Nusaiba Salwati Meshquat
When we were taught the spelling of Principal, our teacher made it easier for us so that we don’t mix it up with “principle”, by breaking it down to “princi-pal” saying, “like Mrs Manzur is your friend, your pal”. For many of us, May 26, 2020 perhaps, marks the darkest day in these already dark times. Our beloved Principal and founder of Sunbeams School, Mrs Niloufer Manzur, took her last breath on May 26; leaving countless students, teachers, and staff members to survive her in their memories while she journeys to a heavenly abode. But Mrs Manzur wasn’t just a Principal – she was a mentor who taught us our principles, a counselor, a beacon, and the centre-piece who held the Sunbeams family together.
A visionary, Mrs Manzur, founded the school when our nation was merely 3-year-old. With two toddlers at home, she along with two of her friends, Ms Farida Taher and Ms Mustari Khan, set out to loan 10,000 BDT from Janata Bank. When her husband, Mr Elahi Manzur, departed for his office, our Principal got to work; moving aside furnitures to set up tables and chairs that accommodated a staggering fifteen students in her living room. Three teachers, fifteen students, and one unbreakable dream: this was the miracle concoction that brought us where we are today.
And where are we today?
Today, the Sunbeams family is in the front lines of their diverse passions and lines of work all over the globe. No matter how big or small, Beamers know no alternative than to giving it our all, because that’s what our matriarch moulded us to be. In the very first letter my parents received from her, Mrs Manzur’s heartiest expression made them proud to entrust their daughter in such safe, gentle, promising hands.
“We work on a very simple rule here at Sunbeams,” she expresses as confident and poised as ever, “to love and to care for your child as our very own.”
There is no expression in the realm of words that justify the extent to which Mrs Manzur’s Sunbeams upheld that promise. Sunbeams gave me a home, it gave me an identity, it gave me the honour to be under the tutelage of a woman who somehow made education synonymous to home.
Like the captain of a ship, Mrs Manzur steered us away from tumultuous tides of teenage angst and academic pitfalls. She shared a special bond with every student that she came across. She made her office a safe space for secrets. She listened, she understood. We always marveled at how she remembered every single name of ours, recognised all of our parents, and noted down our passions as if she made it her personal duty to see that we achieve our dreams. On my sister’s graduation, she said something to the effect of “each year, letting go of each class of whichever year feels like cutting a mother’s umbilical chord. The mother has given parts of her to make the child all that she can make them, and now it’s time for them to face the world on their own.”
Mrs Manzur had a way with words. Not once did she scold us, but spoke to us with words that showed us what we did wrong. She spoke to us like we were scholars. She spoke to us like we were important. Even when looking out to an auditorium full of faces, it felt like she was speaking just to us, individually. She could make no mistakes. She knew all the answers. She was surreal. She spoke in words that left us in mesmerised silence.
I have the privilege of calling Mrs Manzur’s granddaughter a close friend, and so, I got a glimpse of what the formidable woman was like at home. Undoubtedly, she carried the same poise, spoke with the same temperament, and wore that same soft smile calming generations of hearts. Mrs Manzur’s daughter, Ms Munize Manzur, is exactly what a paragon such as our Principal could have brought up as a daughter — Ms Munize Manzur is an English teacher, a writer, and a brilliant human being who emulates her mother’s ingenuity. Mrs Manzur’s heart brought the love for her family at home to her family at school.
If I could speak to her one last time, I’d say to her, and I’d mean to say — Thank you, miss, for every effort you’ve given which shaped pieces of me that define who I am. Thank you, miss, for touching our lives; we will carry your fingerprints with us till the end of time. Thank you, miss, for exemplifying the seven beams of the sun, you are Sunbeams to us. You built Sunbeams with your two hands, the same hands with which you held our tiny fingers in Playgroup, the same hands with which you held that microphone and instilled us with guidance of how to be distinguished people in this life, the same hands with which you handed us our silver folders during graduation, wearing that indomitable smile, and you sent us off to show the world all that you have taught us.
Dear miss, you opened a home to uncountable kids who feel an unspeakable grief today, everywhere around the world. For most of us, you were the first example of what a leader looks like. A leader is nurturing, a leader listens, a leader’s big heart houses the love of her kids for 46 long years.
In losing you, I have realised just how big our Sunbeams family tree is. Facebook is flooded with Beamer kids who have their own kids now, and Beamer kids who were just sprouting, all coming together to raise our leaves to the Sun you’ve taught us to look up to. You are our Sun, Miss, and in coming together to remember you, we form one big shadow that’s shaped just like you.
I don’t know when this pandemic will assuage, nor do I know how many more lives we must lose to it, but I know it’s merciless and unforgiving; and so I hold my loved ones a little closer to my heart, and I hold my dearest Principal closest today.
The writer is an 18th Batch student of Sunbeams School.