One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A family that taught me what to read

On Monday, my youngest brother (who is an eighth grader) came on skype to consult me about his current endeavors. He was asking me, how he can become a good software engineer and a good writer? I recommended him some of my favorite writers, Chekhov, Dostoevsky and Oscar Wilde and told him stories of Mark Zuckerberg (The founder of Facebook), Steve Jobs (Founder of Apple), Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft) and Niklas Zennström (Founder of Skype). We exchanged ideas on how to do things and what to expect and what to not and so forth. After we are done with our conversations, I felt a little bit envious of him as he has access to internet and elder brothers that he consults.

When I was an eighth grader, I was maintaining a thick encyclopedic diary that had my aphorismatic expressions (Uncle Nietzsche), schemes of new plays (Good idea; if you can’t compete in existing plays then why not to create new ones? …But frankly, it was more an effort to have more useful plays than cricket), designs for their outfits and play grounds, exterior architectures of buildings that I liked to build someday (heheheh), List of problems of our society and my suggested solutions (how naïve), notes of medicinal plants, chemical properties of some compounds of interests, thinking strategies, some characters (I was always failing to balance the body parts and my characters were closer to beasts to than what I was imagining them to appear on paper) and stories based on them (loved to watch cartoons and wanted to write my own comic books) and of course my Philosophical constructions (Yeah, Uncle Socrates were very thoughtful on those days…hehehe)…. Though I had an encyclopedic diary that I was regularly and passionately updating but to others it was just a sketchbook of a kid and there was nobody to tell me, what to do and where to go… I was a curious but disoriented school boy…. The books were scarce and my pocket was empty. There was just a burning curiosity and a passionate learner and his only guidance was the story of Bernard Shaw that his uncle told him (My uncle was my class fellow and we are almost of same age). The story goes,

George Bernard Shaw hated formal education so he had not proper formal education. One day he was crossing a street and found a piece of newspaper. Just out of curirosity he picked it up and started reading the story on it. As it was only a torn off part of newspaper, he could not finish the story but the story touched him so much that wanted to learn about rest of the story. He started going to libraries and reading books to find the rest of story. Although he didn’t find the missing part of the story but in the process of looking for it he read so much that he became a learned person and a known writer….

I don’t know, how much of this story is real as I had only heard of it but it was always at top of my mind and I was reading everything I had access to but there wasn’t enough books to read…. I still remember the first fat story book that I read. I was so happy that I read a book. My grand Ma shifted to a new house and there was a college girl that had some story books. It was there that I read my first fat story book. Before that I had access to magazines, thin booklets for children that either I was buying from bookstore or was borrowing from school library. There was a bookstore with some thick books on its shelves and one of the books was “Shahnama Firdosi”. I was looking to its beautifully decorated cover with images of legendary Rostam and was wishing for a day I would be able to buy this book…

When our school received new books, I was so excited that I was not missing any spare to read them and even was using class time to read them. To hide from teachers I was putting book on my lap under desk to read them in class (Greed never dies..still, I get that much greedy if something excites me).

If the confessions of Gandhi about his youth let me to have more humanistic view about “great men”, the stories of Avicenna, Jabir Bin Hayan, Ibn Battuta and an European Astronomer that I don’t remember his name excited and allowed me to enter into the world of real characters than story characters that until that time was known to me. One of the books was about a Persian doctor who goes to India to learn medicine and meets a Persian girl there, falls in love with her, marries her but she becomes sick and dies. When doctor sees that his medicine fails to save the life of his lover, he abandons medicine and turns to spiritualism. This story was so touching that I decided that I am not going to fall in love with any girl (hehehe.. A kid grows just to undo his childish decisions…hehehehe) ….

In 1989, my father built his own house and we moved from Grand Pa’s house to our house. This shifting brought new opportunities for me. It was far from city so I was getting more pocket money to go on bus and also there weren’t many shops so I had more money in my pocket. I was able to buy second hand books and exchange mine with those of my uncle… Soon there was a small library at our town managed by one of our schoolmate and then I got membership of Provincial library and this changed my life as I had access to real knowledge (Big fat books with big names on their covers)

But the biggest paradigm shift in my thinking came from a refugee family. In summer of 1998, Taliban captured Mazar-i-Sharif and massacred the local Hazara population. A large number of survivals escaped to neighboring countries. As our city is close to Afghanistan, a large number of survivals took refuge there. There were families who were staying in mosques and had no place to move. People were trying to accommodate them. We had a small multi-purpose extra room and one of the families moved in. There were 7 members in the family, a dark tanned, skinny father, a tall skinny mother, three daughters and two sons the eldest and second youngest. The father was sick and barely able to walk and they had nothing to live on.

I was always amazed that how this family of seven was managing to live in that small room? Seven people could sit there but it had not enough space for seven people to sleep there. His eldest son started working in a shoe workshop with hundred rupees per week as “wage”. The two girls who may be 13 or 14 years old (I am guessing) were doing embroidery works with their mother, again for few hundred rupees per scarf. They were sitting all day doing embroidery and were able to finish a scarf in few days to earn a few hundred rupees. The father was very sick but still he was going to bring the hard firewood to make benches. In my whole life, I have never seen such a determination and skill. A sick man just with three hand tools were sawing and carving benches out of such hardwood that strong baker workers can just think of cutting them in large pieces for fire. Later on, he became so sick that he wasn’t able to sit and even go to washroom and was lying in that small room.

What was really shocking for all of us that in two years that they lived in our house, we never seen them a drop of tear in their eyes, a sign of grief or worry or any complain. When they were out, they were neat, smiley and talkative but no talk of pain or their difficulties. Though we were aware that they were in trouble but we could not figure out what they eat, how they eat or when eat or even if they go hungry. Even the youngest daughter who was only 4 or 5 years old was behaving so maturely and with dignity that other children of her age could hardly do. This family even changed our behaviors and thinking about life. From one side we were seeing the wealthy families’ favorite talks are complaining and backbiting and here was a family who was so dignified that were facing misfortunes of life in such a dignity and bravery that was almost idealistic (At least I can’t do it even now).

They had earned so much of our respect that we were very careful in our interactions to not offend them even unintentionally. My father knew some organizations that were helping poor families but the problem was how to reach them to not offend this dignified family. My mother talked to them and they finally accepted to get their father hospitalized and get treated by the charity organization but it was too late. Their father had stomach cancer and died in hospital. I still remember that time when the body of their father was brought in, I felt as my heart was ripped off. How could life be so cruel to such nice people? But they were calm and didn’t show any signs of discomfort. I was sure that they had mourned in their small room (out of sights of others) but in front of people they showed no symptoms of grief.

Until that time, I was aware of characters in stories of Russian writers who had hard times but those characters were noisy and complaining about their lives and here I was seeing everyday a family who were facing tragedy after tragedy but facing life with such a dignity that left me envious of such self-restraint and resilience forever.

It was first time that I felt, I was mistaken for so long that I was looking knowledge in books. The human around us with their life perspectives are open books. I was just needed to study them and learn. I am really thankful to that family that changed my perspective. Believe it or not, fat books no more excite me and I am no more piling up books. Whenever, I have hard time, I just remember that family and get enough to overcome over my emotions. Yes, I still spend a large part of my time reading but my real inspirations come from live people….

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