I remember the day you were born - 20th April, 2012 - like it was yesterday. I was lying in my hostel bed in Kolkata while your mom was lying in her hospital bed in Cleveland. She sent me a picture of you with the best crop of hair that I had seen on a new born baby with the prettiest white bow. You were all of a few hours then but you had already given her the happiness of a lifetime. She sent me a text saying, “Zeba, I can’t stop looking at her, she’s just perfect. I can’t believe she’s mine.” She followed that up by saying, “Im not just saying this because she’s my daughter, but she’s got the cutest little dimple ever!” Up until that day, I had never sensed my sister feel so happy, even though we were thousands of miles apart, and for that I cannot thank you enough :)
Your mum is my older sister - my bein - and she lives on in all of us, just as we promised you she would when you were 3.5 years old.
Bein and I had a very different kind of relationship. While she was this mad, crazy, always-getting-into-trouble kind of girl to the outside world, to me she was always the mature, head-on-her-shoulders, responsible young adult. I think she always made a conscious effort to put on her best behavior around me because she wanted so much to be a good example to me. I can never forget what she had once told me, after one of her usual late nights out when she returned home about 5 hours past her deadline (9 pm was our deadline on the good days so you do the math ;)) and obviously, your Nani was furious! Needless to say, she got into a whole lot of trouble for breaking the rules and while preparing for bed, between all the sobs and the tears she looked at me and said, “Zeba you just keep watching me make all the mistakes and try to learn from them. Make sure you are more careful than I am.” I smiled, turned over and went to sleep.
I don’t remember Bein and I ever having a conversation. We only fought. At least till she got married and moved a thousand miles away (then I missed the fights ;)) Our “conversations” either always started as a fight, ended with a fight or included a fight somewhere in the middle. We fought for the room (she couldn’t stand things like someone else sitting in the room while she was studying, the fan being on above her head while she would spend hours Skyping with Abi, locking the room for hours together while she tried on her gazillion outfits – and if I ever did that for even a few minutes then god help me! – and various other things that you shall soon learn of), we fought for the parents – she believed my mum loved me more than her and I believed my dad loved her more than me, we fought about who’s going to wake up first to get ready to go to school (waking up second would mean 15 minutes extra sleep) and so much more. She had this really annoying thing going where she needed the air conditioner as well as both fans on at night which would often result in me shivering in bed with my double layered quilt on. I would then get out of bed, all angry obviously, and direct the vents straight at her. At 5 am every morning she would sit up in bed and sneeze nonstop for about 5 minutes. She would nicely go back to sleep then while I would lay wide awake in my bed thanks to the nonstop sneezing. Our fights on the sneezes would be epic with me telling her to shut up and she telling me how she couldn’t help it and that she would sneeze if she had to, I just had to live with it! The sound of her sneezing rings in my head till date, and strangely it sounds all too sweet now :)
As kids, the closest common friend we both had was Farukh, our house help for 10 years. An important part of Farukh’s job profile included stepping out of the house at 6 pm every evening to buy each of us 2 packets of Puffs (corn chips that bein was crazy about) and 2 packets of chattar mattar (little red jeera golis). The snacks needed to be brought back in time for us to munch on while watching our favourite TV show together, Full House, which aired at 6:30 pm. If for some reason Farukh was unable to accomplish this very important task, obviously I would be the designated person to go down and satisfy my older sisters cravings. I remember when I visited her in Cleveland in June 2015, I had carried 20 packets of puffs and 30 packets of chattar mattar with me. The souvenirs from Bombay were devoured in 3 days!
They say sisters are often best friends. Bein was not my best friend. She was, instead, an older sister to me – a sister who I knew I could wake up in the middle of the night to accompany me to the bathroom even though it was in the same room and she’d happily do it, a sister who would let me place my hand on hers all through the night because I was petrified of the dark and touching her just somehow gave me a massive sense of security, a sister who would spend all of her 10 minutes of short break in school with me during my first few years - whether she liked it or not - just to make sure I was ok and not missing my mom too much, a sister who I have spoken about my first relationship and cried over my first heartbreak to, a sister who has always had my back when I got into trouble with the parents, a sister who helped me get into college and also helped me land my first job, a sister who helped me figure out what exactly it is that I want to do with my life, a sister who played an important role in helping me figure the kind of man I want to marry (even though I don’t think she ever realized it). I can go and on about the number of ways she’s been the perfect older sister to me and the things she has done for me, but I realize that no amount of words can ever do justice to that.
My last conversation with Bein was her telling me that she’s going to fight and not give up. This, after her doctor had broken the news to her that she wouldn’t make it. And I assure you, she fought till the end, and she only fought for you. When she broke the news about her chemo to us, our hearts sank at the thought of her losing her hair. I distinctly remember her face at the time, she had a smile, waved her hand and said very matter-of-factly,”Oh its just hair, it’ll come back.” All those who knew Sameera knew how she felt about her hair. She wanted to get a tattoo with your name on, once she was done with all her treatments. In August, she tried to start up her own business to make enough money to take you to Disney Land. She wanted so bad to become best friends with the man I would marry, she had my wedding planned and the specific party that she was going to throw for me. She had her clothes for the wedding figured out even. We were so excited talking about it back then. I shudder to think about a wedding without her now. There can be absolutely no form of consolation that can take away from whatever happened, nothing can ever justify the snatching away of one of the most important relationships of your life – but we have to condition our minds to think of the positives if we want to live happy lives. To me, bein hasn’t gone anywhere, instead she’s closer to us than she ever was before. I’d like to believe that our creator put us in this situation to test us as a family – to test where our breaking point would lie. I like to believe we have all passed that test with flying colors, and you and your mom made sure of that. The strength and the courage that bein had during her last few months is something to shout over the rooftops about, she has been an inspiration for every single person that knew what she was going through.
On the 20th of September, 2015, I watched my sister – your mother – take her last breath, just as she had watched both me and you take our first breath 25 and 3.5 years ago respectively. She taught us a number of lessons in her life as well as in her passing away. For someone to have as much control over her life from start to finish as she did is amazing to say the least. She was truly the master of her fate, the captain of her ship. Someone you should be incredibly proud of :)