Role Models, Mentors & Leaders.
“You cannot teach that which you donot know or that which you did not experience”.
Children take their heroes seriously and in many ways in the adult life they still look back on their heroes because it was their moment of truth. Imran Khan was that hero for me all because I played the sport he did and that was cricket. There was a significant part of my appearance that in some characteristic way resembled him and not out of mere imitation. It was my less bouffant hairstyle where the back flowed below the collar but, not like the mane of Imran Khan. Long, graceful but fashionably unkempt hair was the fashion at the time. It still had that gentleman feel and look which made me feel like him more so because, I played cricket. In my life, back then role models and heroes were idolised in a different way because, social media was not in existence. However, in many ways then and now, sportspersons, celebrities and politicians are deified and given importance over personal life choices in favour of their hero, role model, mentor and actor/actress. Little do we realise the heroes live very close to us but, we are oblivious of it.
Imran Khan. The Hero, the Cricketer, the Celebrity, the Politician the Prime Minister.
A hero, a lover of cricket, a soccer player, a confident batsman, a captain, a stalwart against Apartheid, an activist and a great story teller lived with us in Roshnee and he was called to Allah, the Eternal on 8 February 2021. Uncle Iqbal Saley whom we called Uncle Stanley or Pappa Stan. When he spoke of Imran Khan’s prowess on the cricket field, it was like he met him or that Imran Khan met him or, when he spoke of Basil D’Oliveira it was like they were in the same team. When he gathered us around to talk about the Muslim Brotherhood’s campaign of resistance against the oppressors it was a moving rhetoric that enraptured our souls so much so that we began to resist Apartheid in our own characteristic ways. This was the hero in our town who we adored because, he brought the likes of Imran Khan to life for the love of cricket, made the struggles of the Muslim Brotherhood real for us to become activists and; he mentored us on life only to teach us that life is tough and its the tough that will leave legacies.
The legacy of Imran Khan is superbly captured by Christopher Sanford in his biography and one wonders how will one write a biography of Pappa Stan. It is achievable I believe. This is how my good friend, Ahmed Gora a one time soccer star playing for Sundowns writes of Pappa Stan on his facebook page:
Pappa Stan Saley… he mattered!
“In my youth, of many moons ago, there were things that mattered and some that would come to matter. School was important. So was sport and all games. Any game that included a ball especially soccer was important. Excelling at sport meant acceptance and acknowledgment amongst our peers. Anybody that shared in these matters so highly valued, mattered. Those precious individuals who sacrifice their time will always matter…Always. They become indelibly etched in our psyche. Forever. In our busied lives we forget about them. So we think. But they’re relentless, (these selfless humans) always lurking and waiting to announce themselves…..like words stored in a passive vocabulary, waiting to be summoned.…
Whilst soccer had always mattered, politics came to matter in 1984 when you managed us at VOB. Troubled and conflicted we turned to you. You taught us the values of justice and fairness. Stand up for those who are being wronged…Ahmed Timol and Steve Biko were two heroes you spoke about then. We speak about them still. You gave us the courage to choose justice over convenience. Your stories so dramatic and eloquently told. We hung on to every word. Walking out of class as head prefect in 1984 in protest of the Tricameral parliament was the defining moment in my school life. It didn’t change much but it changed me. You started it with Al-Ikwan and reinforced it at VOB. And to you Pappa Stan, I say thank you once again. You made sense of things that came to matter…”
PAPPA STAN. Legends have it in their eyes and stature. He had that.
My teeming brain filled with memories of a man I learnt great life lessons from was suddenly clasped with writer’s block all because, I realised that in my midst he was the Superman. In his old age, Pappa Stan suffered hearing loss and other terminal illnesses but, his enthusiasm for life was abound with confidence. I was searching the archives of my memory bank to word out my growth under Pappa Stan as a young boy under his charges in the cricket team called Vaal United, only to be jolted with a startling eulogy of Pappa Stan by my very astute elder brother Ebrahim. He wrote a post on a widely acclaimed WhatsApp group, News & Views, which for me, was a legacy written in the golden thread of authentic anecdotes of personal greatness. Ebrahim Sujee wrote:
“Who was he? A man who dedicated his time to people sports and upliftment of people. His love for sport was not just to participate rather to allow individuals to be part of sport. He sacrificed family time to ensure that youth were active in playing sport. Uncle Stanley Saley was that man.
He was forthright but just. He was competitive but fair and hated injustice. He spoke for hours but also listened compassionately to all without prejudice. Fearless in his pursuit to do what was correct; affectionate to those that were downtrodden. A man who was never rich but whose heart was generous and who gave from what he had…His friends speak of his cricket days and reminisce about how hard and far he could hit a cricket ball. He inspired a few os to read the Book ROOTS to understand how people were oppressed because of colour. He was always ready to help or sought help for a soul in need of comforting. His home was always open to people friends and family…”
One would imagine that his death would cover our community with a sepulchral atmosphere. Nay! it gave us hope to realise the unsung heroes among us who have taught and are still teaching us life lessons to be benefactors of humanity. All this made my pensive indulgence rather desultory because, I started writing about Imran Khan as my hero then, it became infused with the Pappa Stan and it jumped to another hero and another because, I live by the motto: “Don’t put orchids on my grave; give them to me while I am alive so I can thank you and glorify Allah in the presence of its beauty.” As the words filled this space my other local heroes grabbed the emptiness.
Dr.Akeel Thokan for me personifies service to humanity and; his aid Mr.Cassim personifies the servant of the people. Put the two together and you have an army that the likes of Dr.Imtiaaz Suliman of Gift of the Givers, will cherish like his moment of truth with his Sheikh in Turkey that inspired his life goal. Dr.Akeel, this remarkable man who has given his life to assisting people and making us aware of what life is all about is timeless. When in his presence, he tells you of plight of humanity in war ravaged countries it envelopes you. You realise with your heart, wealth and time the need to uplift the weak, downtrodden and those ravaged by war and oppression. His presence has that effect on you. Mr.Cassim would then come in and take action with such munificence that it would accrue the desired objective. The jovial two, in my mind like Tin Tin and the Captain always out on adventure to help, to guide and to uncover more people in need of help is an image of spiritual hope indelible in my mind. Their esteemed bravura of service gives the esteemed men the courage to manage, administer and lead the Roshnee Neighbourhood Watch and all its vaunted social services and outreach programmes including the COVID Rapid Response Team. One has to understand that the building blocks of these refined organisations have their roots in the young men and women that were fortunate to be mentored by the duo such that today, their organisations fructify society as a whole.
The whole of Roshnee in some way or the other know these two men and today, 10 February 2021, when their colleague, Dr. Riaz Patel passed away one could sense their immense grief. Now Dr. Riaz was this gentleman of note who served the poorest of the poor in Evaton and did his service such that the right hand did not know what the left hand did. At the funeral the accolades overflowed and turned grief into hope once again because, his life ended like a martyr like that of Pappa Stan. Islam teaches us that person who dies due to suffering the illness of a pandemic or epidemic dies as a martyr. It dawned upon me that this is how martyrs are celebrated – their death is not a death rather, it is a life that you must take note of because it will take you out of narrow confines of this ephemeral worldly existence and will transcend you into the limitless realm of Allah’s Magnificence. In the mix of this I am suddenly drawn to the memory of Late Uncle Baboo Cajee who was an ANC member of the Armed Wing i.e. Umkhonto wi Sizwe. I am still enthralled by his stories of the struggle and how he went underground to the then USSR to learn covert guerrilla warfare. His trademark story was how he was trained in dismantling an AK-47 and putting in together amongst other sabotage techniques. Wow! Apartheid claimed lives oppressively and tragically too. What a man in Uncle Baboo Cajee. The COVID – 19 pandemic is claiming lives and giving martyrdom to the fortunate who do not live carelessly with the pandemic but, with deep sincerity carry on serving and making lives better for everyone else.
I was a victim of the COVID-19. My wife and I were both infected and it impelled us to 33 days in self-isolation. The infection was tough on both of us and it me for a six. It brought me to the edge of death in a manner of speaking because, I was left catatonic for days and; in the days of pain and misery the death knell sounded for many around me and hundreds more beyond the borders of Roshnee pushing me into despair and hopelessness. These messages and death knells put me into a mental sarcophagus where despair became my ‘friend’ that helped me fill the overarching tomb with absurd and horrible thoughts enmeshed with weird mind games. Without heroes around you will make despair your hero. It was the Roshnee COVID Rapid Response Team that came to my aid and hauled me out from the abyss of depression and hopelessness as carefully as how trapped miners are rescued from collapsed shafts. These are the heroes that are the supermen and superwomen building societies and spreading peace of mind, heart and soul.
Our hearts and souls are connected with those who built our character and shaped our world view and in countless examples, they are the people we encounter in our daily life. My daily life as a growing kid, I loved cricket, appreciated the discipline of karate, enjoyed the thrill of riding my bike, enjoyed playing tennis and fell in love with reading. I attempted to do all at a level above the norm and so it was that I came under the mentoring of Afzil Saloojee. He taught me the finer arts of batting, bowling and fielding and spurred me on to be the club’s secretary which was a great feat. I handled it with sureness because, earlier at age 12, Uncle Hamid Monga made me the secretary of our soccer club, Man United which then changed to Restons to keep my late father’s legacy alive. Uncle Hamid is just an awesome man to this day who taught us honesty and integrity. He refused to register us as U/15 because of one elder boy in the team. As U/15s playing in the U/17 league we lost with rugby scores but, he told us to carry one because rules are rules. Uncle Afzil too, would arrange games and taught me how to read the cricket game and I cannot forget how he introduced me to the late Dr.Asvat and made me attend the high level meetings in Indian cricket at the time. These heroes taught me the value of self-sacrifice and service to humanity particularly service to the young and vulnerable. Today, we have a cricket indoor centre which is testimony to Uncle Afzil’s passion for his craft and like that, there are hundreds of heroes around us who have established great ventures but, we only notice it when they leave the world. It is the calling of this pensive indulgence to invite comment on legends in your community and perhaps inspire you to write about the Supermen and Superwomen in your community.
The elders of our community appear to have had a strategy for all their endeavours from establishing mosques, madressah, day clinics, welfare groups and more despite not having the trappings of university degrees and the likes. In fact, they socially engineered society so that today we have the infrastructure to continue new ventures. I cannot forget late Majid Badat who laid the foundations of impressive security system we have in Roshnee coupled with the efficient burial committee that has set national standards of excellence. The team behind the scenes of RNW, the Zakaat Fund, VMWF, Roshnee Utilities Group and more speaks volumes of heroes who toil night and day for humanity’s benefit. This kind of work is not a sinecure. It is a sacrifice of personal health, wealth and time and no financial reimbursement of any kind. I sometimes think how efficient and corruption free our municipalities will be if these people man the finances there as well. It will be a different scenario to what we see and experience today.
Today, I feel overwhelmed by the heroes that have shaped my life and I cannot fathom my life without their guidance and mentoring. In my reading of Imran Khan’s biography by Christoper Sandford, I learnt that Imran Khan too found his heroes amongst his own community and made an effort to find mentors who would guide him from batting to refinement of speech. His leadership that he established on the cricket field was the practice pitch for his leadership style as Prime Minister of Pakistan. It is rather a pleasant realisation that Imran Khan too, did not deify Hollywood and Bollywood stars but, looked within the domain of his circle of concern and circle of influence to learn, to grow and to lead. Look into your own life and witness for your own soul how you look more like the stars on all ‘hoods’ and not like the genuine unique self Allah, the Fashioner, designed you to be. You are probably a lookalike, a botox beauty, an ardent imitator or follower of a celebrity. You could also be an imitation of a made up character of a movie. You could all this or nothing, if you have not looked around within your immediate circle to find a role model or a mentor to find the calling of your soul and life goal. Great are the people in character and life who have taken Muhammad ﷺ as their celebrity, their role model, their leader and mentor because many of the heroes around you have done that and today they have become legends. Be the legend not the imitation of a Hollywood or Bollywood star who, like distant stars, in galaxies above us, die and become a blackhole and then nothing again. It is your life, live it. Be the Superman in your own way because, when you fly, the Avengers will give way as you are not man-made but, Allah guided and fashioned.