I got the message at around 11:00 pm from an unknown sender. The content, however, clearly showed that it was from a student of mine. It was a long message and I don’t remember all of it. What I remember is that the sender was gravely sick, had high fever and would not be able to attend the class test scheduled to be held the next day. I had a long tiring day and was too tired to give her any reply. “I will respond tomorrow” I thought before going to bed.
The next morning the whole thing somehow got out of my mind. I went to university as usual and as I was about to enter my room I saw two female students waiting for me.
“Did you hear anything about Tasneem, madam? She died last night”
The news came out of the blue. I had two students with that same name and was equally afraid about them both.
“Ma’am, Sumaiya Tasneem. She died of fever last night.”
Both shock and remorse hit me hard immediately. I could understand that Tasneem sent the message to me before she died. I didn’t reply to that message in time thinking that I had plenty of time to do that later. Little did I know that the sender of the message had only a few hours left in this world. My timely reply would have eased some of her worries before she died. I knew the guilt would haunt me for a long time.
I was shocked just like her classmates who found it hard to accept that someone could die because of fever alone. To this day I do not know exactly what ailments she had but what I know that it was severe enough to take her life.
But I am not writing this memoir to tell how she passed away, rather I want to focus on how she lived and influenced others, albeit in her small and simple ways. At first glance any one would notice that she was different from the rest. Her slight limp, lopsided smile and effortful utterance of speech were hard to skip. But all these shortcomings were more than compensated for by the innocence she was endowed with. It was her simplicity, good natured smile and impeccable manner that drew the attention of all her teachers, classmates and even her seniors in the department alike. It always appeared to me that her classmates were fond of her. Some of her seniors were equally fond of her and would include her in programs like farewell class parties or other such occasions meant to be only for her seniors.
Tasneem used to come to my room in the department quite often, especially before Eid holidays with gifts like a bracelet or a hijab pin. Each time I would try to dissuade her by telling that my father had forbidden me to take any gifts from my students.
“But ma’am, it’s me. If you don’t take it, I will be very upset.” She would tell me with her childlike innocence. She was an exception among my students. So, I had to make some exceptions. I received the gifts.
It was around a year ago before her death I suddenly encountered her at the corridor of the Business Administration Department. She seemed very much stressed.
“Ma’am my nanu is very sick.” She started crying.
I never asked her about her family but what appeared to me talking to her that she was raised by her grandparents having lost her mother at an early age. She seemed devastated. I tried to console her and told her that my father too was sick and bed ridden.
In next few months we both went through a difficult time as both her grandfather’s and my father’s health deteriorated. She would frequently meet me either outside my classroom or in the office room to tell the condition of her grandfather and also to enquire about my father’s health condition. Coincidentally both of them died at around the same time. Tasneem appeared devastated by her loss for a long time.
I remember Tasneem last coming to my office room with a magazine in her hand. She was all smiles and seemed quite enthusiastic when she showed me the magazine of Dhaka Club in which her writing was published. I was happy for her and thought that she had come to terms with her life.
But her life came to an end suddenly. Her departure was so sudden and unexpected that it left us shaken to the core, especially those who cared for her. I can’t stop remembering her even after all these years. A few days ago I visited her Facebook page and found that some of her teachers, classmates and seniors posted messages on her birthday. They all miss her and remember her just as I do. She might be gone, but not forgotten.