There is nothing dark in Zeheen's room. It's well lit, everything put away methodically—his clothes folded neatly in a stack, the bed made with a colourful bedspread and pillow case, the boxes filled with files and old cassettes, the showcase of DVDs and video cassettes of popular sitcoms and animated movies, the match box cars on the dresser... nothing that reflects the heavy weight of grief that engulfs those he has left behind.
Then there's that rectangular case on the floor that held his real passion—his beloved Fender electric guitar, suddenly bereft of the caress of his delicate fingers that made it sing with such soulful intensity only a few days ago. It gives a hint of who this man child of 27 really was before a moment of when despair took him away from this world on July 22. Who was this lanky young man whose angelic features betrayed the fire in his soul that produced such passionate, heart-wrenching tunes?
I admit to myself, with painful remorse, that I did not really know Zeheen the way I should have. I was that vague Khala he saw once in a blue moon, a character in his mother's long lost childhood stories that popped up now and then at weddings or family dinners. He would shyly greet me and I was always struck by how warm and well-mannered he and his brother Zerif and sister Raya were. I would get updates about him and his siblings from his mother, Sony, my cousin and childhood friend whose world revolved around her family, especially her children. I knew a little about his pain, the anguish that he kept fighting, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.
So now I watch his music videos and am struck by the confident, focused persona of a musician who seems completely immersed in the electrifying notes, the adrenaline rush as the adulating crowd roars its unequivocal approval. Here he is not shy or reticent; he does not avoid human contact as he would in the so-called real world. Here he embraces the attention, and plays with abandon in perfect synchronisation with the other members of the band.
I manage to get hold of his friend and fellow band member of Mechanix, Aftabuzzaman Tridib, the long-haired, energetic vocalist who has known Zeheen for at least ten years as his choto bhai, friend and lead guitarist of the band. The adoration is obvious. Meeting Zeheen for the first time, Tridib says, he was struck by the 16-year-old's gentle manners and maturity. But it was Zeheen's obvious talent as a musician that kept Tridib and the other members spellbound. By 19, Zeheen's musical prowess had matured and he was involved in composing many tunes for the band. “Zeheen took lessons from anyone—he had a God-gifted talent, he had melody in his soul, in his blood. Only a pure soul can produce this kind of music”, says Tridib. “His compositions were exemplary—his sense of tune, arrangement. We used many of his tunes in our songs including Mechanix's first single 'Druboshor' as well as other albums such as 'Aparajeyo'.” Many of the songs he helped compose were about the social anomalies of time. 'Elegy', for instance, is about the destructive influence of social media.
And music was in his blood for sure, being the son of a talented musician – Manam Ahmed (Miles) whose father was a musician too. Unsurprisingly his younger brother Zerif, too, became a musician and the two brothers often performed together in gigs. The two brothers shared the closeness of best friends with a shared love for music. Although his real affection was for metal music, perhaps for the release of raw emotion it brought on, Zeheen experimented with other genres—rock and roll and pop, doing live shows with many well known musicians. He even had a small stint with the popular band Nemesis. He liked to listen to all kinds of music including that of Joe Satriani, Steven Vai, Paul Gilbert, Marc Tremont, Alter Bridge, John Petrucci, John Mayer, Artcell and Nemesis.
Music was definitely his respite, his escape from the demons of depression that kept haunting him. At one time he taught music to students, revealing the nurturing, patient side that endeared him to others. His band was his second family and he would spend hours on end, even the whole night, not just practicing but hanging out with them, laughing, joking but mostly expressing himself through the strings of his guitar.
His death at 27, an eerily common age for many other gifted musicians, will remain an agonising mystery – for his parents, his siblings, relatives, friends and fans. In a message that his brother stumbled upon while going through his notebook, Zeheen Ahmed talks about his simple dreams—to make a career out of his music, which was perhaps the only language he really spoke or understood.
”I only feel good when I'm playing the guitar… I don't do very well when mixing with people-kind of a social outcast… I don't know how to fix myself… I love my family and friends… My goals consist of being successful at what I do. Want to make a solid career out of it. Want to tour the world and be happy and content.”
Wherever you are dear Zeheen, may you be happy and content and always surrounded by music.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is the Deputy Editor, The Daily Star.