A very dear old friend, David Ramse, a ‘lay’ person with strong religious convictions enough to make him a missionary; a scientist, teacher – sent me this picture taken in 1980 when he used to live in St. Lust on the Berbice River. David and Miriam had a house literally on the river with its feet in the water – a beautifully located structure which Miriam made into a lovely home. I was invited to visit them and spent a couple of days there, when David took this picture of me trying to resuscitate a young Toucan which had flown into the screen door. When I sent this picture to my brother, he asked me, ‘Where did all those years go Jaan?’ He calls me Jaan – short for Bhaijaan. Where did they go? 34 years as on date – 1980-2014 – and counting. I recalled what we will say when we meet our Rabb and are asked, ‘How long did you stay on earth?’ We will reply, ‘A day or a part of a day.’ All our life – a day or part of a day – in the reckoning of time by the Creator of time Himself. Mu’minoon 23: 112. He (Allah) will say: “What number of years did you stay on earth?” 113. They will say: “We stayed a day or part of a day. Ask of those who keep account.” 114. He (Allah) will say: “You stayed not but a little, if you had only known! 115. “Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” 116. So Exalted be Allah, the True King, La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Rabb (Lord) of the Supreme Throne!
So what did this time give me? Memories – all lovely, positive, for which I am thankful.
Duas asked; some accepted, some not accepted for which I am even more thankful – now that I have the benefit of hindsight to be able to see why AllahY didn’t accept those prayers. A sense of being guided, protected and nurtured. Of being brought back from the straying path without being allowed to suffer its consequences. Of being given the time to ask forgiveness and repent and even more for the good sense to take advantage of that time and ask forgiveness. How can I do anything but be thankful? So what memories, what lessons? 1. Changed three jobs and learnt that happiness and job satisfaction is not in the job but inside myself. 2. Lived in four countries, cheek by jowl with people of tribes, races, manners, values, concerns and history completely different from my own and learnt how similar we are to all people, even though we are different. 3. Made friends – very deep and lasting friendships. Some I lost, to death, others to changes in lives. Learnt that the pain of parting is directly proportional to the depth of relationship. We pay for one with the other. 4. Shared times, anxieties, dangers, hopes, happiness, grief and simply time with people on three continents and learned that our hearts beat to a rhythm that has nothing to do with the shape of our nose, the color of our skin or what we believe in. 5. Shared thoughts, ideas, learning and sometimes a sunset or sunrise and learnt that the person I shared it with was more important than what I shared and that he/she enhanced that experience and was the reason I remembered it at all. 6. Struggled for many goals. Some I achieved and some I didn’t. On the average my batting average has been far more positive than negative and I learnt that success depends on the color of our dreams, not on the color of our hair. 7. Shared food, clothing, smiles and sometimes tears with many and learnt that it is possible to share both grief and happiness and strangely it decreases one and enhances the other. 8. Shared silence and understood that companionship is not chattering like an insane magpie but like a pair of Golden Eagles, in sitting silently on a high mountain crag contemplating the world at your feet. Learnt that the best companions are those with whom a conversation is not a necessity. Learnt that telepathy is not fantasy. It happens. And it is fun. 9. Built a consulting company with clients on three continents. Acquired property. Made profit. Sometimes loss. Learnt that the joy of hard work is more than the joy of achieving success easily. It is the danger, uncertainty and stacked deck which adds the spice of excitement to the win. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending and both pump adrenalin into the system. 10. Ate dry bread, curds and pickle with poor villagers and listened to their dreams which to me were the stuff of normal life, taken for granted. Learnt the great secret of happiness, that it lies in the smile of another, whose dream you helped to come true. Learnt that courage is not expressed in the magnitude of the challenge but in the perspective from which it is viewed – for how difficult something appears is relative to where you stand. Learnt also that current circumstances don’t decide if you will succeed or fail, but only where you need to start. Learnt lastly that nobody ever knows the best that he can do – and still learning. 11. Spent time with myself, with real friends and with crowds and learnt that being comfortable with yourself is the most important thing. That companionship is a factor of respect which nurtures love. That loneliness is not the result of the absence of people but the absence of a particular person. 12. Slept under the canopy in the Amazonian rain forest, under the stars in the Arabian desert, beside a lake in a high mountain valley in the Himalayas and in a dry riverbed in the Aravallies. Learnt that sleep is a factor of peace of mind which comes from a clear conscience which in turn comes from never harming anyone knowingly. When we wish good or evil for another, we will it for ourselves. 13. Listened to many conversations. Participated in a few. Learnt that hatred is fire and its result is always ash. Learnt that it is possible for us to look for people’s faults or strengths and that we always find what we seek. The rest is its result. Learnt that being positive may be difficult in some situations but in those it is even more important if you want to get out of them. Negative thinking is quicksand; the more time you spend in it, the deeper you sink. 14. Through successes, failures, happiness, grief, beauty, ugliness; through anxiety and safety, through hunger and plenty; I learnt to recognize the hand of my Lord – to see, accept and look forward to His plan for me. 15. I learnt to recognize His Majesty, Mercy and Grace and to ask for His indulgence and forgiveness. I learnt to see His art in the forms that He created and to ask in great wonder and joy, ‘Why?’ The more I learnt, the more I marveled, the more I rejoiced, the closer I feel to Him and the more I desire to meet Him.
Thirty four years have gone by – all memories triggered by one photograph. It is highly unlikely that there are another thirty four to go. But then will begin a life that has no end.
So final set of points to remind myself are: 1. What more could I have done in these years? 2. What did I earn that will benefit me in the life that will not end? 3. What have I earned that I can present to the One to Whom is my return? And most importantly – more important than all of the above – what can I do, starting right now? For in the end we will be judged not by what happened but by what we decided to do about it. If there is one thing that stands out with respect to Gandhiji, it was his willingness to live by his principles – irrespective of the consequences to himself. He was a classic example of what today we call, ‘Walk the talk’ and that was the secret of his enormous credibility. I recall a story that someone told me in Durban from Gandhiji’s South Africa days. He said that Gandhiji’s son narrated as follows: ‘I used to drop my father to his workplace and pick him back after work as we lived in the Indian area (Apartheid segregation) which was more than twenty-five kilometers away. One day I decided to go to the movies – something that my father didn’t approve of – and as luck would have it, I got engrossed in the film and forgot all about the time. When the movie finished I realized that I was more than an hour late to pick up my father. It was even later when I finally drove up to his office. He was waiting for me and asked me why I was late. I told him that the car had broken down and it took time while I had it fixed. Unknown to me however a friend of my father’s had seen me in the cinema and took the trouble to telephone him and tell him about it. So my father asked me, ‘I understand that you went to the movies and that is why you were delayed. Is this true?’ I knew when the game was up and admitted that this was the reason why I was delayed. My father then said something that has remained with me all these years – he said, ‘I have always tried to teach you to speak the truth. But it appears that I have failed. So I will punish myself for my failure. You can go home. I shall walk back.’ Saying that he walked home, twenty-five kilometers on a dark road while I drove slowly behind him. He never mentioned this incident again. And I have never lied again.’ If one needs proof of the power of walking the talk, this is as good as it gets. I always tell this story when I am speaking to teachers and parents on raising children and ask, ‘What do you think will be the result of our placing responsibility for learning where it belongs – on the teachers/parents?’ In my view my life can be as valuable as I want to make it. It is not how long I live, but how I live which is more important. It is not what I do but the intention behind that action which determines whether that action is worthy of appreciation and emulation or an illustration of something to avoid at all costs. A life that is lived creating value is a valuable life. One that is lived indulging oneself and one’s desires or worse, creating negative effects is a life wasted. After all animals also live and do whatever pleases them. But they leave no mark of their passing. They live, they reproduce, they die. Most humans do the same, with as much effect on their environment, society and time such that when it is mentioned that they once lived, one is tempted to ask, “So what?” We only live once. During the course of that life, a large part of it is spent in growing up and growing old. Between the two is a brief period where a window opens. A window of opportunity where we have the chance to make a difference. Whether we are able to take advantage of this window depends on whether we anticipated it and prepared for it. Every one of us has this window in our lives. But some of us, when opportunity knocks, we complain about the noise. Everything that you do or choose not to do, Communicate brand value and character.” In my view there is one thing that takes precedence over all else when we look at the things that add value to human life. That is the establishment of justice. And that begins with speaking and living by the truth. This is what Gandhiji exemplified all through his life. At all places and in all times, it is the establishment of justice that is the most critical underpinning to all other activity. A mother who brings up her children with a focus on establishing justice creates harmony in the home and brings up good citizens. A teacher who focuses on the establishment of justice in his or her teaching creates a society that is free from discrimination and which encourages merit. A manager who focuses on the establishment of justice creates a work atmosphere that rewards genuine effort and enables employees to find fulfillment in their work. A government that focuses on the establishment of justice ensures that the talents of all citizens are allowed to flower for the benefit of the nation and that strong groups support the weak instead of oppressing them. So the establishment of justice is the single most valuable goal that anyone can work for. However as I mentioned, establishing justice is not easy. It never was: “Cowardice asks the question – is it safe? Expediency asks the question – is it politic? Vanity asks the question – is it popular? But conscience asks the question – is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; But one must take it because it is right.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And that is the key; one must do what is right, no matter what the cost. But then who said it was easy? I only said that it was the most valuable thing to do. Not the easiest.
(Credit for sketch belongs to the artist and NOT to me.)