Sunday, 26 June 2011

In the Shade of a Fruiting Tree

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.