Fond memories of a beloved cousin and friend

Zaheer Mohamed

It is hard to believe that my cousin Zaheer Mohamed is no more. In a way I am glad I was not around when he recently crossed the Great Divide. I want to remember him as alive and well. I will not grieve his death, but rather celebrate the good life he lived.

Zaheer and I were the children of two sisters. As Zaheer’s father was based in Dickoya, it was only natural that he stayed with us in Colombo when he entered Royal College.

My first memories of Zaheer were of a little boy with a passion for cars. Whenever my mother made “pol roti”, he would take a circular roti and hold it like a make-believe steering wheel and make sounds like a car purring along. When my mother told him to get on with his dinner, he would eat the roti, wipe his plate clean and then use the plate as a steering wheel as he continued his car-driving fantasy.

Another memory etched in my mind is of attending the Royal Primary School sports meet and being taken by my parents to see Zaheer participating in the obstacle race. He was about nine years, and he was a plump kid. One of the obstacles on the course was to crawl through a barrel. Plump Zaheer got stuck inside the barrel. Our uncle, the late B. J. H. Bahar (Junior), vice-principal of Zahira College, Colombo, was present as a special guest. He gave the little boy a sharp push to his bottom and Zaheer emerged from the barrel. The sight caused much amusement among the spectators.

When Zaheer moved on from Royal Primary to Royal College, he was boarded at the hostel. He was still mad about cars. At 13 years he could drive a car. He was a competent driver and would drive his father’s car whenever his Dad came to Colombo.

In later years the two of us were joined by two other first cousins, Haji Rasseedeen and Bolly Johar, and we formed a close foursome. More than being cousins, we were great friends. We joined the Colombo Malay Cricket Club. We were in our 20s and we became party animals. Not a week would go by without some get-together.

It was at this time that Zaheer met Kerima. They married and had three wonderful children – Aasha, Anusha and Shiran. The girls went to Holy Family Convent, and the son followed his father by joining Royal College.

As the years rolled on, we started to go our separate ways. Zaheer went to the UK and then to Australia on different stints, and not long after Haji and I went overseas to better our prospects.

On my return to Sri Lanka, I got together with Zaheer and we did a few business deals – importing cars. Better things were in store for Zaheer when he teamed up with old Trinitian and former Havelocks and Sri Lanka rugby player, Gamini Fernando, the late Lakshman Jayawardena, former Thomian cricketer Kumar Boralessa and R. Nadarajah to form a company, Ceylon Tea Marketing Ltd. Zaheer offered me a part of his stake in the company, which I accepted and for which I am grateful.

Zaheer’s eldest daughter Aasha married early, and is a devoted wife and mother of three children. His second daughter Anusha created history when she joined SriLankan Airlines as the airline’s first local female pilot. A few weeks before Zaheer’s untimely death, she was promoted to the rank of captain, marking another first in the country’s aviation history.

Zaheer’s son Shiran has also joined SriLankan Airlines, and is now a First Officer. Zaheer was a gem of a person– so good, so rare, so precious. He lived wonderfully well. In his final weeks, Zaheer’s mind was clouded by his illness. That cloud has now lifted. He is himself again – more himself than at any time on this earth. As his last journey took him beyond the sunset, I like to think – in the words of John Bunyan – that “all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side”.

Farewell, dear Zaheer!
May Allah grant you the bliss of Jennathul Firdous.

Branu Rahim

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