The book Beyond Me, which is in the nature of an autobiography, is a panorama of personal details of the authors life, enlivened with views on wordly wisdom, rational philosophy and flashes of spirituality.
The Introduction part of the autobiography serves, as it were, an exposition of the rising action which follows, and the ultimate denouement of the whole plan of the story of life.
The author’s descriptions of his personal experiences, right from his childhood to adulthood and oldage are laced with his enviably rich imagination that enraptures the reader who remains glued to the book from cover to cover. A critic has defined poetry as “an imaginative handling of a natural fact’’ Prof Butt’s poetic prose comes very near this definition in so far as it is an imaginative handling of natural facts of his personal life as also the prismatic kaleidoscope of the world around him and in the inside of him.
It is noteworthy to mention that while narrating details about himself and those connected with him in the domestic sphere and other areas of his school, college and university education, he makes a drift and lets loose his teeming brain, and there gush out streams of myriad thoughts related to hard earthly materialism, profound spiritualism, rational and mystic philosophy down to earth wordly wisdom and more importantly ethical standards which keep together and lend meaning and grace to the socially desirable strands of the fabric of life. To make these ideas interestingly palatable, he makes use of poetic devices, such as similes and metaphors. At times he uses poetic licence of exaggeration to create the desired empathy in the reader.
As for his penchant for drift or digression, an instance may be quoted here. While talking about his childhood days, he is put in mind of Wordsworth’s belief that “child is the father of man’’. The line when placed in the context of the poem ‘My heart leaps up’ implies that the soul stirring and joyous impact of natural scenes experienced by an adult is to be traced to his childhood when a soulful impression aroused by nature remains embeded in the child’s mind. Later these impressions of unbounded Joy come to the fore in the adult. This way the child is the father (fore runner) of the serene and celestial delight experienced by the adults in nature’s company.
A very praiseworthy feature of the autography is the author’s candid treatment of the details of his personal pursuits and his encounters with the people around him. He openly reveals his weak points, his inner secrets, his weakness for fair sex, and lapses, in life. It is very easy to pick holes in someones coat, but very different, almost impossible, to pick holes in one’s own coat. He makes a clean breast of his drawbacks, and in this lies his greatness.
An impressive fact of the book is the confessions the author makes without any fear of exposure. His romantic forays he made, for instance, into his class rooms is a bold confession.
The autobiography ends on a melancholic note. The writer confesses that his life full of impassioned activities, is simply a waste-land of human endeavour. That he has utterly failed to achieve anything worthy of note echoes Shelley’s lyrical cry:
“I fall upon the thorns of life I bleed ‘’
For me the most interesting and evocative section of the book is the one titled ‘Degree College, Baramulla’ So I went through it, I went down the memory lane and there dazzled upon my minds eye, among other things, my close friendship with the writer Prof Abdul Gani Butt.
Prof. Butt’s sweet disposition, keen sense of wit, humour and satire, coupled with his stimulating discourses, made him the star attraction of the staff. His jokes, many of them invented on the spot, caused peals of laughter in the staffroom. A kindhearted person, always ready to help others, he endeared himself to all inside and outside the college.
As admitted by him, Prof. Gani was a lover of beauty, in whatever form beauty presented itself to him. It is said about John Keats, a romantic poet of England, that whenever he came across a beautiful object a rose for instance, his lips visibly quivered in ecstasy. Here, Prof Gani’s soul quivered at the sight of beautiful things. He gave himself up to the amorous ambience created, especially, by the irresistible fairies of the human hive. He felt immersed in the love pool of delight, and as long as the trance of ecstasy lasted, he felt that nothing existed except him and the lady he loved, much in the same way as the poet Donne’s Character lover exclaims :
“ All states she,
and all princes I
Nothing else is”
Prof. Butt claims that his loved ones never jumped the bounds of modesty, nor did he himself cross the limits of morality. A platonic way of love indeed this ! We have to trust him, for he was, essentially, a worshipper of beauty.
The author, as I understand him, was a firm beliver in the freedom of thought and expression. He would not have his soul shackled by any kind of obscurantism, nor his aspiration, for an atmosphere of unfettered breathing in and breathing out, thawarted.
As a free man, he, in consonance with his souls’ yearnings, would roam about and explore the invigorating scenes and sights of nature in mountain heights and thickly set forest trees and foilage. It gave him immense joy to go up the hills and down the dales in the company of his friends whom he regaled with his profound thoughts and jocular anecdotes.
Prof Butt loved music to a fault. He arranged musical programmes in the college, and patronized boys and girls who were skilled in the art of singing. He was an ardent lover of theatrical performances. How with great feeling he recalls two students, Bashir Sofi and Mohd Maqbool who under his guidance made presentations of side-splitting skits on the stage. As convener of the cultural committee, he presented commendable programmes on special occasions. Politics was not his forte. He simply walked on the peripheries of political fields, though, at times, he engaged his collegues in lively discussions on political subjects.
Time ticked off Things changed Prof Butt’s new phase of life commenced. His multifaceted and colourful personality came under an eclipsing cloud soon after he joined Degree College, Sopore, for the second time. It happened that I incidentally joined him after sometime, and got a chance to observe him and his ways at close quarters. The choking atmosphere in the changed environment was diametrically opposed to the free atmosphere that existed in the Degree College, Baramulla. Free thought and free expression seemed to be alien to the exclusive relegio political narrative. Gone were the days of Prof Gani’s romantic rambling and excursions into the domains of unshackled thought and expression. Musical concerts, theatrical presentations, joucular episodes, and the like, diasappeared like Charles Lambs ‘dream children’.
Priorities began to change, and there came a time when this happy go lucky man joined hands with the votaries of aazadi who discussed only Islamic tenets and politics of their choosing in the college campus. I watched the winds of change that wafted away my friend to new clinics. May be, he felt he had changed for the better and become wiser. Relativism definitely plays a role in the affairs of men. In due course of time Prof Gani, popularly known as Gan Saab, joined Muslim Front and later became the President of Muslim Conference, which became a part of the newly formed All Party Hurriyat Conference. Thus he wrapped himself up in the separatist ideology. The rest is history.
After decades of varied experiences, the author gives vent to his feeling of dismay and dejection. He regrets that he has frittered away his energy in pursuing objectives of no import, when, instead, he could have channelized it in a desirable direction to become an achiever with a difference. His problem was that he did this, that and the other, by turns. He lived life in pieces, and in the vein of TS Eliots lament, he measured his life with ‘Coffee spoons’. He mourns that he did not choose an ideal path and fix his gaze on it with blinkers on, without looking side-ways, and marched on till the goal was reached.
He confesses with sorrow and shock that languishing in lethargy, he could not dive deep into the ocean of life, replete with pearls of knowledge and wisdom, and strive to ferret out some of these jewels, which could have catapulted him into the pinnacles of glory. Such dreams of pearls thus remained unanswered and so remained beyond him.
Prof. Butt holds his lethargy responsible for his failures in life. One wonders how lethargy crept in. There were absolutely no signs of it in Baramula where he was full of vivacity, dynamism and adventure. Was it a later development ?
The writer seems to be disenchanted with his past pursuits in life. So these include his political pursuits too, if one may ask.