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She was a beautiful mix of worldliness and innocence

Tribute to K. H. Hassan (1939-2020)

26 December 2020 12:47 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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“…she lived with no other thought / Than to love and be loved…”  -Poe-
It was a weekday morning in the year 1952. 13-year-old Khair was preparing for school. Her mother was preparing to be admitted to the hospital. Before leaving, she told Khair: “Look after the children”.


Khairul Hidaya Hassan (née Mohamed), called Khairoon, Khair and KH, passed away peacefully on Saturday November 21, 2020. She had 6 younger siblings between the ages of 10 and 2 when she was thrust in to the role of mother a few days after that fateful day in 1952. She lived her entire life through her mother’s last words, “looking after” everyone. Returning from school, she cooked, fed, and bathed her siblings. After putting them to bed, she stayed up late doing her homework. To those six little children, she was mother; she was protector; she was the world. To their late father, A. F. Mohamed (circa 1905-1973, Proprietor, Shums Stores & Qamar Stores, Pettah), Khair was solace, his eldest child who held the young family together. 

As the family grew and their father expired, the responsibility she took on amplified. During her widowed sister’s iddah (mourning period), Khair travelled to Avissawella every other day, shuttling back and forth in a bus in the midst of teaching at Fathima Muslim Ladies’ College, Colombo 10


As the family grew and their father expired, the responsibility she took on amplified. During her widowed sister’s iddah (mourning period), Khair travelled to Avissawella every other day, shuttling back and forth in a bus in the midst of teaching at Fathima Muslim Ladies’ College, Colombo 10. When 3 of her sisters moved abroad to work as English teachers (“5 Mohamed teacher sisters”), Khair was again parent or “Mummy” to her nieces and nephews.

From school enrollment to first day of school to parents’ meetings to Sports meets to bruises to broken bones, Mummy was there for it all. A niece of hers for a Grade 1 speech on her mother had said: “I have two mothers: one is Umma (mother) and the other Mummy”. 


While raising a dozen children by herself was a tall task, Khair fed them with love, patience, and grace. Never a disciplinarian, the children knew Mummy had reached the length of her twelvefold patience with their perpetual mischief, when a smooth but exquisite pinch (aka the gaali shimindi) came their way. She heard their grievances, listening to each, and patch-working contrasting tempers. To Mummy, they were all hers, and every rite of passage of each child was a significant event in her life. Every Eid, all the ‘children’ would receive their salaam, hug, pernaal money, and clothes from Mummy’s very special hands. 


Every Ramadan, she would visit friends and family with a bottle of her delightful homemade mango chutney. The barakah (blessing) of Mummy’s dining table was such that everyone who visited would leave with full meals and fuller hearts (including her favourite stray felines). She gave to all, of all that she had without thought or expectation. When she was hospitalized months before her death, her concern lay with the other patients in the ward, frequently sharing her meals with them. The day she passed away, she had invited her landlady for lunch. 
Mummy was the Keeper of Stories, narrating them beautifully. As a child, I would inundate her with questions along the lines of: “What was my grandmother like?”. Perhaps Mummy had answered “What was my mother like?”

decades ago from her young siblings. There is no surviving photograph of our grandmother. Those 7 children grew up motherless with hazy images of her; the following generation without grandparents. To a family displaced by death, Mummy was mother and grandmother; she was family and history.


Mummy was a beautiful mixture of worldliness and innocence. She led a rich life serving others and would often “fall” into adventure. Once, during severe floods, Mummy, returning from the pharmacy, accidentally stepped into an open drain. Fortunately, someone had seen an arm waving in the muddy water, pulling it up to find our drenched 4’10” tall Mummy. At Fathima College (1960-1989) and Ilma International Girls’ School, Colombo 05 (1991-2002), Mummy was known as a sweet teacher and gentle human being, never known to have raised her voice. 


She gave enduring spirit to her name, being and becoming Khairul Hidaya or ‘best guidance’; the Guardian of family ties and friendship in Galle, where she was born, and in Colombo, where she raised her siblings, her niblings and herself.


It is painful to refer to her in past tense. A gifted needle-worker, she crocheted the family together during her lifetime, and in her death she knits us close to each other in shared grief. Scattered images of Mummy in action linger: the sparkle in her green eyes that had seen too much but were still tender, whenever she spoke of her family; that warm pleasant face lit up in a smile when her niblings teased her; that soft faint voice asking after our health; Mummy rummaging through her historic handbag looking for the last missing object. Her loss is irreparable.


Prophet Muhammad said: “Heaven lies at the feet of your mother” - this family’s heaven lies at Mummy’s. She is survived by her beloved daughter Muthrika, her granddaughters, great-granddaughters, her adored brother and sisters, a horde of niblings, and a line of women and men raised and loved by her. May all her prayers and hopes, voiced and silent, for this world and the hereafter, come true. May Allah grant her the highest abode in Jannatul Firdaus and unite us in the Gardens of Paradise. Aameen.

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