He got his first computer in ’99. His enthusiasm to learn about it matched, and sometimes surpassed mine. He was more of a friend to me than anything else. I loved the way he expressed himself, so calm and composed, and the words he chose from the vast vocabulary of his, gelled into one-another and formed a synchrony. He was 85.
Dr. Ali Ashraf was our neighbour for few years before his demise. I remember him as a man of a definite composure and panache. His hair, and beard were all white as milk, and he seemed proud of it. His laugh at things he found funny was a harmony of crystal clear “hah”s…a distinctive “hah-hah-hah”…and not a chuckle. He never seemed to be worried about his ailments: as if he knew it’s no use discussing them, especially with me. His frequent visits to AIIMS were just a way of life for him. On winter Sundays one could find him basking in the sunlight in his well-cushioned cane chair, deeply engrossed in one of the zillion books from his library. His had a collection of innumerable books, many of which, I believe he had authored.
Almost all the seemingly underutilized places in his house had been converted into a book racks — much to his wife’s plight — over the years, she seemed to have become fed-up of his fondness for books. And over the years, her nature seemed to have adapted itself to compliment her husband’s. They completed one-another.
He always brought about conversations which were of my interest…computers mostly. Often he would borrow my Aptech books, which spoon-feed you about MS Office, and go through each of the lessons carefully. Sometimes, he would call me if he had a doubt. Sometimes, he would call me just like that, for a cup of tea in the evening, which I felt uneasy about at that time, but now I regret of having missed the opportunity.
Ashraf uncle had been a freelance journalist most part of his life. He had spent a considerable time in Moscow, although he never mentioned that. In fact, our discussions were never about his achievements, or any particular individual. He would often share anecdotes, which, I think, he presumed might tickle my funny bone. One such anecdote that he told me twice was his about his encounter with a renowned personality of his time named Ashraf Ali. I still remember him narrating the incident of a gathering of some politically influential people where Mr. Ashraf Ali told him that their names were similar in that they had the same words in a reverse order. To which, Ashraf uncle replied:
“Mein Ali ko zyada ehmiyat deta hun” (I give more importance to Ali). This was followed by the great laugh of his, because, I think, this would have left the former speechless.
I do not think Ashraf uncle practiced any religion besides humanitarianism. The only thing religious about him, was just his name.
I got to know about his demise when I was in Mumbai. I imagined him passing away peacefully, contented, because I think he belonged to that rare category of people who spend each phase of their life the way they want, and not how the world wants them to. I miss him. Peace be upon him.