Bangladesh Slideshow

31 August, 2008

Memories memories...

Life brings tears, smiles and memories.
The tears dry, the smiles fade,
But the memories live on forever.

It will be the little things we remember, the quiet moments, the smiles, the laughter.

And although it may seem hard right now, it will be the memories of these little things that will help push away the pain and bring the smiles back again.

You'll always be with us, Mehreen.

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.

18 August, 2008

The Night when Fates are Decided

Shab-E-Barat was celebrated in Bangladesh this weekend. It is perhaps the most auspicious night of the year for Muslims who believe that the fate of all living creatures for the coming year is decided on this night. The festival is celebrated either on the 13th or on the 14th day of Shaban, the eighth month of the Muslim year. This day also heralds the coming of Ramadan. Shab-E-Barat means the Night of Forgiveness. Muslims fast during the day, and offer prayers throughout the night, hold milads (religious programs) and visit the graves of family and friends to pray for peace for the departed souls. The night of Shab-E-Barat also commemorates the entry of Prophet Muhammad into the city of Mecca.

It is also the occasion for us to share sweets with family, friends and neighbours. We also make sure that the poor don’t miss out. Frenzied activities in the kitchen, making halwa and roti for distribution, are a common enough scene. The streets are thronged with the less fortunate, going from house to house for a share of the treats.

Children celebrate by lighting firecrackers and candles. Although the use of firecrackers is officially banned now, some manage to find their way into young hands, and it is not uncommon to be so startled in the middle of one’s prayers by a sudden ‘boom’ that one forgets up to which point one had recited the surah, and has to begin all over again. Frustrating. But when one imagines the rascals breaking up in glee, one cannot but forgive.

This year the day fell on a Saturday, and the blogging girl took full advantage of the weekend to go all out with her Shab-E-Barat cookout. She planned, consulted cookbooks and her mother, and decided on a very ambitious menu. She planned to make five kinds of halwa, a firni and vermicelli. She bought little bamboo trays from Aarong, to add a unique touch to her distribution. The compulsive list-maker that she is, she made lists of grocery items, and also a task list of when to do what. Yes, she is rather compulsive.

Three trips were made to the grocery store - she couldn’t carry all her shopping in one go, you see. Friday and Saturday she spent in the kitchen, cooking up a storm!

She also made a quick trip to Ananda to buy their special raisin bread. It looked great and tasted yummy!

Saturday afternoon saw her dining table laden with mouth-watering goodies.

There was Firni. Semolina Halwa. Paper thin roti.

Egg Halwa garnished with silver tabak. Coconut Barfi. Daal Halwa.

There was Carrot Halwa. The pistachio garnish lent it more color and it looked oh so pretty!

And vermicelli with raisins and almond.

Candy was ecstatic. She loved sweets, and never had she seen such an array. But she was only allowed a tiny taste of each.

So she sulked.

The items were arranged on the bamboo trays and wrapped in cellophane. They looked very nice and were much appreciated by all those (well, only a lucky few actually) who received them.

Sweets and bread were also distributed to the less fortunate. At the end of the day, the blogging girl retired tired but content. She said heartfelt prayers to Allah for all His blessings.

I end this post with verses from the Holy Qur'an. The seven verses of Surah Al Fatiha are a prayer for Allah's guidance and stress the lordship and mercy of Allah.

Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe.
The Most Gracious. The Most Merciful.
Master of the Day of Judgment.
You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help.
Guide us to the straight path.
The path of those whom You have favored.
Not of those who have deserved Your anger, nor of those who stray.

02 August, 2008

Blue Birthday Bells

The birthday of the youngest member of our family finally arrived! A theme was chosen for her party (Blue’s Clues) and invitation cards were sent out. She was turning TWO!

Presents, and balloons, were bought, and hidden in the depth of wardrobes.

Balloons were everywhere on the day of the party.

The front door also dressed up for the occasion.

The birthday girl wore a pretty ribbon.

The cake also had ‘Blue’ on it! (It was made by Mr. Baker himself!)

The birthday girl licked some icing.

And looked with longing at all the yummy dishes. Alas, they were not for her!

But there were presents galore!

And she was happy to cuddle with Mommy.