In Memory of
It is still very difficult for me to come to terms with Nasrine's passing.
There is so much she had done in her lifetime and had the energy to do so much more that one is bewildered as to why she had to go. Not her, not Nasrine . . .
In 1973, Nasrine came into our family as my cousin Rumi Bhaiya's (Iftekhar Karim) wife. We called ourselves the “Eskaton clan”. By 'we' I mean all of us cousins, who grew up in that Eskaton Garden house, our parents, uncles and aunts. Even among this eccentric bunch, Rumi Bhaiya was special. While we all had our schooling in Dhaka, Rumi Bhaiya had studied in Cyprus and London. Of course he would marry a princess -- or so we all thought. But we never could have guessed that it would be the perfect princess.
While they were courting each other, Nasrine would sometimes visit our house. We had not been formally introduced to Nasrine at this point and were, therefore, not allowed to stand around and stare at her openly. Such restrictions failed to prevent us from doing the needful. As Nasrine alighted from Rumi Bhaiya's Mini Austin, we used to peer through the iron grill of the first floor window, or any window we could find for that matter. She had burgundy hair, which reached her waist. She was slim, fair and, by a good stretch, the most fashionable person we had ever seen in our lives. Indeed, as one of my cousins said, “She was the beautiful princess who had entered our black and white world”. We were a dozen cousins who shared the same feeling. We were simply awestruck!
Soon Rumi Bhaiya and Nasrine were married. The marriage took place in Germany, because Nasrine's father, the late Humayun Rasheed Chowdhury, was posted there as Ambassador. When they returned to Bangladesh, we were at the doorstep of the aircraft to receive her. As soon as Nasrine came down, I took hold of her beauty box. Till her last day she teased me about it. My sub-continental upbringing told me that the new bride (who was also a princess) should not carry anything herself!
Nasrine's memshaheb exterior, however, belied how deeply entrenched and comfortable she was with Bengali culture. From the first second she came into Eskaton, she loved the whole culture of an extended family -- and we had the happiest time when she became a part of the “clan”.
Nasrine Karim (third from left) at a family gathering.
When she could not sleep at night she spent time watching the late night household happenings from her bedroom window. These were the activities around the fridge in the dining room. The next day, at the breakfast table, she would give hilarious descriptions of how one of the house help would stand in front of the fridge and polish off glasses of milk ("dug, dug, dug"), and Khilai (the octogenarian baby sitter) would open the refrigerator and take in the cool air during the hot summer night!
Nasrine cooked some of the most delicious dishes for us. She introduced us to real Thai soup, bringle timble, khus khus, bakhlava and what not. Back in the early seventies, all these were new to us. But, just as she introduced us to the exotic, she ate the indigenous “jhaal murgee-daal-bhaath” with great relish.
The best part, at least for the girls in the family, were the haircuts she gave us. These were our first modern hair cuts and plucked eye brows. Our mothers and khalas loved and trusted Nasrine so dearly that under her supervision we were allowed to do things that we would never be allowed to do by ourselves.
Later, in 1975, I got married to her cousin. So she was to become my “nanod” now . From “bhabi” to “nonod” -- she continued to play her role with equal flair and elan. And she got me a beauty box of my own! Full of Mary Quant cosmetics, my negligee, and my diamond ring from London. She was responsible for my wedding and the reception make up, having spent so much time on me during the latter that she almost missed the actual ceremony herself.
Nasrine was the one with me in the labour room when Iresh, my first child was born. Perspiring profusely from the tension and effort, she implored me to “push”, and held my hand till my boy came out. Later I heard she came out of the labour room in tears to give everyone the good news.
Thirty-three years later, I am writing in memoriam. It is surreally heart-wrenching.
Nasrine was the best bhabi/nanod/friend I could ever hope to have.
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