Remembering Max Babi
Max Babi was an Indian poet who was born in Cambay (Khambhat), a city in central Gujarat. He was born into an ex-royal family of Junagarh and Radhanpur and grew up mainly at Baroda (now Vadodara) under the loving care of missionary Jesuits at Rosary High School. His mother tongue is Urdu, but by age twelve he had mastered English, being completely self-taught. Seven years of NCC-Air Wing, marching, camps and a court martial could not remove his slouch, nor his Gandhian values. He learned flying but gave it up, since he found aero-engines more fascinating. He qualified as a metallurgist but slipped into plasma technology. He dabbled in journalism as well as writing fiction and poetry.
Here is an obituary written by Kerala Varma, a friend and mentor of mine.
Max (Mushtaque Ali Khan Babi), a close friend and a huge presence in my life in the last ten years, breathed his last this morning. He was a metallurgist, plasma technologist, advanced surface engineer, trainer, writer, translator, poet, jazz critic, Indian classical music connoisseur…all rolled into one – an incredible one. He was at home in English, Urdu, Hindi and Gujarati. There’s no way I’ll ever stop missing him.
vohi raaste hain
sehmese aur khamosh
vohi chaurahepe umadti bheed
vohi besabar kadmonka musalsal safar
vohi rooh dabochti raftaar
samundarki gehri sansoka karobaar aur
retka bezubaan sustana bhi vaisa hi hai
buss, aapki kilkilaahat nahin
dilke gumbaz mein aahat nahin
zindagike jalse mein daavat nahin
The roads, embarrassed and silent, are the same.
The same billowing crowds jostle at the crossroads
The same impatient steps in unceasing motion
There’s no change in the inhaling and exhaling by the ocean and the silent lazing around by sand
What is missing is your thrilling laughter
The resounding absence of your light footsteps in the dome of my heart
And an invitation to the celebration called life.
Max was a friend. He promised to visit me “darken your door” as he said, many times, but, unfortunately he is no more, will not darken my door, ever. He died this week. The Facebook was full of tributes to him one day, and the next day there was nothing. So, I am writing this to keep his memory alive, to list some of his talents, so that Max is not forgotten. However, I forgive him for not darkening my door.
Max was a multi-faceted person. Plasma technologist, engineer, professor, poet, writer of humourous prose, jazz enthusiast, translator, sufi poet, much more. I don’t know how to classify his varied interests and preoccupations. Only God, with whom he is now, knows how he managed to keep doing all these.
During the early days of the online writer’s forum caferati, he would organise meetings in Pune, and visit meetings in Bombay. He had keen interest in building communities and succeeded in his attempts to some extent. It was during these meetings that our acquaintance grew into friendship. He said my talent was underestimated. (I was flattered by this and many more kind comments he made on my poems, short stories, and other literary output.)
It’s a big loss to me. He would take pains to comment on Facebook and I would reciprocate. Though he lived in Pune, we kept in touch. We called each other “word warriors.” I heard he had a bypass surgery and things weren’t too good after that. I also had my health problems. I am managing to keep alive with yoga, meditation, and long walks. I don’t know how Max didn’t resort to any of these remedies, let alone succumb to his illness.
We had many things in common. We discussed them. His writing was humourous in the extreme, and were it not for the services of a good editor who could put it in a semblance of order, he would have been published. I was too busy with my own work to help him out. Despite his overweening talent, all he has published is a collection of poetry. That’s a sad reflection of the literary community’s loss. I love Jazz but I am not as much proficient as him in its appreciation. Only now have I seen a TEDx talk by him about serendipity and realise what a good talker he is. He has a natural style, all his own.
Many facets about him were not known. He was cousin of yesteryear’s film star Parveen Babi, whose death devastated him. He belonged to the royal family of the Babis of Junagadh, the pathans who came to India as vassals of Humayun.
I have drawn the above sketch, my tribute to my friend. Friend, wherever you are be the kind soul you are, be yourself and spread love and kindness around you. R.I.P. Max Babi.
And here is his TED Talk on Serendipity.
Mushtaque Ali Khan Babi also known as Max Babi, is a metallurgist with 40 years in plasma technology.
He has published more than 640 technical articles in industry magazines, delivered more than 120 talks and carried out workshops, half-day duration to 10-day long courses. He is a Life Member of 6 learned societies, and a visiting faculty to several teaching institutions and corporate bodies.
More than 30 of his short stories have been accepted by the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, two stories have been converted to plays and performed at Pune by theatre groups.
His passions include reading, writing, Trans-creations from Indian languages to English, plasma, serendipity and related phenomena, astronomy, travel and making friends who share similar cosmopolitan and liberal values.