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.