The plane cockpit was bright and sunny. They were flying from Muscat and when the plane, with 150 passengers, hovered over Raipur, India, around forty minutes from Dhaka, Captain Nawshad Ataul Quaiyyum suddenly felt a pain in his chest.
He had informed the air traffic controller of the discomfort. But just as they flew over Nagpur, Captain Nawshad took off his headphones and placed it quietly on the first officer.
Before he could utter a word, the captain suffered a massive cardiac arrest and fell off his seat. This would be the last time the captain would take to the skies in the physical form. The other officer would land the plane in Nagpur.
The death, while tragic, was also fitting. If anyone knew one thing about the captain, it was how much he loved to fly. "I'm happiest when I am flying," he had once declared.
At an Indian hospital where he breathed his last, a CT scan of Captain Nawshad – Mishu, as his loved ones would call him – showed he had suffered a brain hemorrhage as well.
His family members said that knowing Mishu, he was probably thinking about the passengers and the safety of the aircraft even while suffering a cardiac arrest."
"The air pressure and stress probably led to the brain hemorrhage…," someone said during a discussion.
We can only surmise because my "Mishu Mama" was not the type to share troubles or setbacks, or even awards and accolades.
In fact, when Captain Nawshad Qaiyyum received awards and global praise for saving 149 passengers during a flight in 2017 with a burst Boeing wheel, we all heard about it first from the media -- how he had made several important judgment calls which led to the eventual success of the precarious landing with a damaged tire.
My mother, his cousin, called him up when he was in Dhaka between flights to congratulate him.
"I only landed a plane -- I'm a pilot, what else am I supposed to do?"
I remember him shyly telling my mother when she called her little brother a hero, "I don't know why everyone's making a big deal about it; they would have done the same thing."
This was coming from a man who got personally invited by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for dinner after he saved 149 lives!
My Mishu Mama died a hero's death, an honour only very few of us can imagine.
I've never written a eulogy, let alone for a hero.
But death has a funny way of bringing together people. In that gathering of family, it dawned upon us what we had always known. Captain Nawshad Ataul Qayyum -- Mishu Mama to me -- was a hero to the nation multiple times. He was a father, a brother, a friend and the kindest soul, funny and personable.
They say the mark of a truly charitable man is when their left hand does not know when the right hand engages in good works.
Mishu mama not only saved lives, but also casually would do things like bring cancer patients their medicine from abroad, often without taking any money from them.
Mishu Mama was my mother's cousin but he was practically a younger brother to her, my ma now sadly recounts. "Mishu called my Amma 'Annaa'. When he was little, one day he asked why we called 'Annaa', 'Amma?'" my mother Farah Mahboob recalled.
"When we explained that we called our mother Amma, he asked why we didn't rectify him so he could also call her Amma too. This is how apon (close) he would make himself and how he would draw others close to him."
To us youngsters in the family, he was the young, quiet, witty uncle whom we would see sporadically only because he was away a lot on flights.
Whenever he would be around, he would be around us kids, teasing us, poking at the holes of our socks till we would yell and then he would give us the chocolates he'd been carrying around the whole time.
"He always wanted to fly," said Fariha Hossain, my aunt and Mishu's cousin, "As long as I remember Mishu, he wanted to fly and to roam the world -- so much that he would stack his father's old captain's hats till they matched his height."
Finally, his dad, Captain Abdul Quaiyyum, brought back a smaller hat for him, and since then the captain's hats and Mishu became inseparable.
After all, Captain Mishu did hail from a family of multiple pilots and flight engineers. "Mishu worshipped his father when he was little," said Farah Mahboob.
"Whatever his father did, he would copy. Nana, ie, Mishu Mama's father, was also a freedom fighter."
And suddenly, stories of his father's term as a freedom fighter accompanied Mishu's sudden love for toy guns and pellets and desire to fight for the country's freedom during his play time.
Perhaps that is why Mishu Mama never left nor wanted to leave Biman Bangladesh Airlines -- after all he did receive plenty of lucrative offers; his father was a senior pilot for Korean Air and Saudi Airlines.
Mishu Mama was never a studious kid, but he was an avid reader, and was always immersed in play with his cousins, his hats and toy guns, and his Humayun Ahmed books.
You can tell by now, his childhood was spent getting doted on by his older cousins, khalas and mamas, so much that everyone saved their best portions for him customarily. "The first time boro mama became a Captain at Biman, he joked how the chicken for dinner that night had thighs and legs!" explained my mother, "because normally they would be reserved only for Mishu!"
Shehzad Chowdhury, a noted artist and curator, and Mishu's childhood friend, said, "Mishu had a heart of gold. He would always make everyone smile, always had the biggest smile. His death really shook our batch up."
An alum of BAF Shaheen School, he remained in close touch with his childhood friends and new ones alike. "He was my dear childhood friend," said Amitabh Reza Chowdhury, eminent film-maker and producer.
Tomes of Facebook posts from all walks of his life pored in when news of his heart attack came from the news. It's then when our family members truly realised how loved he was by the world. "He was a popular character in Biman, because he was nice and personal to everyone," said flight crew Bipon. "He would remember personal details anyone would mention in passing and ask about them later. How could he not be well-liked?"
Nawshad Ataul Quaiyyum Mishu joined Biman in 2002, as soon as he completed his SSC exams. He started as first officer of A310 and Boeing 777. Later, he became pilot of his favourite Boeing 737. Mishu Mama loved the Boeing 737 plane. He lived and breathed planes and flying. Any Studio Ghibli fan would know, Mishu's character was like the Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi's from "The Wind Rises," a true lover and devotee to his first passion. Not that I could personally relate, but I remember his apartment being decorated with plane models and remember thinking as a child, how did this guy spend all his time working inside planes and still decorated his own apartment with the same thing!
Who knew what went through his mind in the last few hours? All we know is that Mishu Mama was at his zenith, literally, when he was in the sky. Sometimes his family members would get upset at his absence, and wish he would spend more time with them; at least I would hear my mother nag him.
Today upon his death, I write this to ensure Captain Nawshad Ataul Quaiyyum Mishu's name is never forgotten to all those who search for "the best and bravest Bangladeshi pilot ever!"