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
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
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
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
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.