Jiyo Pakistan, Zindabaad!
You’d think Fatima and Nazir Merali’s home in Northwood, London is Janna, what with the variety of fruits on the table. We have Kesar mangoes from India, papaya from Brazil, plump cherries, apricots, plums, watermelon, oranges, and bananas! All exceedingly delicious. The one thing I have an issue with the UK is their short summer nights. By the time I get to sleep around midnight, the call to prayers goes off at 2:30; imagine! So I have to pray bleary-eyed and disoriented, I hate that. I can’t conceive living in the UK. Well, maybe for the fruits perhaps.
Fellow CAI Trustees Sohail Abdullah and I are here to attend a conference that showcases CAI projects to a broader audience of possible donors. I am ill prepared for this trip, bringing in short sleeve T-shirts and no jacket. I mean it’s the end of June and I expect balmy weather, not the chilly winds (like the smile of a certain unamused Mother Queen?) I’d expect in the fall. Britain can be so unpredictable when it comes to the weather…
The 7-star hospitality we get at the Merali’s is augmented by tickets to the New Zealand – Pakistan World Cup cricket match at the Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham the next day; oh, what a soopa-soopa treat. Nazir, son Muhammad, Sohail and I leave early to drive the 2 hours to the second largest city in England. The day starts raw, with overcast skies and a biting wind. Thank god Nazirbhai owns extra pullovers else I’d have to skip the game.
I’m not sure what is it with this city, which has the largest Indo/Pak community in England. Compared to London, it looks grubby and unkempt, made worse by senseless litter that mar the narrow streets where some of the best Pakistani cuisines are available. Engrained apathy imported from home? It has rained overnight in Birmingham, the batting pitch is moist and so the game is delayed. We spend some time at the teeming Chaiwalla pitstop for repose. By the time we make it to the cricket stadium, the game has begun, New Zealand winning the toss and opting to bat first.
Just outside the stadium and I hear a roar erupt, sending a shiver of fear down my spine and upsetting my heartbeats. What the hell? It feels like the entire stadium structure trembles; New Zealand team have lost their first wicket, the first ball of 2nd over. This has set the 25,000 strong Pakistani crowd into a heady tizzy. And what a sight it is! Colors of green all around with a tiny and brave (nerves bolstered by the liberal intake of alcohol, I think) group of New Zealanders rooting for the Island team. There are so many boisterous Pakistanis around, why, I think I am in Karachi, not Birmingham.
Green attire, hair, flags, placards, you name it, all green prevails here. There is a live band that erupts in ear-splitting catchy bhangra breakout tunes every time there is a break in the game; I cannot but want to start gyrating. There is, strangely, an elderly man more suited for a funeral perhaps, dressed in a formal suit and tie. He erupts in joy every time Pakistan scores a run, dancing in delight but looking a moron instead. And he explodes in extreme ire at any and all Pakistani slips, imagined or real, stabbing at his temple and mouthing, stupid, stupid, stupid…I have a ball watching him. Of the 25,000 or so here to watch the game, there are less than one present women…
It turns out to be one exciting game, underdogs Pakistan winning, beating an unbeaten team by a whisker. The crowds erupt in a frenzy of relief celebrations. Except for the constant stiff cold breeze warmed by the entertaining crowds and long lines of people queuing for the washrooms, it is an exceptionally memorable day. Thank you Muhammad Merali!
Navvi Jooni Masjid – A Divorce In The Making?
Mullah Mchungu is beginning to be a first-class nuisance, I think. His cellphone should be legally confiscated, at the least. He calls me when I am desperately trying to catch up on sleep in Mumbai. I always answer my calls, 24×7. Perhaps it’s the Afghanistan office calling in an emergency, or the Rohingya orphans, or another disaster unfolding in Yemen… I cannot take a chance.
Kisukaali, rasps the Mulla, what is wrong with you guys in Sanford…?
I struggle to place him in my drunk-with-sleep and fatigued mind and have no idea what he is on about, of course. I desperately try to get my bearings, while the Mullah rumbles on.
I knew it. Honeymoon over already? Didn’t last long, did it? You are a sorry lot, I’m telling you. How will you answer to Allah? So full of smug egos, you can’t seem to see past your noses. Building a multi-million dollar center and can’t agree on ABC’s of cooperation and compromise. Bah, you guys are worse than the deteriorating and depressing matrimonial cases that Dar es Salaam here have to deal with. Just over a year and everybody thinks he is better than the other. Trivial and petty, that’s what all of you are! You think a divorce will solve your problems and placate your egos? Pathetic, you guys are the joke of the larger Muslim community, a pride turned into a circus… And on and on and on.
I want to hang up, of course, but there is so much passionate hate and venom coming from the old man, I pause, forcing my mind to concentrate and my heartbeats to calm down. What is he on about?
It is only after a few minutes I realize he is talking about the intense infighting in the Khoja Sanford community on how Masjid Al Hayy is to be run. The center donors and current management have set themselves on a collision course for a divorce. It is only the next day that I catch up on all the circulating emails about the issue that I can make reasonable sense of the sad situation.
I can’t imagine how all these events will shape the future of this gifted and generous community. I am a short-timer since I have my eyes set to be somewhere else very soon. Whatever the outcome, let us hope and pray the donors, management and community find a suitable compromise that will serve the intent and purpose of the masjid – worship of Allah and the teachings of the Ahlebeyt (a). Nothing else matters. No?