My trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2013 was one of the most memorable ones I have ever had. I was there with my some of closest friends, I had a brilliant time and at this event I met the most wonderful and awe inspiring people. The first session I attended was The Wandering Falcon with Jamil Ahmad, a retired Pakistani Civil servant who was the author of this beautiful work on the lives of the tribal people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. While he described his work to a hopeless moderator, I saw the brutal and heart wrenching beauty of his work..I saw it even before I read it..solely by the way he described it. Seldom have I had such a great urge to read a book. I ran and brought the book within minutes of the session's conclusion.
Then I became greedy..what if I could get him to sign it. Wouldn't this copy become priceless then..I gathered my courage to step into the corridor and go stand to next to the man. I was in complete awe of him. He was sitting there on a teak chair, smoking a cigarette and giving interviews to ladies from news channels who sounded or tried to sound familiar with him. He glanced at me and the book in my hand. Then he smiled and said, "Give me a moment.", I smiled back sheepishly and mumbled something like "Its absolutely fine Sir". He then wrapped up the conversation with these woman sounding a little irritated as their questions seemed to have lost the point. As the crew took his leave, he then turned to me and said, "I am sorry, I shouldn't be smoking in your company." and before I could protest he rubbed and extinguished the cigarette in his white bone china ash tray. Its been a while I have met such a gentleman. He then smiled and asked for the book. Then he looked up at me and asked my name. In that moment I realized that I had never seen such eyes as his. Like he had entire galaxies in them, I can not describe their color. A hue of jade green, a hue of grey and even a tinge of yellow. He had they eyes you'd never forget once they had met yours.
When he had autographed my book, I leaned down on one knee and asked him about how he felt about the attempted modernization of the tribal people. He said. "Lets get a chair for you. Sit comfortably and then we shall talk." I stopped him from and told him that I don't want to take too much of his time and that I was perfectly comfortable.After my repeated assurances, he gave up. Then he told me how he felt about these people and how he felt that their way of life was an inseparable part of their identity. And how we should not judge other people's happiness and state by our own parameters. How modernization tramples upon a lot of things in its visionary path ahead. He seemed like a man from a different world and a different time. He asked me if I felt the same about the tribal people in India and I confessed that even though I thought that intervening in their lives was a bad idea, I had never really given this subject a very serious thought before today. He nodded and said, it was understandable taking in account the fact their world seems to be a different one from ours so the sense of disconnect is natural. While we were talking, another journalist came up for an interview. He asked her if she could come after sometime as he was talking to me. I can not express the surprise I felt. This man was ready to put off a formal professional interview for a conversation with a stupid woman who knew nothing. I felt an overwhelming sense of respect for him and I decided not to trespass on his kindness. So I took his leave. He said it was no issue and that the journalist lady will not mind coming later. But I told him I wanted to meet him again someday hopefully, after I had read this book and realized his perspective completely. He smiled and said alright. "Then I hope to see you again after you've read it" handing the book back to me which had comfortably rested in his lap all the while we were talking, like a child in the lap of her father. I took it gratefully and hoped that I would see him again.
He left a lasting impression on me, both in terms of the man he was and the book he wrote. And as I saw his name in the obituary today. I felt the loss to be almost personal. I felt deeply saddened. The world always suffers an irreparable loss when a great writer dies. And in the past few months, this loss has been too much.Though I felt very sad at the passing away of Marquez and Gordimer, the death of Jamil Ahmed understandably brought me greater sorrow. For I had sincerely harbored the hope of meeting him again and telling him how much I loved his book and how fiercely I had come to agree with his point of you. The conversation I had with him is and will always be one of the most memorable conversations of my life.
I hope he is resting in peace.