My Sister As I Remember Her
Prof. Akhtar Sultana
Ever since my sister passed away a month ago, friends and relatives have asked me to write something about her. I can understand their expectations. Since I am involved in the journalism -- teaching profession, they expect that writing will come naturally to me. But little do they realise that writing about a loved one who is no more in this world is the most difficult job. What do you write about a person who means so much to you? How can you put your feelings in paper and ink? Will I be doing justice to her and if so, then where do I begin?
My sister was the third born child (the eldest died in infancy) to my parents, Sikandar Ali and Husan Zamani. Fair and beautiful, she was named Naiyar, which means the Sun. And all along her life she glowed like the sun giving light to others. My grandmother had taught us to call her Baji and that is how she came to be known to her younger siblings and cousins. My earliest memory of Baji is the tall beautiful young girl returning home after completing her Matriculation examination. My father was posted in Mymensingh and my two eldest sisters were left with an aunt in Dhaka to complete their matriculations. I was excited that my sisters were coming home. Since that day she had always been there for me. Baji helped me in recognising the English alphabets a,b,c, and memorising nursery rhymes. I remember the long summer afternoons in Mymensingh as my older sisters would lie down leisurely and I would creep in between them. I always wanted to snuggle around Baji. She was my favourite sister, although I don't know what attracted me towards her. I remember she would lie on her back with legs folded swinging me on her feet. Sometimes she would play those childish games with my little hands and feet, those games we so often we play with children. How I idolised her! My sisters being rather fashionable had gotten curlers from Dhaka to set their hair in the latest fashion. Before putting on the curlers a certain lotion had to be applied. How awful the lotion smelt. Yet I would hang out, watching and handing out those curlers with my little hands. I would admiringly look at Baji while she applied Yardley pomade on her hair. She looked awesome with curls falling on her forehead, long painted red nails, printed taffeta kamiz reaching below her knees with matching wide shalwar and dopatta and specially ordered high heel shoes from Beauty Shoes in the Jinnah Avenue of Dhaka. Baji looked like a film star.
Prof. Naiyar Sultana
She was my big sister, rather a mother figure. She meant everything to me. A friend, I could rely on, a mentor, I could look up to, an adviser, I could seek advice from. She was like a mother who takes her child into her embrace to protect and shelter her from anything and everything. Siblings are usually close but with her it was a special bond. It was like an umbilical cord that had joined us together.
Baji was ten years older than me. In most cases siblings ten years apart in age, tend not to be close. The age gap becomes a barrier. But in our case it was different. As years passed, this relationship between us matured and transformed into a long and lasting friendship. With her around I never needed any friends. Baji was always there for me -- right from the time, when as a toddler I got lost in Lahore and she found me, till the time I left for US on Senior Fulbright Fellowship and she fell sick.
Good in studies, well behaved, soft-spoken and dignified, she was the pride of the family. She had studied Botany. I remember the joy in my parents' eyes when she secured first class in her Masters. She joined Eden Girls College as a lecturer. My father always wanted his daughters to get higher education. So when Baji got a scholarship for her Ph.D in Queen Mary College in London, it was culmination of his dream. But then her marriage came along and she decided not to go.
Her marriage was a grand affair. It was December 6, 1965. It was a talk of the town. The beautiful and brilliant Naiyar was getting married to the dashing young CSP officer, Rafiqullah Chaudhury. After the Indo Pak war in September 1965, the government had issued restrictions on rice being served at weddings. My father, being a judge of the High Court, would not violate government rules. Hence, western food was served. Baji looked gorgeous in her red bridal finery next to debonair groom Rafiq. They made a handsome couple.
She continued teaching in Eden Girls College for 32 years, rising to the position of Professor and Head of the Department. Teaching was her passion. She enjoyed every bit of it. She would spend hours preparing, taking notes, setting question papers and revising the course contents. I have not seen anyone take as much interest in his/her work as she did. She was totally committed to her profession. Teaching is a full time job and she proved it. She had a wonderful rapport with her colleagues, a quality that is essential for leadership. Her team spirit was the reason for success in all her endeavours. It was during her time, that Honours as well as Masters programme were introduced in the college. She accepted the challenge and with a small group of dedicated teachers proved that dedication and hard work can bring success. In her case, success meant excellent result achieved by her students.
In 1994, she was appointed the Principal of the Dhaka College. She was the first woman to become the Principal in the College's 150-year history. Dhaka College, known for its excellent results, is also considered a trouble spot. Not once did she deter from taking this challenging position. She was soft but firm, kind but strict, tough but understanding. With these qualities, she administered Dhaka College with firm hand and never, during her tenure, was there trouble of any kind.
In 1996, she was appointed Director General of the Secondary and Higher Education. As the Director General, her energy and vitality knew no bounds. She undertook extensive tours visiting colleges in remote places, meeting faculties and trying to find out their problems. Working the whole day, attending meetings and receptions only to come home and find more people with more problems waiting for her, she would give patient hearing to all of them no matter how late at night it was. She felt that it was her responsibility. When I objected to these visitors at odd hours, she softly replied "Akhtar, he is a lecturer from Patuakhali and has come all the way to meet me with his problem. How can I refuse to meet him"? Her hospitality knew no bounds. No one returned from her home without snacks, sweets and tea.
On her retirement from government service in 1998, Baji was sworn in as the member of the Bangladesh Public Service Commission. Once again she proved her worth. Dignified and poised, she discharged her duties in the Public Service Commission with grace and dignity.
Baji was a fighter and the last six months of her life she fought bravely with the deadly disease, lymphoma. All throughout her illness her spirits remained high. She always had a smile on her face. Hooked to a ventilator in the ICU, unable to speak, her long thick black hair, which once nearly reached her knees, fallen off due to chemotherapy, her face puffed up with tubes running into her even then Baji showed no signs of discomfort. Not once did she complain. Finally, on Sunday, May 15 at 6.15, she passed away after a long battle.
Not a single day has passed that I have not thought about her, not a single night that I have not dreamt about her. Friends and family advise me to move on with my life. That is sensible advice. But how do I move on? Baji was a part of my life. With her death, a part of me died, too. But for her sake as well as mine, I have to move on.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005