It was the year 1990. I was 9 and had just returned to India with my mother after living in Hong Kong for many years. My mother had insisted on sending me to a women's Catholic convent school of Irish heritage. Thus reluctantly, I had walked into a classroom full of wide eyed little girls at Loreto Day School Bowbazar in Kolkata India. It was a hot summer's day and I felt the beads of perspiration gathering slowly on my forehead as I walked into the classroom with trepidation when a room full of inquisitive preteen girls turned their heads simultaneously in my direction to size me up like ET when he stepped off his UFO. I started sweating more profusely and wondered if it was too late to make a run for the door when something unexpected happened. A jumpy little girl with large sparkly eyes and bushy dark-brown hair tied neatly in a ponytail walked up from her seat and grinned ear to ear. She extended her hand and said:
"Hi I am Sakina! You look scared."
The creases on my forehead immediately disappeared. I heaved a sigh of relief, took a deep breath and accepted her hand saying to her in return, "Nice to meet you Sakina. I am Poulomi"
That is how I had met her, Sakina Shakir (later Chashmawala), a girl so full of life and exuberance that she could dissipate a tense situation by simply walking into the room. Over time, as I had gotten to know her better, my respect for her had only grown.In a school play when everyone wanted to be the princess or the fashionable female lead Sakina would volunteer to be the cobbler or the barber or the drunken delinquent on the street. Now that is what I call character acting! Expecting it from a 10 yr old is outrageous but Sakina was no ordinary 10yr old. She was a child of amazing grit and character.
We had grown fond of each other Sakina and I. She was my go to girl when I needed someone to play the cobbler in a skit of course but it wasn't just that. She had much more to offer including positivity, enthusiasm and genuine kindness. On a crazy whim I took on a project at age 12 to publish a children's magazine called "Hello Kids", I wanted to form a club with my friends called the "Hello Kids Club" to spearhead this effort. Who was the first member? It was Sakina. Many more peers joined in and together we did the impossible (in our opinions anyway) and published the first and last edition of "Hello Kids".
The memories stuck with us. So much so, that 20 yrs later when we connected (after a long hiatus) on Facebook, Sakina's first words were:
'its been a very long time... do u remeber the magazine that u had made in skool... i still hav it in my khazana...u were one of those special ppl in my life (sic)'
I quote her verbatim.
Her birthday was on the same month as mine, May, the harbinger of Spring.
"Happy birthday Sakina" I had said to her for the first time on May 31st 1991.
"Thank you! You remembered!"
"Of course I did silly, we are born in the same month, I am on the 13th, you are on the 31st. If you reverse 13, you get 31. You are my image and I am yours you see.
Since then "Happy Birthday" had become an inside joke. Whenever we saw each other, that was our usual greeting.
Fast forward to August 31 2017, 31 is the opposite of 13 and the opposite of life is death. We lost Sakina the girl so full of life this August 31st due to a tragic accident in Mumbai and here I am writing her eulogy. Never did I imagine that it would end this way. Her memories still fresh in my heart remain indelible.
Dear Sakina, allow me to say:
"Happy Birthday" wherever you are.