I remember being a very nervous 18-year-old when I first entered the premises of North South University, a place I did not even want to enroll in. For someone who studied in bit-sized backyards they called school, the towering presence of NSU was intimidating.
As I walked into the canteen, I bought myself a cup of tea and sat in a corner, waiting desperately to see any known face before the class started. My first encounter with Mojo Mama happened just when I was about to get another cup to calm my ailing heart.
"First semester naki, mama?" (Is this your first semester?) smiled a kind looking man, who was about my father's age. As I nodded, he said, "Cha kintu amar kas thekei niyen, thikase mama" (Always buy tea from me, okay?). As I grew with my time in university, I realised that this man was no ordinary tea vendor. Day in and day out, my frustrating 3-hour commute from Old Dhaka to the campus had to culminate into a sip of hot rong cha he made.
Md. Mojammal Haque, popularly known as Mojo Mama by students in the campus, had been a staple of NSU life from its humble beginnings during the Banani campus days. He passed away recently after losing his battle to Covid-19.
"There was an open plot beside SPZ and Bashati Condomonium, where Mojo Mama and Nani (his mother) used to sell tea/smokes on a small table and tool on the road," says Fahd Uz Zaman Chowdhury, a student of the 012 batch of NSU. "Mojo Mama was incredible; I had never seen him mixing up the bills as he knew everyone. Nani loved me a lot as well, she always let me sit beside her and offer me tea and smokes."
Due to her advanced age, due to her old age complications, Nani often used to forget whom she served on credit. "When she mistook me for someone who owed money from her, Mojo Mama would step in with his almost photographic memory and say Amma, hey Bonny, unar kono baki nai.(Mother, he is Bonny, he doesn't owe anything to us) I remember it like yesterday."
As the years went on and North South University moved to a newer campus in Bashundhara, Mojo Mama was given a stall in its humungous canteen. Instead of getting lost in the shuffle to many newer stalls, he, in his earthly nature, became a confidante to the students of NSU.
"Mojo Mama always gave me hot water and lemon when I had performances", says Antara Roy Chowdhury, a student from batch 16. "When I used to have a scarf wrapped around my neck, he used to say ajke apni gaite jaben tai na mama (you will sing today, won't you?) and asked his vendors to give me hot lemon water, and never charged a single buck from me for that.
I can attest to Mojo Mama's generosities myself, as many a late nights during preparations for North South University Sangskritik Sangathan (NSUSS) events, he too would keep his stall open and served tea to the participants. He would sit, chat and reminisce old times at the Banani campus when he did so.
"I never even had to speak to him", says Razin, a student form batch 13. "He just knew what to get me, and served the tea with a smile. He always remembered people who brought from his stall, and he knew how to make them happy".
"His sense of humour was nothing to scoff at either", says Rupak, another student of batch 16. "He used to tell me to not take sugar in my tea because I was already fat!" Coming from anyone else, this comment would have been inappropriate. However, the students saw Mojo Mama as more akin to a friend. "I will miss him very much, his smile was enough to make anyone's day.
Batch 12's Sadi Rayhan Nashid was devastated after hearing of his passing. "His one act of kindness will cement him in my memory forever. I once could not buy tea because the store was super-crowded. Mojo Mama noticed that, and personally brought me tea! It was only 10-15 BDT, but his gesture was worth a million."
These comments are merely a reflection of the thousands of people whose life a Mojo Mama touched over the years, as social media was filled to the brim with tributes and condolences due to his passing.
It exemplifies what we often take for granted – simple things in life, which we don't realise the value of when we have it, and the people who make our life just a little bit better with genuine little gestures.
Md Mojammal Haque, who will forever be remembered by students, teachers, employees and authorities of North South University as the legendary Mojo Mama, was a gift that kept on giving until he was practically physically unable to do so.
He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.