Some goodbyes are harder than others and then there are some which you never want to say. This is one of those for me.
Since the very beginning of the pandemic, I controlled my movements, specially the gatherings. I even gave up attending funerals of my relatives and family friends.
Today after many months of confining myself inside, I could not hold back and attended my very first teacher’s funeral.
When I reached Pashupati Aryaghat to bid her my final farewell, the funeral pier was already lit. I started seeing so many familiar faces from Birgunj and her family. Maybe because of the continuous rain for the past few days, the firewood was wet and the area was covered by dense smoke. Amidst the smoke I tried to picture her, the last image of her that I had in my mind perhaps. A face with a smile and eyes full of life.
Every time I used to go to Birgunj and pass Himanchal Cabin, I tried to look who was sitting on the cash counter. If it was anyone else, I used to move on but if there was Mamta Ma’am sitting there, I would go and greet her. Lately she used to be busy with her social works including women empowerment so would not find her in that cash counter much. That was the reason why I wanted to go to the school with her. Never did I know that where I met her for the first time was going to be the place where we meet for the last time too.
People knew Mamta Rajkarnikar as an entrepreneur, a social worker, a gem of a person and for so many other generous engagements.
Mamata Ma’am was a member of the famous Himanchal Cabin family. It was the first proper sweet house that my home town Birgunj had. Some 70 years ago her grandfather Padam Rajkarnikar moved to Birgunj from Lalitpur and they introduced a variety of sweets in the tiny but growing town of Madhesh. Being Rajkarnikars of Kathmandu Valley they had a long legacy of sweets business.
But Mamata Ma’am was more than that for me. For me she was my first teacher, my first mentor and the person whom I adored and looked up to.
On 1st March 2019, I went back to my first school, Creche International School, after 18 years. As soon as I entered the gate of the school, nostalgia hit me. All those memories went through my head one after another like an episode of some series. That tunnel slide, that monkey bar, that playground and those classrooms; everything was a part of my childhood. Mamta Ma’am was smiling as she looked at me recollecting all those memories. I shared some of my memories with her, how I used to hide in that tunnel of the slide and cry as I did not want to come to the school, that one time when there was a magic show in the school, that one time when my grandfather brought ice-cream for the whole school on my birthday, that one time there was this photo shoot, that one time I was kept in the office and made to do my homework, those one times kept on rolling for a while. I kept on talking as ever and she was smiling and listening to everything that I was saying as ever.
To be honest, I was very scared of Mamta Ma’am when I was young. The reason behind it was my mother saying ‘I will tell Mamta Ma’am’ for every mistake that I made. Yet, as time passed by, I started to realize a lot of things and most importantly I realized that she is my first teacher and there is a special place for her in my life that no other teacher or mentor can ever have. Even after being principal and founder of Creche International School for 20 years, she was as cheerful and compassionate as ever. Her work ethics inspired me a lot. Talking about inspiration, there are a lot of things about Mamta Ma’am that had inspired me. Even the way how she bid her last farewell to all of us.
COVID-19 hit Birgunj very hard, as it was the gateway that connects Nepal to India. The coronavirus took many lives in that city and now it includes Mamta Ma’am, to add to her brother and her mother. After the government lifted the first lockdown in Birgunj, Rajkarnikar family was infected with the novel virus. After that she, along with her family members, was brought to Kathmandu. She lost her younger brother first, followed by her mother. And now after battling for more than three months at the ICU supported by the ventilator, she gave up. Her lungs were damaged beyond repair by the virus.
I cannot even imagine myself in the ICU and ventilator for all that time. Fighting the COVID-19 along with my mother and brother, losing both of them as they could not make it and still have that fighting spirit to recover from the damage it did to the body. She indeed died a HERO.
You may have left us but all your teachings, moral values and wisdom that you have passed down to us will keep you alive in every one of us. So, I am not going to say good bye to you Ma’am, I would rather like to thank you. Thank you for all those moral values and wisdom. Thank you for all the lessons of life that you have taught me. Thank you for being my first teacher. Thank you for listening to me so patiently. I could not have asked for a better first teacher than you. Thank you for everything Ma’am!