Posted: Tue Jun 23, 2015 10:56 am Post subject: Meet Jehangir Saleh, every teacher’s dream student: Mallick
Jehangir Saleh was only 28 when he died in 2013 of cystic fibrosis.
By: Heather Mallick Columnist, Published on Sun Jun 14 2015
Every classroom has one, as every teacher knows. There is always one thoroughly brilliant student whose reading is so extensive and arguments so elegant that the teacher concedes defeat and makes plans to quietly learn from the student.
Jehangir Saleh was mine. In 2009 I was teaching a writing course at Ryerson University and on my first day was struck by his intelligence and generosity to others, including me, flailing at 8 a.m. at describing the concept of critical journalism.
Jehangir was only 28 when he died in 2013 of cystic fibrosis, drowning in the cement-like bacteria-thick mucus that his lungs produced.
He was born with the illness, he told me about it the day I met him and yet I continued with my stubborn ever-stupid denial. No one dies, ergo I won’t die, my father who is dead did not die, and Jehangir will continue not dying.
It would be wrong to write about him solely in terms of his illness. He lived so gracefully. I have the quick notes I took on the students as they introduced themselves that morning so that I could memorize their names.
“Jehangir Saleh: handsome, philosophy, cold basement-draft from cellar-cold fingers, siblings, Leonard Cohen, Bukowski, ‘accept my poverty and live happily’.”
He was fascinating himself and deeply interested in others. His family were Ismaili Muslims who, with help from the Aga Khan and the Trudeau family, had left Tanzania after punitive nationalization, and now operated successful businesses in Toronto.
His beautiful sister Jasmine, 23, told me over lunch recently that Jehangir found it difficult to keep up in gym class, lacking the requisite oxygen, and was bullied a little.
One day on the subway, they ran into a friend of Jehangir’s. They high-fived.
“Who was that?” Jasmine asked him.
“My bully in high school.”
Jehangir was born to write; even his academic work was personable. “You can hear his voice in his writing,” Jasmine said and I agree. In his blog, he tried to explain what living with a chronic illness was like, with three hours of treatment just to start the day: “It feels a bit like mopping a floor. The floor gets dirty, so you mop it up. The next day, the floor is dirty again: you mop it up. You’re never going to, once and for all, mop the floor.”
Jehangir’s mind was so agile that it took historical and logical questions like a steeplechase. But his body was beyond his control. Had he not been ill, he would have been a perfect politician, always at ease, open to all people, or a legendary professor, always helping students over the turnstile.
We used to meet for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. Later I’d visit him in his room-cave at St. Michael’s Hospital where the CF patients are clustered, and where he had frequently stayed since age 18. It was clearly a hospital zone, but dormlike and friendly, the staff relaxed and warm.
He studied philosophy, reading Slavoj Zizek, Nietzsche, and above all, Hegel, and I gave him Clive James’ elegiac survey course of a book, Cultural Amnesia. And we’d talk and talk over tea until it was clear he was tiring. His skin was so grey that he looked like fog itself.
I learned later that he had times of deep depression but I never saw them. He approached both exterior events and interior feelings rationally. Such people are magnetic to those who are less calm. He was an inviter, holding talent shows at the hospital and asking people online to decide what they’d do “if they were dying tomorrow,” and then help them do it. The results were never drab.
He told me about his date with a woman who had CF, but since patients may be especially infectious to other patients, he had to sit on a bar stool 11 feet away from her. He was wry and dry about it.
Ryerson University has set up the Jehangir Saleh Annual Lecture Series in his honour, to explore, among other things, “the meaning of chronic illness and disability, the social framing of illness as hardship, the human significance of adversity in all forms.”
This fall, the first lecture will be given by Havi Carel, senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Bristol, on “The Art of Wellbeing.”
It is hoping to raise money for a $100,000 endowment fund, and has already reached more than a quarter of its goal. I have donated, and encourage you to do so too, in memory of this gentle, gifted person.
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