On a quiet summer night early this week, when the world was sleeping, the nation lost a legend. Sarah Begum Kabori, the actress, politician, freedom fighter, and social worker, quietly slipped through the gates of eternity. Her millions of fans were heartbroken and an entire generation lost an icon to the senseless ravages of a virulent virus. Even the legend had to say farewell and the pandemic was her final curtain call.
But what the world will never see is the pain of her five sons losing their mother. I am one of those unlucky five, the second eldest. That day, I too joined the nation in mourning. In my mind, I conjured up a list of images. A long list of celebrities from all over the world who passed away, prematurely, to the utter shock of their teeming fans. All of a sudden, my mother too was part of that list. But when the noise settles, and the media has moved on to other stories, we will still be in disbelief that our mother, the towering matriarch of our family, was abruptly taken away from us. We will struggle to comprehend the permanence of this void. The absolute irreversibility of death. The lifelong impact of this loss.
As I struggle to make sense of what has happened to us, I am overwhelmed with a plethora of emotions. To be honest, the seven stages of grief feel more like a 100 different stages. The emotions are indescribable. The realisation that we will never see her again is impossible to comprehend.
With every passing day, I began to recollect the moments of our life when we were happy and enjoying each other's company. After all, what else can you hold on to but the memories of happy times? Looking back, there were so many of those amazing moments. Our family gatherings were always full of laughter and jokes. Our mother had the ability to light up the room with her personality and her signature laugh. She knew how to live in the moment and our time together created wonderful memories to last a lifetime.
Whenever we were all together, it was magic. Every moment was precious and every conversation had substance. Her wit and intelligence were always the catalyst for every conversation. Her ideas on life, society, religion and politics were the basis of how each one of us evolved in this journey called life. Her impact on our psyche is undeniable. She was a champion of the needy, the not-so-fortunate, especially those who couldn't help themselves. We were always encouraged to engage in social work, participate in charitable endeavours and consciously make donations. A sense of social responsibility was a hallmark of her teachings and I cherish those values to this day.
She taught us the importance of hard work. She was a perfectionist herself and would push us to achieve excellence in everything we did, from our class projects to our final grades. We had to do better if not the best. The pursuit of knowledge was imperative—a point she constantly impressed upon us. Whatever we have achieved, we have done so because of the drive and passion she instilled in us.
The only time we knew that our mother was a celebrity was when we went outdoors with her, especially in the seventies. The crowds were huge! And we were constantly overwhelmed. On one such occasion, I was frustrated with the situation when our car was surrounded by literally hundreds of fans. The car could barely move. I remember that moment vividly, her waving at the crowds with that million-watt smile and the crowd just soaking it in. In an instant, she transformed from being the sweet, attentive mother into a national superstar. I realised then how wonderfully she balanced both worlds. She was not just my mother—she was truly my superhero!
Throughout our childhood, she would always ensure that we were grounded. The trappings of stardom were never a reality to be taken for granted. For us, life was as normal as that of the other kids next door. No fancy cars, no crazy lifestyles, no excessive indulgence in anything whatsoever. I recall that whenever we had star-studded parties in the house, we were allowed to be up until a certain time, have dinner, and off to bed we went. My mother's co-stars, who happened to be the superstars of the day, were just another set of "Uncles" and "Aunties".
In essence, she was just our mother, albeit one with many amazing talents. During our childhood, she would stress the fact that she was always there for us. I can remember how many times she would work around her packed schedule to take care of us when we were sick or needed her to be home. She managed to balance between work and motherhood at a time when such concepts were non-existent. This made us realise and respect the role of women in society from a very early age.
And then, there was the unconditional love and affection of a mother whose life was dedicated not just to her craft and her nation but also to her children and their individual needs. In spite of her immensely busy schedule, she made it a point to come to our school plays, take us to our sports events, cook us our favourite dishes, go shopping for our clothes and be back home whenever she could to kiss us goodnight. I can vividly see her holding my hand and looking into my eyes with that saintly smile, and saying how much she loved me. That was my mother, not the superstar, not the icon, just a loving mother who could give up her life for her greatest love, the love for her children. She made sure each one of us knew this. All five of us. That we all had a special place in her heart. She promised me a long time ago that even though life was temporal, love was not. She said love would transcend the boundaries of this life, for love was eternal.
I will never forget that. Many memories will wither away over time but I will never forget her love for all of us. The time she gave us was precious and the love she shared was the greatest gift a mother could give her children. Thank you Mom for your patience, your guidance and, most of all, your eternal love.
Rizwan Chowdhury is the second son of Sarah Begum Kabori, an iconic actress of Bangla cinema and former Member of Parliament who passed away on April 17, 2021.