It was the month of May in 2012, when I made an impromptu trip home from Vancouver where I was completing university at the time. I still remember the bursting anticipation in my chest, just waiting to get home to see the surprised look on my mother's face. My grandmother's house was the first place I had visited during that brief trip to Dhaka, and at the time both my maternal aunts lived in the same premises as her. It made for a perfect reunion that night. We easily spent hours propped up on her living room couch - catching up and listening to my Nanu as she shared a world of wisdom she had gathered over the years. She always told us the most interesting stories, especially of her and my Nana Bhai.
That was my last Friday with Nanu.
Anjuman Ara Jamil, also known as Moni, was born in Hashimpur, Kushtia in the year 1938. She belonged to a family, where she was the eldest of five sons and three daughters. Her early childhood was spent in her hometown of Hashimpur in Kushtia as well as Khulna and Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, where she took immense interest in learning, singing, dancing and outdoor sports. She grew up to fall in love with, and marry Shaheed Brigadier General Jamil Uddin Ahmed (BU) and she carried this title with pride for the rest of her years. But, the tragedy awaited them. Brigadier General Jamil bravely obeyed the call of duty and embraced martyrdom in trying to save the Father of the Nation.
Growing up, I often heard stories about my grandparents from a countless number of people, but one thing always remained -they shared the most loving, passionate, and romantic relationship. They had a beautiful family with four beautiful daughters: Tonu, Konka, Sheta and Karishma. Nanu would often reminisce about their days in Pakistan, where they spent most of their time before the Liberation War. She was very active, often hosting cultural shows and events where Nana Bhai would take to the 'tabla' as the two would perform their Rabindra Sangeet duets. She was the most perfect housewife; with traditional values yet a progressive mind.
In the face of her husband's death on the fateful morning of August 15, 1975, she was confronted with a height of challenges but did not lose her courage and immovable grace. Not only did she single-handedly raise four admirable daughters in a conservative society, many also knew her to possess an innate sense of leadership and regarded her as the "head of the family" without fail. Nanu, also known as Borobu, Choto ma, and Nini, supported many with her irresistible nature to help others. She was a philanthropist and a patron of the people; she also had an extraordinary insight into human nature. I often found her attending visitors at her home, offering guidance and support with the knowledge, wisdom and advice she had gathered over the years.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over."
In 1977, she founded a construction and indenting company, 'Modhumoti Traders', where she constructed many buildings for the Military. The company also worked in tandem with Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), where she provided equipment and services from Kirloskar Group of India. She had become one of the first women entrepreneurs of Bangladesh, and her determination and devotion allowed her to reach greater heights. Some years later, she was also elected a Member of Parliament for Greater Kushtia, during which she accomplished many development projects in her constituency. She successfully built new, and also improved existing roads in the area, promoted primary education for girls, sanctioned the Lalon Complex, and spent an extensive amount of time rehabilitating 'Biranganas' (female freedom fighters) and 'Bidhobas' (widows).
She was a philanthropist to the core, and went on to establish Jamil Foundation, which had a strong focus on women empowerment. She ran 'Boyshko Shikkha' programs on adult education and literacy, as well as the "Kaantha Project" where women skillfully embroidered quilts with the traditional patterns and designs of Nakshi Kaantha, a craft form originating from Kushtia. Not only was she a humanitarian, she was also an extremely charismatic personality in the field of politics. She was adored by many for her honesty and straight forwardness.
She used to call me 'bubu'. I distinctly remember Fridays at Nanu's house, where we would gather around her dining table to indulge in her famous chicken korma. My mother would occasionally share with her the latest disobedient deed I had committed, but to my delight, Nanu had an amazing reasoning capability and even when I was not on my best behaviour, not once did she fail to call me 'bubu'. I knew I was her favourite. If you're reading this and you knew her, you probably thought you were her favourite, too. This stands as a testimony to her bountiful and benevolent nature; she had an abundance of love to share and a way of making every single person feel extraordinarily special.
I miss her presence every day. I miss her melodious voice as she called me 'bubu', all the times she would make me the best 'paan' I have ever had, and how she spoke about soap operas as if they were real. She taught me many things in the, what now seems, unample time I had spent with her. She taught me to embrace my artistry, make passion my priority, and find happiness in the simplest of things, but most of all - she taught me to be a brave woman in a world that tells us not to be every single day. The country lost a great soul on November 29, 2012.
Fridays will never be the same again, and nor will life.
Nahar Khan is Director, United News of Bangladesh and Cosmos Group