Pooja Has A Beef With Azaan

Pooja Has A Beef With Azaan

Pooja Has A Beef With Azaan 150 150 Comfort Aid International

Pooja Has A Beef With Azaan

I meet Pooja on my way to Dubai from Dar es Salaam; she occupies the seat beside mine. It is the 28th day of Ramadhan and I look forward to spending a few days of Eid with my two ailing sisters Nazma and Sabira in Dubai. Hopefully, the Mullas and powers to be will get their act straight and agree on the crescent sighting tomorrow evening so we can all have a joyful (if that is even possible with Gazza on my mind) and a united Eid day. Yes, I am fasting and intend to futoor on the flight after salaat. I’ve brought myself some savory kachoris from Blueroom to enhance the not-so-palatable Emirates cuisine they misleadingly advertise as delectable.

Pooja is busy making herself comfortable for the five-hour hop to Dubai when I drop into my seat. She looks barely twenty, with short spiky hair, heavily dyed a murky blond so it looks like a dirty kitchen mop. A ringlet is pierced right between her nose; ouch, she instantly reminds me of cows in India. I, too, get comfortable and change into lounging shorts (Pooja arches a single eyebrow in mock disdain when she sees me in shorts, but I don’t care) and am ready to while away my time until the sun sets to the west. I try napping while the meal is served to those not fasting. The aircraft is an old bird, manufactured when Adam (a) was created, perhaps. Emirates uses these for their African routes because they control the market and can get away with blatant discrimination. I fly Emirates on other routes all the time and the aircraft they deploy are newer and much more comfortable.

It is a relatively light flight with many empty seats, so there is ample place up front to face kiblah and recite my salaat when it is time. The purser is Haawa from Kenya; I’ve flown with her several times and spend time practicing my Kiswahili on her when she has any free time. She is super friendly and always makes me comfortable; this time, heating the kachoris and ensuring I get them warm with my meal accompanied by a karak ecchi-free mug of chai for iftaar.

I notice Pooja watching me when I start on my kachori, so I offer her one to be nice. She startles and looks away guiltily, saying she’s already eaten but I insist, so she takes one, pops it in her mouth and her face lights up in delight.

Thank you, Uncle, she munches, unable to speak for a few seconds, Ummm, so good, she says, smacking her lips and licking her fingers in obvious delight, did your wife make them?

My face darkens. She just committed a grave cardinal sin, calling me uncle, so no more kachoris for her. We chat about this and that for a while – very telling. She is 21, attending a university somewhere in New Delhi. Her father is an engineer with a multinational power firm on assignment for government power projects in Tanzania – God knows Tanzania needs stable power. She is visiting her parents but is returning to college in New Delhi.

I must admit, she says, eying my vanishing kachoris with a wistful look in her eyes, you Muslims are rather committed to prayers. I saw you just pray, even up here in the air. I’ve seen men pray in odd places as a child in Hyderabad and now in New Delhi. I’ve always wondered what motivates you guys to pray all the time. I mean I pray as well; my mother ensures that, but not like you guys. Five times a day, no?

I look at her sharply and raise my eyebrows, but unlike her, I can’t do just one. Is this a trick question? With all that is going on between extremist Hindus and their aversion to Muslims in India, I do not want to get involved in a dialogue about religion. So I give a vague reply and change the subject, asking her about her line of study.

I want to specialize in international law, she says, and rid the world of the lunatics that run the world. I want to educate the masses so they are not taken advantage of. You know? She reminds me of my Zainab in Orlando so I turn to study her. She has an earnest look on her young face and could have looked prettier without the mop of dyed hair and the nose ring. I wonder how she blows her nose or worse, what if she catches a cold and the muck dribbles down the ring? That would be a rather difficult dilemma, no?

Haawa has come with my dinner, just in time, so I need not engage Pooja. I get busy with the soggy-looking ravioli in thick pesto paste with pine nuts and shavings of mozzarella cheese. Yuck! Emirates really needs to change their chefs.

You know what, uncle? I’m not all that religious. What my mother emotionally makes me do is all mumbo jumbo to me. Makes no sense, but I try to appease her. My dad does not believe in religion at all and detests all forms of structured prayers. He is convinced religion is used as a means to control the uneducated. So the zealots, especially in India, can use it as a hate platform to put down minorities. He eats anything served to him, even beef. She laughs and snorts contemptuously. Especially when he is drinking alcohol. This drives Mum up the wall. 

I wish the kid will leave me alone. I want to try and eat this terrible-looking meal since I have to fast tomorrow and need to fill my tummy, so I ignore her troubles. But Pooja is obviously passionate in her opinions.

Don’t mind uncle, but can I ask you a question that is bugging me? I see you are religious; you pray and fast. But tell me. Why does it take nine times for mosques to extol people to go pray early in the morning? Surely those who want to will be up and ready when it’s time, no?

I am about to bite into a soggy ravioli when I pause to look at her. What do you mean nine times? It’s only once per prayer. I chew on the pasta; it is dry and tasteless. I put my fork down, push away the plate, and turn my attention to the accompanying salad where I hope to have better luck.

Not where my parents live. There are five mosques within a mile and there are nine calls to prayers starting at about three AM. I have kept track. Can you imagine? All last night and this morning there was also chanting. Very loud chanting. Our maid later informed me it was because it was a special night for Muslims. That’s all well and good but why does it have to be broadcast over a loudspeaker all night long? How will the chanting help those trying to sleep? Surely the prayers can be confined inside the mosque? Among the worshippers? Why bother sleeping people nearby who will have to go to work in the morning?

I look to see if she is being sarcastic or malicious, but all I see is an earnest, inquisitive, and innocent expression on the young face. I sigh. What can I say? I do not have a plausible defense. I shrug my shoulders wearily. Maybe I should refer her to some of our learned men and they’ll explain? But again, maybe not. I heard one of them lecturing from the pulpit the other day saying the people of Gazza are happier than us, even within the midst of horrors they are in. The dude is sitting on a comfortable mimbar, has probably had a calorie-laden iftaar, will go to sleep on a comfortable bed without his home or family being rained with killer bombs, knowing he’ll be alive tomorrow. Stating that the Gazans are happier than us, even metaphorically, defies logic. My logic.

Thankfully Pooja leaves me alone and nods off to sleep. I watch her for a while, fascinated. I want to see how she breathes through that nose ring. She seems to be doing fine.

I hope y’all had a wonderful and blessed Eid.


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