Naseer! Is this his name? I am not sure. Oh Boy!! How could I have forgotten his name. But I have!I am not sure if his name is Naseer. But that's what comes to my mind when I think of him.
We met in late 90s, while working on our thesis. We shared the same research room of the University of Bombay .Many Research scholars used the reading room of the university library specially dedicated for the doctoral research students. One hardly interacted with each other as every one walked in and out at their own convenient time, and when they came they mostly buried themselves in books. In fact Naseer and I hardly knew each others existence. Till One day librarian came to my table and said," Can you help that boy?" She pointed out to Naseer who was sitting just opposite my table. "He is very shy.And is looking for some help. Please see if you can help him out with his problems."
I looked at his direction and saw this boy in his 30s lean ,neatly dressed in white stripped shirt and casual jeans bent over his books . Shy like a woman he did not even look up once. I assured my librarian that I will see what I can do; not knowing what help he was seeking. I forgot about him for next couple of months.
As the time passed, I felt guilty for not even bothering to ask him what kind of help he needed . One day, I just approached him and introduced myself "Hi I am *****, I guess you are looking for some help.If there is anything I can do I will certianly try and help you out" I said in a straight forward business tone.
Naseer did not look up. He just smiled shyly and said something in inaudible tone. I pulled the chair next to him and sat down to listen to his problem.
Naseer was from Iran and had registered himself under the faculty of English literature for past 8 years. He was researching on Iranian and Indian philosophical reflections in English literature. Or something like that. His problem was, he and his mentor had hardly discussed his work ever since he had began writing his chapters. That made him very insecure and worried as he did not know, if his work was progressing in right direction.Feeling of loss was neatly imprinted in his eyes. He needed some one to read his drafts and give him the feed back on his work and suggest new direction if one could. I was aghast by his request. There was nothing I could do for him to solve his problem. I had no clue on his subject. Yet I had no heart to tell him I cannot do anything for him. Somewhere I felt as if I was his last hope to speak of his problems. I knew Naseer's problems extended far beyond academic world.
"Ok " I said as I got off the chair, "Give me one chapter to read. I will try and go through it and see what I can understand. But let me warn you, I have no much understanding of your subject. So my feedback would be very casual and not an academic one."
"No Problem No problem. I understand. " he said with much glee. I collected few ruled full scape papers of handwritten manuscripts he gave me,put on a fake smile and said "Give me few days". "Sure take your time" Naseer retorted back.
As I turned my back to him,I cursed myself. Why do I always put me in a situation that I can not handle? What is the need to be good Samaritan? whats wrong with me?Why can't I say sorry this is not my area of expertise and finish the issue? But that's me! Always get in to a situation that I never want to be in first place.
Few days later I did get back to Naseer and told him honestly whatever little I comprehended about his work. He heard me patiently, my comments were of no much use to him. But he seemed relieved.
Often we would get talking, on various subjects other than our topic of research.I still cannot forget the surprise in Naseer's eyes when I first asked him out for cup of tea.Bored of reading for hours on the same subject, I once said "Naseer would you like to have chai with me?" His eyes popped" but aren't you married" he asked instead of replying my question" yes I am! But what that has to do with chai?" what a stupid question my tone relayed my emotions. Naseer knew what I felt and replied " Back in Iran a married woman will not dare to go out in restaurant with another man" he said in a sheepish tone. "C'mmon Naseer this is India.I am just asking you to join me for roadside chai, and I don't need my husband's permission for that. By the way, are you married Naseer?" I had never asked Naseer about his personal life till then.
"No" he said and looked down on the ground. I was aware that whenever Naseer spoke to me he felt shy and apologetic, as if speaking with women was kind of crime he was committing. Having lived in India for nearly a decade, he was quiet accustomed to Indian culture and general etiquette towards women. Yet he never looked straight into their eyes or approached them for help. I found his behavior quiet amusing and at times I would purposely behave more aggressively just to tease him off his shyness.
He knew my habit of cutting stupid jokes and would laugh at it.
Me and my librarian friend would often joke him about coming to Iran. "Naseer we would like to come to Iran . Can you help us getting visa etc.? Naseer would often say an emphatic no to our request."It is very difficult for single woman to come to Iran." He would reply very seriously "Iranians are not so kind towards women. There are many restrictions on women. First of all you have to cover your hair. then there are many dos and don'ts I cannot tell you all this. But Indian women like you will find it very hard to follow those rules. Why do you want to come to Iran ? It is not that safe for women" He would say out rightly rejecting our plea. " C'mmon Naseer if you want I can wear a chador for you. But I am coming to Iran" I would say teasing him. Naseer would turn his head and smile.
Naseer was 40 years old. He looked much younger than his age. He belonged to tribal areas of Iran and his parents were very old. He felt terribly guilty for not being able to support his parents and in fact they had to support him to continue his studies in India. That literally ate him. "I am 40 years man *****; when will i finish my studies, get a job , get married and look after my after my parents" That was his actual worry more than his research work. Having lived in India he was also aware of the restrictive atmosphere back in his country. We can not speak openly our view in public forget about woman's freedom etc. You guys are very lucky in India he once told me. Naseer never spoke much. I knew he would have loved to settle in India if not for his old parents.
Mean while I had finished my defense and acquired my doctoral degree. Things had progressed well for him too. His adviser had approved of his work and he was winding up his last part of his writing. I arranged him a typist who could help him with his thesis and advised him on last bit of submission process.
I had stopped coming to the research room and there by lost my contact with Naseer. Once when I had dropped in the Library to meet my friend I bumped into Naseer. He was beaming with a smile. At once I knew the reason and congratulated him for completing his defense successfully. For the first time he asked me out to a restaurant" I will buy you chai to celebrate my success" he said. we went to the near by snack bar. There he ordered Idli-wada for both of us and filter coffees. I smiled looking at the food, and asked "Naseer now you are going back to Iran won't you miss this Idli-wada?"
He smiled back looking at me. He pulled out the thick copy of his dissertation. Opened the acknowledgment page. showed me the line where he had thanked me. First time I could not look into his eyes. So I looked down and said, " Thank You. But I really didn't do anything for you"
"To answer you question , he was still looking straight at me" I am going to miss India not just Idli-wada"
That was the last time I met Naseer. I wish he has managed to do all the things, he wanted to do. I have forgotten his name and think his name is Naseer.Probably he has forgotten my name too.