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Abhay Aima (1961-2024) | Markets, Music and Mysticism

The mast malang of the markets was admired by peers, respected by mentees and loved by those whose path he crossed
12:41 AM Apr 29, 2024 IST | Haseeb Drabu
abhay aima  1961 2024    markets  music and mysticism

Our salutations to each other, in person accompanied by a bear hug, and when on the phone accompanied by a guffaw, are unprintable. The same obscenities exchanged with the same emotion, intent, and intensity for decades. We would caricature the way Kashmiris speak Urdu and English.


It was perhaps our way of reminding ourselves of our roots, and reassuring that nothing much had changed. Or even if it had, it had somehow bypassed us. In a sense, we had cocooned ourselves so as to not either face nor accept the many changes in and around our lives.


It provided me, perhaps him too, a space where we refused to grow up. The small joys of life, the carefreeness of school, recklessness of teenagers, and the irreverence of youth was what our interaction was all about.


We would make light of issues that divided communities and questioned the right of people to represent us. It helped us in overcoming personal tragedies and professional setbacks.


We fancied ourselves as “Ghareeb Kashmiris” in the big bad financial world of Mumbai. I was running a financial daily and he was, not far from my office, running a financial business. Many years later, when I was heading the J&K Bank and he was running the wealth management business of HDFC Bank, his boss for over 25 years, Aditya Puri, would call us the Kashmiri Mafia. Our banter had served its purpose: to retain and assert our identity as Kashmiris. That was the glue till the last date.


Despite having lived almost all his life outside Kashmir, he retained three non-negotiables for qualifying as a Kashmiri; first the language. Abhay spoke the language fluently and flawlessly, with cuss words to boot. Second, the love for the land.


He would come every year and spend a month at the Nehru’s Hotel on Boulevard and later at Yasin Tomar’s newly build houseboat at Nigeen. He was rich enough to afford the fanciest but chose to stay there because he was a friend. Third, ethnicity ended at being Kashmiri. They were no sub-categories, whatsoever.


Which is exactly why he was indulgent with even those with a separatist ideology; for him, they were after all Kashmiris. I remember telling him about some people he was associating with were Ikhwanis. But he resolutely avoided looking at any binary beyond Kashmiri.

To be so in a ruptured civil society of the valley required not just conviction but also faith that transcends religious boundaries. It is here that the man who was a respected market player with unique insights, sought refuge in music. Over the last ten years or so, he got heavily into Sufi music. He would host young artists and promote them in small mehfils at his home in Bandra or in Goa where he used to spend quite a lot of time, of late.

Some of his love for music was in his genes as his uncle Mohan Lal Aima, was a fabled musician of Kashmir, popularly known as “Mohane Chakker”, a leading exponent and propagator of the musical form of Chakkre that he was. Abhay once gave me a handwritten article by his uncle on the language and music of Kashmir. He felt I would use it better.

Aima grew up in Mumbai and Srinagar in his early years. His father, Omkar Nath Aima, was a Bollywood actor, a good-looking man who resembled Balraj Sahni, who starred in the first and only Kashmiri feature film, Maenz Raat (Mehndi Raat).

His mother was a schoolteacher. They lived in Batmaloo, an area closer to downtown in sensibility but geographically closer to the upmarket residential areas. Batmaloo defined his outlook and approach to life; intertwined community life, extremely social, with a practical instinct to survive.

At school, his best friend was Jahangir Shafi, a neighbour. We were school mates at Burn Hall during the late sixties and early seventies. He then left to join the National Defence Academy, a rather unlikely choice given his nickname in school, “Gaeb” (ewe lamb), given to him by a school bully, Talib.

Abhay lived in many realms. As a market guy who rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty. Be it an Amitabh Jhunjhunwala or a Madhu Kela or a Hemanta Kothari. He was respected and regarded. He knew and operated in the bowels of the stock markets. I would often ask him for stock-tips, but he would never give any! The only time he told me to invest after he had himself invested, turned out to be a dud. And I never let him forget that.

I was awed by his knowledge of the stock markets, and he took my take on the macro-economy seriously. I got him to write a weekly column for Business Standard when I was the Resident Editor but it didn’t last long. I think he wrote about five odd columns. He was not in the habit of intellectualising issues. He was far too practical for that. Where Abhay showed intellectual maturity was how he let different facets of his coexist which with lesser mortals have become contradictions.

Abhay evolved over the years to have more followers than friends. Every day a brood of young professionals, men and women, he had an eye for the latter, would troop into his apartment at Bandra and generally imbibe his way of life.

The interiors of his apartment had a distinct Kashmiri sensibility; a Kashmiri style “chuik” was the only piece of furniture even as there were artefacts from all over the world; and a small functional bar.

He was a single malt person and would enjoy his Glenmorangie. The Batmaloo kid never left him as he always took great pride and joy in his aquarium. He has one in his Shivaji Park apartment where he originally lived with his wife Radha, and Zoon.

He was a canine parent much before I became one. He had the loveliest Labrador, Zoon, which was his DP for the longest time before he changed it one with Sadguru. How I wish I had made him meet Rista, my English bulldog. He loved the name but couldn’t meet him as he was spending more time in Goa.

I would rib him endlessly on his recent close association with Sadguru. To be fair, he was not a Sadguru “bakht”, but respected his wisdom; he found Sadguru was a wise man who would lead him into mysticism. Increasingly I saw him getting absorbed with the mystical roots of Kashmiri songs, and he would often make me provide the context for the songs.

Aima’s favourite Kashmiris phrase for any and every eventuality was, “Kya Karav, Naras Dimva Nare” (what can we do, can put out the fire with our arms?); the helplessness in the face of inevitability. That is exactly how one feels today.

It has suddenly dawned on me that one doesn’t age because of years; one ages because the world around you shrinks. Today my world has shrunk more than a little with the loss of a friend. And it is scary that it will shrink increasingly from here on. For the mast malang from the markets, the space can only grow. Rest in Peace my friend. I will miss you.