Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs Dies

I would be lying if I said I was a fan of Steve Jobs. That is not to say I was not a fan of Steve jobs. I just had no views on Steve Jobs, not being a techno-geek.

My relationship to technology is roughly the same as that Dawn French’s to low carb diet. I don’t understand it; I am suspicious of it; I can do without it; and I can’t understand others who make a fuss about it.

Yet even I had heard of Steve Jobs as some sort of visionary (who was also an immensely wealthy man).

It is not my intention to write an obituary of Steve Jobs, here. However, when I did a google search and went through some of the obituaries I learned some facts about his personal life which I thought were interesting.

There were several facts about Steve Jobs that I did not know. I am aware that there is nothing sui generis about these facts, and they assume interest (to me) only because of what Steve Jobs went on to become.

I did not know that he was half Arab by birth. His biological father was a Syrian Muslim by the name of Abdulfattah Jandali  (who later became a political science professor). His mother, Joanne, was American of German-Swiss ancestry.  Both his parents were very young college graduates when Joanne fell pregnant. Her father would not allow her to marry an Arab and under pressure from her white, conservative, Christian family Joannae went to San Fracisco on her own where she gave birth to a boy. It was arranged that the child would be adopted. Years later, in a speech Jobs recalled that his biological mother was very keen that the adoptive parents be college graduates. Accordingly a rich lawyer and his wife were all set to adopt Joanne’s child. Except that they changed their minds at the last minute and decided that they really wanted a girl child. Paul and Clara Jobs, a childless Armenian couple that was on the waiting list, was contacted in the middle of the night and asked whether they would want to adopt a boy, and they said yes. Joanne was very unhappy when she learned that the prospective adoptive parents had never been to college. She refused to sign the adoption papers. She relented after a few months only when Paul Jobs promised her that the boy would go to college one day. The adoption finally went through and the baby was named Steve.

Abdulfattah Jandali was not involved in any of this. Years later he recalled that at that time he was very much in love with Joanne, but her ‘tyrannical’ father who was ‘like a dictator’ refused to accept him as his son-in-law because he was a Muslim and a foreigner. According to Jandali, Joanne just ‘upped and left’. He had apparently no idea where she had gone.

The irony is: within 10 months of giving away their son for adoption Abdulfattah Jandali and Joanne married, and very soon after that her father, so opposed to the inter-racial marriage, died. The couple went on to have another child, a daughter, who is Steve Jobs’s biological sister. The marriage did not last and, in the early 1960s, Joanne and Abdulfattah Jandali divorced (or he walked out on his family). Joanne married again and their daughter, Mona, took on the name of her step-father and became Mona Simpson.

I had never heard of Mona Simpson before but apparently she is a novelist who has published five novels.

Paul Jobs kept the promise he had given to Joanne. When he was 17 Steve Jobs enrolled in Reed college that was, as he recalled later, as expensive as Stanford. Almost all of his working class parents’ savings were spent on his college education and he did not even like the course. After  a year he dropped out of the course and began dropping in on courses that looked interesting. He slept on the floor of his friend’s room, returned coke bottles to buy food with and every Sunday walked 7 miles to a Hare Krishna temple where he would have his only square meal of the week.

I did not know that at the age of 19 Jobs travelled to India where he stayed in an ashram of an Indian mystique, the intriguingly named Neem Karoli Baba. When returned to America several months later, he had shaved his head and he was wearing traditional Indian clothes. He had become a Buddhist.

Steve Job stayed Buddhist for the rest of his life (although his published photos in the last decade of so show suggest that he stopped wearing traditional Indian clothes).

Steve Jobs started Apple in his parents’ garage when he was 20. The rest, as they say, was history. It would however be fair to say that it was not smooth sailing all the way for Jobs. In the mid-1980s he was publically ousted from Apple. He founded another company named NeXT, which was not the whopping success he thought it would be; but the other company he formed, Pixer, went on to produce the first feature length animated film, Toy Story, the first of the many successful films Pixer produced  in partnership with Disney. In 2006 Disney bought Pixer in a reported all-stock transaction worth $7.4 billion dollars.

In 1997 Apple bought NeXT and Jobs made a triumphant return to the company he co-founded twenty years previously in his parents’ garage.

In the 1970s Jobs had a relationship with a Bay area painter named Chrisann Brennan, his first serious girl-friend, and had a daughter, named Lisa, from that relationship. Jobs, who was very wealthy by that time initially refused to accept that he was the father and swore in a  court document that he could not possibly be the father because he was ‘sterile and infertile’, and therefore physically incapable of procreating. He later accepted that he was the father and was reconciled with her. He financed Lisa’s university education at Harvard. He married Laurene Powell in a Buddhist ceremony in 1991 and the couple has three children.

In 2004 Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which is generally considered to have very poor prognosis. However he apparently had a rare form of cancer which could be treated with surgery. For several months following the diagnosis, Jobs reportedly refused to follow doctors’ advice to undergo surgery and experimented with Eastern (presumably unproven) alternative treatments. He accepted to undergo surgery after nine months. The surgery gave him seven more years to live, helped, one assumes, along the way by another major surgery—a liver transplant—in 2009.

Jobs was, for all outward appearances, not very curious about his biological parents. At one point he is believed to have made the observation that he did not believe in genetics but in experiences. He considered his adoptive parents as his real mother and father. However he is believed to have tracked down his biological mother with the help of a private detective in the mid 1980s and also met his novelist sister to whom he became very close. Jobs was invited by Mona Simpson at the launch of her debut novel Anywhere But Here’. Jobs invited his biological mother to some of his big launches.

Jobs never publically discussed his biological father, Abdulfattah Jandali; and it is very probable that the two men never met in life. Indeed it is possible that Jandali was not even aware until a few years ago that the son given away by Joanne for adoption all those years ago, whom he had never seen in person, was the famous Steve Jobs. However it seems inconceivable that Jobs (who had gone to some lengths to trace and contact his biological mother and who was close to his biological sister from mid-1980s onwards) did not know who his biological father was.

Abdulfattah Jandali, a non-practising Muslim (who nevertheless ‘believes in Islam—doctrine and culture’) never met his son. After he left his wife and young daughter Jandali drifted from jobs to jobs before he left  academia altogether and  for decades has lived in Reno where he is a well-off vice-president of a casino. Jandali, the only son of a Syrian ‘self-made millionaire’, was educated in Beirut and came to United States when he was 18 and obtained a PhD in political science very swiftly. As reticent as his famous son, Jandali never spoke about his famous son until recently. None of his erstwhile colleagues in the academic world, nor his colleagues in Reno (save some close friends), knew that Jandali was Steve Job’s father.

In August this year, the month Jobs stepped down as Apple’s chief, Jandali broke his decades long silence on his famous son (incredibly to a British tabloid). He expressed regret that he never got to know his famous son. However he also clarified that he was not prepared ‘even if either of us was on our death bed to pick up a phone and call him. Steve would have to do that.’ Apparently the Syrian pride ‘does not want him [Jobs] to think that I am after his fortune.’ But he longed to meet his son. He hoped that ‘before it is too late he [Steve Jobs] would reach out to me. Even to have one coffee with him just once would make me a very happy man.’

Jobs did not respond to this very public appeal from his father.

When contacted by newspapers in Reno after the death of Steve Jobs was announced Jandali declined to comment. ‘I really don’t have anything to say,’ he said, ‘I know the news.’

A statement from Apple announcing Jobs’s passing on said: ‘In his public life Steve was a visionary. In his private life he cherished his family.’

In a speech he gave to the students of Stanford University in 2005 Jobs had this to say about death:

‘No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share.’
After a very remarkable life Jobs has gone to his final destination, the very best invention (as he said in his famous Stanford speech) of life. May his soul rest in peace.