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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye ...

{This is NOT the re-start of my getting back to blogging that I've been threatening you guys with. It's just a one-off. I had promised myself to get activated again by mid-May, once T2F was up and running ... and I still intend to keep to that target date. But I juat had to write this, despite the fact that my mind's in a tizzy.}

Weddings - and all the events that surround it - are a bore for me. However, with increasing frequency, I seem to be attending as many as I can, in the hope of bumping into the decreasing list of friends & acquaintances and chatting about the moments and the memories we've shared.

Tonight was going to be no different. A former seafaring colleague was hosting a Valima for his son. I just had to go. My friend and two of his inlaws - both of whom were also in the Merchant Navy - had invited me to all their children's weddings in the past and I'd missed the lot, being away in Dilli or Lahore each time.

Among the sea of acquaintances I spotted an old friend (who happened, as I learnt later, to be visiting from Canada) and headed straight for him with just one thing in mind. I was trying to track the elusive blog commentator, Rayhan, who had suddenly popped into our blogs and , just as suddenly, had popped out again. Sabeen and a couple of others were convinced that Rayhan had lost interest after I stopped blogging, since Windmills seemed to be one of his favourite haunts.

An odd mix of charm and abrasiveness, sensitivity and rudeness, Rayhan was always elusive and intriguing, especially in his comments about himself. We never really pinned down his identity. Just in one weak moment (or perhaps as part of a hidden desire to be recognized) he mentioned a cousin of his whose father had sailed with me and possessed some of my hazaliaat - bawdy and risqué humorous poems that were part of my sins of youth.

I had sort of 'guessed' who that seafarer friend could be, but had lost touch with him for over 20 years. And there he was, today. The excitement he showed at seeing me after so long made me feel a bit guilty, since my excitement at seeing him was less about him than about trying to solve The Rayhan Mystery. I just had to find out if it was he that Rayhan had referred to, because (very vaguely) I recall giving him my diary from which he was to copy the poems and return the book. I never got the book back and since it was of no real value, never pursued it. Over years I either forgot about it or may have given it up for lost. Can't even remember which.

As it turned out, my guess was right.

Pipe in hand, the unmistakeable Erinmore fragrance drifting my way and carrying me back several years, I heard him say: Oh, yes, my bhaanjah (sister's son), was quite thrilled upon discovering your blog. He often chatted with my daughter and mentioned you and others in your group frequently. 'He loves to tease some of them', she used to tell me. Poor child. Bright. Brilliant. Good loooking. At least didn't suffer for long ...

I was not sure whether in the excitement of my discovery I really did hear the last few words. But, just as I was about to begin asking about his whereabouts, from something akin to being the aural equivalent of peripheral vision, those terrifying words entered my consciousness. "What do you mean?", I asked, startled and hoping I'd misheard or misunderstood. "Yes," he said. "Finally could not keep up the fight. We are all pained and relieved."

Don't know how long I remained silent and dazed. I then said - stammering, I am sure - "He did seem to mention a leg/foot disability, though never in very clear terms. What happened?"

"Never mind what he died of, Zaheer," he said - rather abruptly, I thought. "He is gone. And he and his family are both at peace now."

His daughter, meanwhile, had strolled towards us and was standing next to him. She said, softly, "He said you guys were responsible for the extra days he got. Especially someone he'd nicknamed '.exe' ..." ... And she broke into tears.

Cryptic to the end, Rayhan?

I don't know how I spent the next 30-odd minutes - but it was mainly sitting alone, far away from the crowd, torn between sobbing and feeling empty - until I got up and came away.

I just had to blog tonight. I owe it to him.

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