As Syed Ali Geelani turns 89, there are some lessons to learn from him
The resilient Geelani
He is surviving on half a kidney, has heart problem, chest congestion and other set of diseases. Prostrates continues to be a regular issue since 1997 that requires constant monitoring and occasional medication. Yet one finds Syed Ali Geelani right at the centre of all activities.
On Saturday (September 29) he turned 89. But age doesn’t matter him. What matters him the most is the love, commitment and perseverance for the ideas he espouses. As is said age is the issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. No person fits to the adage as aptly as Syed Ali Geelani.
In normal life any other person struggling with such health issues would have been confined to bed at this point of age, dependent on others to be guided and helped to washroom. But Geelani Sb is the exception. He is full of life, using and utilizing every moment like a young man in early 30s.
In 2007 when America denied him visa for the treatment of his malignancy-affected lone kidney, doctors then said that Geelani could survive, at the most, for one year more.
The life and death, however, is decided (rather pre-decided) by Almighty Allah. How long a person has to live is the Will of God but how to live the life is a personal choice.
And Geelani Sahab has used this choice masterly.
For him the secret of being healthy is to be disciplined in life. “Discipline and time is very important in life”, he said on turning 89.
I know Syed Ali Geelani for the past 40 years. I have never seen him idling away his time. He is always engaged—reading, writing or meeting people besides giving appropriate time to his family.
Political ideologies or differences apart, Syed Ali Geelani is a perfect role model for living a disciplined, well-organized and healthy life.
He begins his day with a walk and set of exercises after morning prayers. It is a habit he performs as religiously as Namaaz regardless of where he is—jail, home or hospital.
Shabir Ahmad Shah, the jailed Democratic Freedom Party chief, once told me that in jail I never found Geelani Sb missing on work outs. Be it scorching heat in outside jails or chilling wintery waves in Kashmir, he would unfailingly do the exercise. “During our incarceration in Mahruli jail Delhi, I saw him working out even in burning heat”, he said. “In 40- 47 degree temperature, when others including me were dripping with sweat, weary and exhausted laying on our beds, Geelani Sb would do exercise”, Shah said. “What was more interesting was that each part of the body—hands, fingers, ears, nose, eyebrows, mouth, legs, feet—had separate sets of exercises”, Shah told me. The exercise time remains between 45 minutes and one hour.
He then turns to radio listening to news from all available broadcast news sources. BBC, Voice of America, Voice of Germany and Radio Pakistan are his most cherished news sources. Simultaneously, he reads newspapers minutely, marking news item and opinion pieces of his choice.
It can be said with great authority that no other leader, separatist or pro India, is politically as well-informed as Geelani Sahab. He would never miss listening to news and reading newspapers.
His eating habits too are abstemious. He has never smoked nor is he fond of wazwan.
In early 90s, I had the opportunity of playing host to Geelani Sahab on two or three occasions. He loves fruit. A good quality mango is he fond of. He breaks fast with the omelet splintered with black pepper and a cup of oats or bulgur (daliya). It is followed by a cup of Kashmiri tea. His lunch comprises of two chapattis with soup and vegetables. In the late afternoon he has a cup of sugar tea prepared in milk only. In dinner he takes rice with vegetable or whatever is available. He has a time schedule for each thing to eat or drink, and sticks to it strictly.
He is as true to his political ideas as to his own person.
Despite having the baggage of mainstream politics, Syed Ali Geelani today stands tall of all leaders not for the stemma and stock he comes from. It is rather the honesty of the purpose, consistency, determination and perseverance that has elevated him in stature and standing of all other leaders. There is no denying the fact that many people in Kashmir do little share with the ideology (he is pro Pakistan) and methodology Syed Geelani masters with. But he is praised by his admirers and opponents equally for being honest to his beliefs.
He is pro Pakistan but has the guts to question Pakistani rulers. In 2005 he, in a meeting at Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, took on Gen Parvaiz Musharaf on his four-point formula and military operations in Pakistan. That made General Musharaf jumpy, who in turn called Geelani speaking the language of Pakistan’s opposition parties. The angry Musharaf sidelined Geelani and pampered Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat Conference to get support for his four-point formula.
This however did not dampen the spirits of this old man. He continued with his opposition to any formula outside UN resolution on Kashmir.
Today General Musharaf is nowhere in the scene but Geelani stands strongly out in the middle.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, some years back, featured in MENSXP.com’s nomination list of most powerful 20 politicians who influenced the course of year 2010 in India. Geelani achieved an average score of 9.30 out of 10 from the voters as compared to 3.9 to then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. MENSXP.com defined octogenarian Geelani as a prominent political leader from Jammu and Kashmir and the political face of ‘Azadi’.
The online magazine said Geelani’s ‘X’ factor has been his ability to lead despite surviving a renal cancer and his adamancy to court arrest and controversy for the cause of Azadi.
Syed Ali Geelani’s is a story, like Hemmingway’s Old man and the sea, about indomitable spirit of a man, his doughty attitude towards life and his fight with mighty adversaries. He may not kill the shark but he thinks that he will try as long as he has the oars, short club and the tiller.