A RARE JEWEL LOST
Kajalie Shehreen Islam
I am in my first year at Dhaka University, department of mass communication and journalism. Mid-way, there is a change in professors in my Bangladesh Culture and Heritage class. Enter Prof Dr Sitara Parvin. Serious and soft spoken, she does not speak a word of English in class. I remember my mother saying those who are good speakers do not mix languages in their conversations and only stick to one. As difficult as it sometimes is for me to follow her lectures -- the harder, unfamiliar Bangla words in particular -- I cannot help but pay attention to what she has to say, often wondering in awe how an English graduate can speak such pure, fluent Bangla. She was strict about the language to the point of asking us to call her "Apa" instead of the usual, less familiar (and more western) "Madam" reserved for our professors. No one did. I tried but failed and thought I would practise it by myself and finally be able to call her what she wanted us to one day. Though I did leave a note for her once, addressing her as "Apa", the day I could actually call her by it never came.
Prof Sitara Parvin with her first year students in 2002
Over the years, I took two of Prof Sitara Parvin's courses, was in her tutorial and faced my last viva voce with her on the board. Though she was not the type to lavish special attention on anyone, you somehow knew that she cared. She would always come into class and make sure everyone was sitting close enough to be able to hear her. I would simply have to look around me in class for her to realise that I was feeling warm and she would ask the students to switch on the fans (which they had turned off because they could not hear her as well without the microphone which was not working). She spent at least a few minutes in our last two classes before the summer vacation this year advising my friend with a scarf around her neck what to do about her cold and sore throat. Sitting in front of a panel of teachers during my third year viva exam, trying to explain the difference between women's rights and human rights, about our political culture and a host of other things, I somehow felt she knew what I was trying to say; perhaps she even agreed with me, but most importantly, I felt that she understood me. I remember being surprised and even slightly embarrassed when she fed me cake on my birthday. I had avoided my friends' eyes when they jokingly asked me to feed her as well, but today I really wish I had done it. Only then, I never thought I wouldn't ever get another chance . . .
Prof Dr Sitara Parvin passed away in a road accident in the United States on June 23. Though I've been to her house twice since then to condole and even seen her coffin when it was brought to DU, I still somehow cannot believe that she will not be on the dais next Wednesday morning at 10, leaning over the podium with her glowing smile, taking up where she had left off teaching us about women and the media, asking us very humbly to read the book she herself had written from her research. This is the only image I see of her -- along with her at her desk, walking down the corridor, opening the lock to her room, stopping me to tell me she would give me more English references on ethnic minorities and the media . . .
| A dedicated, dignified teacher
Prof Sitara Parvin was a great teacher. She knew her subject in detail and had no trouble getting it through to her students. She was strict about us being on time for class but always gave in to let the late-comers in. She always had references ready to help us out, always encouraged us to study our subjects. I cannot imagine anyone else taking her Media and Society course. Just by seeing her, you would want to be as accomplished, as dignified, as dedicated as she was to her work and her students. She made you admire and respect her without flaunting any of the wonderful qualities you knew she had. She was not only a complete woman; she was the complete human being.
I have never written a tribute to anyone before and I know the time I shared with Sitara Apa and my closeness to her was not much compared to that of her family, friends and colleagues. I have heard that she was the perfect daughter -- caring for her parents and looking after the entire household. I know she was the perfect companion to her husband with whom she spent her student days, and years as colleagues and husband and wife. I have heard she was her daughter's closest friend and did everything with her. I remember one of my father's colleagues telling me how "Sitara" was her "best friend" and, after her death, with eyes swollen, how she "could not imagine life without Sitara." I also know that she was highly admired, respected and loved by her colleagues, to whom she would give pens and diaries and advice to the bachelors to get married! I know there are others who can testify to all this much better than I. Yet, the little I knew of and shared with Sitara Apa left me -- as it did many others -- with something that I can never forget. And I wonder -- when she has touched my life the way she has in the little that I knew her -- how her parents, her husband, her daughter and those close to her will go on without her . . .
No biographical note on Prof Dr Sitara Parvin can go without mention of her father, a greatly respected former justice and president. But there was nothing about the "first daughter" in her. Not her appearance -- her cotton saris, simple hairstyle; not her demeanour -- the way she spoke to and treated people. If she did reflect anything of her father, it was his dignity, his honesty, his dedication and sincerity and his strength of character. Every day of her life, Prof Sitara Parvin displayed these in her own right -- in the way she spoke and walked, in her work, in the way she was always on time and never missed her classes, in the way she taught from the heart. The hundreds of students and colleagues who crowded to get a look at her coffin in front of the Aparajeyo Bangla were not there because of her father or husband or brother-in-law or anyone else. They were there to pay their last respects to a professor, a colleague, a student, a friend -- a woman of so many dimensions -- who had touched their lives beyond thought.
After her death, I told a friend that all I could remember was her smiling face. I told him, somewhat in consolation, but with complete honesty, that in our pursuing our work, our lives, with the same honesty and sincerity that she did, will her values live on, will we reflect her in what we do.
This is the only way I know how to pay tribute to Apa, Prof Dr Sitara Parvin: By attending classes, supporting whoever it is who takes over her course, by doing well at university; by making something of myself and making those who love and care for me proud and happy; and by caring for and helping others all my life.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005