Sunday, 26 June 2011
There is something about returning to the town where you spent your childhood.Even for a few minutes or days, it’s a visit that opens the floodgates of memories. Returning to Umm’Said, a once quaint little industrial town in the little country of Qatar, is just that for me. A dam whose operators decide its time to let the water flow. No I don’t mean tears. I mean thoughts.
Immersed in these thoughts I walked on, the bags gently rustling against my jeans. I saw a silhouette In the distance near the local masjid beside my home. The man was dressed in a white robe. Customary to the Arabs in the region, but he didn’t wear a gatra or the headscarf which told me he was probably an Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi man. When he came closer, I recognized the walk and it was my old Quran Teacher. My Ustaadji. When I say old, I mean he taught me Quran about 15 years ago. I had many Quran teachers and he was one of the most memorable ones. He recognized me and walked up to hug me and proceeded to ask how I was doing, how was my job and everything a teacher would ask. He asked me how many years since I was working and I replied, 3 and a half. The surprise on his face was evident as he said, “Really? It seems like just yesterday you left home.” I smiled and said I felt more or less the same. We spoke for a few moments more and then parted ways.'
Immediately the floodgates opened full capacity. Took me back to the time when I was a little boy who came from school at 2:30 pm, lunched and waited for my Quran teacher to come at 4 pm for the 1 hour session after which the playground would beckon until sunset. My first Quran teacher was a Pathan who was actually just a laborer. Sometimes I’ve seen him as a Gardner, sometimes a handyman or sometimes working off with construction equipment. He was strict and always brought a stick in case I hadn’t done my lessons and rarely smiled. But I have come to respect him so much more today knowing how much he gave me as a foundation in those early days of “Alif, Beh, Teh”
My second teacher was the opposite. He was a thin man with a smile on his face and loved to hug and kiss me when I did well and would reprimand me in the nicest manner possible when I messed up.My third teacher was the one I met today, who was the most inspirational ones I had studied under. He’d keep a sort of a Quran recitation competition in the nearby masjid for all the kids of the locality, prepare us for the competition and call a senior cleric to adjudicate the competition. And somehow, we all walked home with prizes. Now that I think of it, it was his little plan to get us all kids out of the summer sun which our moms couldn’t get us out of and occupy us with learning, practicing and memorizing a part of the Quran with a little bit of competition in mind. Eventually, everyone was a winner, who walked home with a brand new shiny Quran, or some books, or a stationary set. As small or inexpensive the gifts were, the feeling of having achieved something brought us closer to reciting the Quran in the most beautiful manner.I would say those days were the beginning of the ambition I had of always trying to recite the Quran in the most beautiful voice with the right rhythm and intonation so as to express and feel the message of the unmatchable verses.
My next couple of teachers held their posts for very short times. But my last one was the one who left the most lasting image on my heart. My last Ustaadji was a fair old man from Bangladesh who had a very handsome and smiling face. He tried to perfect my recitation better than anyone else before, made me repeat the parts I would go wrong in and helped me memorize the most important parts of the Quran. He would enthrall me with stories of the Islamic history. Stories of the Prophet PBUH, his companions, the older Prophets (PBUT) and the kings and caliphs of old, fallen empires, sinners and saints. He built my knowledge base which fuelled a desire to study and learn about world history and world religion, an endeavor that I carry to this day, having read as much as I could not just about Islam, but everything which makes the world as we see it, the history, the religious diversity, the cause and effect of superstitions, events of political chaos, wars, discoveries, inventions, knowledge and ignorance.Some of my closest friends know that I believe the first 8 grades of my school life were very bland. It was only in 9th and 10th that I truly started exploring the world, a result of dad sending me out there to see for myself what it was all about. But in the first 8 grades, I realize now, I was subconsciously being prepared to explore. And it was all these gentlemen who were preparing me.Which brings me to another realization. If Allah had not sent these teachers, and had they not taken the effort to put their heart into teaching me, I’d probably still be a bland old guy just existing. After these gentlemen, I really took to understanding and bonding with my teachers. At St. Joseph’s Central, Mysore, I found some of my most valuable teachers. In 2 years I made more relationships with my alma mater than in the 8 years in Doha.Which brings me to an apology I owe all these teachers. I realized, I never really thanked them for being the architects and masons of my mind. We all thank our friends and family for everything. True isn’t it, whenever something great happens to us, we share and thank our friends and family. When something bad happens, we look to friends and family for support. What about teachers? They aren’t friends because there is a code of conduct based on respect. They aren’t family. But then again, they are a bit of both. They are parents who give us knowledge and build our personalities with their artistic hands, yet as we grow older, they laugh and share their lives with us. Yet, few of us ever thank them.How many of us remembered our teachers in our prayers recently??How many of us visit our old schools??We all remember the school days and the fun we had and the teachers who were quirky and funny and plain ol’ idiotic. But do we remember the teachers who actually are responsible for who we are today?
This is my thanks to all my teachers. From my Quran Ustaads to my strict and stern principles, and all the way to my motherly class teachers and in special mention, Ms. Carmel, my English teacher cum inspiration cum stage musical director who made me fall in love with the language, not to mention made me believe that I could act in a musical and do that while sporting a faux French beard which is the inspiration to my current look.Today people say education is a business where teachers are not really bothered where you are headed, they are just there like a GPS guidance system which will chart you through your subject courses unlike the humane guide who takes you through the beautiful buildings of engineering, the amazing scenery of geography and ancient history, the trauma and tragedies amidst victories of history, the lessons in life which charted social studies and the pure artistic beauty of description of it all in the language studies.The parable being akin to a traveler who stops by to rest under a tree. A fruit bearing tree which unselfishly shades the traveler, providing a calm and cool rest, and feeds him with its precious, delicious and beneficial fruits, expecting nothing in return.This is my heartfelt gratitude to all my teachers. Whether I studied under you for years or whether you just taught me how to make an omelet, know that as long as there is air in these lungs, it runs a mind which is striving everyday to better its mental capacity in your honor, and a heart which is filled with gratitude, undying respect and unequivocal love for you.
Monday, 28 March 2011
By any chance, sometime during the last week of February this year, you happened to be in the Karamah area of Dubai, near Lamcy Plaza, you would have seen me.
I was waiting for a friend. Karamah is usually a very busy place and the area near Lamcy is more so. So it is pretty evident that I whiled away my time observing the multitude. A gentleman caught my eye. He was dressed for a meeting, but his behaviour in one word was Haywire. He was on the phone, walking from here to there, walking into a financial institution and then out, walking towards the shopping centre and then out and so on. He was on the phone and his manner was hurried as if a train was going to leave.
And then he met a person (presumably the one he was waiting for so anxiously), exchanged a quick greeting and a few notes and he ran into the financial institution. In the meanwhile my friend came, we spoke a while and were about to move to my car. I passed by a car and the man was sitting inside. I’d missed his coming out from the building. He sat still in the car’s driver’s seat. My car was parked opposite his and I just observed him for what seemed like a couple of minutes. His expression was what caught me.
His window was opened just a little and he was staring out of the opening at the sun setting behind Lamcy. His fist on his chin, an upturned face from Rodin’s Thinker and he had a painful look in his eyes. I wouldn’t be guessing if I said that I saw his eyes were glistening with tears but he wasn’t crying. His lips quivered as he tried to maintain a straight face, closed his eyes and mumbled to himself which I’m assuming was a prayer. My friend called me and I realized I’d been staring as he waited to get into the car. We got in and drove out. So did that man. I’d swear I could see him wipe his eyes and smile deeply but then……..
The above is just another episode from any crowd in any city of the world. If you are keen to observe, you will see how we’re part of a world where everyone is alone in the crowd.
Reminds me of a piece of wisdom which goes, “Be nice to everyone you meet, they are all fighting a tough battle of which you have no idea about.”
Take a look around when you are free and waiting in a crowded area. You will see what I mean.
I guess February – March was a tough month for most, no clue why. But most of the people I met had something going on. Some near and dear ones too. Proud to say that all of them have hung in there.
That’s when I realized that the human spirit is an unfathomable thing.
People ask what is the purpose of life. As a muslim, I know that the purpose of life is to Worship Allah.
Hold on though, Worship does NOT mean living an ascetic life. Worship in Islam means doing everything as it is supposed to be done. It goes to the extent where looking at your wife with love is also considered a worship (to Allah not to her ;))
And Worship also means, taking everything that comes at you as you walk through life, EVERYTHING.
No matter what life throws at you, you take it head on, never look away, never back down and absolutely never give up.
Suicide is a cardinal Sin.
And Despairing is as good as going into disbelief.
Allah says in the Holy Quran,
“Allah burdens not a soul beyond what it can bear….” (2:286)
In simplistic terms, it means that if you are given a tribulation, from a thorn prick to a paraplegic body, you are given the mental strength and the grit to bear see it through. It is just a matter of believing it.
These are not just words pulled out of a Motivational speaker’s hat. Nope.
I’ve lived this, but more importantly, I’ve seen people live through worse. I’ve seen my parents grit and bear stuff which would have probably killed me. I’ve seen my best friend give life a run for its money. I’ve seen my brother bear pains too great for his young and confused heart. I’ve seen my sister fight destiny with tears in her eyes and prayers on her lips. I can go on and on about the inspirations in my life. Their strength is something they themselves cannot see, but I can.
The man in the car by Lamcy could not see the transition of helplessness to pain and misery to relief back to helplessness and then to a nervous smile of hope. I could.
I don’t believe strength comes from having resources to take care of your problems.
Strength is something much more deeper, much more complicated than that.
I believe, that it is in your weakest moment is when you actually define the strongest you have in yourself to be. It is in your most helpless situation that you define how much are you going to help yourself.
It is when you are left with no options from life, that you decide that it’s time to make your own options. The realization that you’ve hit rock bottom and the only way is Up. If not directly upwards, then sideways and THEN up!
At the risk of sounding repetitive, The strongest steel is actually forged in the hottest of fires !!
If you’ve followed the Adidas Campaign with Mohammad Ali, you’ll know this bit from the marketing quote: “Impossible is not a fact, it’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration, it’s a dare. Impossible is potential, Impossible is temporary, Impossible is nothing!”
Now re-read that statement, only this time, replace Impossible with Weakness ;)
See what I did there??
It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, it only matters how many times you get up again.
In mathematical terms, in life, you are not a failure if you fall “X” number of times.
You are a failure only if you do not get up “X+1” amount of times.