We wonder about all our habits, so much, that we learn and emulate from our parents; it’s tough to put a number on the gifts that we received.
Sometimes, it’s the way they protect us with unquestioned certainty, sometimes it’s the way they cook a certain dish, or, it’s their voice as they sing or read, and often, it is their view of the world. It’s rarely discernible from one another; often a combination of values, virtues and habits, that make us, who we are.
You have given so much, and with such certainty and conviction, that to untangle this into a handful of things would be nearly impossible.
Some twenty-five days after your passing, I look back at our forty-eight amazing years together, and am filled with gratitude.
Not only am I glad that I met you, I am who I am, because of you.
Resolute Conviction of Execution
You took a five or six year old boy, stood him in front of a tall building and told him to be as tall and hold his head always straight; It was confusing and intimidating.
You built 2 institutions in front of my eyes, brick-by-brick. You raised funds, and interviewed teachers, built a curriculum, and made sure that the restrooms of the schools were clean. You once told me, if you want to see how an organization is run, first go visit their restrooms!
When you walked by a classroom, there was pin-drop silence except for the teacher’s monotone. They knew, that the Principal was walking by; there was fear, and respect, commingled with the knowledge that you set a standard of excellence that others wanted to achieve.
Today, my sense of conviction, of getting things done, of “moving the needle”, of “execution” must be something I have learned (inherited) from you.
Joy, Friendship and Loyalty
It was always fun to be around you; always a sense of newness, adventure, food, debate, a sense of crisp modernity; we discussed politics, and new topics. As if the world couldn’t go stale around you.
When you walked into a room, people noticed; they wanted to be with you, seen with you. We claimed a connection to you.
You were always doing things, running things; during the Independence War, you established a school in our home; we learned with carrots, and potatoes; did art with charcoal and crayons. You turned adversity into something meaningful.
Friendship, Joy and Loyalty
You taught me how to be a good friend; your friends are loyal to you for over 70 years. I remember, once, traveling 5100 miles, over two weeks, to see your best friend. We felt, that these friends of yours, were family.
My friends often came to you for romantic advice, they wanted to hear from you; sometimes, they wanted you to speak to their parents, on their behalf. Everyone felt safe, and protected by you.
Sometimes, at 11 pm, you would say, let’s go for ice cream; no social boundaries; pajamas, and cramped cars.
There has always been, ice-cream and smiles in our lives.
Food and Wrapping Paper
A friend called recently and reminded me that he had his first home-made pizza and the Burmese dish “Khaok-Swe” at our home in the 1970s. My friends loved our home, because we had free flowing crispy samosas, hot tea and dalpuri ready to go!
You were always making these amazing, eclectic dishes – blending the North-South-Asian-Western influences in a big crock-pot. I love your tangy orange aloor dom with crispy loochi, and that mixed vegetable you made with a white sauce. Ghee flowed easily and so did cardamom and all those “exotic” spices. My college friends would send orders for your amazing Dimer Halwa, whenever I went home for the Summer.
You poured your heart and soul into food.
Your creativity and ability to blend flavors with imagination is what we admired. I see your creativity passed on to Apu (Atiya), when she pours herself into her gourmet. I know for certain, we are both foodies, because we never had a boring dish at home!
Food was a symbol of affection, love and caring. You would not visit anyone without some flower or food!
Food was always, also served with a flair.
I remember a winter garden-party at our home in Joypahar. As those beautiful people, adorned in chiffon and pearls, emerged from their cars, I remember Kababs being grilled on one side, while the servers in white uniform were carrying out appetizers. Atiya and I, in single digits, sat in our pajamas dangling our feet from the balcony above, as if watching a movie unfold. There were pigeons released to celebrate a birthday, along with live fireworks.
You told me once, that the wrapping on a gift was just important as the gift itself; it signifies the care and thought you put into everything.
Ford Foundation scholar from the early 1960s, you questioned norms and pushed boundaries, specially for women’s rights, even before I was born. You left your own home at seventeen, to go abroad and study. In those days, from a conservative, Muslim family, that was rare.
You came home from the US, after completing your second Master’s and wanted to change the world. You were in love, and declared it publicly – again, another first in those days.
I have heard stories of bullies and how you pushed them back, in personal and professional life. At least two Presidents of Bangladesh visited your schools and told you that they had heard of stories of your courage and standing up to your conviction.
I remember how you stood hours out in the sun to get an audience with the Holy Cross nuns to get your daughter admitted to the best known girl’s school in Dhaka.
On the fourth day of my father’s passing, you came to me and asked me to remain resolute on heading out to the US for college, even as this adversity faced us.
As I talk to my daughters, today, I speak of your dealing with men in an oppressive country; we have learned about persistence from you and how you never took no for an answer.
Smile and the World Smiles With You
As I look through your photos, they are filled with smiles.
You keep reminding us that life is all about smiles. Even through disasters, and wars, you kept smiling and moving us forward.
Often, people tell me that they like me smile; I know that my ability to smile is a reflection of your ever-present smile, and acceptance of adversity with courage.
I teach my children that, with a big smile, they can also make their dreams come true.
Last week, as I am describing you to a friend who never met you, my friend states that you sound more like a “rock-star”; in many ways, you are a rock-star to many.
We rarely realized this; you’re our mother, care-giver, protector – first line of defense. Today, when we hear about thousands of people, whom you influenced in one way or another, mourning you around the world, I realize, I lived in the shadows of a rock-star mom.
Rock-Stars are not just musicians; rock-stars often change the world, for good.
You shared your kindness, warmth, knowledge and goodwill, freely. You provided food, and comfort to many, during the times of war and peace. Individually, you changed the world, for good.
When we met last, I said, Mummy, I am going back now and will see you in three weeks, when I am back for the holidays. You said, very crisply, Not sure if I will see you here or at another place.
Go bring your happiness, smile, joy, food, resolute assuredness to the heavens above. Can’t wait to hear, how you have re-arranged that place to meet your standards!
I will await to see you again, my Rock-Star!