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9 May, 2021 11:23:13 AM
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Tribute to my cousin Shaheen, the anchor of her family

What defined her were her principles as they related to human dignity and fairness, kindness and compassion for others. She was vocal against injustice. Her concern for others went beyond common courtesy.
Quamrul Haider
Tribute to my cousin Shaheen, the anchor of her family

The past few days have been very difficult for me. And how could they not have been?  After all, on April 29, 2021, my cousin Nina Shaheen Chowdhury, née Nina Shaheen Abedin (1948–2021), passed away after a losing battle with Covid-19. The news of her death left me in a state of shock that I could not assuage because when I learned of her illness, I had every confidence that she would soundly defeat the virus that threatened her life. But alas, she didn’t.

Since her death has left such a void in the lives and hearts of her near and dear ones, I would imagine that we will all be wrestling with grief for many weeks, if not months, to come. As for me, with her death, I not only lost a dear cousin, but most importantly lost a wise counselor and a cherished friend with whom I could share everything, including my deepest secrets and dreams, without hesitation.

The month before her death, I called her to wish an early birthday greeting, in case I forget to do so on the actual day. Her response was prophetic, in the sense that she told me it was a good idea because “I may not be alive to accept your birthday wishes on the day of my birth.” My last conversation with her was on her birthday via text message, inquiring about her medical condition. In reply, she texted: “Aaj feeling better kintu phoney ekhono kawtha boltay parchhina.”

I had a very special relationship with Shaheen Apa, as I called her. We were children of an era when life was simple but beautiful. There were no sleek cars and long haul airplanes. We did not have the luxury of colour TV, computers, internet, e-mail, cell phone and video games. Yet, we spent wonderful times together. We played together, laughed and cried together and studied together at Dhaka University. We have rarely been apart since those formative years.

During her lifetime, she has been a towering figure, an anchor, in her extended family. She was a far-seeing and thoughtful voice with encyclopedic knowledge about life. She had an infectious smile with a great sense of humor. She always had a ready joke, often leaving us in stitches from bouts of laughter.

Shaheen Apa’s life was rich in positivity. She had all the trappings of an affluent life, yet she never bragged about her wealth or displayed hubris. Modesty and humility were the hallmark of her character. The modesty in her personality was matched by realism in her demands. She was humble, which made her easily approachable, always available for counseling. She was always beside her kith and kin, or far and removed, through good and bad times.

She was an avid lover of nature, a devoted social worker and a philanthropist. She was a patron and lover of art, literature and music. She regularly arranged musical soirees―Rabindra Sangeet―at her country home in Sharabo, Savar. The home, or retreat if I may call it, is a nature lovers paradise, with untamed landscape, fruit orchards, myriad of tropical flowers, including orchids, as well as ponds full of eye-catching Shaplas and gorgeous Poddos.

Shaheen Apa was her own person, not afraid to be different. She was a person of principle and grit. Above all, she was a warm, gracious and insightful person, a proud woman of deep conviction and rectitude. She showed others how to live with purpose and how to face adversity with a smile. She was kind, caring and welcoming, and most of all a generous person always available to share whatever she had with others. Her kindness and generosity touched the lives of many people around her.

What defined her were her principles as they related to human dignity and fairness, kindness and compassion for others. She was vocal against injustice. Her concern for others went beyond common courtesy. Further, she did not shy away from the challenge of defending and advocating for the oppressed in the society. To that end, she was devoted to aiding the underdog, whether she had personal ties or not.

Few years back, when the local land grabbers wanted to evict the Hindu Kochi tribe from their homes in Sharabo, they came to Shaheen Apa at two in the morning, pleading for help. She felt duty-bound to do what she could to help them. After discussing the matter with her husband, she decided to give them a portion of their land near the Kochi’s original homes. They―7 to 8 families―built their houses on the donated land and have since been living there without any problem.

Today we grieve Shaheen Apa’s death with her husband Osman Kaiser Chowdhury, her two children―daughter Neelanjana and son Deepro, three grandchildren, a brother Muntasir Erfan Abedin and a sister Nandini Abedin, her mother Mrs. Nurunahar Abedin whose 90th birthday was celebrated by her on 12th of March with much fanfare and host of her friends. To all of you, in her death we may have lost one of the great members of our family, but her legacy will continue for decades to come. Although she is no longer with us, she will always live in our hearts and the “hearts of those she touched, for nothing loved is ever lost and she was loved so much.” Clichés, no doubt, but that’s how I will remember her.

Words are simply inadequate to convey the grief and intense pain that we are feeling today. Instead, we can seek solace from the words of Helen Keller: “Death is no more than passing from one room into another.” Fate ordains that all of us will eventually die. Thus, we will meet her again in that “another room.” Until then, our grief at the sadness of her passing will be replaced by warm memories of a spirited life.

I will end my tribute with a stanza from the poem When I die written by the great thirteenth century Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi:

When you see my corpse is being carried,
Don’t cry for my leaving.
I’m not leaving, I’m arriving at eternal love.
When you leave me in the grave, don’t say goodbye.
Remember a grave is only a curtain for the paradise behind.

May eternal rest be granted unto you and perpetual light shine upon you, dear Shaheen Apa. May you rest in eternal peace in the paradise.

The writer is a Professor of Physics at Fordham University, New York. E-mail: [email protected]

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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