An Ode on Christmas Eve
Finally, I have managed to garner the courage to put my thoughts into pen and paper, so I decided to write this letter to you. Let me tell you this at the onset that for a while, I had turned into being an atheist and stopped believing in all miracles created by all mighty until I met you. This might sound cheeky or too filmy to you. Don’t blame me I grew up watching Bollywood Romantic films.
You know the month of December is always very special in Seattle. Not only for the awesome Christmas decorations that light up the whole of Seattle, not for the white snow but for the festive vibe in the people. You know Christmas reminds me of my home in Kabul where during the Eid there would always be a similar vibe. Just as the smell of freshly baked Christmas cookies strike a chord of happiness here to me, the smell of Kebabs used to enchant us during the Eid festivities. Though the countries, the situations, the attires, the faith, all are so distinctly different from each other, yet somewhere the positivity of both festivals brings a similar aroma to my senses and takes me back to my happy good old childhood days!!
Talking of good days, the last week was probably the happiest time in my life in almost a decade, as the only memories that I have been having for the last few years was the nasty stares from people around me. Suspicious stares in the markets, in the roads, in the malls, in the railway station, in the airport and everywhere else. Everything from my attire to my beard were being considered to be signs of me being a terrorist. But you know dear that I am no terrorist, I am just a chef! I have never touched a gun or grenade in my life. But I can bake real nice pastries.
But last week after a really long time, I attended a workshop on theatre! You know as they say in the East that God conspires to make two special people meet. I met you. Actually, a friend of mine had forced me to join the workshop as of late I was losing all my interests in theatre. I could feel that my colleagues were utterly uncomfortable with my presence. Maybe they were too insecure with my beard or my cap. But you see I am used to these things from my childhood days and it’s difficult for me to give these up. I am a simple man and just like eating, sleeping, over the years, these have become a habit for me. I am not one of those scholars who can debate on the existence of God.
But you were so different. Just like the December air in Seattle is filled with a festive frolic, similarly you were always a box of sunlight, unlike most of your folks.
Just like a splash of bubbling sunlight in a cloudy evening, you can make someone’s day just by talking to him. When most people, rather most Americans look at me with a sense of disgrace, you chose me as your partner for the acting exercise. I know I am not a good actor but still you motivated me. At least you opened those closed windows within me. After long, some fresh festive air entered within me & cleansed my internal dampness. You know since my father had passed away, I live in our restaurant where I work.
Probably I started closing my window to the outside from that time. Do you remember the name of our restaurant I mentioned to you the other day? It’s called ‘Dastaan e Kabul’, which means, ‘Legends of Kabul’. We have a special menu for the Christmas season. It will be a fusion of eastern & western delicacies ready to welcome all. I think festivals are for all be it Christmas or Eid. So, Patrik, Pratik, Prabhjyot & Peerjyada can all toast together during my Christmas Special.
I wish one day you could come to my restaurant, and I can serve you my Lazeez Biryani. I bet you will love the exotic smell of the eastern spices, the aroma itself will take you to the streets of Kabul where, as a young boy I used to run around with my kite fluttering in the twilight sky. The smell of saffron and roasted meat will keep tickling your taste buds and you will crave for the delicacies. You will literally feel the warmth of the festive Eid during Christmas when you taste our cuisines. I told you, I love festivals as all of them teach us to celebrate life, no matter where we are. Be it Seattle, Paris, Morocco or Kabul, festivals are always joyous and bring with them hope and remembrance of good times…
And trust me back then, when I grew up amidst all these lovely memories, there was no smell of gun powder. I hate the smell of gunpowder. It’s so suffocating.
But when my father decided to relocate to America, I was very excited initially. Why not? They say America is the land of passions, freedom & dreams and I trusted them. My father was a man of vision. He knew very well the atmosphere in Kabul was getting worse, so, he decided to relocate for the greater good. But honestly its very difficult to forget your homeland. It’s being so many years, but still I can relate to the exact aroma of the streets in Kabul during Eid. Every day when I cook Biryani in my restaurant, I connect to those vivid days of laughter and euphoria clinging to the aroma of the exotic spices that I use.
When I heard your own story, I felt so sad. I know how it feels to lose someone you love. You lost both your parents on the very dreadful day that changed my life too. As a kid my father always read out to me children books written by America authors. I saw Hollywood movies too. I had a real crush on Sharon Stone. Your Country looked so chirpy and colorful to me. So, when he said we are to relocate to USA I was thrilled to the core. Finally, a visit to the land of dreams. But something just happened within three months after I joined high school. It was the dreadful day that changed my life.
Trust me I am a believer and I pray thrice a day. I am not a brave person who wishes to challenge His existence with sound logic and reasoning. But even in the Holy Quran violence is considered as the biggest sin in the Almighty’s durbar. But still 9/11 did happen and you lost both your parents.
I swear to Allah if I ever knew that my experience of having been detained post 9/11 by the FBI for almost two years on mere baseless assumptions would make you so livid, I would not have joined the workshop itself. You too have Jewish origins. Even your people are having a crisis back at your homeland, even your family did migrate. But when out of your scare you stopped the workshop mid-way for security concern, it really broke my heart. You could have just told me to leave, and I would have left. You know I had faced torture of the worst kind during my detention. Nothing of that is ever documented anywhere. Together with thousands of our brothers, we were made to lie down naked on ice & given electric shocks in private parts. Many of us died, my father put everything on the line to get me out. So much so, that he never treated the cancer that was eating his body slowly. I too lost my father who was everything to me. Similar interrogations continue in my life from time to time. Same routine questions, routine swears, routine threats. Nothing unusual for the usual suspects. That’s how a Muslim man should behave in this land of dreams. Well, this is not your land too. I trust we both connect somewhere. What is the festival that you love most? Is it Christmas or some Jewish festival? I wish I could know.
I am still a believer and a dreamer. I believe like your sci-fi Hollywood movies there may exist an alternate dimension, a multiverse. Well, you must be thinking how can a simpleton from Kabul talk of alternative dimensions? I mean my beard & baggy Pathani Kurtas don’t go with what Dr. Strange speaks of. Then let me tell you that I love reading comic books and watching Hollywood movies. At least your books don’t judge me on my looks and attire.
So, as I was saying there should an alternate dimension, where all of us will stay together unchained as free souls. The shackles of cast, gender, creed, language, religion, power, politics, and region will not hold our free spirit. In the streets of Kabul in that dimension, a Salma clad in traditional Peshwari attire, a Rani in Royal Indian Saree and a Jeanette in Jeans & T-shirts would walk freely chatting away and laughing on some familiar chores may be discussing on the new hairstyles of Tom Cruise. Similarly in the Times Square at midnight a Basheer with his beard and Kurta and a Robert in his Bermuda would be dancing with a glass of beer. In that dimension a Zeenat will worship Goddess Kali holding hands of a Susan, a Joseph would buy new clothes on Eid from Kabul, An Arshaad will dress as Santa without a clause of pause of faith. Festivals will bring us together & not drive us apart. Be it Eid or Christmas or Diwali, it will only bring happiness and laughter. There will be smoke & fire but only from the crackers which kids will play with. And I will cook in all festivals and feed people. Be it Kebab or Biryani during Eid, Cakes & Turkey Breast during Chirstmas or Laddus, Samosas during Diwali.
Let me go one step further why do we need names at all? You can classify each other by regional names too. Let a Hindu Brahmin be called Asghar Mia, let a Pathan get called a Fredrick, let a Jeannette get called a Jaya or a Zeenath. A world where nobody will sleep unfed. Nobody will boast of nuclear power. Kids will have Painting brushes in their hands and not automated riffles.
In that alternate world my dear, I will walk up to you on a bright sunny morning in an apple orchard with a bunch of fresh jasmines and a box of my Lazeez Biryani and may be ask you to spend the rest of your life with me. And you would be free to refuse my proposal at your will. Maybe you will too. But atleast, you won’t find my appearance as an alarming indicator of my probable extremist nature.
My friend, this letter might never reach you. As I do not have your address. But my dear as I said I am believer. I believe that life doesn’t end here. If it ends in one realm it starts in another multiverse. I pray in my next realm I find a world like I said and you in an apple orchard, where the aroma of the biryani and the saffron in the air will enchant you on a Christmas Eve.
Goodbye from your Bearded friend or you may be the weirdest friend, till we meet in the next cycle.
Ibadaat Shahadat Usman Rahmani
PS: Just saw a Shooting Star. As a believer I am rooting for our next meeting. It’s the Christmas eve. So, I guess Santa is listening too!!