Ziauddin Tariq Ali was known to others as a freedom fighter, a cultural activist and a founder trustee of the Liberation War Museum. Many of the younger generations knew him as the young patriot with the thick glasses from the Liberation War film Muktir Gaan. To me, he was simply Tariq Chacha, a person I had known my whole life. He left us exactly one month ago today, on September 7, 2020.
Tariq Chacha was one of my favourite people in the whole world, yet I knew very little about him. As I started writing this, I realised that I did not know his birthday, which I later found out was on February 1. I had never been to his apartment. I wasn't even friends with him on Facebook. The last fact I keep getting reminded of everyday, as the social media platform in its AI driven wisdom keeps sending me friend suggestions for a certain Tariq Ali. As far as I can recall, I did not have many one-on-one conversations with Tariq Chacha. We met exclusively in social gatherings, big and small. Memories of specific incidents concerning him are few if precious. Yet he remains one of my favourite people of all time.
I wondered whether I was alone in feeling this way. So I called up some people who I knew felt similarly attached to Tariq Chacha. In almost every instance, I found that their experiences were similar to mine. Their relationship with and fondness for Tariq Chacha was not based on specifics, but rather an aura. A certain je ne sais quoi of kindness. A feeling of openness. An air of unreserved affection and love. Of course there were specific incidents that were remembered. My friend Srabanti (not Tariq Chacha's daughter, though inevitably for him the homonymity was just another reason for avuncular affection) recalled a recital of devotional music where she found Tariq Chacha giving vociferous voice (he could sing in no other way) to the principal performers, and weeping uncontrollably. Had it been anyone else, the whole affair would have seemed odd and pretentious. But not so with Tariq Chacha. Nothing that we had ever experienced about him made us feel that his actions could be contrived. If he was singing loudly and weeping without control then it was exactly what he felt in his heart. He could act in no other way.
For me and many others, music was an integral part of who Tariq Chacha was. I suppose that it is fitting that he was immortalised in Muktir Gaan. My earliest memory of him is from musical soirees at our place. Clapping with possessed vigour, singing with gusto, and swinging his head to the rhythm with such force that it rendered his face ruddy, and made me think that the noggin would be separated from the neck. My sister, Sriya, has done the wonderful service of recording and preserving videos of Tariq Chacha in recent gatherings. In almost all of them, he is singing and exhorting others into song. Once again, there is nothing imposed, nothing obnoxious. It was Tariq Chacha being Tariq Chacha, doing what he did. And he doing it all with so much love that it seemed just right.
As memorable as his love for music was Tariq Chacha's laugh. There is a picture I made in 2011 of the Liberation War Museum Trustees. When they lined up for the picture, there were the usual formal smiles. I felt that something was missing. What I was getting on my camera didn't adequately capture the camaraderie and bonhomie that I observed off camera. So I told a joke, which cannot be repeated here, and the picture was made in the immediate aftermath. You can see everyone laughing with various levels of enthusiasm, but maintaining some level of composure and direction for the picture. Only Tariq Chacha has his head tilted straight back in rapturous glee to the point you can barely make out his face. Sharing a joke with him was a treat. His delight a prize. He was as engaging as a raconteur as he was as audience. Not surprisingly, most of his anecdotes were self-deprecating. For all his achievements, I don't recall him telling any stories of self-glorification. His were tales of gaffes, embarrassments, and mishaps. The laughter they generated was as heartfelt as his own.
There are many other such gestures and characteristics. The way he touched your shoulder in greeting and goodbye. Conveying care and affection. The way he invariably chose to focus on the positive among those he loved. Sometimes showing more faith in them than they had in themselves, and in the process inspiring them to strive for more than they otherwise would have. It all paints a picture of a person unrestrained by pretension. Unbound by convention. Living and giving as fully as his heart would allow.
In a post on Facebook immediately after his passing, I wrote that "for me, he was sunshine." Upon further reflection, I would liken him to a cool breeze on a hot summer day. When the breeze blows, we don't question where it has come from. The source could be a far-off depression, a blizzard in the distant mountains, a raging storm somewhere unseen. It does not matter. That is perhaps why we were happy not knowing many specifics about Tariq Chacha. What was important was that we felt soothed in his presence. We missed him when he was gone. We were comforted by the knowledge that we would see him again. He made the stifling heat of existence worth bearing. That breeze, though, has, heartbreakingly, stopped forever.
Iresh Zaker is a marketing professional and actor.