Mullah Mchungu is the first person I’ve come to visit since I fly in from Sanford, FL, so concerned I am about his health, what with the Corona Doodoo spewing death worldwide, especially to the frail and elderly. I am dreading the worst but Hameesi, the Mullah’s lifelong caregiver, looks cheerful and upbeat as he escorts me to the living room. The Mullah is in an all-white kurta-pajama, lounging on a sofa closely peering at a Gujarati periodical, his intimidating walking cane close by. He looks healthy enough and has even put on some weight since I last met him.
I say salaam to him and try to social distance but he will have none of it, shakily gets to his feet, and gives me a proper Khoja hug. He holds me at arm’s length, looks at me with the goofy smile his dentures have made a permanent home on his lips and tries to grimace. But the gesture is lost on him since the dentures are unwilling to yield to the ridiculous grin.
Aye gheelo ghadheero, you look like an amateurish bandit with that mask. Get rid of it, you are making me feel suffocated.
I want to protest but that’ll take a lot of effort and we’ll end up in an argument that I want to avoid; I’m just happy to see him healthy. We sit and chat about affairs in Dar and Tanzania in general. He tells me that Magufuli has tamed the Doodoo pat with his no-nonsense approach to the threat and suggests perhaps our President Trump could learn a lesson or two from Magufuli? Since I am neither a doctor nor a politician, I keep my lips sealed.
As if hearing my hungry tummy rumble, Hameesi caries in a tray with piping hot fried muhogo, bajeeya, freshly grated coconut chutney, and excellent masala (elaichi-free) chai. I don’t care how the chai is made and who makes it outside of Tanzania, the chai here in my birth country is numero uno; I make a meal of it all. I’ve cleaned out the crusty-on-the-outside and woolly-in-the-inside of the muhogo and am eyeing the bajeeya when Mullah Mchungu, as usual, drops a bombshell.
Listen Kisukaali, I want to die in 2020.
This apshogun statement immediately sours an otherwise excellent time I am having and I very nearly spill the excellent brew on me. Now what? I gape at the old hen, but the expression on his face is fixed because of the bloody dentures, I don’t know if he’s angry, sad, or even happy, talking about his demise.
Aw, Mullah saheb, I protest, don’t speak such gloomy stuff, may Allah give you a long and healthy…
Oh, can it, Kisukaali, you do not impress me with those predictable Khoja lines. I don’t care to live long, even healthy years. It is a chore getting up every morning and it is hell going to pee every couple of hours. My bones creak and hurt every time I move, I can’t chew, I’ve got to think twice before I cough because of my renegade bladder, and I can’t decide if I want to fart or take a dump and I don’t want to risk trying. Do you know how many diapers I go through every day? I’m lucky I have a lifelong partner in Hameesi who has stuck around me through all my rough patches. He’s closer to me than any of my relatives, my son even; certainly, dearer to me than you Khojas for sure.
The tea and bajeeya lose their taste fasta-fasta and I abandon them, much to the chagrin of the lingering Hameesi who glares at the Mullah. After the remains of his labors have been cleared up, an eerie silence settles in between the two of us. Mullah seems to be lost to his dreams, maybe asleep? I’m not sure. Just as I contemplate making a move, the Mullah jerks awake.
You know what, Kisukaali? The lizzat, the value, and desire to live is no more. This Doodoo is relentless. I’m genuinely surprised I’m alive. I want to come and visit my grandchildren in Orlando even if the daakan daughter-in-law of mine detests me but not even the most desperate airline will let me come near their aircraft. What is wrong is right, and what is right, nobody cares anymore. Apathy is the new high, our new opium; it deadens us so we don’t care about the filth on our streets as long as our house is relatively clean. The world is as straight as a jalebi. What is there to live for? Eh?
There was a time I too, was proud to be a Khoja. The times of Ebrahim Sheriff Dewji and Mullah Asghar. Although they too were wrong in promoting a superior Khoja genre, as if like some Aryan Hindu cast, they were men of integrity. Look at the mess we are in. This Jaffer jamaa is now our President.
Oh no, here we go. The supposedly tainted and bungled presidential elections at WF and all the sprinkles from it. I want to be so far away from all the dirty controversy. I am so sick of all the tu-tu, mai-mai on the issue I could barf forever, simply fed up. I look frantically to exit and begin to say my goodbyes but the Mullah will not hear of it.
Saala ghadheera, you come to my house to eat Hameesi’s cooking only, eh? Sit, sit, and hear this old fart out. Who knows, you may not find me here next time?
The usual blackmail lines that our old ones use; I am nailed. I sigh resignedly and sit back, try to make myself comfortable. Stealthily, without being asked, Hameesi places another cup of steaming tea by my side table and leaves.
You see, Kisukaali, I have nothing against the new president of yours, more power to him, if he can stand the heat. Or the stink. He may be a decent orator and has a well-known last name. However, he purports to be a man of God and a zealot of Imam Ali. Khoob, nothing wrong with that claim. But his actions are anything but, no? All we got to do is look at history and ask ourselves, WHAT WOULD HAVE IMAM ALI(a)DONE IN A SIMILAR SITUATION? The answer is crystal clear. My Imam (a) would have backed out. The process leading up to the WF vote and the elections were flawed and divisive, clearly tearing up the community. There is no doubt in my mind that my Imam would have not stood to contest for a transient leadership mired in such controversy. He did exactly that in his time so you cannot argue this point.
The Mullah pauses to catch his breath, sucks air through his dentures, clicks them in place, and looks at me expectantly as if waiting for a response; I don’t. I mean I can’t fault his rationale, but I am in no position to comment on events beyond my control. Again, I am not a politician. This attitude riles him.
Kisukaali, say something! Chicken! You are as guilty as the goons by remaining quiet. This is more than a soap opera! You Khojas are clearly in a self-destructive path. And then you guys have the audacity of harping on and spending good money on showcasing a Khoja Heritage. Bah!
Mullah saheb, I finally speak on a subject I can, surely there is nothing wrong with having a proud heritage?
The old hen glares at me and shakes in ire; I know the dude is mighty mad.
Bah! He almost shouts, bringing Hameesi from the kitchen out in a hurry. He clutches his cane and strikes it on the concrete floor feebly. Bah, he yells again. Our Aimaas (a) spent all their lives in unifying the umma. They were Arabs, all of them pure bloodlines. Show me a single incident when any of them promoted the superiority of an Arab over anybody. They promoted taqwa! I challenge you, Kisukaali, if you have any guts, prove me wrong!
Jeez. I begin to worry. I look at Hameesi furtively, pleading to him with my eyes to protect me should the old hen decide to go to war. Again, I can’t find any fault in his logic.
Now we have this Murabbi Walji getting all bent out of shape about our ancestors voyaging the seven seas for a better future. So? They were starving in Gujarat and came here. To make money. Everybody does that. The British did that in the Americas, landed in New England states and carried on west. There were good and bad people in them. Just like us Waanias from Gujarat. There were some good and some not so good. Many were downright horrible actually; racists and thieves. Yes, they were adventurous and willing to take risks. That is natural, for Pete’s sake, it is hardly a Khoja brilliance. The Bohras did it, the Memons, the Hindus, the Sikhs… You Khojas have not descended from the heavens. So, you Khoja, behave!
That’s it! The dude is spent. He stops, rests his head on a pillow, and seconds later, he’s asleep, snoring slightly. Hameesi covers him with a light blanket, gently pries open his mouth and removes the ghastly dentures, then escorts me to the door. I slip him a grateful baksheesh and let myself out to a pleasant August Dar es Salaam afternoon.
It’s good to be alive, I don’t want to die. Not yet.