore. It was in the classroom that she found a sense of purpose, nurturing the minds of young, underprivileged girls. Altaf Fatima was not only a writer but also a mentor and guide to those seeking knowledge and enlightenment. Despite her literary achievements, Altaf Fatima remained a humble and saintly woman. She was not driven by the desire for fame, wealth, or recognition. Her works spoke volumes about her character, reflecting a genuine love for storytelling and a deep understanding of human emotions. One of her most famous novels, "Dastak Na Dau," transcended language barriers, as it was translated into English and even dramatized on Pakistan Television (PTV). Her stories touched the hearts of readers and viewers alike, showcasing her exceptional storytelling abilities.

Her entire life can be described as ‘a trailblazer's journey through turbulence’. Altaf Fatima, a resilient soul whose childhood memories etched indelibly in the canvas of her life, unfolded a narrative that encapsulates courage, survival, and unwavering patriotism. The incident of her abduction by RSS goons at the tender age of six in Lucknow, her hometown, marked the genesis of a life defined by fortitude. Playing innocently during a school break, Altaf Fatima felt the pangs of thirst, leading her to drink water from a nearby clay pitcher. Little did she know that this seemingly innocent act would trigger a chain of events that would shape her destiny. Her fast friend's outcry about a Muslim girl contaminating Hindu pitchers resulted in public humiliation as the headmistress scolded her and shattered the pitchers before her eyes. The RSS goons, vigilant for Muslims in Hindu-dominated schools, seized Altaf Fatima, making her survival a miraculous escape. This traumatic incident became an enduring imprint on her character.

Altaf Fatima emerged as a woman of incredible resilience, navigating through adversity with unwavering strength. During a scorching summer, when urged to install an air conditioner in her bedroom, she vehemently rejected the idea, attributing weather to God's creation. Her belief in enduring challenges as a means of strength mirrored her steadfast approach to life's tribulations.

Her stance against selective diets reflected a holistic view of health. Even in her final moments, she advocated embracing all foods, convinced of their natural curative properties. Her longevity and avoidance of antibiotics showcased her commitment to holistic well-being. A voracious reader until her last breath, she found solace and connection with God through literature, considering it an integral part of her existence.

Altaf fatima’s patriotism ran deep, evident in her refusal to grant interviews to Indian media outlets. When approached by a prominent Indian news channel, she staunchly declined, emphasizing that her words were the property of her nation. Her dedication to preserving the integrity of her message showcased her commitment to her homeland.

Despite achieving literary recognition, such as her book 'Deed Wadeed' standing first in the 9th Karachi Literary Festival 2018, Altaf Fatima remained unswayed by accolades. When offered a trophy and prize money, she defiantly rejected them, staying true to her principles. Her unwavering love for Pakistan endured until her last hours, as she fervently prayed for her country and its people.

Altaf Fatima was repeatedly nominated for the National Award for Literature, a prestigious honor in the literary world. However, she consistently declined these nominations, choosing to remain in the shadows rather than basking in the limelight of fame. She was a private person who preferred to let her work speak for itself.

Furthermore, she shied away from interviews, avoiding the public eye as much as possible. Her reclusive nature was a reflection of her true devotion to the art of writing and her desire to remain true to her principles.

As her nephew, I had the privilege of witnessing Altaf Fatima's life up close. She raised me from the time I was in the 5th grade until I joined the army in 1987. Her selflessness and dedication to my upbringing left an indelible mark on my life.

In her later years, when she was feeling increasingly lonely, I insisted and even forced her many times to move in with me. However, she always declined, expressing her wish to spend her final days in her own home. Her attachment to her roots was unwavering. As the years advanced and Altaf Fatima, approaching her 90s, navigated the delicate balance of age and independence, I found myself compelled to bring her permanently into our home. Concerned about her well-being, I meticulously arranged a comfortable room adorned with her favorite books, a writing desk by the window overlooking the park, an electric blower, and a small TV. To ensure her care, I hired a part-time nurse who also doubled as a companion, offering both assistance and warmth.

For about a month and a half, Altaf Fatima became a resident in our midst. However, the initially well-intentioned plan began to unravel as she grew restless, yearning for more than the structured routine resembling a metronome. It became evident that despite the conveniences provided, she was not content with the role of a mere decorative piece in our household.

Expressing her sentiments, she candidly stated her desire to return to her familiar abode, the place she called "Kunj Gali." There, she longed to immerse herself in the sights and sounds of her neighborhood, overseeing the daily rhythm of life—interacting with neighbors, supervising household activities, and relishing the presence of local children with their book-filled satchels.

Initially, I struggled to grasp the depth of her longing for independence. My daughter, Sofia, played a pivotal role in enlightening me. She articulated that Altaf Fatima craved not only physical comfort but the essence of living as an active member of society. Sofia's words resonated, urging me to recognize the importance of allowing her to breathe as a living, breathing human being rather than relegating her to a decorative existence on one of our cornices. 

Realizing the significance of Altaf Fatima's autonomy, I made the decision to respect her wishes. The following day, I accompanied her back to "Kunj Gali," her modest haven. Witnessing her resuming her daily chores, lighting the fire in her kitchen, and savoring the simple joys of preparing her own tea and meals filled me with a profound sense of contentment.

Altaf Fatima's return to her familiar surroundings transformed her demeanor. Amidst the nightingales and magpies in the small patio of her home, she radiated a renewed sense of life. The autonomy to engage with her surroundings, the familiar faces of her community, and the comforting routines of daily life brought a sparkle to her eyes that had been absent during her brief stay with us.

It was a great lesson for me in understanding that caregiving goes beyond providing physical comfort. It entails recognizing the intrinsic value of one's independence and the right to live life on one's own terms. Altaf Fatima's journey taught me that sometimes, the greatest act of love is allowing our elders to reclaim their roles as active participants in the symphony of life, rather than relegating them to the role of passive observers within the confines of our homes.

 Throughout her life, Altaf Fatima exhibited extraordinary selflessness. Even in her old age, when she faced financial difficulties, she refused offers of assistance from literary circles, always returning the checks, believing that her modest pension and faith in God were sufficient for her needs.

During my visits to her, I would spend hours listening to her, absorbing the wisdom she had accumulated over the years. Despite her deteriorating health, she would accompany me to the gate as I left her house. Every time I drove away, my eyes welled up with tears, and my throat choked with emotion.

As her health declined, Altaf Fatima became bedridden, unable to move. She would ask me to recite Surah Yasin in a louder voice and pray for her peaceful end. It was during these moments that I prayed earnestly for her, asking the Lord to ease her suffering.

On November 29th, 2018, Altaf Fatima, a walking library of knowledge, took her last breath. Her passing marked the loss of a treasure trove of wisdom and literature. Her books and writings remain as a testament to her enduring legacy.

Throughout her life, Altaf Fatima exemplified the qualities of a great philanthropist and a patriot. She had an unwavering love for her country and its people. Her dedication to the betterment of society extended beyond her literary works, making her a true nationalist at heart. Her legacy is not just a collection of novels and stories; it is a reflection of her selflessness, courage, and patriotism. Her life serves as a beacon of inspiration for writers, educators, and all those who aspire to make a positive impact on the world through their work and deeds. Altaf Fatima's life story is a testament to the power of literature and the enduring impact one person can have on the lives of others. Her selfless dedication to her students and her unwavering commitment to her principles and values make her a role model for generations to come. She was not just a writer; she was a guiding light, a mentor, and a true patriot who will forever be remembered for her contributions to literature and society.

In the tapestry of Altaf Fatima's life, woven with threads of hardship, courage, and patriotism, her legacy stands as a testament to the power of resilience and unwavering conviction. Through her journey, she beckons us to face life's trials with strength, embrace the diverse gifts of the earth, and hold onto an unyielding love for our roots.

The author is a retired Cavalry officer. He has spent 27 years in uniform and has a published collection of short stories 'By the Autumn Trees' to his name. He is an avid traveler and also has ample of well-researched travelogues published in the leading newspapers of the country.

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