There are some people in the world who you believe will be around forever. Throughout your life, they have remained the same – their smile, the way they wear their hair, their unwavering presence. They provide the sort of stability that human beings crave; and when they are gone, you feel an essential part of you has gone with them.
One of those people in my life was the principal of my school, Mrs Niloufer Manzur.
After the Sunbeams family got news of her passing, tributes started pouring in from all over; reminding us of her unparalleled achievements as an educator, pioneer and role model for the country. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with all the aforementioned accolades, Mrs Manzur of my memories will always be a woman of purpose yet gentleness.
Being sent to the principal’s office is supposed to be a punishment. Yet, visiting Mrs Manzur’s office was more of a lesson in life than a scolding. She was one of the few figures of authority in my life who asked a teenage me what I thought I had done wrong, rather than the top-down approach of most others. She wanted me to understand the principle behind why I was being called to book, rather than respect it because that’s what I had been told to do. Mrs Manzur may not have taught us Physics and Bangla but under her quiet watch, we learnt so much.
Miss, you will be remembered in our every success, every Sunbeams wedding (we always wondered whether you realised how many families you had brought together but then remembered how gracefully you attended them all), reunions with friends we know better than ourselves, and in the many wonderful, sometimes scary, sometimes painful but always enlightening experiences we have of being raised in the Sunbeams bosom. A couple of days ago, I opened my messages to find my friends engaged in a detailed debate about whether the aloo dum recipe at school (of the famed but elusive luchi-aloo dum tiffin days) had doi and shorshe in it or not. When we couldn’t agree, current student younger siblings were consulted and asked to report back on ingredients – our drive to relive the simple moments that constitute our childhood happiness. Every corner of our lives was touched by Sunbeams.
On the first day of the new school year, Miss and I had a running joke of sorts where she would ask “How is your new class?” And I would say “Miss, again you didn’t put me with any of my phuppus and chachis!”. She would smile her thoughtful smile as if to say, get out of your comfort zone, do something different, you don’t always get what you want!
While Mrs Manzur encouraged us to be adventurous and test out new waters, she also left the lights on to help us find our way back home. When I was sent to boarding school in Class 7, I was extremely homesick. I would call home and ask my parents to ask Mrs Manzur to take me back. Mrs Manzur accepted that I could come, but on the condition that I stay at that school for one more term, to ensure that I had given it my best shot. Sure enough, I soon warmed to the new place and had life-changing experiences there. Again, in the nursery, when I was having a tough time cutting the umbilical cord from my mother and would cry to be placed in my best friend’s section, Mrs Manzur compromised with me that I would spend half the day in my own section and the rest of it with my friend. I can never thank her enough for this, as it allowed me to meet new people, of whom one is now more than a friend – a sister and soulmate to me.
In the last few weeks, Sunbeams kids from all over have come together to innovate, solve problems and stand by our country – what Mrs Manzur would’ve expected from us. In the last 24 hours alone, I’ve connected with 5 Beamers from various age groups, some of whom I’ve never met before. We always conclude how easy it is to trust and work with each other because our values are on the same page.
I had a dream a few nights ago where I was back in Sunbeams, completing a mandatory year that all Sunbeams alumni must do after graduating from their respective universities. The dream, as in real life, was not conflict-free. We argued with our teachers, over petty and important things. We laughed and fought with our classmates. We played games and hurt ourselves falling over. But even in the dream, I remember clearly my heart being so happy and full. In those three seconds, one has after a dream is over, between oblivion and reality, I remember thinking I hope this is real because it’s wonderful.
It is said that when one passes, it is their children’s prayers that grant them bliss in the Afterlife. Miss, you have so many children, all of whom who love you, are immensely grateful to you and are praying for your soul to be welcomed in the highest place in Jannat. We can’t believe that you will not be signing admission letters of our children, as you had done for generations before us. We can’t believe you were taken by an illness that made you weak, where you are the indestructible foundation for the Sunbeams family. We don’t want to believe that we won’t be greeted by your warm and comforting presence ever again, because saying goodbye to you means saying goodbye to so much that cared for us and shaped us in more ways than we’ll ever know.