When I meet Mullah Mchungu recently, the guy’s smile almost blinds me. But then I gather that the dazzle is not a smile at all, rather, they are bright, white, brand-new, ill-fitting dentures he dons, hurting my eyes. We have been in touch by phone, the Mullah and I, since I last met him in Dar, all shriveled up and about to kick the bucket. The accursed free WhatsApp makes it possible for the Mullah to call and torment me at will, at odd hours of the day, regardless if it is in the middle of the night. For me. But he looks okay now, seated like an emperor, with his servant helper fussing around him, adjusting the wheelchair this way and that.
I am provided a hot cup of tea and some piping hot (elchi free, thank God) vitumbua bought fresh from the street corner downstairs moments ago from a MamaNtilia. I try to make small talk and ask the Mullah about his health, but he waves at me impatiently, his dentures grinning at me as he adjusts to them by regularly sucking in air sharply.
You don’t have to be polite, Kisukaali, it’s not important how I am or feel. I a setting light, running out of my time fast. You really do not want to hear about my personal problems, nor care for that matter. I survive with this wheelchair and this faithful man; he waves towards the servant, who is a mother to me. My daughter pays my few bills and makes sure I don’t starve, bless her. She made these silly dentures possible since I cannot chew with my constantly infected gums anymore. My khabees son Aliraza wants nothing to do with me any longer, except a sallam over the phone now and then. I miss my grandchildren in Florida however.
He is right; I don’t want to get involved in his private business. But I do care. That is why I am here, to see him, to ask about him. Apart from his eccentricities, normal for anybody his age, the Mullah is a decent human being, with surprisingly acute and insightful mind and paradigms. But I keep my trap shut. It’s simpler that way. I am about to take the last morsel of the delicious kitumbua when the Mullah suddenly demands:
How did you find Vinay Khetia, the visiting zakir at your HIC center at Sanford this year?
Jeez! Not again! I’ve had nothing but pain in my rear end since Blogging that Sheykh Khetia’s time management sucks. Is this guy going to give me grief as well? But it’s hard to tell with the constant grin on his face, making me unsure if he is genuinely happy or his new teeth playing tricks on me.
He was okay, I guess, I say cautiously, non-committal. I am being honest. I found the guy genuinely committed to his new religion but his lectures I found to be dry and awfully long.
You are like a bloody teenager, Kisukaali. Restless and impatient. I know you had not so nice words to say about Khetia’s time discipline. Yes, I heard him on the Internet. Yes, the time he spoke was very long, but that is not a very big deal. HIC management is to blame. They could have easily fixed it by politely but firmly telling the Sheikh not to cross the limits. But don’t take away the excellent points he had regarding the Shia world and how much we take Imam Hussein’s supreme sacrifice and Muharram as a ritual, by the Khoja beraadars in particular. His pointed reminder about at least five of our Imams born off Black women was very telling. And timely. And brave.
Mullah Mchungu nods his hoary head wearily, the crooked grin of his teeth making him look like some goofy comic character on Saturday mornings kids TV shows.
As I pointed out to you last year, Imam Hussein was sent in as a reformer, standing for justice. Period. The Imam told us in clear terms - I am going to Kerbala for the reform of my grandfather’s religion. The religion of the Prophet, tainted and corrupted by the forces in power then. Here is a man whose mission, annually, gives us a chance for self-reform, become humans that Allah wants us to be and atone for our evil ways...and we turn it around into a circus.
Again, I want to be non-committal. This is an area that has been much discussed and dissected, with very little progress. And much ill will, resentment and disunity. My personal opinions match with the old man's, but it is better to remain quiet now.
Chicken as usual, nai, Kisukaali? Fine, keep your trap shut. But hear me out. Khetia should come and lecture us here in Dar. He points at his servant, sitting on a hardback chair, quietly watching us converse. That is Ally, you’ve met him before. The guy is old enough to be your father. Has been with me thirty-five plus years. Fiercely loyal and one hundred percent honest. But to most of us Khoja’s, he is a Black man, a Gaggo. Unworthy of respect. Just because he was born Black and poor. He was never given the opportunity of an education, nor did his parents leave him a business to take over.
So we keep him at arms length. He is our brethren, but with separate rights and standing within our fraternity. Because he is a Black man. Just as five of our holy Imams were. Including our current Imam. Go ponder on what I say, Kisukaali. And Blog about It. If you have the courage.
I do. As usual, I leave Mullah Mchungu’s drab apartment disturbed, my mind full of swarming dudus that stay on for a long time afterward.
Note: Due to a technical snag, Sohails Photoblog of Afghanistan will resume in 2 weeks.