As many of you may know my family business in Ottawa is set to close in less than a few months after being open for fifty-two years. As any writer might do, I have taken to my craft to try to deal with an influx of emotions as I process the fact that the place I’ve called home my entire adult life will soon no longer be mine.
As I work my way through it, I offer a four part series on the main players that have had the most profound impact on me over the course of Aziz & Company history.
Part 1 – This man.
This man you may know as the Aziz in Aziz & Company. But this man was my father, my first teacher and my reluctant hero. He was a flawed soul, damaged by a troubling childhood, expelled from his own family at the age of 2 because he was too rambunctious for his mother and haunted by personal demons. Though he’d never win any “Father of the Year” award, I loved him more than I can put into words.
This man was a charmer. He was as handsome as any Bollywood actor in his youth and mugged for the camera every chance that came his way. I blame his genes for my inability to pass up a good selfie or photo bomb myself into people’s pictures. In 1964, a luminescent sixteen year old stole his heart. Ten days after seeing her for the first time he married her and brought her to the country he had come to call his home.
This man had no idea how to run a business. It was my mother’s business background and desire not to have strangers raise her kids that drove them to open up the store in 1965. Much more on her later 🙂 Though he was not born to the same business background that my mother was, he took to it as naturally as a duck to sales. A duck to water. Water to sails. I’m lost in my own metaphors…
This man was a fighter. He fought for almost everything he achieved in life. And he was the strongest man I’ve ever known. I only ever saw him cry twice – once when his mother died and the second time when I told him I was leaving him to go to India for an arranged marriage. Two months into that trip he had a massive heart attack. The doctors gave him two days to live. He fought his way through multiple bouts of congestive heart failure, kidney drama, ruptured vessels and eventual amputation(s) and he stretched out two days into seven and a half years.
And when this man died, his funeral was a testament to the smiles he inspired in every person he met. Stories were told about pranks he pulled, jokes he told and of how he made people laugh when they came into the store whether they bought anything or not. And for years afterwards people would come to the store, offer me condolences and tell me how he made them feel special, how he would make them laugh when they were having a bad day or how he would make them a cup of tea and tell them stories about India.
This man and I share the same sharp, twisted and insane sense of humour. We share the same unshakable work ethic and penchant for sales that have made me among the best of any sales group I have ever worked in.
And we share the same nose and eyebrows 🙂
This man lived and breathed for his wife and his children. And his entire identity was locked up in the store. The last time he was ever there, he could barely keep his eyes open. He was weak, had to be carried to the car and wheeled in but he wanted to be there, to talk to the customers.
So we made it happen.
The image of him slumped over his wheelchair, a blanket on his shoulders, his eyes closed and his breathing slow and laboured is one that still tears my heart open. Though it was hard to witness, I know in my soul that it was among the happiest last moments of his life.
This man, this incredible fighter, this namesake on the business I have known all my life was my inspiration, my teacher and my father. And I know that though he has been gone for more than 19 years he is still very much alive in every corner of the store. And I know that if he could come back today, he would agree that the time is right for the doors to close, as heartbreaking a decision as it may be. And when they do close, I believe in my heart that he will be there and that he will be proud.