Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Big Fat Khoja Wedding

My nephew Kumail, my sister Sabeera Somji’s son, born in Canada, living in Dubai, gets married to Sameena Amershi, born in London of Asian African parents, now living in Sanford, FL. Why would you care an ant’s ass about Kumail and Sabeena’s nuptials, you ask? Well, the following yarn might interest you. Perhaps.

Guests begin arriving in Sanford a couple of weeks before the wedding and Sajjad Mukhi’s massive rented house becomes like a frenzied mini fish market in Mumbai. There are people from Canada, the UAE, England and Tanzania. And other parts of the USA, of course. There is constant mayhem; hyper kids run around, harassed womenfolk feed or clean up, and gossip, of course.

The men, they sit by the pool and smoke like a chimney on a Canadian winter morning, full of baraaza talk. They too, gossip. The smoking gets so bad, it mentions a rebuke from Dr. Shabbir Alibhai, our good doctor from Canada. Literally appalled at all the noxious fumes the Khojas of Sanford can pack in, rightly gives it prominent mention his speech on wedding day. Not that it does any good; smoke curling up from Husseini Islamic Center from baraazas before and after events could give any fire marshal heartburn. Dr. Alibhai, Allah bless him, throws up his hands to the heavens in despair. You should get to know his very kind and generous Mum in Toronto, a rare breed, who still makes meethaee the old fashioned way – with a lot of labor and love.

This is a one in a decade event perhaps, with relatives who have not seen each other getting the first opportunity. I meet cousins, and nephews and nieces and their children. And their children! What a fusion of a clan, like the UN almost! We have Salma, brother Shabbir’s daughter married to an Iranian, Mussarat, brother Marhoom Mohammedreza’s daughter married to an Iraqi and cousin Hyder Somji’s daughter, Fatema married to a Chinese; losing our beautiful womenfolk’s to ‘foreigners’. Hmmm, losing our Khoja identity, I see...

The amount of food we put away is incredible this wedding; the (elchi free, of course) laddoos flown in specially from Dubai; meal invitations to extended family and friends homes here in Sanford takes an uncomfortable toll on my running schedule and waistline. I must special mention caterer Shameena’s Hyderabaadi biryani at Iqbaal Somji’s house; OMA! Is it divine, or is it divine! Talk about gorging oneself.

I am sure the humble coconut must have a litany of complaints against Khoja weddings on the Day of Judgment, perhaps against the whole of India even. We seem to be smashing this innocent fruit for every imaginable excuse under the sky, from warding off evil to offerings at religious events, to warding off perceived (irrational) doom; all Hindu India acquired customs, certainly. Other Hindu developed rituals follow of course; Kumail sits with an apprehensive look on his mug as fair hands flail over his head. He is more worried about dousing of various concoctions waiting for him by the pool, as the ‘opposition’ waits impatiently; he gets a drubbing as teenagers wrestle to dunk each other into the pool.

On wedding day, we Khoja’s predictably, fashionably, show up thirty plus minutes late at HIC while invited guests (most non Khojas) are bang on time, waiting, fidgeting, clearly uncomfortable in their fine attire under a merciless sun. A White man is aghast when advised he has to part with his partner at the entrance, hugs her as if this is last he’ll see her, looks apprehensive as she is enveloped by an all female group entering the center, then sulks at having to sit through the rites alone; perhaps the excellent Biryani afterwards compensates?

The Big Fat Khoja Wedding finally ends with a grand picnic over Azeems’s barbeque, the happy couple leaving for honeymoon, guests departing for home and my house getting super, eerily quiet. For me, it was wonderful meeting so many friends and family and the many baraazas.

May this union endures in bliss and traditions, clans prosper... 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Surviving Badee Aachee Lagte Ho

Before you proceed reading, please note following disclaimer:

The characters in this Blog may be real, perhaps fiction. The storyline could be true, maybe not. I will entertain no questions; comments (criticisms?) welcome, of course. 

Mullah Mchungu regards me with moist, rheumy eyes as he settles himself more comfortably in an easy chair across me. I am a little surprised at his appearance; he seems disorientated, his shalwaar kameez crumpled and stained at places. This was not so in previous meetings, he looked smart and alert then, clothes white and ironed and precise; age seems to be catching up on him, Fasta-Fasta.  

I call him Mullah Mchungu for a reason, for he is always bitter and complaining, about everybody and everything. Although our prior meetings in Dar es Salaam have been less than amicable, I still invite him home for tea here in Sanford, FL where his only son works and lives with wife and two kids. Differences aside, he is a good debater, uses logic rather than emotion, which I find lacking in others I care to debate. Since the Mullah is known to have a mean temper, I eye his walking stick now sandwiched between his legs with some disquiet. His sluggishness is some comfort however, I could maneuver out of harms way in a hurry. If necessary, that is.

Out comes a pack of Indian beedees from the depth of Mullah’s kurta; he fumbles with it and lights one up, blowing smoke at my face and clouding up the back porch where we sit. Before I can ask him about his health, the Mullah convulses into a fit of coughing so violent, I panic, think he is having a fit or a heart attack. As I jump to my feet in aid, his coughing subsides; he frantically gestures for me to sit down, furiously gripping the now active walking cane; I hurriedly plop back into my chair. 

The Mullah huffs and hawks, spits on my immaculately trimmed grass, makes disgusting noises from his throat before calming down to regard me once more. I watch him closely, waiting for an assault directed toward CAI aid to ‘non-Tanzanian Khojas’, a customary bone of contention between us. But the cunning look in his eyes is diminished, the usual fighting spirit absent. I immediately feel sorry for him, offer tea and snacks. While he sips hot tea, nibbles at cookies and pastries, I notice an oddity within the Mullah; he seems sad, resigned. Gently, I prod him into talking. Boy, does he yap-yap! For a long time. I listen. Here then, is the approximate gist of our very curious, revealing conversation:

Kisukaali, he starts tentatively, I am disappointed and tired. So very, very disappointed. I could die today and be glad to go. 

Startled, I try a polite protest; want to tell him not to be so disheartened, but he cuts me off brusquely. 

Oh do be quiet Kisukaali, let an old man talk. 

I shut up.

I was content in Dar es Salaam, a little lonely since my wife, Allah bless her soul, died, but content nevertheless. I went to the mosque three times a day, met a group of friends to while away the day, my daughter sent me a tiffin of homemade food, I had a man servant who did whatever I asked him short of wiping my butt clean; I had very little to complain about. 

I feel like snorting in laughter here but bite my tongue; complaining is his favorite pastime.

I have a few medical issues, but who at my age doesn’t? 

I open my mouth to ask him why not go back but he glares at me in anger, puts a trembling finger on his lips and hisses.

Shush, shush, shuuuuussssshhhhh! 

I feel a sudden rash of irritation and anger at this rebuke, want to verbally lash out at his rudeness; religious upbringing, years of parental training and general akhlaaq restrain my anger, so I grind my teeth and keep quiet. Again.

When my son Ali suggested I come here and stay with his family. I declined. Outright. He insisted. We compromised. I would visit for three months on trail basis and stay on if I liked it. Like a mjinga, I agreed. Huh! Sitting in a crowded aircraft for fourteen hours is no fun, especially for a person with a nervous bladder and inflamed hemorrhoids. Still, it would have been worth all the trouble, spending time with my son and grandchildren, but...

The Mullah pauses here, a forlorn expression on his face, which clouds up, his lips quiver. I can see beginnings of tears glint in his eyes; another insult or injury from a cane stops me from consoling him. He controls his emotions and continues.

Bollywood and Lollywood and Balaawood have hijacked my son’s family life, may Allah curse them all! Our children in Dar are addicted to banghi, our children here are addicted to Zee TV, Bollywood and all other Balaawoods. In Dar, I woke up to verses of the Holy Quraan from a CD player, here, I wake up to tunes of Badee Aachee Lagte Ho from a television, over and over and over. Do you know my blood pressure escalates every time I hear that mournful tune? Gives me an awful headache! Hindi serials with over-dramatic music, witches fighting each other, men, wote wakhanisi, incompetent, never ending family feuds, with in-laws, others and absolute bakwaas storylines dominate my sons home, from the time my daughter-in-law awakes to late at night. Does this happen in your house Kisukaali?

Before I can reply or plead the Fifth Amendment, the Mullah asks for more chai; I hurry inside to comply. Boy o boy, this two-person baraaza is extraordinary, exciting; I want more! When I return carrying the steaming chai, the Mullah is slumped back in his chair, eyes shut, face relaxed; has he fallen asleep?  But he continues talking as I set down the cup, as if there has been no interruption.

I gently advise my daughter-in-law to sleep early, raise early, start the day with Quraan which is Allah’s book, not Facebook, good for the family, for her, for her children, for me...; she complains sleep eludes her, that she has to check in on her family and friends worldwide. Ajeeb, I can hear her snoring happily after Ali and the elder son are hurried off to school with processed lunches and sleepy goodbyes. And in the afternoons, when she takes a leisurely nap. By Allah, I have never seen somebody keep in touch so much. Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Bwitter...!

Impatiently, I wait for him to finish the tea; he lights up another beedi instead, goes through another coughing spree and continues.

I try to teach the young two-year old (his other grandson) to say Allah Eak. He replies Allah Eak, gladdens my heart. Then I ask him to say Panjatan Paanch, he replies Shaaruk Khan. Bloody hell, laa’nat to this Shaaruk Khan, a drunkard and womanizer, a slur to Islam! You see the result of Balaawoods? Mind you, I am not totally against watching a decent movie now and then, one the whole family can enjoy. What happened to our times Kisukaali, when a hero wooed his lady and the songs were a delight to listen? In this Balaawood industry, roles are reversed; ugly girls begin wiggling body parts for no reason whatsoever, as if they have uncontrollable epilepsy, or are possessed by a Djinn. 

His eyes light up and a smile appears on his lips; he radiates. 

Remember...remember the songs of our times, Kisukaali? Mera Jutaa Hey Japaani...and Bahaaro Phool Barsaao...and Gaar Aaya Mera Pardeesi? Remember? Where are those days of real acting by Raj Kumaar and Raj Kapoor and Dileep Kumaar, Nargis and Madhubhala and Meena? Your current lot is full of usheenzi, wapumbaavu, wote!  

Eh, my current lot? The Mullah gets lost once again, gazing beyond my backyard at the green jungle beyond.

What is life here, tell me? Wake up, watch Balaawood, yap on Skype, visit the mosque once a week Thursdays, maybe Baraaza on Fridays and to stinking awful restaurants on Saturdays. The food you guys eat, yuk! Everything is processed and readymade. Rotis, paraathas, samosas, pastries, Ali and his son’s lunch, all processed, ordered from outside, all tastes like malaapa za choo...

A giggle escapes me. The man glares at me, gathers his walking stick and tightens the grip on it. I tense, as a gazelle would, detecting a prowling Feesi. But it is only he, struggling out of his chair.

You think what I say funny, hmmmm? Ngoja, you will age one day, I pray Balaawood does not afflict your family like it has mine. Take me home please, let me suffer in silence. I am leaving next week insha’Allah, returning to Dar. I may see you there, if I survive Bade Aachee Lagte Ho...   

For readers who don’t understand Kiswahili:

Ajeeb – Strange
Banghi – Marijuana
Baraaza – An informal gathering
Feesi - Hyena
Malaapa za choo – Toilet slippers
Mchungu – Bitter
Mjinga – Fool
Ngoja - Wait
Usheezi – Foolishness
Wakhanisi - Incompetent
Wapumbaavu – Idiots
Wote - All