Years after India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, the eastern portion of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan began its own struggle for independence. As the seeds of civil war were being planted, a missed connecting train from the small town of Parvatipur laid the first root of my family tree.
My paternal grandfather found himself stranded in Parvatipur with no way to get back to his base in Rangpur until the following morning. I imagine my Karachi-based grandfather never thought that his rural development project in East Pakistan would get him stranded in a small town. In a time where people came to the rescue as opposed to technology, my grandfather realized that the brother-in-law of one of his distant cousins lived in the neighboring village of Saidpur. Fifty or so years ago showing up unannounced at the house of a family member of a family member was considered perfectly acceptable.
The second eldest daughter (my mom) of the household answered the door when my grandfather knocked because her father (my paternal grandfather’s distant cousin’s brother-in-law – who later became my maternal grandfather, hope you can keep up) was not at home. Niceties were exchanged and my grandfather made himself at home for the evening. In fact, he enjoyed his stay with this family of 8 so much that after returning to Karachi, he arranged to stay with them again when he returned to East Pakistan for the second phase of his rural development project.
Despite the now raging civil war, my paternal grandparents eventually moved to East Pakistan with their only son (my dad) and settled in Dhaka. Both sets of my grandparents were aiming to find suitable matches for their son and daughter, and my parents were subsequently betrothed. And this is when their story begins to span across many years and many different countries.
Violence in Dhaka became worse and worse despite Bangladesh ultimately winning its independence from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1971. At this critical juncture, my dad’s parents decided to move to the U.S. because my grandfather had been offered a job with the World Bank. Their soon-to-be daughter-in-law eventually moved to the U.S. as well, and they all lived in Virginia from 1973 to 1975.
During those years, my mom attended high school in Fairfax while my dad went to college in Boston. In the early days of their engagement, my parents suffered through a terribly awkward phase where they barely even spoke to each other. Slowly but surely they both overcame their nerves and became at ease with one another. Working summers and winter breaks in a local convenience store, my dad earned enough money to buy his fiancée her very first gift – a blue stone quartz ring. This period of bliss was cut short in 1975, when my grandparents moved to Somalia for a different World Bank project and then to Yemen for yet another project in 1977. Through these moves, my dad stayed in Boston for college, while my mom travelled with his parents.
Thankfully, the couple’s long distance relationship woes were solved with regular aerogram exchanges. In the midst of his engineering problem sets, my dad wrote my mom letter after letter. Across the Atlantic Ocean my mom would receive two to three letters each time her mail was delivered. The weekly aerograms helped the years go by, and finally in 1977, my dad skipped his college commencement ceremony and rushed to Karachi where he married my mom on July 4, 1977.
Almost 36 years later and my mom still has the blue quartz ring locked away in her jewelry box. Theirs is a story you will rarely hear – a hybrid of an arranged marriage and a long courtship, their relationship started uniquely and continues to thrive just as distinctly. Together they have conquered many medical setbacks, diffused countless family dramas, sprouted numerous grey hairs, and raised three crazy children….all because of one missed train.
This piece was written as part of the author’s gift to her parents for their 36th wedding anniversary in July 2013.
Farah Khan is a medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, Farah returned to her hometown in Alabama for medical school where she was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian flair that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter or read some of her thoughts on her blog.