I have known the Kutchi family for years; indeed, I went to high school with Ameer Khuchi in Tanga, Tanzania at the Popatlal Secondary School. It was a family not unlike mine then, or any other middle-class family of Asian Khojas whose ancestors made East Africa home.
Ameer Kutchi was an athlete, a good cricketer, with a reliable bat. I was Popatlal’s cricket captain in 1972/1973 and depended on him to get us a fighting score batting the middle order; he consistently delivered. I also interacted with the larger Kutchi family closely, for they were my neighbors diagonally across the tar-top roads that separated rows of houses in Tanga, some with a storefront pili-pili-bizaari duka. Our families exchanged food plates during Ramadhan and Eid festivals, and we shared our joys and sorrows as neighbors. Theirs was a large family, with many siblings and we all knew each other rather intimately. Ameer and I also attended prayers and community events at the same neighborhood mosque and imambarghah. He was a popular, amiable chap and a good dua reciter, much sought after as an ideal teenager that many harried parents cited as an ideal example to their wayward sons.
As with other chums I grew up with, I lost contact with Ameer when I migrated to Dubai and eventually made the US home. The Kutchis, too, fragmented as a single-family unit with marriages and migration. The parents passed on and the last I heard of Ameer was years later, through a mutual friend, that he was somewhere in England, Leicester, I think.
Then, a few weeks ago, when I was traveling through Afghanistan and Iraq, Ameer made contact. I was about to hit the delete button on the WhatsApp message like I immediately do with contacts that I don’t instantly recognize when the familiarity of the name arrested my action. I was elated to hear from him after at least forty-five years. So, we chatted off and on and caught up with our paths in life. Forty-five years is an awfully long time and the sharper edges of recollection are now less refined. Still, the chats with Ameer brought about tons of nostalgia, especially about our shared experiences in Tanga, Popatlal Secondary School, cricket, the willow grounds we helped shape, the trashing’s we (I mostly) received from madressa teachers, and our competition for the attention of the most sought-after maiden at school.
Interestingly, intriguingly, our life experiences mirror each other much. We have both married more than once, have an equal number and approximate ages of children, and most eerie, our lastborn, daughters both, are twenty years old this year. Ameer tells me he is an avid reader of my Blogs and has been following Comfort Aid International’s activities and progress through the years. I am instantly hurt, that he did not make contact much earlier, if only to say salaam. I am further saddened that Ameer has contacted me for rather selfish reasons, and not to reminisce about our shared, eventful and rich, past Tanga history.
Kisukaali, he begins, sounding doggedly unfamiliar to the teenager I knew in Tanga, I need your advice. Regarding my daughter Umm ul Baneen.
I am instantly on guard, for talks that begin this way always end up giving me grief. I have been burdened with people who mistakenly think that I am an expert of sorts, because I am the CEO/COO of CAI, on relationships, or religion; this is a pukka myth. I’ve had fathers, some of whom I have never met, who contact me wanting help in finding rishteys for their daughters. I’ve also had people contact me with questions on Islamic law, like doubts on prayers or huqooq obligations. I have always declined help, obviously, since I am hardly an authority on such matters. Or I direct them to the various scholars that I know will help. Selflessly.
UB, as I told you, is now an adult. She’s…was a good kid. Until college and friends took over. I was the source of her purpose in life and she always asked or deferred her decisions to my judgment. No more. She has tons of friends, almost all from school and college. Very few Khojas. Now, she’s being defiant, and I know that the friends she keeps are a big part of her changed attitude. It’s not as if she’s doing anything wrong outright, but I feel I’m losing my girl. Fast. You are a wide and well-traveled man Kisukaali, tell me, what should I do? Or not do?
Boy, this is a toughie. I have no clue. These issues are in every home with teenagers, I know. They are complicated, delicate, and can be heart-wrenching to all parents. Although I feel camaraderie with Ameer, I begin to feel awkward, because I cannot offer a solution. I am about to tell him I cannot help and to excuse me when I sense a tremor in his speech. So, I hold back, feeling miserable, unable to be blunt and insensitive to a man who is so emotionally aroused; I continue to listen.
What a well-behaved and reasonable daughter suddenly turned upside-down. All of a sudden, she hates her name. UB? She demands. Whoever names a kid UB? They made me a mother of boys at birth? So, the gal has opted for a more British name – Samantha. She has formed the most liberal of views; letting abortion be the woman’s right and decision, gay rights, opposition to polygamy by men, and vehement hatred for the practice of muttah. All positions 180 degrees from mine. There goes not a single day we do not argue or fight. Every opinion I have, she sees a problem. Simple issues, trivial ones. If I say the sun is shining in the sky outside, UB disagrees, claims it’s overcast. I say there is too much makeup on her face, really unnecessary, since she has naturally robust skin and tone, the comment ends up in an argument and copious tears. Defiance. She is doggedly adamant to defy me and everything I stand for. It seems Allah is punishing me for my past sins with this daughter of mine.
I am now sweating. Ameer’s lamentation comes too close to comfort. I am not immune to teenage behavior akin to that of UB. Not as profound perhaps, but the attitude and behavior resonate with other parents in the larger Khoja fraternity working through similar pain. So, I tell my long-lost pal to take it easy and not be too offended by teenage attitudes looking for direction. I try and sound upbeat, promising my friend that his UB will turn around. This is her way of coming of age and asserting control to her personality. I suggest group sessions with an Imam, someone like Sheikh Noor in Birmingham?
She’s all I have now, Kisukaali. I’ve been a failure in my personal relationships and I don’t want to lose her as well. Ameer almost breaks down in tears. Recovers. Let me know if there is something I can do; you have so much more experience than me. Something new, out of the box ideas that will get my girl to stop all this defiance and we can be close again. Like in the past?
Since I am useless with such an intimate personal display of emotions and am feeling very uncomfortable, I promise him I will. Just to get rid of him. We declare we’ll pray for each other, keep in regular contact, and should the COVID-19 Doodoo relent, to meet in person.
However, I also want to tell him to be a realist. Perhaps he is trying to recreate something that is unsustainable? Time has a way of changing course and reshaping the most cherished relationships, be it spousal, romantic, or parental and it might be a good idea to let his UB soar without the constant shadow of her father’s wings? But I am too chicken for this advice and keep my lips sealed in their place. However, I still fret about my friend Ameer and his defiant daughter UB.
The views and opinions expressed in this Blog are entirely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Comfort Aid International or her Trustees.