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A woman of substance

Remembering Kulsoom Saifullah Khan who passed away on January 26, 2015

A woman of substance

In the span of less than two years, I have lost two mothers. In April 2013, I lost my mother after a long illness. The deep sorrow and emptiness that ensued had not yet left me when on January 26, 2015, my mother-in-law, Kulsoom Saifullah Khan, passed away.

Kulsoom Saifullah Khan was a well-known personality, not only in KPK but in all of Pakistan. Wherever I happened to be, if I introduced myself in relation to her, people would be full of admiration for her.

My parents knew Mummy’s family and her late husband Saifullah Khan but it was not till I was 17 that I became her relative when she chose me as a wife for her eldest son Humayun. At that time I was too young and naive to know the sheer measure of how much I would learn from this great lady. She may not have realised then that I was like a sponge trying to soak in everything she said or did.

There has been much written about her. The tributes are still coming in. Her autobiography, My Solo Flight explains her political, business and social life. But as her eldest daughter-in-law, having known her intimately, this is about my reflections about life under her tutelage for 47 years.

As a mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great-grandmother, daughter, sister and friend, I found that she excelled in every role with charm and grace. Allah SWT had blessed her with beauty and intelligence which is not very common. For me she was a constant role model as I tried to emulate her in every way.

Once, at the end of a hectic election day, after the counting of votes, I had to finally sign my name. My brother-in-law Javed came to escort me back home as it was getting late. As I signed my name, he murmured behind me, “You are so impressed with mother that you have even tried to copy her hand writing.” I had difficulty in stopping my laughter and keeping a serious face. By the way, what he said was true as I adored the way she wrote the letter S. Like everything about her, she had the most beautiful handwriting.

The different facets of her personality were simply amazing. She had the rare ability of making everyone around her feel special. It came naturally to her as she loved people. Whenever she told me that I was her best daughter-in-law, I would joke with her that she must have said the same to all of us (of course she had).

It was incredible how people, even if they disagreed with her or were envious of her position, couldn’t help but admire her. She had such a stature and aura that even if she was wrong, nobody dared correct her. She was an icon and a shining example for all. I have not said women only, because I have yet to see any man who can boast of the qualities she possessed.

There were no half measures for her. She had to excel in everything she did. From looking after her grandchildren when we left them to her, to running election campaigns, she gave all her energy to the task. My children still remember how Mitma, as they called her, would play a game with them and their cousins in which she would pretend to be a witch who was out to eat them. My daughter and her cousin would, out of fright, claim that they were the witch’s children so that she would not try to eat them. Till this day, they call themselves “the witch’s daughters”. She would often take all her children and grandchildren for outings and picnics. Each one had a special bond with her.

In politics too, unlike many, her doors were always open for the poor and needy. It was a tricky job getting to her house unseen by the hordes of men and women.

She was as comfortable conducting meetings with the high-ups as she was being for months in the village to run election campaigns. In fact, she was so large-hearted that I felt that she spoiled the Marwat tribe, especially the women, as she catered to their every demand, whether reasonable or not, with her signature softness.

It made our task very difficult as the people expected the same treatment from us and we were not up to the task. Sometimes the village women would reprimand me for not taking their nonsense as Mummy did. They would advise me to adopt Mummy’s style before she retired so that I could help my husband. They all laughed when I retorted that my husband would also retire as soon as Mummy did.

For me, it was very difficult to keep up with her exuberance and hectic life. Usually when parents grow old, they wait all day for their kids to visit them. With Mummy, it was the other way round: we had to try and catch her in her spare moments.

One thing that I associate with her was her fierce independence and her unwillingness to be pitied. For a woman who had lost her husband at a young age, it was intriguing how, instead of people feeling sorry for her misfortune, they envied her for her extraordinary success as a mother, politician and entrepreneur. Whenever the need arose, Mummy would be there for us as a solid pillar of support. When my son was born handicapped, she sat me down one day and explained that I should never think, “Why me?” She told me that if she had had that pessimistic attitude, it would not have helped her in getting on with her life after her husband’s death. No matter how bad the situation, she would be full of hope and optimism where others would have given up. Her faith in Allah SWT was so strong that no hurdles would dishearten her.

In a man’s world, her success as a woman far surpasses those of anyone. In all her achievements, I believe the jewel in her crown were her five sons. Being born with a silver spoon in their mouths, they could have been spoiled and lazy. Not at all. All of them are extremely hardworking, humble and kindhearted.

Despite knowing that she was old and ill, the pain and emptiness was unbearable when she went. Her not being there anymore felt surreal. Even in death, she was beautiful and looked very peaceful, as if she was just asleep.

Seeing the rose petals and bouquets of flowers on her grave was slightly bearable as I was reminded of her love for flowers. But then the realisation of the earth beneath made my heart swell with grief and I could not stop the torrents of tears.

So farewell, dear Mother. Rest in peace.


  • Beautifully written!

  • Excellent article. Indeed a legendary lady, who will never be forgotten. She’s contributed immensely to the nation from the independence movement till the very end. Her efforts for social uplift have been tremendous. She is a model to be emulated by all women in Pakistan and across the world. May God grant her a place in jannat-ul-firdous amin.

  • Indeed she was a great lady. May Allah grant her a place in Jannat-Ul-Firdous. Ameen.

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