“It’s like I’m spiralling downwards, into a deep dark rabbit hole.” Rajiv, the “problematic” student as the teachers labelled him, said to Mr Ahmad.
The 16-year-old was crying in the classroom alone by himself. He had scored another F for his Mathematics test and had another scuffle with a student earlier during recess. The discipline master was on the verge of kicking him out of the school, only to rethink his decision after Mr Ahmad intervened.
Mr Ahmad was passing by the classroom, searching for Rajiv when he chanced upon his Mathematics student, who was sobbing silently in the classroom. He walked in and closed the door slowly before him.
Rajiv, sensing the teacher coming in, wiped his tears hurriedly and pretended to pack his bag.
“Rajiv, everything alright?” Ahmad said in a soft voice. The comfort, the soothing voice of his teacher, broke Rajiv completely. He started sobbing.
“I failed my test.. I did everything I could, practised Mathematics but it just didn’t work! Today Mr Lim caught me smoking and sent me to the discipline room. But he smokes! And that too at the back of the toilet! What sort of teacher is he?”
Mr Ahmad took a nearby chair and propped himself on it, his left arm on Rajiv’s tiny bent shoulders. Rajiv’s head slightly nestled in his thin arms which were placed on the wooden table, sobbing.
“Every mistake, every setback, is a learning curve. Everyone learns. And it’s okay to cry when the need arises. Nothing to be ashamed about.”
Rajiv was still dug in his arms. Mr Ahmad leaned closer and patted Rajiv’s head.
“It is a natural thing to cry. To feel sad about. And it’s okay to fail. In fact, to be honest, I personally hate that word. There is no such thing as failure. Only lessons.”
Rajiv looked up, his eyes red filled with tears, his face wet. His mouth trembled like an infant’s. He was still a baby at heart just like every student in the school and every person in the world.
“The reason why I do naughty things is because.. because I want to be accepted.”
Mr Ahmad always knew. The teachers in the staffroom constantly gossiped about the lives of students. They did mention Rajiv’s name several times.
Miss Jayanthi once remarked, “I tell you, this Rajiv fellow ah so naughty! Terrible fellow! I caught him scribbling expletives at his desk!”
Puan Tan, the Chemistry teacher said, “Aiyo Jayanthi, his parents divorce, that is why he is like that lah!”
Cik Rafidah, the only unmarried teacher who was busy marking her student’s homework said, “That’s the problem with students whose parents are divorced. They become terrible fellows!”
“Lacking parental love lah, Rafidah,” Puan Tan chimed in. She went on, “Luckily I don’t have him in my class. I had enough of such fellows in my classes last year. I tell you, the current generation ah.. So rebellious!”
“End of times lah, Tan,” Cik Rafidah, who is also religious said.
Miss Jayanthi, who is another spiritual aspirer and staunch follower of a great saint from India remarked, “You know ah Cik Rafidah, our Hindu religion also speaks of this. But they say the end of this time which is labelled as Kali Yuga is the last one. And so, after this ahh will be the Sathya Yuga, Golden Age.”
Cik Rafidah pretended to take interest. But deep down she remarked how silly it was for people to have such beliefs.
As the teachers gossiped about Rajiv, Mr Ahmad sat silently at his desk, marking his papers. However, his mind was on the boy. For some reason, he had always found something about Rajiv.
The boy reminded himself during his school days. He was exactly as rebellious as Rajiv was. Constantly going on late night illegal bike races and not taking a keen interest on his life. But deep down, the only problem he had, just like every teenager in the world, was to be accepted.
He prayed once in a while, that too if his parents reminded him to. He preferred hanging out with his mates. When he was eight, he used to pray much more diligently. Things changed when he became a teenager.
His introduction to Marijuana by his friends changed his perception about life. His views about it as a drug changed completely too.
Like every stoner, he would say, “Hey, it’s a herb, bro.” His parents found out about it one night when he was hurriedly rolling one for his mates who were waiting downstairs.
His then 14-year-old third sister whom the family called Eja, walked into his room without knocking, “Along, mak panggil (Brother, mother is calling for you).” Her eyes fell on the green grass atop a piece of paper.
“Bang apa tuh? (What is that?)” Eja said in shock.
He hurriedly covered the grass with his books and said, “Takde ape ape. Nanti Abang turun, tengah busy nih. (It’s nothing. I’ll come down later, I’m busy right now).”
Eja stared at at her brother’s face; his eyes were red and his eyelids puffy.
“Bang kenapa mata merah? (Why are your eyes red?)” She asked, worried.
“Takde apa apa (It’s nothing).” Ahmad said. This was the first time a family member caught him red handed. A surge of panic arose.
“Dadah ke bang? (Is this drugs?)” Eja said.
“Tak. Along sakit. (No. I’m not well).” He said, trying not to burst into a panic mode. He fought it to remain calm.
“Jangan tipu! (Don’t lie!)” Eja said, getting extremely dramatic. And then she ran downstairs calling out for their father.
“Yah! Yah! Along hisap ganja! (Father! Father! Brother is doing weed!)”
That was the end of it. His father ran upstairs and found the stash hidden under the books and started bashing him.
His friends who were smoking by their bikes downstairs saw the commotion taking place from the window. Ahmad’s father’s voice bellowing from above. All of them started their engines and scrambled away.
Ahmad’s father called him an idiot and sent him to a religious school where he felt the boy could be led to a better path. His intentions were noble and honourable when Ahmad pondered about it now, reminiscing the old days.
That event led him to meet his Tok Guru (Teacher), Ustaz Raheem. Now, Ustaz was an extremely religious man. If there was a person whom Ahmad would label as a true Muslim, it was Tok Guru. And no one else.
Not even Ahmad himself.
The students in the school called him Tok Guru affectionately. He led their prayers, he taught them Islam, but most importantly, he had the wisdom to understand life extremely profoundly and imbibed the teachings of Islam perfectly well in everything that he did.
However, there were several factions among the elders running the place that grew jealous of the way the students loved Tok Guru.
They considered his teachings untrue as many things he applied to Islam was too radical. It did not play by book.
They would sit in heated debate and discussions, while Tok Guru rebutted them lovingly. He understood perfectly well why these men behaved in such a fashion.
“They just want to be accepted, Ahmad,” He said to Ahmad once when he had questioned him for being nice after hearing that Tok Guru, wisest men in the school, was kicked out for his beliefs.
The old man’s eyes twinkled with tears as he crouched before his most favorite student, the only one who questioned the most. Although initially his questions to Tok Guru were mostly out of anger, every question was treated with equal respect and intention, to learn and share, and that broke Ahmad and moulded him to someone who had the belief he was placed in this world for a great thing. And whatever it was, the Marijuana incident led him to this path.
Tok Guru held Ahmad’s hands as Ahmad’s eyes teared. “Allah is all I see, Ahmad. I’m in love. And so, I am not afraid. I wish you the best. Thank you, for teaching me too. Everything in life is a lesson to remind us to see Allah in all and everything. When you start seeing the world in the exact manner I’m seeing, you’ll understand.”
Too radical, the elders would say when Ahmad questioned them on their decision to kick out Tok Guru. Too.. Satanic.
How can a man who sees the only thing he loved most, Allah, in everything and yet be called a Kafir? The only emotion that truly represents Allah is Love. And that was what he saw oozing out from Tok Guru’s eyes.
Ahmad ran away one night when he couldn’t take it anymore.
He stayed in Kuala Lumpur for a month at his old friend’s house. Rafi too had experienced a similar event but less dramatic as Ahmad’s. He was rich, father being a manager in a well known bank.
The both met when they were fifteen at an illegal midnight race. Rafi had rolled in in a souped up Honda CRZ, music blaring loudly. The race began only to be ended a minute later when police rushed in after a tip off, their sirens blaring.
A car chase ensued. Rafi changed gears and stepped on the accelerator to avoid being nabbed.
In the midst of trying to get away, he lost control and hit a divider, sending his body flying out from the car. The rest of Ahmad’s buddies sped away out of fear, leading Ahmad, the only one remaining to rush towards Rafi’s mangled car. He found Rafi sprawled on the tar road, the street-light casting an orangey deathly hue on his face, wincing in pain. His eyes were closed as he moaned slowly trying to raise himself.
His leg was broken. His shoulder dislocated but thankfully, he was alive by some grace. Ahmad tried carrying him away but too late, the police arrived.
He got out from the prison after two days of intense questioning, courtesy of his father’s bail.
“Your rich friend did not bail you out. Your own father did.” His father said as the both of them got in the car.
“My rich friend is battling for his life in the hospital..” Ahmad said numbly.
Rafi got out from the hospital after a week and Ahmad spent the nights smoking joints in his room upstairs every night.
That was how the two grew even closer. As usual, as is the process of growing up, the two parted ways when Ahmad’s father sent him to the Madrasah after his sister had discovered what he was doing.
“I suppose we both are always misunderstood, huh?” Rafi said after Ahmad had related what had happened.
Rafi, who is much more intellectual than Ahmad but extremely rebellious, was already working in a firm his father had put him in.
“It is all for the sake of show,” Rafi summarised his father’s decision. “To avoid embarrassment. But I want to he an artist!” He showed his paintings.
“Do you know what my father said?”
“What?” Ahmad asked.
“He said it won’t make you happy. You won’t be rich he claimed.”
He sat down and stared at the paintings absent mindedly and then whispered, “I’m done being rich. There is more to life than riches and pleasure.”
Silence in the room. Ahmad observed Rafi who stroked his paintings. They were beautiful vivid images. It is amazing to see someone like Rafi doing something out of the ordinary like this.
“You see Ahmad, I may be rich, but I lack parental love. You are not well off, but despite your father being extremely strict, he still loves you.” He said as he took a puff of the joint and passed it to Ahmad.
“I would rather have parents who care than those who don’t really give a shit but pretend to. People need to be understood before they can choose to understand you.” He said as he zoned out, his head resting on the wall, his eyes closed.
That conversation brought Ahmad to his senses. The next day he returned home and decided to make something out of his life. Despite his father’s nagging, calling him a drug addict, one night two weeks after, Ahmad sat down with his father and said, “Ayah, Ahmad nak jadi cikgu, Ayah. (Father, I wish to be a teacher).”
His father, though taken aback from the sudden change, thought for a bit. He sighed and then remarked, “Cikgu tak ada kelakuan macam kamu tuh, Mat. Kalau nak jadi cikgu, kena tukar cara hidup tu. (Teachers don’t behave like you do. If you wish to become a teacher, you have to change your ways.)”
Ahmad nodded. His mind was made.
He joined a teacher’s college soon and mixed with everyone regardless they were Muslims or not. Tok Guru’s advice ringing in his ears, “We’re all works in progress. Students of Allah’s school of life. Always be curious and always question. Deep down, we’re all the same and one.”
He learnt from many of them about their beliefs with a pang to learn and not judge. Each person has a different opinion and take on life. The more he worked upon his goal to become a teacher, the more he learnt that everyone were teachers and students. No one was higher or lower.
Each one equal in their own unique ways.
“If we put everyone’s perspective about life and religion and spirituality together, we can form a big picture.” He said one day after returning a copy of the famous Hindu epic, Mahabharata to Krishnamalai.
“I enjoyed reading the Quran. In the end, devotion and a zest for life is all that is needed, as demonstrated by your Prophet so profoundly,” Krishnamalai said as he returned a copy of the Quran to Ahmad. Ofcourse, there were a handful of teaching students in the college who scorned what they did.
One of them was Hani, who wore a tudung and claimed to read the Quran diligently.
Once Ahmad chided her over a mamak session, “You do everything by the book. But don’t you see, the book is explaining something beyond it.”
“That’s un Islamic.”
“Islam is all about being a human being first and foremost.”
The conversation didn’t end on a good note. But for some reason, their disagreements brought them together.
“Why can’t you understand me for who I am, Hani? I can understand you because I was there once upon a time.” He said once after a heated argument about religion.
And that was how Hani became Ahmad’s wife five years later. They learnt to understand one another.
“I suppose this is what love is,” Hani said one day, holding Ahmad’s hands by the beach, the kids playing in the sand.
“Everything is love.” He gave her a peck on her forehead.
Applying his life into his student’s, in his eyes, Mr Ahmad viewed Rajiv as a student with immense capabilities. Huge potential just like every student.
He is just misunderstood.
Mr Ahmad stroked Rajiv’s head lovingly. “I was exactly in the same situation as you were.” Rajiv looked up at him.
“Never view such events as failures. It is all about perception, really.”
“I don’t get you.”
“Why label the river and say this is water and that is rock and owh this place is deep and that shallow!” He said, mimicking people. Rajiv laughed while wiping his tears.
“It is just the river. When life hits you, Rajiv, all you can really do is roll back and look up at the sky, enjoy the clouds and laugh it off.”
“Because that is how it is. And then you wake up and face it. Learn to love it. To enjoy every single moment regardless how good or bad they are. Your attention, is always focused in the Present. Because, really, this is all you’ve got.”
Their eyes met and Rajiv stared deep into his eyes. There was a change of air about the whole scenario.
“But I’m scared..” He mouthed.
“It’s a thought. You have to remember, thoughts will always be there. Acknowledge them as you acknowledge traffic on the roads. You know exactly when to cross after mastering your keen sense of perception. You know when to cross and when not to cross. And you don’t bother if a red car passed you or a blue car, or a van or a lorry. You know it’s there. But you pay no attention at them at all. Acknowledging. Life just passing through. And so, if thoughts can be treated the same way, life as we lead it can be way different. It starts to happen spontaneously. Like the rain. Like the sun that shines. Like the moon that illuminates the night. All natural happenings. You have no control over it. You just go with the flow.”
“But that way, life becomes meaningless doesn’t it?”
“Exactly,” Rajiv stared at Mr Ahmad in shock. What a thing to say and that too by a teacher!
“Truly, life has no meaning. But you have to create one yourself,” He said as he pointed at Rajiv’s heart.
“You have all the capabilities you need. Just need a change of mindset and you’ll be fine. You’ll soar like the hawk and I have all faith, trust and belief in you and you can and you will do it.”
Rajiv sat silently, taking in what Mr Ahmad had just said.
“What do you love doing most?” Mr Ahmad broke the silence.
“You can tell me. I won’t judge.” He smiled. The teenager rummaged through his bag and revealed a drawing pad.
In it were scribblings of all kinds. Some painted, some appearing psychedelic, some quirky. But it was art.
“Ahh an artist!” Mr Ahmad smiled, Rafi coming into his mind. He has become a well known painter leading a very simple life. Occasionally his work can be spotted in the underground art scenes. Rafi was contented. His life, meaningful.
“I see you do the Ganja,” Mr Ahmad smirked, as he sifted through the pieces.
“You’re clearly lying through your teeth. I did it too. In fact,” Mr Ahmad leaned closer and said, “I do it sometimes. Moderation is key,” He winked.
Rajiv laughed. “So it is not a drug huh?”
“They say it is a drug. I experimented and it is just like any other substance. It is all here.” He pointed to his head.
“The Mind has to be strong. My natural advice as a teacher would be to tell you to slow down if you’re taking it often. Become the master of the senses and the mind and always follow your real true Cikgu (teacher), your heart.”
“Owh yes. Life is deep. Which is why the first thing you have to do is plunge and see how deep it goes. Never settle for second hand opinions. Question everything. You’re a student and you have every right to question and experiment. But question to learn and better yourself. Not to put the other party down. Question to understand.”
Mr Ahmad smiled and said, “You’ll go far Rajiv. You will. Believe in yourself.”
A tear fell from Rajiv eye. “But why of everyone, only you believe in me? Why you?”
Mr Ahmad smiled and was reminded of Tok Guru.
“I see Allah in all, Rajiv. I see Allah in all. So yes, I have full belief in you,” He extended his hands to Rajiv’s. “If you want, I can help you. My time is dedicated to teaching. You can come over to my place, my wife makes excellent tea and kuih (cookies), we can sit eating and at the same time I can help you work not only on Mathematics, but everything else.”
The both of them shook on it.