Md. Ishtiyaque Alam | March 17, 2017
It was mesmerizing to see the passing zig-zag lines among the blocks of footpath, designed and coloured, which had thrown me into my childhood nostalgia when I used to pounce for the window seat of train to relish the outside view, when I used to rejoice seeing the past concrete sleepers between the railway tracks. Memories were springing up and were being fanned by the slow melodious song in earphone. I was heading back to my destination after having tea as per my regular routine. Hands in pocket, head facing down to earth, accompanied by myself, I was busy rejoicing the zephyr of my childhood days, unaware of the surroundings. How could I be ?
I halted for a while on the corner, watching him, being away from my sight. What I saw was a senior person with an attitude of ‘letting not someone do his work which he could at his own’. A man who was not only dragging his decrepit motorcycle but also an typical ‘Alig’ way of living.
Suddenly I lost my flow and reverie was broken by the strong shade painted by the streetlights, intrigued me to look up. An old bearded man in traditional sherwani was joggling his old motorcycle which gave up the ghost. The cacophony of bikes and cars had replaced the melodious song as I withdrew my earphone to read the situation. He was hell-bent dragging his motorcycle with his full force, trying not to reveal into his face. I waited for a while, looking for the one who would have to come up to assist him. I moved my head here and there. Unfortunately, road was bristled with mere of onlookers. I began to feel uncomfortable on my presence, doing nothing for him. As I decided to rush towards him, I felt the mild tap of earphone on my chest as if it was saying ‘Hello ! I’m still outside here’. I hid my earphones under my t-shirt. He was appearing quite senior to me.
‘May I do something for you?’ I forwarded my hands towards the handle of his old and heavy motorcycle to hold it, waiting for his assent. He gave a beholded look to me like we all give when a stranger suddenly appear in front of us.
‘No I can handle it by my own’, he denied my offer courteously without interrupting his walk as he re-fixed his sight on road. He lifted his slanting posture to make it straight. Astonishment took me over completely yet I didn’t leave his company; probably I was more bent on to help someone than I usual do. Yes, sometimes we all want to appear more than we are or want to do more than usual.
‘I am accustomed to walk. Walking keeps me healthy. It does for me what medication can’t. I am over 73, still on my foot, walking. Nowadays this age is widely considered as the life expectancy of this modern generation’, he placed his proposition in an uninterrupted flow. I was attentive enough to sway him in comfort to talk me.
But I was feeling embarrassed, walking with bare hands, next to a person who needed to be helped. I again offered for help and the response was no different than the previous one.
‘Are you a student?’ he tried to confirm his doubts which resided nowhere in any corner of his mind. Yet he did. Maybe because he wanted to start conversation than an awkward silent walk.
‘Yes! an undergraduate.’ I specified myself.
‘Native or from elsewhere?’ he asked as I had anticipated. It would always be the next question when you get acquainted with somebody, especially in Aligarh.
‘I live in hostel few steps left to that corner.’ I ushered him to that corner, some steps ahead and then asked me for something that astonished and embarrassed me simultaneously.
‘Aap ka ism-e-girami kya hai?(what is your good name?)’, he questioned and fixed his eye on me, expecting response, and didn’t withdraw his sight from me. I simply chuckled with my face down to evade from the question. Was I reluctant to reveal it as the over-vigilant people do when they meet with stranger? Certainty not. Wait! Are you still puzzled why I had evaded the question if I was not reluctant or what am I blathering about? If yes then my condition was same as yours. The reason was that I didn’t knew what ‘ism-e-girami’ meant? So again I felt myself safe to follow the mainstream and chuckled to evade the humiliating situation like they do when they don’t get something.
‘Ji ! aap ka ism-e-girami?’ he once again pressed me to respond. How could I? But he didn’t know what I didn’t know.
‘I didn’t get the word ism-e-girami. I have a smattering of Urdu’, I regretted sheepishly but already had given the reason. He smirked as he heard my decent confession and I also joined in his amusement.
‘Your good name!’ he unveiled the meaning which had blanked me completely few minutes ago . I cackled on myself but deep down I was as embarrassed as amused. I answered and he nodded his head in response.
‘That’s the way for your destination’, he gestured me towards the left of the crossing and left me as I offered him salaam.
I halted for a while on the corner, watching him, being away from my sight. What I saw was a senior person with an attitude of ‘letting not someone do his work which he could at his own’. A man who was not only dragging his decrepit motorcycle but also an typical ‘Alig’ way of living, for what it is still known for; it’s ‘polite zubaan’, ‘tehzeeb’, ‘affection’ and ‘tamaddun’ without any complaints to anyone. A frail and old Aligarh. Within the journey of few steps I had been to the ‘Aligarh’ where I always wanted to be in and of which I heard of since childhood. I visited that ‘Aligarh’ which we can still see on the photo frames of walls of our Provost offices and other places. I could sense the atmosphere of the erstwhile Aligarh, which was being faltered with every steps when he was being away from my reach.
Neither he had any grief with his decrepit motorcycle nor with people like me and apparently he was even not eager to impose these on someone. Maybe he knew that change is inevitable. Maybe he knew that every ‘present’ cloaks its ‘past’. Maybe he knew that every “phoenix is born from its ashes”.