Sunday Ramblings: Ali, Are you Ok?

I met Ali in 2010 sometime. I was semi-nervous (semi-stoned) at my new job at this magazine, and he was the Ali Imran K that I had heard so much about from a common friend. He was also the Ali Imran K who had a monthly column in August Man; Ali, are you ok?, where he spoke of the traffic, pulling cats from under cars, dysfunctional families and all things normal.

We were standing outside the office, waiting for the key bearer of the office to arrive, I trotted off to use the toilets and returned to the lobby to find that YAY, the office doors were now open, but ERM, my belongings have disappeared.

It was a good thing I did not panic too much, for Ali had kindly taken them inside and placed them on my seat. I became a fan of Ali then. And we hit it off, beginning a string of McD breakfast rendezvous and many shared coffees, honey and afternoon tea.

I still am a fan of Ali’s. We shared musings, and idealist yearnings, and the feeling of just wanting to be out there, “free”. Later that year, Ali did it. He did. He gathered his hard-earned savings, and sold his car, left and went off to do things we had always said we wanted to do. And then, of course, he wrote a book. He inspired me, and he still does.

I shan’t ramble on too much, because as I had promised last week, I have him here with us, and he has some pretty cool things to say:

Your book begins with a friend, shoes left on the porch and dealing with yourself. In that first chapter you said something like “you fleet from friend to friend until you have exhausted all options and the only person left is yourself.” 

When was the moment you realised that you had exhausted all options? How did that feel?

Literally, when there was no one else around. I grew up with a close group of friends and we do almost everything together. But ‘life’ happened and they all moved along with it. I was very dependent on them, so when they got on with their lives, I didn’t know what to do. I suppose, somebody with a strong sense of identity would go about their own ways, with or without friends, but I didn’t know who that person was, so I felt really lost.

I know you probably get asked this a lot, but why surfing? Had you surfed before that?

I have no idea. I think I saw it somewhere and I thought, “hey, that looks like fun”. And now I finally have my own attention and time, so I thought, do whatever it is that you want to do. So I did. I went surfing.

Would you be able to retell your first encounter with the waves?

Daunting. I think it must have only been a 3-footer at most, but at the time, it was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen. What I remember distinctively though was actually standing on my board for the first time on a moving body of water. I went with two other people who were learning as well, but they gave up mid-way. I, however, just wanted to keep going! I was addicted to it! It was a beautiful sunset in Padang when I finally called it a day and I remember asking myself “What have you been wasting your time on all this while Ali?”

And how about the last time you surfed? 

I’m no longer afraid of a 3-footer, I can tell you that! haha.

The ocean never ceases to amaze me. It is one of the only sport (if you want to call it that) in the world, I think, that is entirely dependent on nature. No waves, no surf. I suppose that’s why a lot of surfers feel such an affinity to nature and God. I was in a remote corner of Java the last time I surfed- takes nine hours by car from Bandung, small unpaved road, hardly any reception but it was my idea of perfect Indonesian bliss. I still bid a Salam to God whenever I enter the water because I feel that I’m entering his realm and that He could easily crush you if He wanted to.

Does it get any different?

Everytime. My heart beats rapidly when I see surf-able waves, almost as if it was my first time surfing again. I never get tired of it. If I could bring food with me up in the lineup, I’d stay there the whole day! My own approach to surfing has always been about having fun, so good wave, bad wave, I’m out there, most of the times with a couple of friends, laughing, joking, exchanging pleasantries. That’s when it gets truly magical.

Chasing Ghazali is a lot about finding yourself, is it?

I don’t quite favour the term “finding yourself”, mainly because it sounds a bit like a self-help book. (Haha) But I suppose it is, in many ways. Though if I were to describe it, I’d just say that this is a story about my travels and the lessons I have learnt from it.

Who is Ghazali? And why were you chasing him?

Ghazali refers to Imam Al-Ghazali, a prominent Muslim philosopher who lived a long, long time ago. Somewhere in 1065 he went through a spiritual crisis which led him to question his own life. So he went away for a while, leaving his family behind to find answers. In his solitude, he managed to write his most prolific work called Ihya-Ulumuddin, spanning an amazing 6000 pgs. I would never amount to his degree of intelligence yet I like to think that we share a small similarity in that both of us, we’re searching for something. I deliberately chose ‘Chasing’ in my title because I don’t think I could ever live to be the great man that he was, I was merely following his trail or parts of it. He inspired me, and sometimes I feel throughout the course of my travels, he was always there, nudging me to move forward to seek out my own revelations as he did with his.

Tell us a little bit about the journey you went through writing the book. How did you begin?

Gosh, I just sat down and did it. I’m not sure if you’re meant to devise a plan before you write, but I sure as hell didn’t. I just wrote my observations, whenever that happened. Sometimes I could go on for days and days without writing a single word because it just would not come out, no matter how hard I tried to force it. I think, for me at least, when you feel strongly about a certain topic, the words just comes easier. It wasn’t up till the 60th page that I realised that I had to finish this, no matter how slow or painful the process was, because that’s just what I do. This is the only thing I know that I have remotely any talent in, even when nothing else in my life shows any sign of promise.

Has the journey helped you? How?

More than I initially envisioned.

I thought I’d just go gallivanting and build my skills as a surfer and that would be the end of it. But I learned so much about myself from this trip that there are no words to describe how incredibly indebted i am to it.

It has helped me realize that you can do anything you want to if you just put your mind to it. Sometimes we make excuses for ourselves, which stops us from getting what we really want out of life. If you want something, do it, and stop caring about what other people think of you because the only person you have anything to prove to is yourself.

You probably had a little something-something to say about friendship – could you tell us some of the thoughts you had come to about that?

Friends are important to give you a sense of belonging. True friends, will always touch base with you no matter how evolved your lives may be. But the most important person that you should really be comfortable with, is yourself. If you are happy with you then no matter who comes or goes in your life, you always have you to fall back on.

What was the most important take-away from the journey?

That I’m much more resilient than I give myself credit for. I mean, those Indian toilets can be rather nasty. (Haha)

No but seriously, I realise that we all have choices. None of us are ever stuck in anything. If you are unhappy about something in your life, change it. If you want something so badly, you will find a way.

I also learned that it actually takes very little to be happy and that it is achievable. Knowing yourself has a lot to do with it.

How did you get to that point?

I just surrendered to whatever. I kept an open mind while traveling and let God handle the rest. I learned to let go trying to control everything in my life and accepted some things about myself that I cannot change. Acknowledged it and then started the journey towards inciting happy from within me.

How did it feel coming home?

Strange, yet I knew it was time. I needed to finish my book as well and I knew I could only do that if I was at home with my family. Admittedly, it would have been nice to still be in Bali, but I have no regrets whatsoever because I believe everything happens for a reason.

And finally, Ali, are you ok?

I’d like to think so (smiles). Alhamdulillah

Chasing Ghazali is available on Amazon. The official launch will be taking place at 6-8pm on the 7th July (or the 30th June- to be confirmed) at Mollydookers Coffee Bar, Damansara Heights.

Also our first Readings will be held on Thursday 14th, 8pm at the Red Beanbag, Publika so for those who are in Kuala Lumpur, do drop by!

I have managed to strike up some conversation with The Girl in The Hat, and will share some of it with you all next week!

Thanks for tuning in, and have a great week ahead!