He grew up in urban Bangalore and lives in London as a rickshaw operator. “It’s kind of a busman’s holiday,” he explained in that Londonized Indian accent you sometimes catch in a movie. He smiled a broad, a genuine grin, as he spoke. “The bus driver spends all day behind the wheel and then when he goes on vacation he drives all over the countryside in a van. That’s me, kind of.”
AJ puts it out there. He has to. If you were riding solo from Athens to London, the long way round through Spain and Portugal, you’d be putting it out there too. And dear sweet Jesus did he ever put it out there. I’ve never seen anything like it. Well, that’s not true – I see it all the time, just in super low doses. AJ is the crystal meth of putting it out there, the double absinthe jaggerbomb. One can learn a lot from a man like AJ. I’ll tell you what I learned.
It was actually me who approached him in La Place de la Comedie in downtown Montpellier on
a Friday afternoon, just as the daytime workers were hopping in the TRAM and nightlifers were gearing up at the brasseries and bistros. He was engaged in conversation standing beside his Kona, a cross-over bike he’d retrofitted as a touring bike. Kona is a Vancouver company so I wondered if he were a fellow Canadian, a fellow tour cyclist. The rest, as they say, is la histoire. After minutes we launched into philosophical discussion, bike talk, and all the while AJ called out to passersby, a legitimate wellspring of energy and fervour. I am no shy guy, really, yet I felt dwarfed next to this gregarious, fearless chatterbox, an Indian Dean Moriarty and accented Elwood P Dowd.
That night we visited with, well, everyone. Old and young, interested and interesting. AJ does not speak French and yet his immediate connection to people, like hummingbird to nectar, broke through with those bright eyes smiling and a “enjoy life!” being called out to the doldrums of social sinners, closed in their little lives. The next day we rode our bikes down to the beach. We saw AJ chase girls like a Jack Russel bent on a ball. We’d sit watching the waves and AJ would pass talking with one group of girls, and then pass minutes later talking with another group. We all laughed at his tenacity, his brilliant tenacity, and I caught myself staring an incarnation of outgoing I’d never seen before. “Weeks on the road lacks certain…company, you know.” It’d be easy to call fault to AJ’s shameless approach to the women he’d pass, but we decided to absorb it into the average that was his incredible…putting it out there.
The world needs AJs. Sure, he’s probably taken as crazy as often as he makes someone laugh or think. That’s society’s fault. The world needs AJs because otherwise we’re left with those we know, those we avoid, and not much in between.
So I ask you: how often do you put it out there? Do you talk with cashier who scans your groceries? Do you get a giggle out of an old woman on the bus? Do you ever just talk to someone without wanting anything in return? Are you afraid to do it? I admit that I sometimes am afraid. I’m afraid of being mocked, rejected, or thought an idiot. And my world is smaller because of it. So today I am going to up the ante. I’m going to put myself out there more than I did yesterday. That’s how you make good community.