When I started school, you mothered me regularly. You waited for me to come home and you took care of me on your own, not letting me be taken care of by the helpers at home. Just the other day you mentioned how as a child I talked to the birds in the afternoon, telling them not to chirp because Mother was asleep. You talked about the beautiful birthday you organized for me with all your love and care. You guided me academically and imbibed in me the rites of passage that made me what I am today. You were my mentor, friend and companion. You were affectionate towards my schoolmates and later on with my college friends.
Rosy apa, you were a common factor in my social realm. You attended parents' day in school and accompanied me to debates that I participated in college. You stitched clothes for my dolls and for me on special occasions.
In 1976 your marriage separated us. And now the 8th of September 2021 has separated us until I meet you in my final destination. I visited you every year and the times we spent together are etched in my heart. When I left you, we cried profusely, wondering when we would meet again. Last year my visit was short and it was the last time I saw you. You controlled your tears when you said goodbye. And goodbye it was forever.
Though destiny took us apart and Covid made our lives restricted, our intimacy did not change. We chatted almost every day for long durations, laughing at my childhood follies. You encouraged every endeavour of mine and celebrated my achievements. Your blessings for me were like manna from heaven. You called me Chhoton Rani and our youngest brother Khokon Raja, who was your favourite. You were revered by all the nephews and nieces.
You were selfless, filled with the milk of human kindness, never hesitating to help friends and relatives with all your love. The tiniest effort and smallest gift delighted your spirits. You were highly sensitive and emotional, and a drama of insult or betrayal hurt you profusely. You were a people's person and kept in touch with all the family at all times. Both the affluent and the needy loved and respected you because of your selflessness and your generosity of spirit. Your intellect was refined and literary. You were philosophical in your attitude and simple in your dealings; because of this, you were hurt by several individuals. You had a deep respect for our family and always wanted to bring to light all good deeds achieved by our elders and ancestors.
Your intellect had manifold levels. You wrote poetry in English, Bengali and Urdu. Your interest in Tagore coupled with your melodious voice gave you the satisfaction of singing, along with your interest in Ghalib, that brought out the poetic zeal in you. You had your pulse on Sanskrit, a language you studied in school. People listened to you on Bangladesh Betar and BTV. You were a giver and not only of your love, but the little you had you gave to people who needed it. You left all you had for charity. In the conversations we had, so often you discussed the environment, the liberation war of Bangladesh, and Shakespeare with my husband. Always eager to watch the talk shows that my husband participated in. When you last spoke to him you sadly said, 'I could not watch your programme on Ekattor TV". With me, you spoke of varied subjects encompassing the huge array of human development. You were interested in discussing Quranic verses, philosophy, poetry and sometimes telepathy and healing. You were part of my existence and now the void is also part of me.
You were born to blush unseen. Your poetry remains unpublished and your wishes unfulfilled. Your singing remains a pleasant memory. As a young girl, I accompanied you to an all-India music competition held at Nritya Bharati in which you stood third. I was also lucky to hear you sing at the famous Kala Mandir in Kolkata, and watch you in a role in Othello at the annual Victoria Institution in Kolkata.
You were a great teacher and had the experience of teaching at Khulna Girls College and Tejgaon College in Dhaka. In your last days, you taught Bengali honours students pro bono, those who were financially affected by Covid, at your residence. On your deathbed, you remembered one such student while speaking to our nephew. Destiny did not make you a mother, but your innate love for children enabled you to love the children of other people. The children in your building were your regular visitors. You enjoyed their company and taught them to sing.
Your life was not full of pomp and glamour, but your dealings with people in the way you did touched them.
After your departure from this mortal world, the phone did not stop ringing for days. And people don't stop asking me how you passed away, telling me how much you loved each one you knew, and how life will be different for them now.
I will miss you, apa. You will not call me again and we will not laugh at common jokes. But as winter approaches and the cold wind blows over that heap of the earth under which you lie I will recall the good times we had together and imbibe in my everyday life what you taught and believed in.
I will listen to the song you sang and recorded for me --- 'chitthi aayi hai aayi hai chitthi aayi hai'.
As I write I recall the lines from Rumi:
'This is how I would die
Into the love, I have for you
As pieces of cloud
Dissolve in sunlight.'
Syeda Zakia Ahsan is an educationist and charity worker in London.