In the earlier part of 1929, when her father Sajjad Ali passed away, Lily was nine years old. Later, she remembered more of her mother’s screams and howls, day and night, for weeks after the death. No one really bothered to explain to Lily why her father suddenly disappeared. One day it seemed he was resting in bed with a cold, wearing his white cotton kurta, blowing his nose into a creamy white hanky, a tumbler of ginger tea resting on a white crochet doily on the bedside table and a book on his lap. Lily had been playing at the foot of the mahogany four poster bed with her old rag dolls and from time to time Sajjad Ali would look up from his book and share from it, an odd line or two: ‘I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited – they went there.’ And the next day: ‘I wonder where in the devil he met Daisy. By God, I may be old-fashioned in my ideas, but women run around too much these days to suit me. They meet all kinds of crazy fish.’ Lily hardly ever understood any of his quotes or any of his peculiar remarks for that matter but there was something comforting about his mild presence, something reassuring about his fragile attempts at communication, disjointed as they were.
Lily also loved the story of how her father had named her. Her father’s mother, Lily’s grandmother, had been married over the phone to a man who was finishing his studies in Bilayat; one of those matrimonial ‘trunk calls’ that senselessly required the bride to place a veil over her head and keep her eyes on the floor while muttering ‘kabul’ three times into the receiver. One year later, when her husband returned to Bengal from Bilayat, i.e. London, he brought for her an English perfume called Lily of the Valley. She had never smelled anything so sweet, and in fear that she might never again acquire one of its kind, Lily’s grandmother placed the fragrant bottle inside a locked glass cabinet in the living room, where it still stood in the same spot, half a century later, except that the musk had long evaporated. When Lily was born, the first daughter after two sons, Sajjad Ali immediately knew what to call her.