People who meet Aab for the rst time ask, "Who are you?" Aab smiles. At times he remains silent knowing that the questioner is more interested in forming his own opinion rather than getting an answer from Aab. At other times Aab looks at the questioner and decides what answer would please or satisfy him.
There is a proverb that six blind men touched an elephant at six different places and gave their varied descriptions of what an elephantlookslike. Aabcloses his eyes and thinks of all the blind people whose eyesight is perfect – for they don't even want to touch a human being before forming an opinion about that person.
People who have been seeing or meeting Aab for a long time ask "Who are you?" Aab smiles again. Heknowsthattheyareonlylookingto see if he will conrm what opinion they have already formed long ago about him. He usuallyobligesthem. Heknowsthatitmakes them happy that they know more about him than he knows about himself.
Aab has never asked himself the question "Who am I?" He knows he will never get an answer to such a question. For Aab is not Aab. He is you and me. He has no existence of his own. He lives in people's heartbeats. His existence is only from one heartbeat to another.
There are at least a few sensitive and deep thinking people who like Aab’s company. These are those who can look beyond the mundane, the routine and the activities that lead to “conforming” within society. But unfortunately even these people find Aab very difficult to interact with if they try to get closer to him. For Aab does not know how to make close friends. He lives in an abstract world, a rebel, a wanderer, a Qalandar who has no objective and goal in life – in fact no reason to live at all. Perhaps if Aab was born a couple of centuries ago when the mystics and the mendicants roamed the countryside, he could have become one more enigmatic story-teller. In today’s world of TV, Internet and mobile phones, there is no place for a story-teller like him. Some do ask Aab to tell his stories, and he hesitatingly opens out to them. He has so many stories to tell, not from books, but from what he has seen and experienced. He does not know which story to choose and how long to talk – for he is always aware that people have their responsibilities, their desires and their own world to pursue. He would hate to be an intruder into such a world. So, after these brief and rare recounts of the days gone by, Aab moves on to pursuing his best hobby – silently sitting and observing people. It could be in a posh party in a star hotel, it could be on the roadside, or even in someone’s drawing room. He watches, listens, assimilates, feels happy or sad for the dramatis personae, and picks up his jhola to move on to the next auditorium where life-drama is being played out.
Once in a while Aab wanders into the glamorous world of business and corporate affairs. The world of massive glass-fronted air-conditioned offices, of ruthless competition, of never-ending targets and stressors. While Aab has no attraction to this world, he understands why it attracts in droves people who feel that is the only way of life. The corporate world offers money, overt and covert sex, and the glamour of luxurious 5-star lifestyle. For those who cannot look beyond the floodlights, it is the only way of life. If you do not fit in, you are a discard, a failure. Aab at times talks to budding managers and executives. In their starched collars and silk ties, they have already started getting the feel of the world of power and wealth. A world symbolized by laptops, jet travel and central air conditioning. Aab knows that they are not only the citizens, but also the leaders, of tomorrow. He can see their skills being sharpened to a killer instinct, and knows that they can fight corporate battles the way the Samurai fought battles of honour. But what pains him is that they are not being taught how to cope with failure, nor being trained to stop periodically and catch their breath. They are not being informed that love cannot be bought, and a loveless life of material success can be not only painful, but without direction. Aab is not qualified, nor welcome in B-schools where leaders are groomed. He can only interact with them once in a blue moon – but he does try on those occasions to make them stop and think whether they are running so fast that they are leaving their hearts behind.
Aab does not cry often. He does not cry for himself, ever. But at times he cannot help crying when he sees the innocence of childhood or victimization, when he watches the vulnerable being manipulated by the crafty. He knows he cannot be a savior, not that he wants to be one. He knows that the humble and meek will continue to suffer long after he has gone from this world. He know that tears will flow as long as human exist. At times he just hopes he would be able to wipe someone’s tears. And when he cannot even do that, he sheds a silent tear of empathy for those who are made to weep for no fault of theirs. Aab is even more worried about those whose tears have dried up. For crying is a relief, and those who are denied even that small outlet suffer even more. He sees around him people who wear masks with smiles plastered on them. For at times the cruel world denies some victims even the right to grieve. In this world of injustice and victimization lives the silent spectator Aab -- an outcast, an anachronism, a floating leaf who will be swept away by the wind, or buried with the dust. Maybe only the skies will cry for him, by letting down a torrent of tears in the form of rain – a shower that will obliterate the withering leaves and usher in a new form of life
Aab has seen many deaths. In fact, he has more friends on the other side of the twilight horizon than in this world. Friends with whom he walked for miles and miles, and friends who just encountered him briefly but left a deep imprint in his mind. He misses many of them, but does not feel bad for them. He does not know where they are, whether they exist in some form or the other at all or not. Yet he is actually jealous of them. For, when Aab turns around and sees the world he lives in, he has a strong gut feeling that wherever his dead friends are, it is likely to be a much better place than this. Aab is humored when someone says that he is crying for a departed soul. For, Aab knows that no one cries for the dead – they only cry for themselves when they come face to face with death. They cry for their own imminent death, not knowing when, how and with what agony it may come. He understands the strong need in a human to cling on to dear life, whatever may be its quality. He has seen the very old, the terminally ill, those ripped apart in ghastly accidents – all pleading for life in their last moments. He respects their desire to live, but cannot join hands with them. On the other hand, Aab often makes plans for the ultimate vacation that will take him back to the company of all his departed friends. He has so many of them, and some of them are very special. He knows that if they exist, they will welcome him with open arms. And if they do not exist, then Aab knows that he too shall cease to exist. His body will disintegrate back into nature, and he will become part of the air that no one can see, feel, taste or touch. What a bliss !
Aab does not know how to sell. Neither can he sell products/services, nor can he sell himself. He realizes that the whole world is a marketplace where every passer-by becomes a buyer or seller, and many a time gets bought or sold in the process. There are so many people who love trading and thrive on commercial transactions – of people, of relationships, and of emotions. There are many who make losing deals, but cannot resist going back for another round. Aab acknowledges the strong need in humans to get a better deal out of life. Regardless of how much they have of anything, they crave for more – and feel very dejected if they have to give away without getting back anything “better”. At the same time, he mourns along with those who keep losing, or even getting back something in a deal which gives them back something that turns out to be worse or lesser than what they gave away. For, he knows that their wants are more than their needs, and their dreams go far beyond their wants. He mourns because he cannot do anything to help them. Because Aab cannot sell. Since Aab has never been able to sell, he has no value in the marketplace called the world. He has to stand by the wayside as the commercial caravan moves on choking him in its dust. And very few understand that Aab does NOT want to sell, or be sold. They think he is incapable. Some people use him as a free commodity, “use and throw”, or even “no need to buy one, just get one free.” He does not mind. In fact he enjoys the anonymity it brings. For, being worthless gives him the opportunity to do what he loves to do – observe and study people striving, struggling, succeeding, failing, thinking they have failed, or thinking they have succeeded when they have actually failed.
Aab has no house to live in. The whole world is his haven and refuge. And he does not lament not having a house of his own – for he knows that a house, however strong, large and grand it is, does not become a home, unless a lot of effort and love is poured into it. He continues walking around, shamelessly peeping through windows looking for the rare “home” in the urban jungle.
At nights sometimes Aab wanders on the roads. He enjoys chill winter nights, wet roads just after a heavy night shower, and the warm summer nights, equally. As he walks around, he gets glimpses into people’s houses. From one room tenements where half a dozen occupants occupy every square foot of space, to palatial drawing rooms where a lone occupant can be seen relaxing in luxury. Of course, the common factor in all these houses is inevitably the TV, blaring away its sound and holding humans captive by its fast changing visuals. Humans who have come to the end of a tiring day, willingly surrender themselves to the anonymity of the idiot box, with thoughts dulled, emotions regressed and initiative put on hold. Aab looks around and is over-awed by how “houses” have grown in opulence and style. And yet he is numbed by how “homes” have shrunk to mediocrity and have become so impersonal where every human lives in a shell, pierced only by the TV, Internet or the mobile phone. There is no common family activity, minimal interaction, and an emotional distancing – leading to what a writer aptly described as “Living Together Loneliness.”
The hour of dusk. When solid shapes slowly start merging with the abstract shadows. When bright and harsh daylight meekly surrenders to the all-enveloping carpet of darkness. This is the hour of the day that Aab relishes the most. He loves to break off from the routine of fast paced urban life, and look up at the sky. He sees the branches of a tree silhouetted against the soft grey of the gingerly spreading night. He catches a glimpse of the late birds hurrying to their nests, sometimes in V-formation, sometimes in one’s and two’s. He feels the stirring of the gentle breeze, which seems to have gathered courage to sway out only after the harsh sun has crossed beyond the horizon. And after scouring the endless skies and far-off horizon, Aab’s eyes return to the immediate surroundings. In the madly competitive world, the urban man does not return home in the hour of cowdust. He switches on bright and glaring lights in a desperate bid to take over from the sun. People become more active – shops and offices become busier, traffic becomes heavier, and people compete not only to move faster and farther, but to push others back. Aab steps aside. He wants the world to get that little space that he is occupying. He is happy on his kerb-stone watching the exhaust pollution and deafening sounds that have taken over from the cowdust and the tinkle of bells.
Aab sat on the sea shore. The sun was setting on the horizon far beyond the vast expanse of the Arabian sea, gently lowering itself into a haze, shedding its scorching heat and blinding light, and willfully surrendering itself to becoming a mere spectacle for others to gaze at. Giving up its power and glory was so easy for the mighty sun. Aab was wondering why this puny creature called man, made of clay and bones, finds it so difficult to hand over his wealth and assets, which never were his in the first place. The sun does not stake any claim over the sky or the ocean, it does not cling to its position of glory that it held at noon. It seems to actually enjoy abdicating its power and fading away into oblivion – not even jealous of the tiny moon that takes up pride of place in the sky at night. Perhaps man considers himself more powerful and indispensable than the sun. Aab does not think so. He knows that he is like the shifting sand on the beach, like the grass that grows, is cut, and gives way to barren earth – which again erupts with greenery in the next rains. For generations men have watched the sunset, felt the high and low tides, left their footprints in the shifting sands – only to fade away. Perhaps some have left behind some freshness, like the evening sea breeze – Aab gets up and walks away from the sunset, the sea ….. into the sea of humanity.
Aab has learnt the hard way that when a person keeps giving freely, not only does he not get back anything, people want more and more out of him. This is true whether the person is giving out material gifts or giving of himself. In fact when a person gives emotionally, people presume he has a sort of reservoir of feelings, hence will never require emotional support himself. He remembers the adage “even a mother does not give milk till the baby cries out for it”, and thinks of the poor souls who have never learnt to ask, leave alone cry out. He watches sadly when any such person (thankfully there are not too many of them around) on rare occasions do cry out, and people around look upon with disbelief. Many even declare, “How can you say you have a need when you keep giving to so many others ?” People who give consistently and unconditionally, often land up in loneliness. People neither believe that such persons have needs, nor do they consider themselves competent to provide it to “such a capable person”. Hence Aab wants to teach the givers to ask for and learn to receive love. But they are bad students, they often do not learn. They continue to suffer their isolation, their loneliness in crowds – and Aab suffers silently watching their misery.
Aab looks up at the sky and wonders what lies beyond. Space is finite, but only because man has created his own limitations. Water can be stopped by a dam, but no human can stop it from evaporating or seeping into the ground. Man shuts out the breeze to insulate his AC room -- but he still needs to breathe the same air. Humans build fences to enclose and protect their property – and are in turn interred into six feet of ground where even the tiniest of insect can nibble at his remains. Aab has a lot of time to think. And he thinks of time. He knows that man has never mastered time and never will -- for man is too busy putting walls around time, while time roams free of all fetters. Man creates his own misery of perpetually running short of time- until time abandons him and moves on in gay merriment while the most active human turns to dust and ashes. The architect of the universe, when he designed man on his drawing board (He does not use Autocad), gave man total mastery over one wonderful asset – his emotions. But man does not know how to use this valuable legacy. He is so busy chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that he has missed out on the worth of the rainbow itself. Aab wishes we would spend more time understanding our feelings and gain mastery over them. That, Aab knows is the final conquest man can achieve.
Aab has never worked in his life. He has never had a boss, and he has consciously avoided bossing over others. He sees people working hard. At times they get their due awards, but many a time they feel they are not getting justice. From housewives to CEOs, he sees so many stressing themselves out in fulfilling thankless jobs. And he sees many headed for a burnout- bitter, angry, frustrated and dejected. It is not that he does not understand stress. At times he senses it in others even when they themselves are not aware of it. He even tries to absorb some people’s pain and anguish, but knows that each man has to carry his own cross. He also knows that sharing others’ emotions with others. He is willing to pay that price… But sadly Aab is also a vulnerable human being, and at times his tolerance is tested to the limit. What does he do when that happens? A few times he tried to empty out his strong emotions- and failed miserably. Even now there are days when he feels his nerves bursting. He is scared he may explode at the wrong time. But he controls himself and walks on. Is Aab doing the right thing ?
Since Aab is a wanderer and a drifter, most people think he has no ambition in life. But surprisingly they are wrong. Aab has an ambition – he wants to become a professor of love. He is willing to work hard for it… but deep down inside he knows that he may never succeed. There is no such job available. No one wants to learn how to love. They are either too busy looking for someone to love or busier still looking for someone to love them. Some people behave as though they already have a Ph.D. in Love, while others laugh and ridicule it, as though it is meant only for soft and sentimental fools. Aab believes that love is an enlightening skill that each human can acquire – but only if he or she strives to learn the nuances of it. Aab is willing to teach anyone who is interested. He does not pride himself that he has the final word on it. He wants to share what he learns on a day to day basis just by observing others. He wants to expand on what he has come to understand is not love -- thus paving the way to defining it appropriately. He wants to clarify the difference between “love, the feeling” and “to love, the action”. He knows that anyone who learns to love will never have a shortage of persons to love -- or of people who love him. But, no one wants to learn. So Aab will never get his dream job. People like Aab are destined to be unemployed, but in a way it is good. As long as he is unemployed, he will have all the time in the world to observe, learn and imbibe love. And maybe, just maybe, people may learn by emulating his example. Aab is a wanderer and drifter. He still goes around leaving little bits of love on the trail as he walks into the sunset.