Good Morning World: Childhood, Friendship, and the Oneness of being Human

#childhood #friendship #imagination #storytelling #Ramzan #togetherness #oneness #human #culture #society #self #family #Dubai #Kuwait #SaudiArabia #Qatar #Bahrain #India #goodmorningworld #thebengali #oneworld #oneland

I met him in 1979. He was a quiet, sensitive boy capable of deep thought. I was a talkative kid with an imagination. We became friends. And he became my window to the world.

I went to St Joseph’s High School in Juhu, Bombay (Mumbai). I have tonnes of memories about school life – 90% of them are about Abbas Neemuchwala and what I learned from him. Of the four years we studied together in primary, we were in the same class for two years and two years we were in different divisions. English, Maths, Science, Moral Science, Marathi, Hindi, History, Geography … I was in all the classes and have the marksheets to prove I must have learned it all. But school was mostly about the snack and lunch breaks because that’s when I would meet Abbas and the World would become exciting, animated and enchanting.

Abbas was a great storyteller, and he had a VCR (Video Cassatte Recorder) and a family that did business in, worked in and travelled to the Gulf: Bahrain, Saudi, Kuwait. Which meant that he was one of the first kids in India to see Superman, Star Wars, and the like. Which in turn meant, I was one of the second kids in India to experience all the movies he did – through his narration. In fact, it was a symbiotic friendship: he watched a movie and would wait to come to school and tell me the story, scene by scene. And I would wait to go to school every day to listen to Abbas’s narration. Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, Empire Strikes Back were etched in my memory thanks to his powerful storytelling. And the most chilling one: The Incredible Melting Man!

I started writing in 1982, and while there is reasonable evidence of hereditary talent, I firmly believe I became a writer because Abbas inspired me and gave wings to my imagination.

Over the years, we played all kinds of sports, talked about dreams, discussed books, family matters, hopes, dreams, fears, apprehensions and when in 1984 I went to Delhi for three years, we wrote letters to each other and I used to wait for his letters just as I used to wait for his movie narrations.

My family returned to Mumbai in 1987, and the first person I met the very next day was Abbas. I can still feel the joy I felt on seeing him. We went to the same college for a while before he shifted to a different one but we met often and made other friends who became a part of our circle.

In the early 1990s, he shifted to Nashik and soon enough I made a trip to visit him. It was in the summer, in this very month, during Ramzan. It had been a year or so since we had last met, but as usual we were back to school days, yapping about life, movies, dreams, inhibitions. I spent a good 10 days in Nashik, spending time with his father, uncles, aunts, siblings. I learned that Ramzan is a time for reflection and contemplation and remembrance and togetherness and resilience and rejuvenation. We had always eaten together in school or whenever we visited each other’s house, but now I got a chance to be a part of his family, share meals, learn about their childhood, their ancestral village and culture, participate in the teasing and the jokes among siblings, breakdance with the younger cousins, and to eat together the one meal of the day. His father was a pious man, gentle, and soft spoken. I remember sitting at the window of their ground floor apartment, looking out into the world as uncle recounted stories and explained philosophy in Persian and Arabic and then translated it for our benefit. I remember the long walks in the neighbourhood, contemplation, reflection. I remember talking about the future and what we may become and where we may travel to.

I returned to Mumbai and then travelled for work to Bangalore and Delhi and Shimla and back to Mumbai and then to Pune. Abbas moved to Dubai and then eventually settled in Canada. We meet when he comes to India and we speak on calls or chat on Whatsapp. And 40 years later, I still feel the Star Wars that he described was so much better than the versions I see on the screen in Ultra HD. But I am biased.

Good Morning World. Childhood friendships have the same language across the world, one that seeks to discover the oneness of being human.

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