<%-- Page Title--%> Remembrance <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 124 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

September 26, 2003

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September Days

By Dr. Sarwat Chowdhury

Growing up in our red-bricked house in Dhanmondi, September was just another month for me. Except for my dear sister's birthday on the 3rd, it was yet another month following my half-yearly exams that passed by as comfortably as the rest of the year. Life was ordinary, but happy.

On a September dawn in 1996, our lives changed forever. Ten hours behind the clock, I was a happy college student in the US preparing for my next day while thousands of miles away in Dhaka, my mother silently passed away in her sleep.

That was just like our mother; even in her death she remained quiet and serene.

Countless times, I have tried to visualise her last evening. S, even though she had been feeling unwell. Then why did not she get proper care? Doctors in a Dhanmondi clinic had sent her home that evening after a cursory check up. Was there anything that could have been done differently? In my mind, the answer is always and unequivocally yes.

Still, the questions keep coming. What were her thoughts that evening? Did she know by going to sleep that night, she was leaving us all behind? Why on earth would a seemingly healthy person pass away so young? Why could not my mother retire to her golden age, finally getting some well-deserved rest?

As I close my eyes, I see her gentle smile as she finished her prayers. She was a deeply religious person. Her one major goal in life was to perform Hajj, but that was not to be.

My mother supported her daughter's decision to study in the US when it was not that common for girls to study abroad. She respected my ambition though it was very hard for her to part with her youngest daughter. She wrote to me every week. In fact, she had a folder filled with the number and date of every single letter she had written to me over the years. Well, these are more recent memories. From my childhood days, I have recollections of events that had instilled in my mind that my mother was special, not just because she was my mamoni.

As a child, I remember looking for her one February afternoon. I could not find her anywhere. As we later found out, my mother had had this sudden impulse that something was wrong with her father. She ran out of the house to visit him at her brother's place in Purana Paltan. About an hour after she had reached him, her father breathed his last.

A few years before that, she lost her favourite maternal uncle, the author Syed Mujtoba Ali, whom she lovingly called 'huru mamu'. While her uncle was sick in the hospital, my mother spent anguished nights staying up in the hospital. That was the first time she experienced death on a personal level and it left a lasting impression on her. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure soon after that.

She always wanted the best for her children. By the time I became a teenager, I could notice a difference in the way she treated me. Like my elder siblings, she treated me with respect, as a person and she remained my best friend through the years. She treated her three children with the same, unconditional love only a parent can provide. I remember, as children, we would have mock contests over which of us she loves the most.

Most of her life, she held an office job as well as being a wonderful mother and wife. Anyone who got to know her was charmed by her honest and truthful nature. By the time she was forty, she was a 'nanu' (grandma), a role she took seriously. Her days were really busy. She loved to cook and entertain guests. On Eid days, our dinner table would fill up with delicious chatpati, dahi bara, halim, kababs, meat balls, nankathai cookies, pudding that she had cooked all night long.

My mother brought us up with tremendous sacrifice. She was a bright student, won scholarships, studied in a hostel away from her home. She got married at sixteen, but was steadfast in her resolve to continue with her education while she brought up her children. Afterwards, she began working with various donor agencies. Though she always worked hard, I can't recall a single instance of self-indulgence. I wish she had been a little self-interested.

While she remained resolute in her faith, there was nothing parochial about my mother's beliefs. She taught us to be open-minded in our thoughts and she tried her best to give us exposure to culture, always encouraging us to travel and to read. I believe it was her deep faith that provided her with inner strength and positive outlook on life.

Every few days, I have dreams about my mother. Sometimes, I see myself walking in the streets of New York with her or going shopping in Dhaka. I miss her elegance and her warm smile. No matter what happened, she could make it somehow okay. Without her, everything seems a bit less bright. We have lost forever that warmth and that unconditional love we took for granted. Though we have learned to smile again, something remains hollow inside us.

This September is very special because I became a mother this year. As the family gathered round to welcome my baby, we dreamt of the sparkle in my mother's joyful eyes.

As I try to close this piece, I try to imagine a reader's response. Why would he care for my story? Each of us has our own personal accounts of sorrow. It can be very difficult to share that grief even after passage of years. With my son in my lap, I have so much to say to my mother. For me, these feelings are still too raw to be distilled clearly in a literary piece. But, then there are some readers fortunate enough to have their mothers around. Perhaps for them, it's not too late to say all the wonderful and meaningless things you can say only to your mother.



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