I was una-ble to see the symphony of lights as the Qantas airbus bringing me back to London prepared to land at Heathrow early on the morning of 14 January 2016. This was because the wings were too large and blocked the twinkling lights as the plane landed. As the plane taxied to a stop, I remembered my brother with his shuffling feet hurryingto prayer at dawn at Kalabagan while I slept under my duvet. During my visit to Dhaka I saw him diminished, like a flickering candle in fast pace. I watched him wane in hospital. He was glad to see me and grasped my hand to say thank you. Five days later he died in the wintry silence of dawn. It was past midnight in London when the phone rang, to convey the news of the end of a brilliant man, my brother Syed Ashraf Ali.
A pious man, he was honest to the core. I miss him today even as I continue to function without his love, guidance and mentoring on this ancient earth of banalities and beauty. He was magnanimous and shared my joys just as he gave me solace and strength in adversity. I laughed with him in good times and he wiped my tears when my spirits were low. He was my friend in need and a guardian in distress. He was more a father than a brother to me and oversaw my growth into adulthood and mentored me in my career. When I graduated from school, he sent me a letter, telling me I was the apple of his eye. He was someone I could lean on when everything around me seemed to stop; and there were the times when he encouraged me to believe in the power of hope.
During my visits to Dhaka, I listened enraptured, endlessly, to his deliberations on the lives of the Prophets, the exuberance of the Gitanjali, the relevance of science in relation to the celestial message of the Holy Quran, the history of my ancestors and the poetry of Ghalib. He spoke with eloquence and I listened in awe. In banter we shared fond memories. Such company is rare and will never be there again. But in my lonely moments I shall cherish and recall you, my brother, as you wander in celestial space.
I remember him making maths easy for me in childhood and taking me to see the movie McKenna's Gold in Kolkata. He encouraged me to write and introduced me to the radio in Bangladesh. With his encouragement I interviewed Imran Khan and Audrey Hepburn and later Mrinal Sen.
He filled me in with the history of my family and always looked upon our father as a model in helping the poor and the needy. He spent themajor part of his retired life helping the poor and spreading the message of the Sunnah around him. He was a voracious reader and valued and loved his rare and vast collection of books.When he suffered from his eye problems, I read out to him texts from Islamic books hour after hour and he listened with total concentration. He was a devout Muslim but not a bigot. His deliberations always portrayed the respect he had for other faiths and he often quoted from the Gita, the Bible and from Tagore. He was a man of words and loathed hypocrisy.
I watched his programmes on ATN Bangla every Friday in London and called him if I missed one. His calls became more infrequent as it became increasingly difficult for him to speak. I spoke briefly to him on the phone for the last time on the morning of 30 December. He will always be that gleaming light in the night sky for me, spreading its beams to the stars around him.
The warmth of your hands on my cheeks still lights up my thoughts of your countenance as I write about you. I am and will forever be that little sister who will look up at the evening sky and smile, knowing that you are there as the angels serenade you to the door of Jannah. Amin.
Syeda Zakia Ahsan is a teacher, mentor and trainer for parents from multi-faith backgrounds in the UK