Bangladesh Slideshow

30 August, 2008

My Friend Mehreen

During the second year of my PhD, I was on a committee to welcome new students to the dorm. There was a notice on my door asking newcomers to get in touch with me for any information or help. The one thing it didn’t tell newcomers was that I had strange habits and went to bed at dawn.

I got a call one day from a girl who had just arrived and although it was mid-morning-ish, it seemed like the crack of dawn to me. I mumbled a greeting and told her I’d call her back. Around 2pm, I knocked on her door - her room happened to be right opposite mine, feeling a bit sheepish at being caught napping on the job. She opened her door, a radiant smile on her face. And that’s how I met Mehreen on a foggy English September day in 1997.

She was from Pakistan, she was really tall, and she was in England to start her PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her topic of research – the entamoeba histolytica – was totally beyond my realm of understanding, but she quickly grasped the essence of mine – policy autonomy dilemma of aid dependent countries. We chatted about this and that, and in 15 minutes, we were both putting on our jackets for a tour of the dorm and the neighbourhood. Thus began a friendship which lasted 11 years.

Over the next four years, Mehreen and I became very close friends. We walked back from school together, shopped and cooked together, planned parties and outings and vacations, went everywhere and did everything together. We were the quintessential odd couple though - she tall and elegant, and me. Our tastes were sometimes identical, and at times as different as chalk and cheese; as were our natures – Mehreen was a people-person, while I was a bit of a loner. She taught me to cook (okay, now a pinch more of the garam masala, and don’t stir the curry so much), she taught me patience (let’s wait another 10 minutes for the bus, then we’ll catch a taxi), she mothered me (even if you don’t like vegetables, you still have to eat them), she encouraged me and stood by me, and in knowing her, I became a (slightly) better person.

Mehreen had the sunniest disposition, and she genuinely cared about people. Never did she show annoyance or exasperation (not even with me, and believe me that’s not an easy thing to do!). And I can’t remember ever seeing her angry. She was a giver, and many a time I grumbled at the way she always tried to accommodate others, often sacrificing her own comfort and leisure time. She found so much pleasure in meeting new people and working with people, and she had endless energy. She had multiple roles: daughter, aunt, a dedicated career woman and friend, amongst many others, and she managed to strike the perfect balance and played them enviably well. She had grace and charm in abundance, and was a natural leader.

All her friends loved Mehreen so much and we each wanted to think we were her best friend. If you’re like me, you’d understand being unbelievably selfish about this because being her best friend would really mean something. But she made us all feel we were her best friends and she loved us all.

It breaks my heart to tell you that Mehreen passed away in a hospital in Glasgow on Thursday 28 August. She had a heart problem and over the last three years had undergone two major valve repair/replacement surgeries. A few weeks ago, she started to feel unwell and was hospitalized. The doctors diagnosed that her heart condition had deteriorated and that the only option left now was a heart transplant. She also developed an infection which was being treated by antibiotics. We were hopeful that as soon as that had been taken care of in the next few days, Mehreen would be put on the donor list. But alas, that was not to be. Thursday morning she took a turn for the worse, and later in the day, passed away.

Many people are described as kind and considerate but to be kind and considerate while feeling ill, and never ever complaining about life is truly amazing! Even when she lay in her hospital bed, she worried that her friends would worry about her. I got an email from her brother that said, “You might have already heard this news from common friends but Mehreen wanted to make sure that you knew and asked me to email you on her behalf.”

Mehreen was a very special person, and she has left her mark on this world, a giant footprint of greatness, that mere words cannot express. She achieved greatness in the eyes of all the people who knew her and all those who loved her. That is truly a blessing.

In the memories that we have of Mehreen, full of life, laughter and love, she will live on in our hearts and spirits.


Marie said...

I feel somewhat underqualiied to add anything to Shahnaz's beautiful eulogy as I don't live in (or have ever been to - yet!) Dhaka, but I suppose this just demonstrates the international nature of Mehreen's friends. I am a Gibraltarian married to a Scot and lining in England. I met Mehreen and Shahnaz at around the same time - we were all in the same corridor in London House, that wonderful institution on Mecklenburgh Square. They were both studying something of international importance. I was training to become a barrister. To all those that knew her, she was a huge ray of sunshine, with a practical, sisterly, motherly way about her. She was the most morally correct person I have ever met, and yet she had a fantastic (sometimes wicked) sense of humour. Her dedication to family, friends and work was complete. And with all that she was incredibly intelligent - I remember sharing a flat with her and she would come home with these endless dna sequences of the amoebic dysentry virus (sorry if I have offended any other molecular microbiologists with my laymen's terms).

Our darling Mehreen, we all loved you so much and the gap you have left behind cannot possibly be filled. We will not forget you.

Afroja said...

Afroja khanam says

I know Mehreen by the photo given in her facebook profile and I had a chance to see her photo through shahnaz Karim's facebook account. Suddenly, I have heard about the sad news, I really very much shocked.

I want to say something to you Mehreen......

"I do not know you, whatever I have heard regarding you I feel you were like sunshine, you were like an ocean, you were like the sky. Your limit was beyond the sky.Though you left this earth, you will be always remembered by all the people who were in touch of you and heard about you for your virtues. We will never forget you, we will always pray for you"

May allah bless Mehreen.

Christina said...

Shahnaz made a very beautiful eulogy that covers it all...Mehreen was one of the best persons i ever met in my life, always smiling, always helpful, always there for you, always putting me into place when i wasnt. Both Mehreen and I did our PhDs in the same laboratory at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. As the days were passing she became a good valued friend, sharing our happy times, our sad times together. We had such a good time together our trip in Mexico city (we went to give talks to a conference), the Lake district, visiting Sangeeta in Manchester, her cooking...(she taught me how to cook all those amazing recipies of hers)... and so many other times that will take pages to fill...
Mehreen, we will miss you! You were a good friend and you will always stay in my heart!