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This Eid (7 July) would have been our first without Abba at home, or so I had thought. But I was wrong. Because Abba had left us suddenly for his heavenly abode just two days before Eid last year, a day before Alvida Juma on 16th of July. He was in his early 50s and his departure was sudden. It was so sudden that I have to yet completely acknowledge that he is no more. That he is not around us to take care of us, to support us or disagree with us yet still approve.

Abba was like any other father. Yet, he was so different that only he could have been that way. He was known to many people by different names. At home and among his close friends and relatives, he was called Bulla, for that was his nickname given to him by his mother and my Dadi. She liked Bulla machhli (fish) so much that she named her first boy after it. She died a year before Abba who was in Delhi at the time of her death, and by the time he was able to reach, she had been buried. I was in Bangalore and could not reach home either. At Abba’s death however, I was lucky enough to be a part of his namaz-e-Janaza and burial. I reached home just in time for it.

AbbaShahnwaz

On the day of Eid, my younger brother, Shahnawaz Alam praying at the grave of Abba.

By no means was Abba a famous man. He did not hold any public office, never stood in any election and was not even a member of any political party or socio-cultural group except the Tablighi Jamaat and perhaps a customary member of the Teachers Union—Sikshak Sangh. Yet he was a people’s person. He was an activist of his own kind. He was a selfless activist—an activist who was not defined and bound by any organization and funding. Meet anyone who would have met him once or twice and they’ll tell you how deep his commitment for Khidmat e Khalq (social service) was. It was so fierce that at times he would forget his familial and professional duties. I distinctly remember us ‘fighting’ with each other because of this. He would often ‘surrender’, accepting his mistake but wouldn’t ever forget to remind me of the following couplet of Khwaja Meer Dard :

“Dard-e-Dil Ke Waste Paida Kiya Insaan Ko/Warna Ataa’at Ke Liye Kam Na The, Kar-O-Bayaan”

And would also add, but ‘you are also doing the same by ignoring you career, health and family’. To which, I would say, haan, ye sab aapka hi asar hai (it is all because of your influence) and by that time my Amma would enter the picture saying, tum sab baap bete aik jaise hi ho! And we would all have a great laugh collectively.

What was the one thing that differentiated Abba from other fathers in general? He was not authoritative and feudal. We were not afraid of him. We could speak in front of him, talk to him and argue with him. In fact, we could say nasty things to him, which I must confess, I have done so several times, in rage or frustration. Yet he would never take it personally. He was full of forgiveness and compassion. I have seen him helping people who had always conspired against him and back stabbed him. But Abba, despite knowing all that, would behave as if nothing of that sort had ever occurred in his lifetime. He would often remind us that out of the 99 names of Allah, the two most used (in Quran) were: Rahman and Raheem (beneficent and merciful).

To us, he was a friend more than anything. He would always have consultations (Mashwira) with all, big-small, male-female, everyone in the house before deciding or doing anything. He was a great proponent of consent and consultation. “Mashware me barkat hota hai,” he would often remark. When I look back and try to think, I realise that this was how the basics of democratic process was inculcated my life.

No, Abba was not a scholar or a highly educated person. Due to his familial responsibility (he being the oldest son had to help his father, who was a small time businessman), he could not study beyond senior secondary regularly. However, he did complete his higher education from Bihar Maradsa Education Board. He could read and write in Urdu, Hindi and English. Hence, he had a basic yet important understanding of religious texts. He was essentially a Hindustani speaker, with a heavy use of local dialect.

Abba was a religious man. He prayed five times a day and wanted us to do so too. But he was not the kind who would believe in my way or the high way. However, he would keep reminding us of our religious duties and encourage us to take part in it. He loved feeding the poor and helping the needy through cash as well as kind. Abba firmly believed in life after death.  Hence, his deeds were for his God. He was hardly into the business of showoff and always encouraged us to help people in whatever ways and means we could, irrespective of how big or small.

To Abba, what always mattered was one’s Neeyat (intention) not the action. According to him, if the intention was only to show off, then one would only get that in return. However, if the intention was to help people in reality, then the popularity would come its own way as a byproduct of it. To explain this, he would give an example:  if you go to the meat shop to buy bones, then you you’ll only get bones. But if you buy meat, then you will get bones as well.

He was a well-travelled man too, from parts of North East and South India to almost the whole of North. And all this was possible because before becoming a government primary school teacher in 1995, he was into business. Some of the travels could also happen because my uncle was in the Army and Abba would once in a while go to places where the former was posted. In return, Abba would bring stories and lots of eatables from there. Much later, when I started travelling to different parts of India, he would always have readymade advice to give. Places to eat, stay and roam around.

I was always amazed with the way he trusted people, including me. He was always in favour of giving people an opportunity. It was only his trust that I could make something of my life that made him send me to Delhi for higher studies, despite the fact that I was a below the average student. I was the first in my entire paternal family (khandan) to be sent so far for padhai. Many thought that Abba’s sending me so far away for higher studies was akin to ghobar mein ghee dalna, or in other words, total wastage of one’s resources. I am not sure of how much I was able fulfill his dreams. However, whatever I am today is primarily because of his belief and trust in me. And I am happy to say that he had always had faith in me that no matter whatever I do, I will not cheat people or indulge in anti- human activities.

As far as earning money and fame are concerned he had always taught us: Rizq ka malik Allah hai…He would also say, wato izzo mantasha, wato zillo mantasha. He was a Kabir panthi in some sense. His philosophy about economy was:

“Sain itna dijiye jame kutumb samay, Mein bhi bhooka na rahoon Sadhu na bhukha jay”

Clichés apart, a proper detailing of Abba’s life and works would be a book length piece as he was not just my Abba but a friend and comrade of many. And I know that he will be always remembered by everyone he met and worked with, even briefly.

Today, Abba is no more with us and I have often felt like a yateem because his mere presence was everything. I miss him much quite often, especially during difficult times. Since I was earlier able to take things for granted, but I can’t anymore. Being the eldest in the family, it is almost difficult to step in his shoes.

Abba, you are not with us yet you are there. Your teachings and life will continue to inspire me. Hoping to meet you, once again.

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