My grandfather also died in the hajj

My grandfather also died in the hajj

Belgin Akaltan -
My grandfather also died in the hajj

Muslim pilgrims and rescuers gather around the victims of a stampede in Mina, Saudi Arabia during the annual hajj pilgrimage on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. AP Photo

My grandfather died in the hajj pilgrimage. Not now. It must have been sometime around 1927. My mother was a toddler back then, born in 1926. My uncle was a baby. My grandmother was probably in her late 20s. My mother and my uncle never got to know their father. My grandmother had to raise two children herself after her husband did not come back from the hajj. She did a good job actually; she sent them to school and somehow managed the property left by her husband, even though many of her relatives told her she was illiterate and would not be able to do it on her own. 

My mother was one of the rare female college graduates of her time. Her illiterate mother (my widow grandmother) was able to support her all the way to university. My mother met my father at school; they married and had three children (I am the youngest). All of this happened in the old Üsküdar district of Istanbul. My parents would both commute to school by ferry all the way from Üsküdar to Sultanahmet in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Most probably at first they were just barely making eye contact on the ferry… Then one day my father wrote a letter to my mother and put it inside a book he had borrowed from her… But that’s another story… 

My father’s father, my paternal grandfather, was one of the last Ottoman governors. He served in Diyarbakır and Mardin as far as I know, and his last duty station was Sana’a in Yemen. He was the last “Mutasarrıf” (“governor” in Ottoman) of Sana’a: Mustafa Nadir (Güven). While the empire was collapsing and losing territory, he had to close the embassy, burn the documents and head back to the capital Istanbul riding on camelback through the Arabian deserts. I still have some parts of his journal. I have had them transcribed into modern Turkish in the Latin script and we are planning to have them published.   

I’m sorry, the theme is my maternal grandfather who died and was buried while on the hajj: Hajji Ömer.
My mother never forgave her father who left her and my baby-uncle with their young mother and went on the hajj to perform his religious duties. My mother passed away a couple of years ago. She always said, “My mother may have been a weak and naïve woman, since she never went to school. She may have been easily deceived.” 

When the horrifying stampede happened during the hajj the other day, me and my sister were talking about our grandparent who lost his life in the hajj around 1927: “What a bad decision it was for him to take that journey in the 1920s, leaving behind two small children and a young wife… How my mother never forgave him… How clever was our grandmother to send her children to school, especially the daughter...” It is the same routine conversation we have because this is all we know about this grandfather of ours. 

But something dawned on me while I was talking to my sister. I asked her: What if he had never died on the hajj? What if he had come back a full pilgrim, having performed all the duties of his religion and continued to do so all his life? OK, my mother and my uncle would have a father to love and my grandmother would have a husband. They would have been financially safe and would enjoy the affection and guardianship of a father and a husband. I guess it probably would have been a very religious Muslim family. I cannot imagine how my mother would have been if she was raised by a hajji and religious parents, (but I don’t know, maybe he was more liberal than I am assuming now). My mother would probably not have gone to college, maybe not even to high school… She would have never met my father… Maybe we would have been born to very religious parents… I would be wearing a headscarf and baking cookies for my grandchildren now… I wouldn’t be writing these lines… Thinking about this is like the movie, “Sliding Doors.” 

What I am trying to say to those who lost their fathers and mothers at the hajj the other day is that this tragedy will probably affect many future generations. Difficult days are waiting for them in life after the disappearance of a loved one. Life will never be the same… You never know… Like sliding doors… 

* Note: This piece has been self-censored by me, twice. I can only say I am very happy that the door has slid and taken us all to a different dimension…