A tribute to the lighthouse that cleared to shine anymore:Reminiscence [Archives:2004/770/Education]

September 6 2004

By Suresh Babu
Dept. of English, Faculty of Education, Hajjah,
Sana'a university, Republic of Yemen
[email protected]

Death, in some cases is an unwanted and unwelcome guest. But in the case of Mohamed Ali it is a blessing. Exactly Mohamed Ali was not my friend, but something more than that e was my guide and even philosopher. A torchbearer who led me to the lights.
He was the vital presence in our village library. I was only a boy who was amazed at the vast knowledge stored in the books. As for Mohamed Ali, he was a voracious reader. Almost all the good books and classics were already read by him He had a deep knowledge in literature and other branches of learning. Of course he was a genius with keen understanding and sharp views. Naturally people called him “Genius Mohamed Ali”
In the beginning I was afraid to go near him and talk to him. He was in the college, me,a school boy. He hailed from a respectable Muslim family, which is known for broad secular views and noble values. His brothers, all of them were highly educated and well employed.
The books he read opened his eyes and he began to see the world in a different light. He realized that there were a lot of injustices in the world around him. His young and sensitive mind probed the cause for this injustice. The answer he got was that the world is divided into two classes-the rich and the poor. The majority of the poor are being exploited by the rich. The rich continues to be rich and poorer are becoming poorer. This is something that young Mohamed Ali could not put up with. The Communist philosophy that offers equality for all is a panacea for all the ills of the world, he thought. He began reading Communist theories and Socialist principles. Soon he became a radical Communist, rather a revolutionary. There must be a change. The oppressed and the unprivileged should come to the mainstream, how? He thought deeply. The evolution is a peaceful legislation, which will not be a solution. There must be a revolution for a complete change. These are the ways his mind traveled by. Consequently he became an active member in the party, later he left college and studies.
During the period of internal emergency in India in 1975 his party was banned and the party workers took shelter in the hideouts. Many of them were arrested and subjected to severe physical and mental tortures. Some died in the police camps due to the cruel and inhuman ways of police interrogation.
Somehow Mohamed Ali was spared for some time. In those days he took shelter in my house for three days. We were trembling with fear because if he had been caught from our house, we too would have been arrested for harboring a wanted one. I did not talk to him in those three days, rather I was scared to. He was reading all the time. I started respecting him. I knew that he knew something and he was something
Later he was arrested from somewhere and was put in the jail. The corporal punishment he had been subjected to was severe. His mental equilibrium was disturbed greatly. Two years later he was released. His faith and devotion to the theory of salvation was still unshaken.
By this time I was in the college. Casual reading paved the way for serious reading. Many books, which I thought tough and difficult, were read. Things became clearer and plainer. In those days I used to meet Mohamed Ali in the library. One day he acknowledged me by talking something. I was thrilled because, to me he was a great man.
I had two good friends, Mohamed Najib and Basheer Ali. They were serious readers. Thanks to them I was acquainted with English books, particularly the classics. We three were a group. Reading books and discussing them in the evening was the only past time we had. I still acknowledge with humility that if these two friends had not been there, I would not have been able to reach the place where I am now. The part of the credit goes to them, truly.
Mohamed Ali had a great impression about us. And sometimes he would come to us and sit with us. We were immensely pleased when he joined us. Then we gradually learned that we were just children before his vast knowledge. The way he spoke about the books he had read was inspiring indeed. His command over English was really superb. He used to speak in a scholarly language. We looked at him mouth wide open. When he was in a good mood he lectured on anything under the sun- Philosophy, science, religion, God, literature, art, music, painting, cinema and what not! Aristotle, Plato, Karl Marx, Hegal, Shakespeare, Camu, Kafka, Kazantzakis, Sartre, Becket, Faulkner and Charley Chaplin often came to our evening conversations. Mohamed Ali gave them life and pictured them before us in a beautiful way. He was a great source of inspiration to read and learn new things.
We enjoyed his company and our respect for him grew further. And we began loving him. He liked us. We were very happy when we learned that he liked us. And he started treating us equals. He used to tell others that we were good boys. Whenever there was any meeting of serious nature he would invite us. We enjoyed being together. By this time Mohamed Ali was going away from his party slowly. As for my friends and me, we had no political affiliations and sentiments to any political parties, we were anarchists, we believed in a kind of nihilism.
As years passed, we were separated, but continued friendship with Mohammed Ali. By this time Mohamed Ali had undergone a drastic transformation. The mental shock he received in the jail made him a psychic patient. It can also be ascribed to the frustration of his cherished ideals of a beautiful world or a sudden loss of an illusion once firmly held. Anyway he became mentally upset and began walking in the streets hair uncombed and with shabby clothes. Sometimes he misbehaved with people and even quarreled. Once I was abused public when he felt that he was being avoided. But it was only a misunderstanding. I tried to explain that I never saw him. He believed me and in the next moment hugged me wholeheartedly and kissed me right in front of the same people.
Thereafter I was very careful. Like my friends I too was afraid of him, for he may turn violent any time. But still we liked him. His friends, many of them well placed intellectuals continued helping him. His people and friends took him to various hospitals but the subtle chemistry of his mind was beyond correction, it was a chronic one.
He continued to wander in the town and villages like a lost soul. Still he was sensible enough to understand things. In the meanwhile he got a job in the Government of
Kerala. With his unsteady mind he tried to work there. His colleagues helped him and he was forgiven for his lapses. One day he forced us to stay in his house, he even threatened, if not stayed, he would commit suicide, we yielded. Sometimes he was very obstinate.
We were so sorry for his fate. Such an intelligent and young man who had great ideas to change the world wanders! Whenever we saw him we felt very sad. He himself knew that he was abnormal. He used to tell us about his hallucinations and strange dreams when he felt normal.
Last year when I went for vacation I met him. He was tired and pale. The smile and grace had already disappeared from the face. He looked tense all the time, a typical lunatic. Yet he greeted me and asked about my welfare. I silently prayed for him in vain.
Yesterday I was informed that Mohammed Ali is no more. His body was found floating in a pond in our village. He must have embraced the comfort of his own death. A sad culmination or a tragic end of a promising youth, you may say. But for me, I realize painfully that Mohamed Ali is no longer with me. And he will not illuminate the obscure realms of our minds with his brilliant speeches any more.
I would say with all the privileges that he was a lighthouse that used to spread light and we were just flies that fly around the light. The knowledge that he is not with me makes me an orphan. Yet the lights he had shed earlier will continue to spread gleam in the days of darkness.
A humble child who grew up listening to your stories