The Mystique of ‘M’
All in all, any conventional approach to force-fit him into a stereotype is futile. If external symbols alone are sufficient to evaluate a person, then he can be described as a fairly well-off (a car and a decent house) householder with a teacher-wife and two children, sophisticatedly modern in appearance and behavior, well-groomed silvery hair, clean-shaven face, dressed in socially acceptable conventions—in short, a man who has savoir vivre—and finally, a Muslim by birth, who is as much at home with the Quran as with the Hindu scriptures and the Bible. None of these can, individually or even collectively, mark him out to be any different; even his profound knowledge of scriptures other than his own does not invest him with uniqueness—Catholicism in scriptural scholarship is almost commonplace. There are many others of different persuasions who are equally scholarly, if not more.
Then, where lies the difference? Perhaps the only expression that can come closer to describing his charisma is the French expression je ne sais quoi, an indefinable something. Having said that, one retreats from further exploration into the mystique that is Mumtaz Ali, or as he personally prefers to be called, ‘M’. If there is, in this preference, an attempt at emulating Franz Kafka Whose protagonist K in the novel, The Trial, is so anonymous and mysterious as to defeat any deterministic slotting, it is not in M, conscious or discernible. Nor is he appropriating for himself the fame of the great chronicler of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa’s life, M. Nor is it a wish to relinquish his name, Mumtaz, whose gender bias is obvious—in fact, he is not ashamed of it and he may even tell you about the hilarious consequences that his name evoked in the life of a couple of his married friends. His choice is another way of self-effacement that he exhibits in his various unobtrusive actions. To parody Gertrude Stein of “A rose is a rose” fame, M is M and it is by that letter that he will be referred to in the rest of this sketch.