Repost in memory of my maternal grandmother
Lutfurnessa Begum, age 95, died peacefully in her sleep on Sunday December 15, 2019 in a hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
I called her Dida. Although she was my nani, or mother’s mom, she preferred to be known as a “sister.” It’s ironic because she had no sisters, no brothers. She was an only child at a time when most people had 10-12 kids.
She was an ambitious woman. She had 5 children before she started her college studies. She did her baccalaureate studies when she had toddlers to take care of. She went on to earn her masters degree and taught English to 9th and 10th grade students in India for 20 years. She taught herself the guitar, enjoyed fashion, and loved teaching students. Her students remember her fondly as a great teacher. I spoke to one of them this summer, at the Maqasid retreat, and I cried when my friend’s mom Yasmin mentioned Dida.
Widowed for 36 years, she is survived by 3 daughters, 2 sons, 8 grandchildren, and 5 great grandchildren.
What I remember most about my grandmother was her feminism. She never let anyone tell her no. She studied at a time when few girls— let alone muslim girls— were educated. Her father believed in her and helped her go to school, after she was married. She studied through two national wars, when her neighbors were slaughtered for believing in One God at a time when India was Hindustan.
When she visited me in New York City, I was only 8 years old. It was her first winter, her first and only trip to the United States, and she was not prepared for the blustering cold. She bought herself a bright tomato coat with black buttons. She dyed her hair a deep auburn. In my mind, she was a walking fireball.
And like a fireball, she turned my mom’s life upside down. She demanded my mother apply for US citizenship, that she go back to school, that she get more certificates so she can go back to teaching. She expected me to do better in school. Each week, she walked me a mile to the Queens Public library to gather books for school reports. She checked my essays for English grammar and spelling. With her help, I started doing well in school. I heard stories from my Ma how each morning before she went to work, Dida would give my infant brother a bath, and each night after work, she would put him to sleep. She taught me the importance of continuing education, and working hard to achieve your dreams. She was the first feminist in my life, who believed strongly that girls should have equal opportunity to advance their dreams. She did not let any of her daughters marry before they had gotten their masters degree. She had turned down an opportunity to study in England, because of her family. I remember she said she admired how the old women in this country put so much makeup on their faces, and how colorfully they dressed.
To God we belong, and to Him is our final return. May God grant her eternal shade, and light in the next life. May her grave be full of her good deeds, all that she taught, all that she did, and may we be united with those that we love in the next life. I pray that she is with who she loves, after a long and solitary life. May God give her ease and complete forgiveness, and raise her up on the highest ranks. May she live in a paradise where rivers flow, and flowers grow.
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