A Whiff of Air

imageMemories of a crabby individual, small grubby hands, dishevelled shirt and always ready to grab ones snacks. He was not very nice I think. All that in a rather stark environment; white school building, with some blue in it, and a ground with not a blade of grass on it.

I think it was hot, but then maybe it was not. As far back as memory can stretch to over 50 years, I know we played a lot and sweated; so it felt hot. Mind you, not that it mattered, as we had different engines inside and these could run the best part of 12 hours. The Tuck Shop – don’t know if it is still called that- was cheap and a paisa 50 coin was a king’s ransom. There were plenty of trees, but mostly neem and jungle jalaybee. Both seem to have gone out of fashion nowadays. One did not need to break the jungle jalaybee fruit either, as it fell down and could be picked up by us predators. Teachers and prefects were ‘sirs and miss’ and you had better obey them. Sigh!

These asides and digressions notwithstanding, getting to the main point. So here they were, part of memory, crabbiness and grubbiness all in one individual. But what to do, he was in the same class and also shared the same long double desk. As if this was not the outside of enough, he would accompany me at break-time and home-time. I don’t think I was forced to be friendly, but he was around and convenient and to be truthful, back then, I did not really think beyond the next hour or day, so really had no long term plans. Had I known i was setting the agenda for a school and life long relationship, I might have reconsidered.

As the years progressed, life became a bit more structured, and the simplistic thought processes stretched beyond hours to days, then weeks and even a full term. Still, he was around. The long desk had disappeared, we had desks in various places in the class, but old habits die hard and he was still around at breaks and home-time. That classed as strong friend. I remember him being bigger and beginning to develop a gross sense of humour. Very gross!

This then merged into teens, O levels, sports, A levels, personal ambitions, music and girls. Yes also not to forget, the cigarettes and cards. Of course now the net was far wider and many friends grouped together. But by now we were fast friends and shared together, compared notes, grew scruffy moustaches and side-burns and tried to look cool. Truth be told, in the world of that time without internet, we knew little and TV did not help. We were gauche individuals, who had a lot to learn and little refinement in us. Shudder!

So came school ending and finally we went our separate ways. One went to UK and the other to US. The last few months post A Levels were rumbustious. We were in anticipation of an adventure. Little did we know. The world turned out harder, tougher, and more real than anyone knew. It taught us lessons worth a lifetime.

Now, I am sitting across him. The hair is gone, weight some way heavier, prominent jowls, jaded look and health a huge question mark. The crabbiness is back, but even more so, there is a look of defeat. The intervening years have not been kind to my friend. He chose to live his life abroad and a good degree and a successful career seemed beckoning. Life intervened and decades of over indulgence later, this is now someone else. Is he even a friend anymore? Well there is shared history and nostalgia. But our thought processes are so different. Our belief’s are different and cares are different. There is just an eagerness to be curious about each other, maybe shades of some envy and a glut of sadness.

This life has passed by like a whiff of air, caressing as it went by. So we who started by sharing a desk and snacks everyday of our lives, spent a decade plus sharing all the days of school, we are now 12000 miles apart and probably a world and a lifetime apart. Sigh!

The picture is from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

Tread Softly

imageToday, I spoke at a session at Engro, where the employees of all the companies are being sensitised on the inclusiveness of the physically impaired in the work force. While I had not really thought or prepared a talk, but as I spoke, the realisation of the sheer human value of the topic was such, that I felt there is more to be said. So it occurred to me, that I should write a corresponding blog on the subject.

We as humanity have functioned disgracefully during our existence, with tiny little spots of successes here and there. Through history we have massacred, raped, pillaged and for millennia created slaves out of major sections of the population. For humans, success should not be about conquering territory, subjugating free people and living a life of luxury, while the so-called ‘great unwashed’ scrape a menial existence. So in acting the way we do, we fool ourselves to our great detriment. We are functioning more like animals, than a thinking, talking and feeling human.

Mans success has come in great Prophets projecting humanity, or a philosopher bringing out a massive truth, or advancement in science which has benefited the whole of humanity. Eradication of small pox was a great achievement. When Jonas Salk gave away the polio vaccine for free, it was a great success for mankind – one mans selflessness benefiting billions over half a century. Sometimes prosperity has been achieved for the masses and that is a great victory. During the Cyrus period, the first 25-30 years of Islam, the 1950s of USA, Sweden for a period in the 60s-70s. Contrary to popular thought, the democracies have rarely achieved overall prosperity. USA has a horrible disproportion of wealth in a few hands. The world has an even worse disproportion. Some 200 people own almost half the world.

On the other hand Man has stamped destructively and left an enduring footprint. We build concrete jungles, populate them, cut trees, carve roads out of mountains, pollute the air and seas. We eat like gluttons and waste as much out of sheer negligence and lack of thought. Man has brought the world and its nature to its knees, but we do not realise it and continue merrily on our way. In Surah Isra’ it is said “Do not walk proudly/exultant on the earth; you can neither tear the earth apart nor can you rival the mountains in height.” (Qur’an 17:37)…We mankind have just done the opposite and have walked proud and exultant and the results are very visible.

So what to do? Surah Rahman mentions ‘meezan’-balance. Balance in all facets of life. No extremes and that includes the art of living. Humans need to reduce our footprint. We walk in this world as if we own it. We don’t! The world has been lent to all humanity by Allah. The millennia before has used this earth (billions of humans) and the millennia after will need to use this earth too. So we have to live and use it, so that sustainability is maintained. Therefore, tread softly.

Part of treading softly, is inclusiveness. We need to cater for all. The poor, the weak, the women, the children, the old and also the ones who are physically challenged. The ones who are physically impaired are Allah’s gift to us. They are the beautiful people, yet we know this not! By being good to them and treating them as equals we create ‘barkat’. Our organisations and society need to help these people and make them productive, give them the self sustenance and self respect, which is a right of all the human race and individuals within it.

Tread softly! Go out there and be different to the rest of mankind and show the way of compassion and inclusiveness. Work with and give respect to these people. Be more human than most.

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