It seems Mullah Mchungu has had a turbulent childhood and adolescent. That upbringing, and the fact he is celebrating his seventy-eighth birthday today, has put him in an even grumpier mood than usual. He is in Sanford once more, on his biannual visit to see his only son and grandchildren, who he adores and daughter-in-law (DiL), whom he detests. The feeling, I bet, is mutual.
He comes calling home one crisp bright Florida day and immediately bellyaches about his DiL, even before he limps on his danda to my back porch.
That woman, he grumbles irritably, will give nobody any peace. Can you imagine, she would not drop me here earlier because she had to catch up on missed episodes of those ghastly serials due to Muharram. She gets up at ten, watches those accursed dramas and then does nothing all day long. Spoilt my birthday. Not that I have much to celebrate at seventy-eight. DiLs these days, Kisukaali, are a pain in the rear; spoilt, lazy and a ticking time bomb for their kids. Guess what, the idiot had her entire home painted with a cleanable coat that they simply wipe off when their kids write on them. Can you imagine? Instead of training the kids what is right and wrong, they pay two grand extra to have this paint finish. Looney, nai? I wonder what do they do when visiting other peoples homes.
I keep my trap firmly shut; there is no way I am going to comment on his family affairs. I make sure he is comfortable in an easy chair, make him tea the way he likes it, karaak, serve him some khari maani and I can see he is less edgy now. He has another cuppa tea and predictably lights up a stinky Indian beedi, clouding up my porch with smoke; I join him with my own rollup and we both sit in silence, enjoying the weather only Florida can offer in winter and take pleasure in destroying our lungs.
The Mullah is a mean, ill-tempered crabby old character, very set in his old-world paradigms and intolerant towards anyone who does not share his mostly controversial opinions. So why do I give him a share of my valuable time? Well, he is my elder for one and lifelong guidance from my parents has ingrained respect for elders. Moreover, I know I will be his age one day, if Allah grants me the privilege, so my juniors will hopefully grace with the same respect and courtesy? More importantly, the Mullah frequently, without malice, speaks his mind, and I kind of like that trait in people. His insight into harsh realities of life, whether I like it or not, stimulates my thought process and I begin thinking out of a box, so to speak. After I calm down, that is. Today is no exception, for he finishes his beedi, hacks like a gasping fish out of water, spits into my lawn, recovers and begins his tirade.
Hey Kisukaali, what’s with that peculiar smell at HIC? Smells like a horse’s ass in there as soon as I enter the place.
I immediately want to quip if he has ever been that close to the animal’s ass but control my tongue. The guy carries a hefty danda and is known to have occasionally used it detrimentally on humans.
Oh, I say casually instead, the carpets were waterlogged recently and management will change them for new ones once the comprehensive repair process is complete.
Ahem, you can get hemorrhoids breathing that air...
Again, I stay non-committal.
Tell me, what do you make of the Zaakirs who come and recite at HIC, especially in Muharram?
I startle visibly, and the Mullah allows himself a mirthless sneer.
They are okay, I guess, I say cautiously. They come for a purpose, for us to honor the memory of Imam Hussein (A) and to pay our respects to the holy progeny of the Prophet (S), for us to renew and strengthen our love...
I don’t think so, the Mullah cuts me off, flailing and flicking a hand in contemptuous dismissal.
So I shut up and regard him warily, hoping this is not going to be one of the long drawn lectures he is prone to give me.
I’ll tell you what they want us to do. They all want to stop us from using our Allah given brains, for us not to think. Perhaps not intentionally, but they do it nevertheless, they are a part of a group that consider themselves holier than thou. They think they are the only ones who love and honor the Ahlebeyt (A) and we are all pieces of yesterday’s kaka.
When I open my mouth to protest this accusation, the Mullah places a finger on his lips and gestures me to shush; I bristle.
Let me speak, young man, he says. You may learn a thing or two from this old fart.
Well, he just called me young and himself an old fart, so I recon we are even for being rude, so I do.
Let me prove my point; ninety-nine present of the Zaakirs do the following. Mullah holds up a finger. One. Defend Imam Ali (A), as if the Imam (A) needs defending. Another finger joins the first. Two. Lambast the Sunnis, make mockery of them or goad them with taunts. Have you read or heard of any of our Imams (S) ever doing that, Kisukaali? Two fingers become three. Criticize other Zaakirs or us for questioning cultural Azaadari practices. Now, we can discuss this topic until I turn blue from death.
Why are they so defensive when it comes to the holy Imam (A)? Why defend? Why preach to the choir? I do not care an ant’s stinking ass what a Sunni or Christian or Jew or an atheist says about my Imam (A), good or bad. It suffices my belief that Imam Ali (A) is an Imam immediately after the Prophet (S), appointed through a divine order. Period. No ifs or buts about it. For heavens sake, Kisukaali, use your goddamn brains. If these Zaakirs constantly feel the need to come to the defense of Imam Ali (A)’s legitimacy, they are a sorry lot and I question their conviction about Imam Ali (A). It is only the guilty that feel a need to defend themselves. Constantly.
I stare at the old mam in astonishment. There are a lot of rebuttals that come to mind instantly but I keep mum.
As for taunting the Sunni’s and taking pleasure in badmouthing their Imam’s these Zaakirs are aces. Needless to say, they have given us Shias much pain and grief. Nothing more to say. As for Azaadari, Imam Hussein (A) is much more, much, much more than beating our chests, whipping with knives and slitting children’s foreheads; all barbaric, I say. The Imam (A) stood and died for truth and justice. Period. None of our Imams (A) beat themselves, used knives or hurt children as young as two weeks, like they do in India. Or Iraq, or whatever country that practice these rituals. These Zaakirs, some Uleemas also, say these acts are highly recommended, an act of sublime worship of Allah. Strangely, I never see them whip or cut themselves silly, ever. If it is highly recommended, why don’t you see them do it? Eh? They recite the majlis, come out, drink tea and you see them smoking in the baraaza. Bah! They should teach us to be good humans first, not to cheat, not even the government, not backbite, be charitable to all Allah’s creatures, never stand of injustice, help the oppressed. That is what Imam Hussein (A) lived and gave his life for.
Boy, these are serious statements. These words can bring about a death sentence. I tighten my lips even firmer. Then the Mulla’s facial expression relaxes and his tone changes considerably, becoming soft, earnest; it feels like he is almost pleading.
Don’t you see Kisukaali, maatam, or beating of our chest, is a symbol of our grief, in a gesture of pain for a loss. We can only do this when we are on sure footings, after we have truly strived and understood the Imam’s mission. Then, even one strike to the chest is enough for our redemption. This is what the Imam wants. What we do is purely cultural and culture has no place in Islam. We blindly follow what we found our forefathers did. The Quraan has a brilliant answer to Prophet Ibrahim (S) father when he used the exact same argument about worshipping idols.
The Mullah’s majlis goes on for a good hour but I have tuned him off. My life is precious.