The term 'legend' is used sparingly and only for those who have made a real difference in the lives of those around them. It is a pointer to the achievements of individuals who have spent a lifetime or a very large stretch of their lives giving of their wisdom to the world around them, infusing it with the light that has been part of their being.
Such a legend was Niloufer Manzur. In her passing, the light goes out. With her life drawing to an end in times that are terrifying for all of us, it is the shadow of death which stalks the world, our world. And yet it would not be true to say that Niloufer Manzur --- our dear, precious Mrs Manzur --- takes the light with her as she passes into eternity. The brilliance she disseminated as an educationist, as the founder of Sunbeams, lives on, a tribute to her dedication to the education of the young. In her was commitment to enlightenment symbolized. Her place in the growth and expansion of English medium education in Bangladesh was rendered a truism long ago, years before mortality finally claimed her.
There are all the memories, personal and therefore of a definitively beautiful hue, that come associated with her. For me, interacting with Niloufer Manzur and Manzur Elahi, a truly urbane couple one loved being in conversation with, is today part of the memories associated with my youth. As a teacher at Scholastica in the early 1980s, as one among whose pupils were their children Nasim Manzur and Munize Manzur, it was my privilege to meet them on such occasions as parent-teacher days. Those were simple enough meetings, designed and geared to keep parents acquainted with the progress their children were making in class.
Even so, for me to interact with Mrs Manzur on those mornings, when she and her husband turned up for those meetings, was a rather nervous affair. Here she was, the founder-principal of Sunbeams, an individual fully and properly aware of the needs that education fulfilled, of the goals that schools set or ought to formulate for their pupils. But, of course, the nervousness proved to be fleeting. Mrs Manzur's infectious smile, her soft conversation, her appreciation of all the efforts which teachers expended in imparting education to all those screaming, frolicking children were remarkable, were encouraging for any young pedagogue.
She was one of those persons whose presence was but a reflection of a new school of educationists in the country. She was not forbidding; she was not unapproachable. And yet commitment, a firmness of purpose, defined her. The little babies who went to Sunbeams were, in that broad manner of speaking, her own children. Over the years, these babies were to grow into adults remarkably conversant with the world around them, ready and willing to share the light they had inherited from the Sunbeams lamp. That is the tribute Niloufer Manzur deserves today, has always deserved and has always been recipient of.
Mrs Manzur's contribution to education has been that of a true pioneer driven by the need to give to the country a platform where through instruction in the English medium, children would not only immerse themselves in the heritage they were part of in this land but also take in the wider world out there as they pored over their books, as they recited poetry, as they sang in unison. These babies, in the presence of teachers shaped into a team of young, enterprising individuals by Mrs Manzur, imagined the world in those little classrooms, heard tales of wonder in the voices of those who taught them in class.
In Niloufer Manzur beat a heart which resonated with the melody of culture. Modernity shaped her worldview, an attitude she brought into the way she administered Sunbeams, in the manner in which she groomed her own son and daughter as they prepared to play their roles in life. Basic decency defined her being. She knew my wife Zakia, for Zakia too had been her children's teacher, as vice principal of Scholastica, in the early 1980s. A few years ago, Mrs Manzur was keen that Zakia join her Sunbeams team and so return to educating the young. It did not quite work out that way, for reasons that had to do with my wife's preoccupations in Britain.
In these decades that have gone by, I have had occasion to come across Mrs Manzur quite a few times. The old smile, that unforgettable politeness, that softness of speech --- all of it was there, perennial. She was happy, she said, reading my articles in the newspapers. It was gratifying for me that she found time to read them, with all her packed schedule concentrated on Sunbeams. For my part, in Niloufer Manzur I saw, indeed have always seen, enlightenment sparkle through the years.
It took a brave soul in the early 1970s, not long after the liberation of Bangladesh, to take the courageous step of initiating English medium education in the country and then to power it to being a purposeful engine geared to a shaping of ideas in little children. Niloufer Manzur was that brave soul who did it. Through the passage of the years, she oversaw the arrivals of generations of babies at Sunbeams, children who in time would go out to meet the world on their terms.
That is our tribute to Niloufer Manzur as we bid her farewell. Long years ago, Christa McAuliffe defined her place in life in six simple words: "I touch the future. I teach."
Niloufer Manzur touched the future, for teaching throbbed in her heart and shaped the landscape of the soul in her.