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The Apa of Chaklala

Yasmeen Faruqui strove for a better tomorrow. She did so with warmth and humour

September 10, 2023


asmeen Faruqui’s house in Rawalpindi was an open house with an open table where people from all her various social work projects and her political party (the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf), along with family members would congregate. It was a place where there would be planning, discussion, fund-raising, philanthropy and training.

At the heart of it was the warm, compassionate woman with a shining face and a 1,000-megawatt smile: my aunt, my Yasmeen Khala, who passed away at her home on September 4, aged 84.

Widely known in the PTI simply as Apa, she was the driving force behind many social work initiatives. She was regarded with much respect and affection by party workers and office bearers, and she had an indomitable energy which even a major stroke and two rounds of Covid couldn’t suppress.

She was involved in social work and uplift projects for as long as I can remember: as an army wife she had organised fund-raising projects for personnel welfare, taught sewing and craft skills to low-income women and on a micro level was a support to anybody she could help. After her husband, Brig Muin Faruqui (EME) retired, they set up the Better Tomorrow Welfare Organisation and put all their energy into setting up Better Tomorrow schools in low-income areas. They raised funds from friends and family and were able to establish schools in some underserved areas.

I remember visiting one such girls’ school in the Dhok Chaudriyan area of Rawalpindi. My aunt recounted how families in this low-income locality had been distrustful and had not wanted to send their daughters to school. “We went to the masjid,” she told me cheerfully, “and we asked the maulvi sahib to support our project and at the khutba to encourage parents to send their girls to the school.”

The school was set up from scratch. She also recounted how their first task had been cleaning up the unwashed children, “washing their faces, removing nits from their hair.” But the school was so organised and became so successful that The Citizens Foundation proposed to take it over. So the BTW handed it over to the TCF national school network, who streamlined things like uniforms, salaries, curriculum and transport.

Yasmeen Fauqui was born in 1939 in Agra, one of seven daughters in a family of 12 siblings. After partition, the family moved to Karachi, where my grandfather was an official in the fledgling Finance Ministry. After a companionable stint in temporary housing for refugees/ migrants called Intelligence School (a barracks accommodation on Queen’s Road), the family moved to a modest house in Nazimabad.

Despite all her work and challenges, she retained her delightful sense of humour and was able to find fun in the smallest of things. She always had a twinkle in her eye and was always ready for an adventure. She radiated kindness and empathy.

After her marriage, Yasmeen Faruqi lived the modest life of an army wife but was enthusiastic about everything. Apart from welfare projects, she had a keen interest in sports and was a major competitor in golf tournaments – which she played in her trademark sari. Family legend has it that her name was put up on the Dacca Golf Club’s board of the players who had managed a hole-in-one on the course.

Another of her achievements was the small industrial sewing and handwork centre she was able to set up and turn into a sustainable business run by the women she trained up to a level that they were able to take over its management. It is still operated out of what once was the drawing-dining room of her house in the Chaklala area of Rawalpindi. She trained the women in the art of cutting and sewing traditional garments – various types of ghararas and multi-panelled kurtas – and also in the classical tradition of patta-putti and its various colourful manifestations.

She was fully committed to her party and its cause, sometimes spewing narratives I would question. But while my Khala and I could not agree at all on Pakistani politics, we could have a good laugh about lots of other things. Because despite all her work and challenges, she retained her delightful sense of humour and was able to find fun in the smallest of things. She always had a twinkle in her eye and was always ready for an adventure. She radiated kindness and empathy.

I regard Khalas Yasmeen and Samina as my ‘little mothers.’ They were there for all of us in our childhood and later when my mother passed away. They were only one year apart and were spoken of as a compound: Yasmeen-Samina. “They were like twins,” my mother often used to say. It was her sister, Samina, who broke the news to me of her passing: she was distraught and in tears.

What was it about this generation of women that made them so confident and bold despite their lack of higher education or professional training? Strong, talented, creative women who made a house into a home; were good mothers and wives, at the same time wanting to make a difference in this life, trying to somehow make the world a better place and create a better tomorrow.

Yasmeen Faruqui passed away in her own home while talking to her daughter Nabeela. While this was a terrible blow to all of us who loved and cherished her, I’m glad that she was able to make her exit from life at the home that she and her husband had made the centre of so much warmth, generosity and good work. For many people they were able to create that better tomorrow. For all of us in the family, they were part of a shared and wonderful yesterday.

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline