He also inhabits a different plane from most people - one that you don't often come across outside the hallowed halls of academia. I have never known a man who could get so truly passionate about the conjugation of the verb "to be", not even my old Spanish teacher (who taught me everything I know both about Spanish and about being a drama queen).
Ali wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his academic pursuits. He tends to talk about study in the way other people might talk about the person they have a crush on, or the best meal they ever had. For instance, recently we were talking about that first moment when you communicate with someone in the language you are learning, which is indeed a great moment for any language student. I couldn't help but laugh, though, when Ali announced solemnly: "there is no better feeling in the world. Nothing can make you feel this good." (Pause while he gives this statement due consideration) "...except physics."
Except physics? I made the mistake of assuming he was joking and gave a dutiful chuckle, only to realise that he was deadly serious. Now I'm sure physics is fascinating (and my various scientist friends will probably tell me off for this post), but the best feeling in the world? Better than sex and cheesecake? Well, it takes all sorts.
My favourite Ali moment, though, was when he was explaining to us with great pride and excitement that Hindi is one of only nine ergative languages in the world (don't ask me what ergative means. It's something to do with what the language does with transitive verbs, but beyond that I'm clueless). Having explained at length how impressive this was, he then suggested - in all seriousness - that we should add our command of Hindi to our CVs, and add the words AN ERGATIVE LANGUAGE in parentheses afterwards. This, he said, would be sure to impress any potential employers and ensure that we got called to interview.
I made the tentative suggestion that if I read a CV with that on, I would think the person in question was either a bit of a smart-arse, or else really desperate for CV content. He considered this for a moment, and then conceded "yeah...I guess it only really works if you're a linguistics scholar..."
I honestly don't know if he was taking the piss or not. If he was, the man should quit teaching and go play poker, he'd make a fortune.
Anyway, I look forward to my classes with Ali both for the Hindi (which I'm actually very much enjoying learning) and for those little moments when we get a glimpse of his world. People never stop being fascinating.